Looking Glass Creamery expanding, building new cheesemaking facility on historic Harmon Dairy in Columbus

Published 1:09 pm Monday, May 1, 2017

Looking Glass Creamery, owned by Jennifer and Andy Perkins, is expanding production and building a new facility with underground cheese aging caves in the agricultural heart of Polk County Their existing facility located in Fairview, N.C. will also be renovated to offer more retail and food service options and improved parking. The new cheesemaking operation will add to the burgeoning agricultural economy in Polk County and fit well alongside the numerous vineyards, five wineries, diversified vegetable operations and livestock farms already thriving in the area. The new facility will be located on the historic Harmon Dairy, a second generation cow dairy run by brothers, Doug and Alan Harmon.

Dawn Jordan, Director of the Polk County Office of Agricultural Economic Development, believes that the new cheesemaking facility is a perfect complement to the growing number of agritourism offerings in Polk. “The expansion of Looking Glass Creamery and the preservation of Harmon Dairy is exactly the type of agricultural operation we are looking to support in Polk County. Preserving our verdant farmland through value added processes, while supporting small family operations, represents the character and place making set forth by Polk County in its 20/20 Vision Plan adopted in 2010.” 

Harmon Dairy is a 226 acre farm originally purchased in three parcels by Doug and Alan’s father in 1947. In 2013, the brothers placed the farm, as a whole, under an agricultural conservation easement to keep it intact so that it could never be subdivided and would be protected from development in perpetuity.  The Harmon brothers were committed to seeing the farm continue as a working farm after their retirement and felt that adding on-farm processing of the milk into cheese was a viable way to accomplish that goal. Looking Glass Creamery has been looking at expansion options for two years trying to find the right location for their vision and growth. After 8 months of negotiations, an agreement has been reached that will fulfill the needs of everyone involved. 

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Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF) is providing the funds for the construction of the new cheesemaking facility which is scheduled to start as soon as permitting allows and is projected to take 6-9 months to complete. NCIF is a business loan fund that provides debt financing to small and emerging businesses. They have a focus on entrepreneurs and enterprises that are good stewards of natural resources.  “I am so grateful to have played a role in helping Jen and Andy bring their expansion dream to life, one that has such positive impact for the larger community. This is entrepreneurial conservation at its best!”, stated Erika McGilley, western North Carolina Regional Lender.

During the construction phase the Harmons have agreed to mentor the Perkins on the farm, training them on the daily operations of the milking parlor and in pasture and herd management. The Harmons will continue to own and operate the dairy until the creamery is operational. Once the construction of the creamery is completed and cheesemaking has commenced at the new facility, Looking Glass Creamery will take over all operations of the dairy. “We feel so fortunate that the Harmons have the vision, patience and commitment to the land and their broader community to protect this farm and find a way for it to grow with respect for the past but with an eye to the future.” says co-owner Andy Perkins. It is a rare situation where two unrelated families can cooperate in pursuit of shared goals that address preservation of agricultural traditions, sharing knowledge, growing a business, farmland preservation and transferring land ownership.

The move will enable Looking Glass Creamery to expand production, improve their affinage and allow them to tell the whole story of the farm and their cheeses from the cow to the customer. The company will host culinary events and dinners that are centered around the farm, the dairy and the cheese made on the property. Visitors to the farm will be able to see the production floor through a picture window to watch the cheese making process and peek into an aging cave. Looking Glass will be adding ice cream and several varieties of blue cheese to their regular product line. A farm store will be added later to the Polk County facility where visitors can purchase cheese and other products made on the farm. Once the production is re-located to Polk County, the company’s original location in Fairview, N.C. will be renovated and the hours of operation will be expanded. The renovations will include an enlarged retail area, additional seating, light food service, and a small classroom space. Their original location is already a popular, off-the-beaten-path destination for locals and visitors to the area.

“We have been blessed with this opportunity but with that blessing comes a lot of uncertainty and new responsibilities. It is our customers, independent restaurants and retailers that have made us successful over the past 9 years. As we grow new roots in Polk County, we look forward to sharing the farm and the cheesemaking process with our long-time supporters and develop new ones in Polk County, Greenville, and Charlotte too, “ says co-owner Jennifer Perkins. 

Many people, businesses and entities contributed to the evolution of this endeavor: Looking Glass Creamery families and friends, their employees, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, Austin CPA, Bryan C. Young, the Branan Law Firm, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, Growing Rural Opportunities, Natural Capital Investment Fund, North Carolina Department of Agriculture, North Carolina Department of Commerce, Polk County Soil & Water District, Polk County Economic Development and Agricultural Economic Development Offices, our dear friend Ken, and the vision of Doug and Alan Harmon.

Looking Glass Creamery is a small, family run cheesemaking operation which was started in 2009 by husband and wife team, Jennifer and Andy Perkins. The company makes fresh to aged cheeses and caramel sauce from cow’s milk. Looking Glass Creamery has garnered regional and national recognition for their product line including awards by the American Cheese Society and the Good Food Awards.  They operate a cheese shop at their original location in Fairview, N.C. which is open Thursdays 1-5 p.m., Friday and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Distribution in N.C. and regionally is available through Cornucopia Cheese and Specialty Foods and Cheney Brothers.

article submitted by Jennifer Perkins