Agassiz’s Creekside Dairy started making and selling their own organic cheese from a shop on their farm on August 19, 2021. It was the realization of a long-standing dream, but like many such things the journey did not follow a straight line but took years, a few risks, and a bit of a winding path.. In some ways, it can be traced back to a Facebook post made years ago addressing misinformation about dairy farmers.
When Creekside’s Julaine Treur and her husband Johannes were expecting their first child back in 2006, Julaine visited parents groups on Facebook to gather information.
“I kept seeing misinformation about milk and the treatment of cows in these online forums,” Julaine says of the groups. “And when I tried to provide proof to people that wasn’t happening I found that at the time, there weren’t very many farmers using social media to tell their story.”
So she started a Facebook page to share updates about her family’s work on the farm and information about BC’s high standards for dairy. Today, the page has more than 11,000 followers watching their regular updates about the cows, family, life on the farm and, recently, their cheese.
It wasn’t long after that local residents started asking Julaine about buying product directly from their farm, but at the time, their raw milk was picked up every other day and pooled with milk from across the region before being processed. They figured people wouldn’t drive so far out the valley to buy their products anyway, so let the idea go fallow. But then, in 2019 they had some extra beef left over from a steer and put up a post inviting people to buy it. So many people showed up they made it a monthly thing, offering grass fed beef for sale on a regular basis.
Well, if people were coming to the farm for beef, why not milk and cheese?
“That’s when we really started looking at that seriously. We’d talked about it over the years,” Julaine says.
They toured a few processing facilities to see how cheese is made, and at one of them the owner mentioned a cheese-maker in Quesnel who was getting out of the business – selling all of his equipment and offering to train its buyers in the craft. They took a trip to meet him in March of 2020, and came home with the equipment and training. From there, they worked on plans and secured approvals while mastering cheese-making in the kitchen. Construction of their cheese works and store started in November of 2020, the shop opening just over half a year later.
“It’s been a multi-year process, but we’re there now,” she says.
Like the beef, demand for their cheese exceeded their expectations.
“The first weekend we sold more cheese than we thought we’d sell in the first month. We had a lineup out the door most days,” Julaine says. “It’s stayed steady since then. What’s really great is we’re seeing repeat customers now.”
“It was an emotional day for us,” she adds about opening their store for the first time. “The most rewarding part is the personal relationship with a farmer. Our customers tell their friends. The people have been a real highlight of all of this.”
They sell their own milk as well, but the big demand is for cheese – and for the experience. On weekends they offer shoppers tours of the barn – complete with snack packs of cheese and education about dairy farming in BC. On tours people also get to see the heritage chickens and pigs – the Treurs added organic eggs and pork to their offering in 2020.
Along the way they also gained organic certification in 2015. Julaine and Johannes started the three-year process in 2012 after their feed representative suggested they were not that far off an organic certification because they already pastured their cows, noting there is increasing demand for organic milk. Visitors love seeing the cows and other animals in the field and barns.
“The tour gives people a connection to where their food comes from,” Julaine says.
In the cheese works they craft a few kinds of alpine-style cheeses – Raclette and Gouda, of course. They mix in spices and herbs like garlic and cumin, as well as making plain varieties that stand well on their own. They also make some spreadable cheeses and sell cheese curds, great for poutine, every Thursday.
“We’re Dutch, so we have to have gouda,” Julaine quips.
As of February 2022 they started offering their first aged cheese – a gruyere.
“It’s been an exercise in patience,” she laughs – aged cheese has to mature for months or even years before going up for sale.
Currently they are processing only a small portion of their total raw milk production into cheese – most is still picked up for pooling with milk from other farms and processing by larger companies into products on grocery store shelves.
That could change before long, however, in part due to the floods of November 2021. During the floods, transportation of milk was hindered for about a week while all highways through the Fraser Valley were closed. Creekside stepped in to help address the shortage in the eastern Valley, jumping from their usual production of about 150 litres of fluid milk a week to 4,000 litres. Their facility has a 500 litre vat for processing raw milk into a product ready for sale or making into cheese, so meeting the demand meant working long days to run two batches through the plant.
“It was a really emotional time,” Julaine says. “We knew our fellow dairy farmers were really struggling. We were hurting for them, but we couldn’t do a lot to help them. In a way it was a relief we were able to do something to help our community by providing milk for families.”
When the floods receded and roads reopened, some of the increase in local demand remained, so their weekly production of milk has stayed higher. Along with increasing demand for their cheese, that has the family looking at purchasing a 2,000 litre vat to quadruple their capacity. That capacity will ultimately allow them to handle their farm’s entire production of raw milk if they run a batch every day, once the demand is there.
“It will give us some leeway as we plan for the future,” she says, adding 2,000 litres of milk is enough to make about 20 wheels of cheese.
“Maybe one day we’ll be processing all of our own milk,” Julaine says. “We want to provide a good, tasty product for our customers.”
Julaine and Johannes have been farming in Agassiz since only 2011 – unusual in an industry where so many family farms go back generations. Johannes, however, is a sixth-generation dairy farmer, with deep roots in the work in his native Holland. His parents brought him and his two brothers to Canada in 2002 when his father, a pastor, was called to a church in Chilliwack.
Johannes and his brothers bought land in Rosedale and started a farm in 2003, before he and Julaine married and started Creekside in 2011. Today, they milk about 100 Brown Swiss cows on just over 100 acres.
“He always wanted to be a farmer, but the prospects of farming in Holland were grim at the time,” Julaine says, adding that land is expensive in the European country. “So they were thrilled when their father accepted a call to minister in Chilliwack because they thought there would be more prospects for farming in Canada. The dream of having their own farm – that became possible.”
Juliane did not grow up around farming, and was actually pursuing a career in pharmacy when she met Johannes. However, it wasn’t long before she fell in love with the cows and the life of a farm.
“I’ve always loved being outdoors, that’s always been a draw for me,” she says.
The pair are raising five children on the farm, from 14 – three years old. They all help out with the animals and land, the younger ones perhaps doing more watching than chores at this point.
Visit Creekside Cheese and Creamery online to learn more about their farm, family and product offerings.