English Farmstead Partners with Students
By Emma Castleberry
Each winter, English Farmstead partners with the McDowell High School Career Technical Education (CTE) program for an educational and delicious project. Students from the CTE’s culinary, marketing, math and agricultural programs work together to create, market and sell a holiday cheese. The program began last year, after McDowell CTE teachers made a visit to the farm and realized the potential for a project with great benefits for the entire community. The partnership provides students with hands-on experience in the farm-to-table business.
This year, the students will be working with the English family to create a cheese ball made from fromage blanc, a type of cream cheese. While traditional cream cheeses are made using only cream, fromage blanc uses the entire milk product. “We’ve been making this type of cheese for years,” says Rachel English Brown of English Farmstead. The fromage blanc ball made by the McDowell students will be a sweet cheese, flavored with maraschino cherries and Cheerwine syrup, then covered in a mixture of waffle cone pieces and nuts. “This will be a limited release spread and we anticipate we will only make around one hundred of them,” says Brown.
The process starts with a field trip. The McDowell CTE agriculture students travel to English Farmstead for a day to help milk the Jersey and Holstein cows and learn about the farm’s operation. The culinary students follow on a separate field trip to the farmstead’s cheese house, where they work to make the fromage blanc balls. Once the product is prepared, graphic design students create a logo for the cheese and marketing students hatch a plan to sell it. “This project is important to us because it provides us with a hands-on experience in running and promoting a business,” says Keaton Williams, a marketing student in the 11th grade at McDowell CTE. “It is also important for the farmstead because they are able to get feedback from a young generation and have more information about marketing to younger people.”
Throughout the project, students from the CTE’s math program track expenses and the project’s profits, which are used to support CTE students who need help paying for field trips and supplies. “The program has seen a lot of success among those students interested in a career in agriculture and has been a great way to bring the community together, especially around the holidays,” says Mindy Hutchings of the McDowell CTE program. “It is a great opportunity to learn about a local business and the process of product and service management, selling, promotion, distribution and customer satisfaction and relationships.” Last year’s project lasted about a month from the moment the students began learning how to make the cheese to the final sale.
English Farmstead is a family farm with a long history in the Western North Carolina region. Ed English and his wife, Maggie, made their first dairy shipment in 1927 and their family has been milking cows ever since. “The name ‘farmstead’ denotes that our cheeses are made from milk produced on site,” says Brown. “In fact, the milk from our cows travels only a stone’s throw to our farm store, where it is crafted into a variety of hard cheeses and soft cheese spreads.”
The farmstead’s partnership with McDowell CTE is just one of the English family’s many community projects. Several of the family’s grandchildren attend McDowell County schools and the farmstead donates cheese spreads that are almost out of date to the culinary students for their school café. The English Farmstead cows have also made a visit to the high school childcare classes and the English family participates in an agriculture awareness field day for all county 4th graders. “We are a family of educators,” says Brown, “so partnering with McDowell County Schools is important to us. Giving kids the opportunity to see agriculture in action and learn a little bit more about where their food comes from is a great way to give back to our community.”
English Farmstead is a member of the WNC Cheese Trail, a 501c(6) non-profit cooperative effort by the region’s farmstead and artisan cheese producers to promote the production and sale of WNC cheeses, facilitate consumer education and encourage regional tourism. For more information, visit wnccheesetrail.org.