Reiffs produce Grazing Acres Yogurt on Elma farm
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 07/09/2012 8:38 AM
ELMA, Iowa — Jimmy and LouAnn Reiff have been building their Grazing Acres yogurt business since they came to Iowa two years ago.
The Reiffs started with just one cow that they milked by hand. Today, their herd is up to seven cows consisting of Jerseys and crossbreds. They hope to eventually have all Jerseys.
"Jerseys have good butterfat," said LouAnn.
They tore down a hog building on their farm, near the Wapsipinicon River west of Elma, and used the foundation to build a bedded pack barn, small milking parlor, milk house, storage area and processing facility. Regulations required a two-door separation between the processing area and the milking parlor. A small lab area allows them to test their milk according to state specifications.
"Lisa Poole with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has been extremely patient and helpful with us," said Jimmy. "We are a very small operation."
Poole said that the Reiffs' quality is outstanding.
"This is an outstanding operation," she said. "I've never had a problem. If a change is needed, they make it. They are great to work with."
In addition to the dairy, the Reiffs raise two acres of cantaloupe, onions, potatoes and pumpkins, which they sell at the nearby Cedar Valley Produce Auction. They grow corn and hay for the cows and raise soybeans as a cash crop. They feed cattle for a neighbor, and they have 50 laying hens.
"We've got a simple operation," Jimmy said.
The Reiffs have four children, Lori, 8; Cody, 7; Eric, 4; and Ryan, six months.
The couple learned about yogurt-making when they lived in Pennsylvania. Jimmy worked for a PVC fencing company.
"We got our basic yogurt recipe from an Amish lady," LouAnn said. "After working with her recipe, we added our own little twist. We tried to improve the texture."
The couple bought their yogurt-making equipment in Pennsylvania and brought it to Iowa.
What milk they don't use for yogurt-making, they sell to AMPI. They're on a milk route with some Amish farms located north of them.
The Reiffs pasteurize their milk and then make yogurt in the same stainless steel vat. Once the milk is pasteurized, they add the necessary ingredients, heat everything to between 108 and 111 degrees and let it sit for five hours.
The yogurt is pumped from the mixing vat into one-quart plastic containers, sealed and refrigerated in a custom-built trailer where the product is cooled to 45 degrees.
"We don't put a lot of ingredients in our yogurt," LouAnn said.
They use pasteurized whole milk, sugar, tapioca starch, natural flavorings and live and active yogurt cultures. LouAnn said the tapioca starch makes their yogurt smooth and creamy.
"Getting good yogurt is all in the little things you do," Jimmy said. "I think one thing that sells our yogurt is its texture. It's totally different from anything out there."
So far the Reiffs are producing five flavors —vanilla, orange cream, lemon burst, raspberry and white strawberry. The top seller is vanilla. Jimmy's favorite is orange cream. LouAnn likes white strawberry and lemon burst. The family eats yogurt at nearly every meal.
The Reiffs sell Grazing Acres Yogurt at grocery stores in Osage and Riceville; the Elma Locker; Dutch Valley Store, near Charles City; and at the Cedar Valley Production Auction.
Since Jimmy didn't grow up on a dairy farm, he's learning all the time.
"Mervin Martin, who lives just down the road, has been a great source of information to my husband," LouAnn said.
Jimmy hopes to focus more on grazing. The cows have access to pasture whenever they want.
"In the spring with all the nice green grass, we've noticed that our milk has been richer," LouAnn said.
Building the yogurt business takes patience.
"It's been picking up a lot since the weather got warmer," LouAnn said. "People are getting to know about our yogurt, and the produce auction is helping."