LARCHWOOD—Stensland Family Farms is looking to milk a boost it recently received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Bette Brand, the USDA’s deputy undersecretary for rural development, announced $250,000 in grant funding to the rural Larchwood dairy operation through the agency’s Value-Added Producer Grant.
The money will be used to expand the marketing and sales of Stensland’s burgeoning frozen pizza line, the products of which use cheese the dairy makes.
“Today’s announcement is about so much more than pizza though,” Brand said during her visit to the dairy Thursday, Sept. 24. “It is showcasing another example of American ingenuity and rural entrepreneurial resiliency, headquartered right here in Iowa.”
The pizzas will be the latest in Stensland’s diverse product offerings, which includes milk, cheese and ice cream.
Doug Stensland, one of Stensland Family Farms’ owners and operators, led Brand on a tour of the facility and spoke about how the dairy adapted to the market disruption in March caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The business was deemed essential after the pandemic hit, and Doug said Stensland’s diverse range of products was key in staying afloat.
“All kinds of different industries are very, very efficient and everything is driven by efficiency. But one thing I found out when COVID came in, sometimes efficiency’s not the No. 1 thing, it’s being able to change on a dime and change things,” Doug said.
“That’s one thing we were able to do because we have so much diversity in what we do. The stores would call and say ‘We can’t get any milk. You’ve got any milk?’ And that’s how we turned on a dime.”
A positive attitude also went a long way in keeping the Stensland family members and employees going, especially when the pandemic first began impacting businesses across the county in March.
“It only took a few days and we had some of the kids and different ones that said, ‘We’re going to get through this. We have to figure out a way to get through it. Don’t be thinking about not being able to get through this. Figure out how you’re going to get through it,’” Doug said.
“So they came up with ideas and just developed some of that stuff.”
The dairy hopes to begin rolling out its frozen pizza products later this fall.
Chelsea Stensland — who is married to one of Doug’s sons, Justin, and who is involved in the business — said the pizza aspect of the company will likely add four full-time employees and two part-time employees.
About 35 people work at the dairy, including family members. Meanwhile, Stensland employs 45-50 people who work in Sioux Falls, SD, where the company has five retail locations.
Chelsea also explained how the idea of using Stensland cheese for frozen pizzas came about.
“Our cheese comes in 40-pound blocks when we make it in the plant,” Chelsea said. “When they cut it down, there’s end pieces and scraps. So we started looking at ways to utilize those when they don’t fit our specs of sellable blocks.”
While thanking Brand and the USDA for the grant, Doug said it will benefit the family members as they continually think of new business ideas and ways to grow.
“There are a lot of areas in this country, the same thing, when they get opportunity and they start using their creativity, we want to keep encouraging that because that’s what keeps us going too,” Doug said.
“Staying positive and trying to think outside the box and not being negative about things but always looking forward.”