New Prague, Minn. — Sometimes little things make the biggest differences. For Dave and Florence Minar, it was letting their cows eat grass.

That grass-fed beginning led to an on-farm creamery producing dairy products high in Omega-3s, Florence says. This spring, their Cedar Summit Farm brand became available in Twin Cities health food stores and a St. Peter co-op.

Summit of three generations

Cedar Summit Farm has been in the Minar family since the 1920s, when Dave’s grandfather purchased it. His parents took over in the ’30s, and finally he and Florence purchased it in 1969. The three-generation family business has developed a loyal customer group and keeps growing by word of mouth.

It wasn’t until 1993 or ’94 that the Minars’ cows started on grass rather than corn and grains, but Florence says it made a noticeable difference. Outdoor exercise makes their cows healthier, which has dramatically cut vet bills. Healthier animals produce healthier milk, she maintains. “We have very happy cows now,” adds the Minars’ daughter Laura. “They spread out all over the pasture because they have so much to eat.”

To give the cows shelter from Minnesota winters, the Minars put up a hoop house last fall. The house has a fabric cover that lets in sun while it keep the cows warm.

Around the time they began pasturing cows, the Minars took to direct marketing chicken, beef and pork. That’s when Florence began researching Omega-3s and passing out articles about it. “I realized we had a superior product because of the Omega-3 in it, and I wanted people to know about it,” she says.

Everyone needs a dietary balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils. Omega-3, contained in green vegetables and the grass cows eat, is an essential fatty acid that promotes lean muscle mass, helps fight cancer and helps convert fat to energy. Omega-6, another essential fatty acid, is in many seed oils, but too much of it can possibly cause immune system problems, make the body store fat and promote tumors, say some researchers. Florence says Americans have twenty times more Omega-6 than Omega-3 in their diets today, but research indicates it is best to eat only three times more Omega-6 than Omega-3. “I don’t feel as much like a radical as I did before because more people are finding out about (Omega-3s) now,” she says.

Zoned out

Although the farm was thriving and expanding, the Minars did not have smooth sailing. Located in an “agriculture zone,” they had to get a conditional use permit for their business from Scott County. The permit restricted retailing, so the Minars call their store a “showroom.”

The farm appears to be doing well with or without advertising. They have regular customers who come in at least once or twice a week, and Florence says they get about two to three new customers a day. She thinks loyal customers are spreading the word because “people like to know where their food comes from.

With all the E. coli scares everywhere, a product like ours makes a difference.” She says that every time there is an outbreak of E. coli, the farm gets phone calls and product requests. “Last year we ran out of ground beef because of an E. coli scare. People were stocking up on boxes of ground beef and got kind of panicked.”

Roller coaster to creamery

When their parents began talking about developing a dairy processing facility on site, sons Mike, Dan and Chris, daughters Laura and Lisa and their spouses were all enthusiastic. “They wanted to be a part of it,” Florence says. She and Dave began checking around to determine how to build a creamery of their own. “It was a roller coaster ride,” laughs Florence. “One day we’d be excited, the next we’d be saying, ‘Oh my gosh.’ ”

Lisa Gjersvik, project development director in Waseca, has been working with the Minars since September 2001.

“The Minars did things right,” she says. “They had an idea for a product that’s differentiated in the marketplace, but they knew that was only part of the equation. They knew they needed to determine whether their products’ attributes were valued by consumers.” The Minars took the time to do the homework on the front end and went in with their eyes open. “Planning in the beginning pays long-term dividends.”

Now in their fourth month of processing, the family is finding out what works and what doesn’t. All five of the Minar children help out as much as possible, and that includes spouses. While the family runs the creamery, their dairy farm partner Paul Kajer manages the livestock and two part-time employees help in the barns. “Dave and I just fill in wherever we’re needed,” Florence says. “At least one of us has to be around the bottle washer to keep it going during the day too.”

Something for everyone

Cedar Summit dairy offers a wide variety of products: regular, chocolate and strawberry milk, butter, yogurt, ice cream, cheese, chicken, beef, pork and turkey at Thanksgiving. “We sell pretty much all of our turkeys every year,” Florence says. “We have a waiting list from people who sign up to be assured they get a turkey next year.”

In addition to Cedar Summit’s showroom sales, and New Prague and Twin Cities markets, Laura home delivers within a 10-mile radius of New Prague. The Minars are considering a possible venture into the St. Paul Farmers Market, which would be a “big commitment,” Florence says.

For the cows, there is freedom and that luscious grass. “It was really funny watching the cows recently,” says Florence. “We milk them two times a day and after each milking they get fresh grass. One day they went running out to the pasture because they knew what they were getting. They love it.”

For more information, visit www.cedarsummit.com or call (952) 758-6886.