Growing the Good
Christine Leonard is Compeer's 2023 GroundBreaker of the Year.
After scrubbing up from morning chores on her dairy farm just outside Norwood Young America, Minn., Christine Leonard heads into a small commercial kitchen on the property, which she’s dubbed “The Cheese Shack.” She starts assembling orders of beautifully curated cheese boards and charcuterie plates for her business, The Grater Good.
Christine grew up on this farm. So did her mom. And her grandma. And her great-grandma. All the way back six generations. Today, the farm is a traditional dairy operation where, alongside her parents Tim and Amy, Christine milks 45 registered Holsteins, raises replacement animals and works 200 acres of corn, alfalfa, soybeans and wheat.
“Growing up, Christine has always loved the cows,” said her mom, Amy. “She always wanted to be the one to demonstrate and tell people about cows. She has a real passion for dairy animals and boundless enthusiasm about agriculture, and she’s very knowledgeable.”
After earning her degree in food science and technology from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Christine worked a few jobs off the farm — helping other dairy farmers and working at an organic vegetable CSA and at a farmstead creamery. Along the way, Christine discovered her heart was on the family farm, and she eventually convinced her parents to let her come home and farm full time with them. Part of her return included creating The Grater Good.
“I started by making cheese boards for family and friends, and, as charcuterie boards have become more popular, I decided to turn this passion into a business,” Christine explained. “I partner with other local producers for the cheeses, meats, honey and jams I use in my boards and cheese education classes.”
Building a Business
Ultimately, Christine’s goal is to bring consumers closer to agriculture, creating a deeper understanding of where food comes from by telling the stories of the farmers and of the cheesemakers she works with.
But being a young and beginning farmer has its own unique challenges.
“I’m facing a lot of the same issues that other young farmers are facing,” Christine said. “It’s the high input costs of farming — from the price of land, equipment, input costs, fuel, fertilizer and labor. When you add it all up, these things are expensive and can be a barrier to entry. So when I came back to the farm, I knew I needed to find some kind of a niche, and that’s how The Grater Good came to be.”
It's a niche that’s been a great value-add for Christine and something she wants to continue growing. In the future, she’d like to add a space to hold cheese classes and meetings on the farm and eventually add an on-farm creamery where she can make artisan cheeses on-site and bring her customers even closer to agriculture.
Christine has developed four pillars to guide her business plan: maintaining a focus on remaining local, providing education to consumers, giving strong attention to stewardship when it comes to caring for the land and the animals, and maintaining high standards of safety on the farm and in her cheese business.
GroundBreaker of the Year
Christine’s drive, passion and commitment to the agriculture industry exemplify why she’s a great fit for Compeer Financial’s GroundBreaker of the Year Award. The award recognizes young, beginning and small-operation farmers who are overcoming obstacles and making a difference in agriculture and their community.
“Christine’s dedication makes her unique,” said Karen Johnson, team leader of insurance operations at Compeer. “Her passion for the industry, her passion to educate people about agriculture and her passion to connect with people and get them excited about the dairy industry and cheese set Christine apart.”
Christine noted that being recognized as the GroundBreaker of the Year means a lot to her. “As a woman in agriculture and as a small farmer, it’s important for me to be a role model for others,” she said. “Having a small farm or being a woman in this industry shouldn’t hold us back.
“I’m hopeful to see a resurgence of small, regenerative farms like mine for the people out there who really just want to farm and work with animals,” Christine continued. “It’s pretty amazing to be considered a GroundBreaker and someone who’s making waves.”
And it’s clear the next generation at Leonard Family Farms is in good hands.
“When I watch Christine teach cheese classes, she lights up the room,” mom Amy said. “She's really in her element when she can talk about cows, cheese and farming — the things she loves.”
This article was originally printed in the Summer 2023 edition of Compeer Financial's Cultivate magazine.