After years of prosperity for dairy farmers in Clinton County, the 2000s saw many of them calling it quits or selling their farms. But, in 2019, a 16-year-old helped take her family from planning their exit strategy to thriving through e-commerce.
“In the eighties there was like 43 dairies,” Don Bickel said.
For a while, Bickel saw the growth of the dairy industry in Clinton County. But now, about 40 years later, New Horizon Farm and Dairy is the only one left.
“It’s just been a slow progression of people getting old, nobody taking over, and people getting out of the business,” he said.
Don and his wife, Jackie, watched as dairy farms disappeared, then they saw firsthand why that was happening.
“We were receiving payment that equaled what my father-in-law was receiving in 1982,” Jackie Bickel said. “It was not penciling out on paper anymore to make this a profitable business.”
After consideration, the couple thought it was best to shut down the farm. But, the solution to keeping it going was closer than they thought.
“They call me the milk girl. My teacher calls me Maggie Moo,” Maggie Mathews said.
At the time in 2019, Maggie was just 16-years-old. Not old enough to discuss family business, but innovative enough to try and save it.
‘We did a class project where we had to create our own business and mine was a creamery,” Mathews said. “I had numbers and statistics and I showed it to my parents and I was like, ‘You ever thought about this selling your own milk and making it our own thing?'”
And that’s how Happy Cows Creamery was born. By 2020, they were ready to start bottling. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans.
“Governor DeWine shut the state down for two weeks and we went into panic mode because how are we going to get milk out to consumers if the consumers can’t leave their house,” Jackie said.
Then they discovered a way to bring their product to customers without having to rely on in-person exchanges.
Nick Carter, CEO and co-founder of Market Wagon, said the online market is the next biggest opportunity to grow.
He comes from a family farm in Indiana and now runs his own small farm with his wife. His business, Market Wagon, is a way for farmers to sell and deliver straight to the customer. In 2020, many customers clamored for ways to lessen trips to the grocery store, hoping to lessen the chance of contracting COVID-19.
“We put it on the vendor portal and the response was overwhelming,” Jackie said. “We can see and touch more customers in our three hour time with Market Wagon than we could visiting farmer’s markets all summer long.”
Now, the family sells out of a small shop at the farm and with the help of Market Wagon, delivers to their online customers. Unlike so many dairy farms in Clinton County, the American Dream lives on for Happy Cows Creamery.
“It makes me feel really good that I potentially saved us from having that same gut wrenching feeling,” Mathews said.