When Tim Joseph was 32, he decided to become a farmer. In 2004, Tim and his wife Laura started with 63 cows on 250 acres in a small town in upstate New York called Little Falls. Doing so, with no agricultural experience; while still working a full-time corporate job. Over the next seven years, the Josephs would go from a conventional dairy struggling to pay their credit card bills to being designated as the first national dairy to be third-party certified as 100% grass-fed organic. Maple Hill Creamery is now on the shelves in over 6000 stores nationwide with a range of products from cream top yogurt, Greek yogurt, kefir, drinkable yogurt, artisanal cheeses, and fluid milk.
In this interview, Tim and I talked about leadership, why he decided to become a dairyman, how Maple Hill Creamery became the Gold Standard in grass-fed dairy products, and what they are doing now to grow the brand.
Why are you doing this?
Joseph warned me that it was a bit of a long story.
“I didn’t grow up a farmer but wanted to be one when I was a kid. In 2004, I got the bright idea that the way to be able to quit my corporate job was to milk cows because you get a milk check every month. The only issue with that is there’s a big gap between the milk check every month and the expenses that you need to pay with it.”
“I stayed with the job and farmed at the same time. I was working from home most of the time with some crazy travel and stuff. Then we migrated to organic because it increased the value of our milk and we were very organic minded anyway. That was 2007 and we were still having a difficult time. We were new farmers, lots of mistakes, too much debt. It just didn’t work for us.” I noticed some sadness in his voice.
“I really wanted to do something more with our milk. When we had gone organic, we had also stopped feeding grain. We were so broke, we couldn’t afford the organic grain for the year it takes to transition to organic. During that year, you ship your milk conventionally but manage organically, so your costs go up before your milk check does.”
It was that reality that caused Joseph to start Maple Hill Creamery.