Sep. 1—MOUNT VERNON, S.D. — Starting in early September, Sam and Kelly Scheetz will be delivering their fresh bottles of raw milk to the doorsteps of Mitchell homes — reviving a centuries-old practice of milk delivery.
Over the past six months, the couple has been producing Grade A raw milk at their Mount Vernon dairy farm. The Scheetzes' raw milk is one of many products they make and sell through their business, Scheetz Mercantile.
But it's a product they are very proud of, considering the work and time that goes into producing it.
"We put a lot of time and effort into the process because we want to show people how good raw milk is and that it can be done right. It's exciting to be bringing back the aspect of delivering milk and groceries to your front door like back in the day," Kelly said.
After making the big switch this spring from producing Grade B raw milk to Grade A, the longtime dairy farmers were eager to get their new product in the hands of people who don't have access to raw milk. An online survey was conducted by the couple this summer to gauge interest from Mitchell residents in establishing a milk delivery route in Mitchell. The routes will allow customers the option of weekly and bi-weekly milk deliveries.
The labor demands for pumping out bottles of raw milk aren't the only challenges the Scheetzes took on by diving into the Grade A raw milk production realm. Producing Grade A raw milk requires adhering to a lot more regulations. Selling the product is also regulated by the state, which allows fewer options to sell raw milk.
"We either have to sell it at the door of a customer or they come to the farm and buy it. That way we know it's spent very minimal time outside of cool temperatures," Sam said. "In South Dakota, you have to be a licensed dairy facility. You also have to have a license to sell it. Not just anybody can sell it."
What makes raw milk different from milk aligning the shelves at grocery stores?
Raw milk is not subject to pasteurization, homogenization and other processing mechanisms meant to alter its composition.
Sam explained the pasteurization process that store-bought milk goes through removes some beneficial bacteria that's good for the body. In the Scheetzes' raw milk, the bacteria isn't removed.
"Regular milk that's pasteurized kills a lot of bacteria. You need some bacteria to stay healthy, and I think that's been forgotten a bit," Sam said.
To keep raw milk safe for consumption, it's a tedious process for the Scheetzes. As soon as the milk is produced, Sam said it must be cooled right away. He emphasized temperature levels are critical for handling raw milk. Frequent inspections are also part of the process to ensure they are producing a safe product.
Some of their customers have been raving about their raw milk. One customer wrote in an online review, "Absolutely the best milk my family has ever had."
While the couple has been steadily growing their business and eyeing a new chapter with the milk delivery route, money isn't motivating the couple's expansion moves.
The main goal behind their business is to "make sure food is accessible to everyone." In addition to their raw milk, the Scheetz family grows a wide array of produce that they sell in bundles. Eggs, raw honey and homemade jellies are among other Scheetz Mercantile products Mitchell area residents have grown to love since the family business sprouted up in 2018.
"When you start putting in a middle-man to all your food you produce, then the costs go up," Kelly said.
In an era where processed foods have become a staple in many American households, the Scheetz family has bucked the trend by turning to Mother Nature for nearly all of their food supply.
"Every farm used to have their own chickens and their own cows. They had all their groceries right on the farm, and the only thing they went to town for was their paper goods," said Sam, who is a third-generation South Dakota farmer.
As he weaved through the large garden on a calm summer morning, Sam picked a cherry tomato and plucked a basil leaf to snack on. It's one example of the combination of natural, whole foods the family of five eats on a daily basis.
The garden is filled with a wide array of vegetables used for cooking and eating raw, but there are many more plants that serve other purposes growing in their garden. From Echinacea — a plant known for its healing and immune boosting properties — to Paracress, better known as the toothache plant, the garden produces medicinal plants that Sam and Kelly say have helped the family overcome illnesses. In the Scheetz house, sickness is rare, according to the couple.
"We just don't really get sick. During the COVID-19 virus, we didn't have any respiratory sickness go around out here," said Kelly, who pointed to the family's natural diets packed with nutrients from vegetables, raw milk and other homemade meals as key reasons for the rarity in illnesses.
As Sam put it, "It's too easy to eat unhealthy now."
The Scheetz family is aiming to change that in the surrounding Mitchell area by offering their homegrown foods sourced from their farm.
The Scheetzes have found ways to give back and put farm fresh food on tables for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds in the Mitchell area. The couple donates bundles of their eggs to the Mitchell Area Food Pantry.
"I wanted to donate eggs to the food pantry because we believe everybody deserves access to healthy food. I became licensed (as an egg dealer) for that reason," Kelly said.
The couple has used Facebook to receive orders over the past six years. The orders are then picked up at the Scheetzes' farm during regular business hours.
Since opening the family-run business, it's thrived without a storefront. But that's about to change. Sam is in the process of building what will house the first Scheetz Mercantile storefront. It will be located on their Mount Vernon farm, roughly 20 miles southwest of Mitchell.
The store will not only provide a space for customers to shop for homegrown foods, they will have an opportunity to learn how to use them in the kitchen when Kelly does demonstrations.
"I plan on doing demonstrations during the business hours in the store. We're going to have a little kitchen setup inside for that, which is something that you don't see very often," Kelly said of the cooking demonstrations she plans to put on in the future storefront.
While Sam and Kelly have been focused on tapping into the Mitchell market — the nearest city with over 15,000 people — they hope their future store will better serve nearby fellow farmers and rural residents.
About a century ago, a corner store once sat in nearby Stickney called Metzgerville Corner. The Scheetzes said the store was vital for area farmers, as there were fewer gas stations or convenience stores at that time. The role Metzgerville Corner Store played for nearby farmers in rural Mount Vernon and Stickney is what the Scheetz envision their first storefront will also provide.
"They were the hub for the rural people around here. Our goal is to also fill that gap in this desert out here. There are a lot of farmers who may not have chickens anymore or are getting older. We want to give them that fresh farm food they grew to love," she said.