Agriculture + Lifestyle
Equal Parts Science and Spirit
Posted on September 25, 2019 12:00 AM
There’s an equation for success happening between Jessica and Jeremy Little. When the art of craftmanship is added to a fierce spirit of stewardship, multiplied by a love of animals and compounded by creativity, the sum always equals Sweet Grass Dairy.
Cradled in the arms of a small southwest Georgia town, Sweet Grass Dairy has given Thomasville a reputation for renowned artisanal cheeses – and it’s an operation that runs in the family.
“Both of my parents graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in animal science and farmed conventionally, meaning they had 2,000 Holstein cows, in barns, milking three times a day around the clock,” said Jessica.
Her parents knew there had to be a better way – one that was more sustainable for the animals, the land and for their own lives, as they had three young children.
“In 1992, my dad attended a New Zealand rotational grazing conference, and it was a light-bulb moment for him,” she said. “When he came back, he sold their partnership and started over, purchasing 350 acres in Brookes County that was then divided into 5-acre paddocks.”
Rotational grazing consists of cows being herded to a fresh pasture every 12 hours. They are kept cool and comfortable under a pivot system that intermittently sprays light water showers. Cows feed on a variety of grasses including Crab, Clover and Bahai, and trace minerals are added to the soil to ensure the safety of the animals.
“We have control over the process from the ground, the soil, through the animals, with the milk and then the final product being milk or cheese,” Jessica said. “We can keep our cows on grass year-round, which is really special.”
Within the first six months of the new rotational grazing, Jessica’s mother knew the milk was a product worth sharing with the masses, and so in December 2000, Sweet Grass Dairy was founded. Two years later, Jessica and her husband, Jeremy, were brought into the fold.
“In 2005, Jeremy and I bought Sweet Grass Dairy from my parents. We both had hospitality industry backgrounds and really fell in love with a process that’s equally artistic and incredibly science driven. It’s a perfect fit for us, given that Jeremy focuses on the actual creation of the cheeses. It’s such a laboring process of innovation, continual testing and understanding how science drives the making of cheeses. I wear a lot of hats within our businesses, but spend a good portion of my time focusing on sharing the story of sustainable agriculture. I’m passionate about brining awareness to humanely raising animals,” Jessica said.
Today, Sweet Grass Dairy boasts a line of six core cheeses all made on site at their creamery from milk sourced from the family’s three farms.
“All of the milk that’s produced by the cows is used within two days and is used to make our own cheeses or sold to distributors for consumption in the grocery store. My family owns three farms in southwest Georgia: Green Hill, Jumping Gulley and Grassy Flats,” she said. “A single dairy cow can produce 6 to 7 gallons of milk a day – more milk than we can make cheese with.”
The wheel of imagination continued to turn and in 2010 the Little family opened the Cheese Shop in downtown Thomasville, which combines true farm-to-table cheeses, delicious pub food and retail shopping.
Explaining her entrepreneurial spirit, Jessica said she owes that to her parents.
“I grew up with entrepreneurial parents who truly cared about their animals and their employees. They would always give employees the holidays off and therefore as a family, we would have to go out and milk cows and feed calves before we could open Christmas presents. We used to hate that as kids, but now those are some of my fondest memories,” she said. “I remember calling my mom when I went to college and saying, ‘Mom, people don’t know how to work!’ I grew up raising cows; I grew up in 4-H and I always showed cows. I bought my first car from selling my 4-H cows. It’s just an innate part of who I am.”