Texas Artisan cheese producers understand how critical the health of their employees and support of their communities are as COVID-19 infections and fatalities peek this summer.
They are taking positive actions to sustain their businesses, keep their employees safe, and satisfy the needs of their communities.
Stryk Dairy in Schulenburg, Texas:
Bob and Darlene Stryk understand that keeping their employees healthy is what sustains their dairy farm.
When the spring rains came and COVID-19 began its insidious sweep across the nation, Joaquin Avellan (Dos Lunas Cheese, Austin, Tx), Bob, and Darlene made a customer service decision. Anticipating an increase of on farm visits due to the lack of cheese and milk in stores, they closed their dairy for ten days to focus on making and packaging cheese products from their fresh raw milk. Like many who were following CDC exposure guidelines, they also instituted a process of carrying orders out to their customers’ cars. Prior to COVID-19, customers and visitors to the farm were crossing into areas close to employees. The risk of employees catching the coronavirus was too great not to implement social distancing practices. If any of the employees should catch the virus, the impact to the livelihood of the employees, family, and farm could be disastrous. During those ten consecutive days of cheese making, the Stryk team worked out a system to service customers and keep employees safe.
Stryk employees are considered family. Before the virus, Estella Moreno worked full-time at the local plastics manufacturing plant and bottled milk for the Stryks, part-time. When the plastics plant shut down, Estella lost her job. Because of increased demand for milk and cheese, the Stryks were able to give Estella more hours to fill the financial void caused by factory shut-downs.
Stryk generosity is shown in good deeds. Joaquin Avellan and Bob Stryk have donated 10% of the cheese made during the COVID-19 closure to the Austin Food Bank. The Stryk’s put their community first. Elders in the community are given priority for receiving milk and cheese. In return, the community buys local. Everyone wins.
Velduizen Dairy and Cheese Shoppe, near Dublin, Tx:
Four generations work and live on the Velduizen Dairy Farm.
“This isn’t the first time our dairy has seen tough times,” says Stuart Velduizen. “But, this is different. Before, we knew that harder work and longer hours would make us successful. A “work harder” approach won’t make the farm profitable or allow me to keep my employees.” Shuttered restaurants have resulted in distributors not buying the dairy’s cheese. The cheese inventory is outstripping storage capacity. Cows have to be milked daily, virus or no virus. Instead of dumping the milk, they are continuing to make cheese which results in more inventory.
To increase the dwindling sales, the Velduizens are trying new marketing ideas. They’ve invited people in the surrounding communities to come to the farm for outdoor picnics and to get close to nature.
The Veldhuizens feel a responsibility to their employees. An employee’s skill can’t easily be replaced. If the closures continue, Stuart sees little choice, but to let his employees go. The next few months will be key to the dairy’s survival.
Mozzarella Company, Dallas, Tx:
Paula Lambert’s Mozzarella Company is snuggled in a small, single-story building in Deep Ellum, in the heart of downtown Dallas. For 38 years, Mozzarella Company has been growing their cheese production until it reached 200,000 pounds of cheese a year (500 gallons of milk/day). They produce more than forty different cheese products. That is…until the pandemic.
Ross Adami and Mauricio Travesi oversee the management and production of the cheese making at Mozzarella Company. Ten skilled employees work diligently to produce the cheese from Ms. Lambert’s Italian recipes.
To sustain their employees’ health, Ross and Mauricio supplement their their wages with boxes of fruits and vegetables purchased from produce suppliers, as well as meats from Rudolph’s Meat Market next door.
The tipping point for Mozzarella Company will depend on how much longer restaurants will be closed or serving a reduced patronage. The see-saw of open Texas…closed Texas isn’t making Ross and Mauricio rest any better.
These Texas artisan cheese producers are tasked with keeping valued employees safe, serving the needs of their communities, while staying in business during these trying times. Survival of our food supply depends on supporting the small businesses in our communities.