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Sen. Smith, Torres Small visit Ten Finns Creamery

The USDA Rural Development undersecretary announced a $500,000 grant to support agricultural innovation.

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During a visit to the area on Aug. 23, 2022, USDA Rural Development Undersecretary Xochitl Torres Small, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, Joel Hendrickson with Ten Finns Creamery and USDA Rural Development state director Collen Landkamer discuss how the rural Menahga farm processes its A2 milk products, which are non-homogenized and high temperature-short time pasteurized.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
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MENAHGA —Ten Finns Creamery, the A2 dairy farm run by the Joel and Amanda Hendrickson family south of Menahga, received some VIP visitors Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Undersecretary Xochitl Small and other USDA state officials talked with the Hendricksons about their unique business and announced funding for a program to help bring their A2 milk products to market.

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Over cups of his farm's A2 milk, Joel Hendrickson with Ten Finns Creamery talks Aug. 23, 2022 about the challenges of marketing and distributing his products with representatives of the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, USDA Rural Development and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (second from right).
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

Reinventing milk

A2 is a protein found naturally in milk. However, due to a genetic mutation, most cows produce the A1 protein, which the Hendricksons believe to cause the digestive discomfort many people experience after drinking milk.

The couple and their 10 children breed and care for about 150 A2 cows, producing whole, 2% and chocolate milk and butter that, Joel said, one of their customers told him causes only “two farts per gallon” compared to the non-stop gas regular milk gives him.

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The more tummy-friendly protein content isn’t the only way their products stand out. In a tour of the farm’s milk processing facility, Joel explained their milk is non-homogenized and pasteurized with a “high temperature short time” process (HTST), as opposed to the “ultra-high temperature” pasteurization (UHT) that has a longer shelf life.

“I believe, if it naturally separates, why do we want to change that?” said Joel.

He said the typical shelf life for HTST pasteurized milk is about 16-18 days, compared to up to 60 days for UHT pasteurized milk. Nevertheless, he said, “I believe our milk’s better for you,” and that with ultra-pasteurization, “I think they kill everything good in it.”

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Ten Finns Creamery owners Amanda and Joel Hendrickson (at left) discuss innovation in agriculture Aug. 23, 2022 on their farm south of Menahga with U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, Harold Stanislawski and Shannon Schlecht with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), Andrew Gag and Collen Landkamer with Minnesota USDA Rural Development, USDA Rural Development Undersecretary Xochitl Torres Small and Dan Skogen with AURI.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

Marketing, distribution issues

Joel said when he decided to breed an all-A2 herd, he hoped somebody like Land O’Lakes, Dairy Farmers of America or United Natural Foods would partner with him to distribute his product.

However, they were skeptical about the health benefits of A2 milk, or put off by the HTST-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk’s shorter shelf-life and tendency to separate.

Eventually, he said, his family decided to go it alone, with help from a private investor. They began processing their milk at home and distributing to regional coops and interested local stores, via Mason Brothers in Wadena.

Still, Joel said, marketing their product continues to be a top concern.

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“The whole marketing thing,” he said, “that’s the trick. I’m convinced, if we could inform everybody in Minnesota about A2 milk and the benefits, my milk would be sold out.”

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Children and puppies are among the first to greet U.S. Sen. Tina Smith during her visit Aug. 23, 2022 to Amanda and Joel Hendrickson's rural Menahga farm, Ten Finns Creamery.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

Assisting with innovation

Joining the conversation was Shannon Schlecht, executive director of the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), which has worked with the Hendricksons on product development.

Schlecht said AURI has partnered with the state of Minnesota for 33 years, providing technical assistance for agricultural producers. But while they can help get something started, he said, their challenge is how to grow it in scale.

Harold Stanislawski, AURI’s business and industry development director, said marketing is one of the biggest challenges with A2 milk, especially in western Minnesota. “You need to try to create some bigger markets,” he said.

Stanislawski said A2 milk could be a good fit for nursing homes and hospitals, “but it’s a little hard to get into that value chain set up.”

Joel said the local market is easy, with the grocery store in Menahga selling about 100 gallons of their product a week. The farther away, the harder it becomes, he said, though there have been requests for his milk from Watertown, S.D. and Williston, N.D.

“People gotta ask,” he said. “I could go talk to these stores and tell them it’s a great thing. The way it works is when consumers go asking for it. Then it means something.”

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Shannon Schlecht, at right, executive director of the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, comments Aug. 23, 2022 about the $500,000 grant to his organization to support innovation in agriculture, after it was announced by USDA Rural Development Undersecretary Xochitl Torres Small (left) during a visit with U.S. Sen. Tina Smith to Ten Finns Creamery in rural Menahga.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

$500,000 for AURI

Toward the end of the meeting, Torres Small announced that USDA Rural Development was awarding a $500,000 Agriculture Innovation Center demonstration grant to AURI to help producers develop and market value-added agricultural products.

“We’re really excited about getting to see, on the ground, the impacts,” she said, “what happens when we support some of the best innovators in America – farmers – and help find ways to take those innovations and create and support markets around them.”

She said such regional markets can help rural communities thrive and ensure that young people grow up to have their own business opportunities. “That’s why this grant is so important,” she said, adding that it “highlights local work and local ideas and invests in them.”

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Smith. “AURI is really unique in the country. There aren’t that many other examples of organizations that are figuring out how to take the great ideas that we’re seeing here and help get them to market, and help get them also to scale.

“It’s a really great example of a public-private partnership, and a state-federal partnership.”

Schlecht called the program “a great fit for AURI” that will enable them to help producers like the Hendricksons improve processes, develop products, reach the marketplace and grow their business.

According to a USDA press release, AURI will provide a $250,000 match to fund engineering and business development, and to connect producers with distribution systems, processing facilities and commercial kitchens.

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Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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