Steven Read and Jodi Ohlsen Read established Shepherd’s Way Farms in rural Carver County Minnesota with a small flock of dairy sheep in 1994. Initially, the farm produced only milk, which was sold through the Wisconsin Dairy Sheep Cooperative. Shepherd’s Way was one of the founding members of the WDSC, helping pave the way for other dairy shepherds.
In 1998, Shepherd’s Way Farms introduced its first farmstead cheese, Friesago. Friesago was warmly welcomed by chefs, cheesemongers, and consumers, winning its first American Cheese Society award in 2002.
The farm relocated to its current location in 2001, now just outside Northfield, Minnesota across from the Big Woods State Park. Shepherd’s Way Farms flock had grown to be one of the largest sheep dairy flocks in North America. Milking and cheesemaking were now housed in adjacent facilities within the long barns.
In October 2004, Jodi and Steven were among the 5000 food producers chosen by local Slow Food conviviums to represent the United States at the first Terra Madre Conference, sponsored by Slow Foods International in Torino, Italy.
A devastating arson fire in January 2005 destroyed more than 500 sheep and lambs and all of the animal housing. At the end of 2005, milking was suspended and cheese production continued on an extremely limited basis. With enormous community support, Shepherd’s Way has persevered, slowly beginning rebuilding and resuming full production in 2011.
Today, Shepherd’s Way Farms has a small foundation flock of approximately 200 dairy ewes and the renovated ‘new’ lambing barn is nearly finished. Shepherd’s Way has remained vitally active in the local food community, as part of the Mill City Farmer’s Market in Minneapolis and the St. Paul Farmer’s market and in events such as the Eat Local Farm Tours.
The farm now also has heritage breed chickens, heritage Large Black pigs and an assortment of other pigs that are fed the whey from cheesemaking.
And, the Read’s nearly-grown sons have crucial and varied roles in the farm, running farmer’s market booths, maintaining animal health and participating in many facets of cheesemaking. Having grown up on the farm, the boys have also taken part in Slow Food events, tours, classes as well as the day-to-day demanding work of tending animals and land during all seasons.