A family-owned milk processor that has grown from humble beginnings to become the second largest goat cheese manufacturer in North America was recognized recently through a prestigious award from the Lindsay Agricultural Society.
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Why it matters: The award serves as further recognition that the company’s success has played a significant role in the expansion of Ontario’s dairy goat production sector over the past three decades.
On March 31, Sharon and Bruce VandenBerg of Linsday-based Mariposa Dairy were joined by their executive team in accepting the 2023 Excellence in Agriculture award during the Society’s annual Spotlight on Agriculture gala. The event was attended by over 450 guests and also featured the presentation of the 2023 Farm Family Award to the dairy and cash crop-farming Thurston family of Thursthill Farms.
The VandenBergs first entered the dairy goat business back in 1987, purchasing a herd of goats for a farm they had moved onto two years earlier. In 1989, construction began on an on-farm processing facility and, by 1991, the herd had grown to 130 does and production was underway on Mariposa Dairy goat feta and goat gouda.
Today, with cheeses marketed both domestically and internationally under both the Mariposa and Celebrity brands and production taking place in larger plants in Lindsay — the first constructed in 2007 and the second on adjacent property in 2015 — Mariposa Dairy is the second largest goat cheese manufacturer on the continent.
The Spotlight on Agriculture gala award-winners are determined by a committee of the Agricultural Society, based on nominations submitted from the community. The nomination for Mariposa highlighted the company’s “ability to form meaningful partnerships (and) think outside-of-the-box” as it built its business.
In the early days, the outside-the-box thinking was reflected not only in the on-farm cheese plant but also marketing through local farmers’ markets. In 2011, dairy sheep were brought into production (by then, an additional farm had been purchased) to allow for expansion into sheep cheeses.
And key partnerships included a 1996 agreement with Finica Fine Foods to market Mariposa and Celebrity products, a deal in 2000 to purchase additional milk from Hewitt’s Dairy to facilitate expanded production, and coming to terms in 2006 with Atalanta Corporation to introduce the cheeses to US consumers.
In 2015, the VandenBergs began working with the Bons family, recently arrived from the Netherlands and looking to get involved in the sector, and eventually sold the goat herd to them in 2018.
The Excellence in Agriculture nomination also highlighted that the company “understand(s) the importance of delivering a high-quality product while maintaining a consciousness towards the state of the environment. They have developed proprietary technology to enhance efficiency, meet growing demands from customers, and maintain a low environmental footprint by reducing waste, generating some of their own electrical needs, and protecting water quality.”
Solar panels on the Lindsay facility, according to a recent post on Mariposa Dairy’s social media, can supply all the plant’s electricity requirements on sunny days.
After accepting the award, the VandenBergs shared a message explaining “there have been many people in our community who have supported us through these 35 years of challenges and opportunities.”
“We thank our employees,” Mariposa’s founders said. “It is their focus and dedication that has made us successful. We are (also) grateful to the many people who have made this journey possible: our family, our friends, the dairy goat farmers and our business partners. This award is a recognition to all of us.”
Mariposa Dairy is no stranger to accepting awards, both for its cheeses and its entrepreneurial strength.
The company is a multiple winner of the Ontario Premier’s Award for Agri-food Innovation and was also recognized in 2011 by the Ontario Association of Community Futures Corporations. And its cheeses have won awards from the American Cheese Association and the Royal Winter Fair.
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