Kickstart my heart: California dairy woman’s dream gets crowdfund

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That’s one way to raise capital: Sixth generation rancher Marissa Thornton, 26, just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for $49,323 — enough to get her family’s dairy farm up and running again.

A total of 341 backers gave to Thornton in pledges ranging from $10 to $2,500 — each with a gift attached (give $10 and get a Facebook shout-out; give $50 and receive a free farm tour for two; etc.). The two donors at the $2,500 level receive a weekend farm stay for two, which Thornton promises will be “a total farm immersion experience.”

“Dairying is in my blood, and I can't imagine doing anything else with my life,” Thornton says on her Kickstarter campaign page.

Indeed, Thornton’s no dewy-eyed entrepreneur. She has a B.S. degree in animal science and nearly all the licensing required to operate a dairy on the ranch (the dairy license will be pursued once the cows are in place, she notes). More importantly, she has a partnership with on-site cheesemakers Seana Doughty and Dave Dalton, owners of the award-winning Bleating Heart Cheese. Early in 2013, the cheesemakers leased and renovated a building on Thornton’s ranch, transforming it into a small but modern microcreamery.

But there were no cows to milk, and there hadn’t been for more than a decade. Back in 2001, Thornton’s grandfather passed away. He and Thornton’s father had been running the dairy together, but her father was forced to sell all of the dairy’s cows in order to pay off unexpected taxes associated with her grandfather’s death. 

“I was a kid at the time and absolutely heartbroken to see the family dairy shut down because it had always been my dream to take over the business someday,” she writes. “Ever since the cows had to be sold in 2001, I kept my dream alive. I pondered ways I could re-establish the dairy but with a different business model than most other dairies, who had to ‘get big or get out.’” 

Kickstart dairy Kickstart dairy

With her stated goal of $35,000, Thornton planned to buy 20 organic Jersey cows, graze them on the 1,000-acre ranch and sell her milk to Bleating Heart as it expands production. Now that her campaign has surpassed that total, she plans to use additional funds toward purchasing a milk tank, a feed tank, feeders, alfalfa and grain. 

“I can make my career dreams come true right now because I've had the help and support of many incredible people,” she writes. “I am so grateful!”



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