PEOPLE MOVING PRODUCT

Delivering dairy in central Iowa

Service grows from farm’s milk bottling venture

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GUTHRIE CENTER, Iowa – Sixteen years ago, the Sheeder family in Guthrie Center was 10 years into milking a herd of Holstein and Jersey cows. A couple of the state’s dairy farms were processing their own milk into consumer products, but the Sheeders saw opportunity to add value to their dairy west of Des Moines.
Russell and Merici Sheeder took a leap, putting their pasteurized, homogenized milk into glass bottles and stocking grocery stores across central Iowa. Sheeder Cloverleaf Dairy’s milk became a popular product, and the business expanded to include ice cream.
While Dairy Farmers of America took a portion of the Sheeders’ milk, there were times when 90% of it was processed on the farm and delivered to grocery stores.  
“Glass bottles in central Iowa were unheard of,” said Grant Sheeder, Russell and Merici’s son, who handles marketing. “And, social media was not even a thing.”
But their customers were buying milk for its taste and health benefits. Grant credited vat pasteurization and their cows’ ration for the quality of the dairy’s milk.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, it became clear that home delivery of their products was an opportunity they could not pass up. They began delivering dairy to customers’ homes, along with eggs and bread.
“Just delivering milk didn’t do it,” said Grant of the switch to home delivery.
Over the two years since then, the delivery business has expanded to include beef, honey, baked goods, pasta, pizza and coffee, products grown or made in central Iowa. As he reached out to find local products for the route, Grant discovered items of which he was previously unaware.  
“Farm to table has been an ever-increasing thing, but COVID really drove it home,” he said. “People want to support the local businesses, and the quality is there. This is the best stuff in the world.”
The delivery business with the Sheeders’ milk and ice cream was a success. But after 16 years, retirement loomed for Russell and Merici. The cows were sold early in 2022, leaving a dilemma: How would dairy remain on the delivery route?
For 45 days, the family’s delivery service featured products from Anderson Erickson Dairy, a commercial processor in Des Moines. But those who loved Sheeder Cloverleaf Dairy’s milk were disappointed.
“People were really bummed,” Grant said. “We had a really high percentage of fat; we made sure there was full flavor. It was a pride thing for us. Premium quality for a premium-priced milk in glass bottles.”
Enter Burbach’s Countryside Dairy of Hartington, Nebraska, northwest of Sioux City. There, dairy farmers Dean and Lisa Burbach process milk into glass bottles along with making yogurt and providing milk for various businesses like coffee and ice cream shops.
Sheeder Cloverleaf Dairy began delivering Burbach Countryside milk; the glass bottles were back, although customers could still have Anderson Erickson products delivered as well.
“I’m surprised how many people are against plastic containers. They’ve gone green,” Grant said.
Home delivery routes now run four days each week, with one van operated by two semi-retired drivers. Russell and Merici manage the coolers and organize the loads. It provides an income for the former dairy farmers and allows them to provide wholesome dairy products to their region.
“But, they don’t have to be there from 4:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day,” said Grant of his parents’ continued involvement.
Grant also has a new farm-to-market business in the works. A meat locker will open in 2022 in Guthrie Center, thanks to his realization that it has been nearly impossible to keep up with the demand for steaks and roasts.
Eventually, the Sheeder family’s remaining dairy animals and 80 stock cows will go through the locker and may be included in home delivery.
Meanwhile, central Iowa consumers can have their dairy, and other products, delivered.
“We like to call it a small farmers’ market on wheels,” Grant said.

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