Cedar Summit Creamery is About More Than Glass Bottles

There is a steady wet drizzle and a thick coat of fog covering the road as I drive southwest from Minneapolis to Cedar Summit Creamery just outside of New Prague. It is, in other words, the perfect, sloppy, late-winter day to visit a farm.

Cedar Summit owners Dave and Florence Minar live in a warm, wood-sided farmhouse next to the creamery. Dave, with his thick moustache and crooked smile reminds me vaguely of Peter Sellers, while Florence, with her curly white hair and red snowman-covered shirt, resembles a younger, trimmer Mrs. Claus. The stove and countertop of their would-be sunny (if it weren't so grey outside) kitchen is covered in crates of brown eggs from the 150 hens they have on their farm. Dave collected them in the morning before handing them off to Florence who will grade them, pack them in cartons, then stack them in coolers at the small shop connected to the creamery. This store is stocked with goods not only from their own farm, but from other nearby farms and vendors, including Whole Grain Milling and Callister Farms. Another local, chicken-raising family provides additional eggs. And a retired teacher keeps beehives in their pasture so they can sell honey. The small store is its own local co-op.

Dave's grandfather originally bought the farm in 1926. "I was born right over there," Dave explains, pointing toward a table in the back room. He and Florence, who were married in 1964, returned to the farm full-time in 1969. They had five children – Lisa, Chris, Mike, Laura, and Dan – who were all raised there. Today, the children are "all involved in major decisions," Florence says. "One son is the general manager and the other son is marketing and sales."

"We had a family meeting years ago," Dave recalls. "We asked the kids 'What do you want to happen to this farm?' They didn't want it developed, they wanted to keep it as a working farm." The creamery was built in 2002. "That was a way of keeping the farm in the family, basically."

Dave and Florence Minar of Cedar Summit FarmDave and Florence Minar
of Cedar Summit Farm
Although the family also raises beef cattle and pigs, Cedar Summit is best known for its milk, cream, ice cream, cheese and butter. Their milk and cream are the ones sold in those shiny, reusable glass bottles perched in the dairy case of your co-op. "One glass bottle replaces 40 plastic jugs that are in the landfill," figures Florence. But it's not just about being good for the earth. "It tastes better coming out of the glass bottle and it stays colder," notes Dave. "If you set a carton of milk on a table with a glass bottle, the carton will warm up much faster." And there's something reassuringly old-timey about the glass bottles. They're comforting, reminiscent of a time when we weren't concerned about landfills and warm milk. Many in the Twin Cities agree. When the Minars first started marketing their own milk and cream, they called one of the food co-ops, but the co-op manager said the dairy case was full.

Dave remembers: "When we said it was going to be in glass bottles, she thought for about a minute..."

And here Florence interjects. "She didn't even think that long. She said, 'we'll find a spot.'"

While the Twin Cities remains its primary market, Cedar Summit also supplies retail locations in Michigan, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Their cream has been featured in Saveur magazine and the morning I was on the farm, the Canadian Food Network was shooting a spot for an upcoming episode of a TV show featuring a Toronto-based chef.

But farm life isn't all glossy magazines and celebrity chefs. When a severe drought hit the area in 2007, "we had to buy 50 or 60 thousand dollars' worth of hay," recalls Dave. "The pasture just quit," adds Florence.

In spite of these setbacks, the Minars continue to change and tweak their farm so that they can produce healthful food. They stopped using chemicals in the 70s. "We wanted good food for our family," explains Florence. And while they have to downsize their herd of 150 cows because they've reached capacity, they find that investing in livestock has been the biggest pay-off. "Equipment and machines depreciate," Dave explains. "Livestock appreciates because they have calves." Some of their cows are fourteen and fifteen years old, which is an unusually long time for dairy cows to live. This longevity can be attributed to the relatively stress-free lives the cows lead. They spend much of the year in the pasture, and don't eat any corn. They live, as the Minars describe it, a "leisurely life." Their beef cattle aren't just grass-fed, they're grass-finished which means that while some farmers will feed their cattle corn in the last two months to fatten them up before slaughter, the Minars feed their cattle grass until the bitter end.

The cows repay the Minars with milk that is rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and Omega 3 fatty acid, two beneficial fats that many researchers believe fight cancer. The dairy magazine, The Milkweed, tested retail milks for levels of both and found that Cedar Summit Farm led the pack. These high levels can be explained, perhaps, by the all-grass diet that the cows enjoy. But even without such a test, the Minars believed that putting their cows in the pasture most of the year was the best way to treat them. Florence says, "It makes sense to make the cows go out and get the grass themselves."

And for us, we can't see the CLAs and Omega 3s, but we can enjoy the thick, rich creaminess of Cedar Summit's products. The cream that floats to the top in each glass bottle of milk (yes, it's not homogenized) reminds us that old-fashioned goodness comes from a simple place just 30 miles down the road.

Rhena Tantisunthorn, a native of Washington, DC, grew up knocking back Shirley Temples and cultivating a love of food at the bar rail of her parents' restaurant. She's eaten her way through much of Southeast Asia when she lived in Thailand for three years. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. She currently lives with her husband and daughter in South Minneapolis where she writes, edits and creates.