Mauthe’s Progress Milk Barn (Progress, MS)
Closing out a long day of farm tours in southwest Mississippi, we arrived at the Mauthes’ Progress Milk Barn to an array of fresh cheese and crackers, rich cream and strong coffee, and three cheesecakes that disappeared within minutes. This was just the first sign of the incredible hospitality we experienced visiting Kenny and Jamie Mauthe’s family dairy in Progress, MS, mere miles from the Louisiana border.
Standing with their two daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren, Kenny and Jamie began telling the story of their family business. For twenty years, the Mauthes owned 300 acres, grazing nearly 200 cows and selling their milk as a raw commodity product. “When we were shipping a commodity milk, our main concern was pushing for production,” Kenny remembers. Faced with low milk prices, high feed costs, and property destruction from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, they needed to change something to be able to stay in business. This moment became an opportunity for them to become more sustainable in both their business and farming practices. They now care for 40 cows on 50 acres, but this downsizing has actually helped them become more stable. One of the few dairies in Mississippi that does on-site processing, the Mauthes have found a market for their delicious and quality dairy products.
The day begins early for Kenny, who often starts the morning milking before 4 a.m. The Mauthes don’t use herbicide or pesticides on their grazing land, as well as limiting the antibiotics given to their herd. Unlike factory-farmed cattle that live in such close quarters that they must have antibiotics mixed in with their feed to prevent disease outbreaks, the Mauthes only use antibiotics when a cow falls ill, just as a human might. When they shifted to direct-marketing, they decided to, “Let the cow be the cow,” meaning a grass-fed diet and plenty of room to graze. “We pretty much eliminated our veterinary bill,” Kenny says.
“We’ve got a healthier cow and we’ve also got a healthier product.” As Kenny showed us the farm’s processing facilities, he shared that they Pasteurize their milk at lower temperatures in order to preserve the structures of vitamins and enzymes that are normally lost during higher temperature Pasteurization. All of these choices result in a densely-nutritious milk that is perfect on its own, or for making cheese, butter, buttermilk, yogurt, and their specialty Creole cream cheese.
Jamie Mauthe and her daughters work long days to make all of these products and prepare them for market. They produce a lot of nutritious whey as a bi-product of their cheese and yogurt making, which they use as a natural fertilizer on their pastures. We visited their farm the week before Halloween, and already, the holiday orders were rolling in for their products, particularly their cheesecakes, which have a cult following throughout Mississippi, Louisiana, and beyond.
If it isn’t evident enough already, the Mauthes make this all work with a lot of teamwork. Selling at the Jackson and Crescent City (NOLA) farmers markets, stores throughout southern Mississippi and Louisiana, as well as partnering with Beaverdam Farms in their community buying clubs, Progress Milk Barn has a lot of moving parts. It’s hard work, but it’s a model that will sustain this family and their community for generations.
Hear the story from the family members themselves by watching the video below, and find out what the Mauthes are up to today by following them on Facebook.
By Robert Raymond, FoodCorps Service Member
Photos by Danny Klimetz