Ruth Klahsen of Monforte Dairy was honoured with the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne this week for implementing a Community Shared Agriculture micro-financing model to raise capital to build a new plant in Stratford, Ontario. The award comes with a cash prize of $75,000.
“I am so thrilled and so honoured.” Klahsen said in accepting the award. “We want to take that award and we want to give it back. So what we intend to do with the money is to set up a cheesemaking school here at Monforte and that’ll start in February next spring. Because what we really need in the industry is education and depth and understanding of regulations so that we can do safe, wonderful products that are as good as Europe. And so a school becomes so important.
“The school becomes the coolest thing that we can do and I’m so excited about the potential of that. And the potential for what that can do to Ontario as far as just making really, really good cheese . . .
In 2008, when rent at Monforte Dairy’s location skyrocketed, the artisanal cheesemaker faced the challenge of securing enough money to build a new facility. So Monforte turned to its biggest believers—its customers.
It sold shares in denominations of $200, $500 and $1,000, redeemable in cheese. While many farmers have turned to community-supported agriculture to finance their operations, this is the first time the model had been attempted by an Ontario food processor. Monforte customers came through, purchasing nearly 900 shares totaling more than $400,000. The money helped pay for one-and-a-half acre of land in Stratford and a new, purpose-built environmentally sustainable cheesemaking plant.
This year, Monforte is on target to reach $2 million in sales, with the help of cheese aficionados determined to keep their favourite producer in business.
If you ask Ruth Klahsen, how she got into making cheese, she’ll tell you, in that self-deprecating way she has: “I’m just an old broad who had a mid-life crisis!”