July 13 2015 06:54 AM

When one Illinois farm family came to a crossroads, they took a leap into the unknown and reaped major rewards as a result.

Marcoot family

In the midst of corn and soybean fields stands a dairy farm. While that may not seem unique at first, the farm attracts approximately 15,000 visitors every year.

What, you might ask, makes this dairy farm so popular?

The answer: This dairy farm takes the entirety of its milk and converts it into cheese, and ages some of those in their own underground cave.

Enter the Marcoot family of Greenville, Ill. In 2010, John and Linda Marcoot, along with their daughters Amy and Beth, decided to take the family dairy farm in a different direction. John and Linda had wanted to retire, but the girls wanted to finish their degrees. Inevitably, Amy and Beth came back to the farm because they didn't want to see it leave the family. Something different had to be done to support the next generation.

The Marcoots have been milking Jersey cows for seven generations, and had been on the same farm since 1954. Together with their little brown cows, they took a leap into the world of making cheese. Today, Marcoot Jersey Creamery makes 16 varieties of cheese produced by 65 pastured Jersey cows. The creamery employs 10 people, including family. Amy Marcoot, president of Marcoot Jersey Creamery, said that the road to success hasn't always been easy . . . especially when working with family. "None of us knew anything about making cheese," Amy said. "We had to learn not just how to make cheese, but how to make excellent cheese."

Working with family has also been a learning experience. Amy is grateful that her father still manages the cows and her sister is her best friend, but added, "Sometimes when you're comfortable with people you aren't the nicest to them. We had to learn how to be kind to each other not just as family members, but as coworkers."

Since Amy and Beth both have degrees in education, not having formal training in business made Amy a little insecure at first. However, having a bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in counseling has really helped Amy when interacting with customers who haven't had much experience with farming. "That's my favorite part about having visitors. We appreciate our customers and want them to have a good experience," Amy remarked. "Since every farmer does things differently, we don't try to just promote the way we farm." She also added that listening is key when they have visitors.

Members of our editorial team, myself included, visited Marcoot Jersey Creamery last month and sampled their delicious cheeses for ourselves. For more information about the Marcoot family and their farm, visit www.marcootjerseycreamery.com.

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The author is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, majoring in agricultural marketing communications. She is the 27th Hoard's Dairyman editorial summer intern.