Nontraditional Start-ups, in the Dairy Industry

Okay folks, now that I’m famous (joke;) the Acres and Avenues team wanted me to write a blog post to feature our dairy farm and my person business (Farmstead Nutrition) since they are but start-up millennial businesses. Of course I wanted to share the post on my blog with my readers! So here you go:

NONTRADITIONAL START-UPS Featuring Dairy Farmer Abbey Copenhaver

3 couples

(L to R: My husband Austin, myself, Garrett and Libby Eiholzer, Clayton and Katie Wood)

When you think “start-up business” the image of a dairy farm most likely doesn’t come to mind. Many people might assume that all farms started several generations ago and this can be true for some farms; they could be on the 3rd generation or greater. Starting a dairy farm far from compares to starting a tech-guru company on the west coast.

Cows are live animals that can’t be left for the weekend or holidays like a computer. Thus our business is a lifestyle and a business where the whole family takes part. Being a farmer requires a tool-box full of skills including being a sharp businessman.

My husband and I entered the not-so-forgiving world of “start-ups” in 2013 when our farm; Ivy Lakes Dairy was established. And again in 2014 when I started an independent human nutrition business; Farmstead Nutrition and Consulting.

To provide some background, dairy farming and I go way back. While I grew-up on a dairy farm my husband grew-up dreaming that he might someday have a farm. This started our farming passion (or healthy obsession) at a young age. As I helped on the family farm I gradually found more interest in teaching my community about farming and how food is produced. My husband fed his hunger for farming by working on his two uncles dairy farms. There he learned, worked and then went to college for dairy farming, which is where our “start-up dairy farm” story begins…

My husband and I met the two other couples at Cornell University where the six of us majored in Animal Science (in the dairy program) and all became friends. Although we had different skills and interest in agriculture we all shared a common passion for dairy farming and the pride it brings to care for a farm and produce food for your country.

Throughout college the six of us furthered our farming education by getting internships on dairy farms or with agricultural companies. During the semesters (many times during class) the boys would be drafting a plan for their dream dairy. While my husband played out his start-up on paper I focused on studying agriculture and dietetics (human nutrition) to make a career out of agriculture and food education.

Our first start-up; Ivy Lakes Dairy was formed in February of 2013 when the partners entered in a joint venture with Todd and Nori Hathorn in Stanley NY. At that time Todd and Nori owned and operated Hathorn Farms with Todd’s retired parents – Tom and Barbara. Now the 700-cow dairy farm operates as Ivy Lakes Dairy and is comprised of three partners, my husband Austin, Garrett & Clayton.

Starting my own business was not a life-long dream for me, the idea evolved over time. I have always enjoyed people and feel it’s extremely important to show consumers where their food comes and explain to them the large role US agriculture plays in feeding American and even other countries.

Over the years this interest spread to additional work outside of my fulltime job. In 2014 I decided (with my husband’s entrepreneurial encouragement) to make my business official and Farmstead Nutrition and Consulting was born. Farmstead Nutrition mainly focuses on agriculture and food production education. Over the past year I’ve been attending mostly speaking engagements throughout the northeast in addition to working fulltime.

Running one startup business (let alone two) is no stroll through the barn. With our farm being in its second year of business and myself just finishing the first year, we have learned much, and have much to learn.

Starting-up is only part of running a business. Yes, my husband now has a farm but he is also an accountant, people manager, mechanic, pricing contactor, chemists and always on call. Just think of the time and work it would take to keep 700 women happy.

Many attributes come to mind when I think of what it took for us to be brave enough to start our businesses. We utilized our experience, college education, networking skills, mentoring relationships, motivation and sweat to take our businesses from an idea on paper to life.

Along with much support we also hear comments such as “doesn’t the risk scare you” or “you are too young.” The way I see it, there is no perfect equation of timing, money or age to start a business (although these are factors to consider). We are six people doing what we love and right now it’s working for us.

It has been said that the average person will switch careers 5-7 times in their life; I sure hope by starting-up young we will beat those odds.


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