Cream rises to the top with community support

April 26, 2023

Their dream was their own dairy farm. What they’ve found is a community, whose support has exceeded even their wildest dreams.

As Skye Glen Creamery celebrates its first anniversary in late August, Meghan and Matt Brosens say their leap of faith has been rewarded in ways they couldn’t have imagined.

The COVID pandemic was in its early days in 2020 when the Brosens, owners of Brosendale Farms in Skye Glen, decided to build the creamery. It had been Meghan’s dream since before they moved from their native Ontario in 2013 to purchase the farm. “It’s always been a dream of mine to do this, so when we were coming out here, I thought this would be a great spot for a creamery,” Meghan recalls. “It’s not far from the main highway and the Cabot Trail. When we first moved here the golf courses (in nearby Inverness) were brand new. So, I was thinking about that. We’re on the 252, which is a popular road.”

Matt, who had long dreamed of owning his own dairy farm, was not immediately sold on the idea of the creamery. But he says it was actually the pandemic that convinced him that the venture could succeed, as it prompted a shift in thinking, as more and more people recognized the value in sourcing locally produced food products. He points to the success of the nearby Brook Village Grocery in catering to a loyal local market.

“(The pandemic) kind of forced people to think different,” he explains. “When we saw that shift happening, we thought ‘we have to jump on this.’ We were planning on taking maybe another year to get this done.”

“It was amazing. I would say maybe one per cent of our sales to date have been people from away. Our local population has carried us through. It’s absolutely astonishing.”

So, work began in the summer of 2020 on the 46×40 foot building, where the Brosens produce a variety of dairy products, including curds, cheeses, fresh milk, butter and yogurt. By the following summer, the building was completed, and they were ready opening day, or at least they hoped they were.

The creamery opened August 25 of last year, “basically the end of the tourist season,” Matt says.

“We were kind of terrified, because ‘what if nobody around here wants our product.’ We’ve got all this product and nowhere to put it. We’ve got bills to pay and everything.”

“It was our opening day, and it was 10 in the morning,” he recalls “and there was nobody here, and we thought ‘what did we do? We screwed up so bad. We’ve got so much money wasted and nobody’s here on opening day.’”

“And then it was about 11 o’clock…the parking lot was full. One car would leave and another one would come in. And it stayed like that through to January almost.”

Matt says that while they expected tourist traffic to represent a big chunk of their business, it was the support of the local community that eventually led to their success.

“It was amazing. I would say maybe one per cent of our sales to date have been people from away,” he adds. “Our local population has carried us through. It’s absolutely astonishing.”

“It blows us away that they would believe in us that much.”

What surprised him the most was that even though Skye Glen Creamery products are sold in stores throughout Cape Breton and beyond, people were still flocking to the farm to buy their milk and cheese.

“It wasn’t like our product wasn’t available (elsewhere), but they were still coming here in droves.”

“You’d want to cry almost because it was unfathomable.”

While the Brosens found success with their new venture, they found something else even more important. They found a home where their young daughters, Sophie and Heidi, can grow up with the love and support of their community.

“We get asked all the time, ‘would you ever go back (to Ontario)?’” Matt says. “We never would.”

The girls, who were both born since the Brosens moved east, have even become an important part of the creamery operation.

“They are a great help,” Matt says. “In the summer they’ll sit in the office, and they’ll watch. If they see someone coming, they’ll run out and help them with the vending machines and all that.”

“We’ve had so many people message us that those two little girls are wonderful,” he adds, noting they were concerned at first that customers might not appreciate being “bothered” by two children, “but actually people were looking for them.”

But while Sophie and Heidi have become brand ambassadors, Matt says he wants to use the farm and creamery operations to educate other local youth about the origins of the food they eat. In May, the creamery hosted its first school field trip. He says the experience can be a real eye opener “because all they see is the grocery store.”

He’s also hoping that Route 252 can eventually become an agri-tourism destination. He says the 20-kilometre stretch of highway between Mabou and Whycocomagh is also home to Mull River Farm, Brook Village Grocery, Six Little Farmers, and Skye Glen Sweet Corn, noting that a collective social media campaign has helped drive traffic.

“It’s pretty neat that on the 252 we can have a destination that could take your whole day,” he adds. “Nobody is doing the same thing, but they all complement each other beautifully.”

“It all just fell together beautifully, and then everyone kind of collaborated on social media,” he explains. “They were sharing each other’s post because it was for the greater good.”

“‘Destination 252’ became an actual thing. It became a hashtag that was shared around. It was kind of neat and it organically kind of started.”

Matt says with the region starting to emerge from the pandemic, he only sees potential.

“You go to Inverness and see the transformation there, from nine years ago, when we moved here, to now. It’s like night and day.”

He points to the emergence in recent years of the Cape Breton Food Hub, of which Skye Glen Creamery is a member, as an indication that the future looks promising for local food producers.

The Food Hub, with dozens of Cape Breton producers and restaurants involved, is designed to make it easier to get local food from producers to consumers, by providing the infrastructure and distribution to link more than 50 food producers with households and restaurants across the island.

“Everything seems to be moving forward,” Matt says.