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Jasper Hill Cheese Leads Quiet Greensboro Revolution

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GREENSBORO – For the better part of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century there has been a significant transfer of wealth from rural America to urban America.

There is a little-known revolution taking place in Greensboro, with two men trying to change that dynamic. The men are Andy and Mateo Kehler, and their weapon of choice is cheese. They are rebuilding agriculture in the Kingdom, one block of cheese at a time.

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Andy (left) and Mateo Kehler, Founders of Jasper Hill.

One of the most significant causes of this transfer of wealth from rural America to urban America has been agricultural policies affecting food prices.

According to Mateo Kehler, agricultural policies under both Republican and Democratic administrations have been designed to encourage overproduction and depress prices to keep voters happy by ensuring an endless supply of cheap food.

Those low prices come at the expense of farmers with commodity prices that are often less than the cost of production, says Mateo Kehler.

The Kehlers are the founders of Jasper Hill Cheese and part of their mission is to reverse that flow of capital back to the farmers and the working landscape in a rural community.

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The Cellars at Jasper Hill in Greensboro aging cheese, where Andy and Mateo Kehler are waging their quiet revolution; redistributing wealth into rural Vermont by crafting some of the world’s best cheeses.

They are building a pipeline to urban markets with high incomes and selling Vermont products in those urban areas to generate pricing that will sustain farmers producing their milk.

The Kehlers are doing something else that is truly radical in free market economies; they aren’t sourcing the lowest price milk. Instead, they are working with the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE), which independently does cost of production modeling to be certain farmers are paid a fair price for their milk.

These two economic revolutionaries make cheese in Greensboro because, according to Mateo Kehler, they were on a quest to do meaningful work in a place they love, with people they love and Greensboro is their “happy place.” This year their family is celebrating 100 years of owning a home on Caspian Lake and this is where they often came in the summer.

1998 was a big year for Andy and Mateo. Andy Kehler made Greensboro his home after he graduated from UVM in 1993 and began working as a carpenter. The farm, owned at the time by John C. Stone, came up for sale in 1998 when the Kehlers bought four of the seven parcels.

None of their plans had yet jelled. Mateo Kehler was milking sheep at Neil Urie’s Bonnie View Farm in Craftsbury, as well as milking 100 Belgian sheep at Buck Freeman’s Skunk Hollow Farm in Greensboro when the USDA destroyed all of those sheep.

The land they bought sat fallow in the Current Use Program without a lot of overhead.

That year Mateo Kehler also decided he should go to college. He wound up studying community economic development and micro-finance at the London School of Economics.

While there he begged a job at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, where they selected and matured 65 varieties of Irish and British cheeses.

Then he found himself in Costa Rica, India and Nepal. Meanwhile he and Andy Kehler were talking all the time in what has become a constant 25-year conversation about community building, agricultural economics and cheese.

Out of those conversations Jasper Hill was born. Today they employ over 100 people.

Interestingly some of those people were born into the Kingdom’s dying agricultural economy as the small dairy farms were going out of business. They wandered off to other occupations like carpentry and flooring but have now come back to farming with Jasper Hill.

When asked about their biggest challenge today Mateo Kehler says it is housing.

Without a healthy housing market he says Jasper Hill can’t attract and keep the talented young workers they need to grow the business. He says that the few times a house comes on the market it isn’t affordable for most people. Without more housing he says there will be little access to essential new talent. The housing problem does not bode well for the future of Jasper Hill. 

On the upside Mateo Kehler sees the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick as an enormous asset. It has been the hub of agriculture in this area with a critical mass of support services that helps solve an endless array of problems for start-ups as well as well-established businesses like Jasper Hill. 

Collaboration and win-win partnerships has been another core value that has helped fuel Jasper Hill’s success. They are working with wine makers, breweries and cider producers to help craft new cheeses. Additionally, they have built strong partnerships with Cabot, Shelburne Farms, von Trapp Farm and others.

Mateo Kehler is excited by the growth of community supported agriculture, but now he wants to see an agriculture supported community and a new paradigm for win-win partnerships in a market economy; all while making the best, most revolutionary, cheese in the world.

The Center for an Agricultural Economy staff

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