A community helps rebuild a farm after a devastating fire
By Chelsea Korth, Co-op Partners Warehouse Sales Manager
Husband and wife Troy and Barb DeRosier opened Crystal Ball Farms seventeen years ago in 2002. Their family-owned farm sits on several acres of grassy pasture in the St. Croix River Valley of Osceola, Wisconsin. The DeRosiers care for nearly two hundred cows, who produce the milk used for their non-GMO, all-natural dairy products.
Troy DeRosier is up at 3:30 every morning to greet hungry cows and help with milking. The DeRosiers employ a small team, including their teenage son who helps before school, as well as many locals and adults with disabilities. Troy oversees the entire farm operation, which means not only attending to their cows, but also growing the herd’s food supply. Feedings at the DeRosier farm come directly from their property, providing their cows with a hyper-local diet. “Our cows have beds. We keep them clean. They’re happy and comfortable,” Troy says proudly.
Troy’s wife Barb gives a walking tour through their barns. As she walks through, she reaches out to pet the animals. She points out prize-winning cows her son has shown in 4H, cows with distinct personalities and habits, and those they’ve warmed to as pets. “The spot patterns on a cow are as unique as your fingerprint,” she says.
Overseeing creamery production is Osceola native, Lisa Erickson, who joined the team this spring as Creamery Manager. With a food science background, she makes sure all of Crystal Ball Farm’s products undergo strict quality control. Each product is reviewed by hand. “Every one of our bottles is handled by a human being,” says Lisa.
Enduring the Fire
On the afternoon of March 29, 2018, Crystal Ball Farms’ cattle barn burned to the ground, the result of an electrical fire. Thankfully, all but two of the animals were rescued.
When the devastating fire caught the attention of local news outlets, members of their community began trickling in. Cars parked half a mile down the road in both directions with people coming to help.
College-aged students, many who grew up working at Crystal Ball, learned of the fire and spread the word to their families, bringing more volunteers to the scene.
“In seventeen years we’ve built a good name. We’ve hired so many kids through the years,” says Troy. Enough volunteers showed up that day that everyone was able to link arms, serving as a fence to corral the herd and draw them to shelter.
Thankfully, the DeRosiers were able to relocate their cows up the road to a neighboring pasture. This meant that, in addition to losing their barn, they’d also lose their organic status, as the neighbor’s pasture was not organically grown.
Owners Troy and Barb worked with insurance and local contractors for several months to rebuild what was lost. “Insurance doesn’t cover it all. There are costs we had to cover on our own,” said Barb.
Eight months later, on November 30, volunteers finally transported the cows back home.
With much anticipation, Crystal Ball Farms hosted their grand re-opening on August 24th this year. Over five hundred people came, buying out every single product in their small creamery storefront.
Now restocked and fully operational, Troy, Barb and Lisa are exploring ways to educate their customer base about their new, non-organic status.
“Everything we do is the same as before. Their food is grown the same. We use all non-GMO seeds,” explained Troy.
For many, loyalty to Crystal Ball Farms is not about the organic status or the price point. It’s about buying a quality product they trust, supporting a local business, and how it makes them feel.
We’ve had so many people come up to us, relieved, saying, “I’m so glad you’re back up and running. I can’t drink any other milks because I get sick to my stomach,” says Barb.
“We’re hoping to help our customers with point-of-purchase tags to help educate the public,” says Troy, speaking about what makes his products unique. Aside from being local, Crystal Ball’s products are distinguished for several reasons, many of which aren’t so easy to understand. Their milk is all-natural, non-homogenized, and is pasteurized at a low heat.
Homogenized milks are quickly spun during production, resulting in the breakdown of fat particles. Whereas Crystal Ball’s milk is non-homogenized, which is why their products have a distinctive cream line at the top of each bottle.
Their milk is also pasteurized at the lowest heat legally possible; preserving the good enzymes and resulting in a sweeter taste.
Supporting the Farm
“If you look at the world as a whole, Americans pay less for their food as a percentage of their income than most other countries. If you want to have wholesome, good product, you do pay a bit more for it,” says Lisa, Creamery Manager. Unfortunately, Wisconsin leads the nation in family farm closures and many dairy farms have taken a hit.
When asked how the community can help rally around them and support them, Troy simply says, “Buy local. Buy our milk.”
Crystal Ball Farms produces whole, 2%, and skim milks, as well as half & half in reusable glass bottles.