Jul 9, 2024

A Family Focus on Premium Dairy

The Van Keulen brothers work collaboratively to run Donia Farms in Surrey, British Columbia.

Jonathan (’09), David, and Nico (’12) Van Keulen grew up at Donia Farms in Surrey, British Columbia, where they did farm chores, tinkered in the shop, fed and cared for animals, and drove farm equipment. The three boys even went to banking meetings with their father, Stan, who involved them in financial decisions early on.

What they experienced in those early years on the family farm had a big impact on their lives, because all three boys now work collaboratively as the third generation of Van Keulens to run Donia Farms—each with a unique role.

Jonathan works with a team of professionals to care for the well-being of the 1,000 Holstein Friesian and Jersey cows that call Donia Farms home. He serves as dairy manager and focuses on herd health as well as employee management. His wife, Kelsi (Kamper, ’09) grew up on a dairy in Central California, so curating educational social media content about Donia farm life is right in her wheelhouse.

Serving as farm and shop manager, Nico oversees field work and leads a team that maintains the mechanical and technical operations of the dairy farms. His wife, Desiree (Den Dulk, ’13), also helps with social media and marketing.

David, who attended Dordt for one year, runs the farm’s business operations and branded products. He is married to Andi, who—in addition to starting Donia Farms’ Instagram account—takes the lead on photography and recipe curation.

One unique aspect about Donia Farms is its location. “We are surrounded by saltwater on three sides, and we have a major freeway on the fourth,” says Kelsi. “Surrey is very urban, so having a good relationship with the public is very important.”

It’s also important to consider the comfort of their cows. “The more comfortable a cow is with her surroundings, the more milk she will produce, so we try to eliminate as much stress as possible,” says Jon. “We make sure the cows have shelter and a spot to lay down.”

“At the end of the day, the cows are what make us money. If we care for them, we in turn are cared for. Animals are part of God’s creation, and cows are domesticated creatures who need humans,” says Kelsi. “The general culture around animal agriculture is that they are abused in some way or taken advantage of, but we want our customers and the public in general to know that in no way are we harming our animals.”

The Donia Farms website includes detailed information about what the Holstein Friesians and Jerseys eat, how their beds are cleaned, what their veterinary check-ups look like, and more, in part to foster a trusted relationship with the Donia Farms customers.

“The competition on a dairy shelf in a grocery store is fierce. It takes relationships and a lot of managing to keep positions and products on the shelf.”

"People are further removed from where their food comes from and need to be educated directly from farmers,” adds Kelsi. “Our customers trust us because they know we care well for our animals.”

What’s most challenging about Donia Farms is the marketing. They have seven business days to market the fluid milk, which requires an elaborate chain of producing, processing, shipping, stocking, and selling their product.

“The competition on a dairy shelf in a grocery store is fierce,” adds David. “It takes relationships and a lot of managing to keep positions and products on the shelf.”

Donia Farms began selling yogurt, butter, and cheese in 2016. “We wanted to participate in every major category of dairy product to learn each market, but also to give shoppers the ability to fill their baskets with Donia Farms products,” he says.

Their most popular product is “a premium butter that is higher fat resulting in more flavor,” says David, but their yogurt is developing quite a following as well.

The Van Keulens find ways to balance their professional interactions while maintaining strong personal relationships as family. Sunday is a strict day of rest; they all attend church, meeting up afterward for coffeetime where they try not to talk about work. They also prioritize having fun together: big bonfires, bike rides, takeout dinner runs, and slip-and-slide days are not uncommon. With 11 children 10 years and under between the three families, they keep busy.

They want to teach the next generation to see farming as a direct way to care for God’s creation. “We have a vested interest in caring for our land to ensure our crops grow well to feed our animals, but there’s a deeper layer to it. We want to make things around us better—not deplete or take advantage of it,” says Nico.

Showing the love of Jesus to their employees is important, too. “Many have been around for years. We treat them with respect and hold them to a high standard that honors them as people,” she adds.

Thinking back to their time at Dordt, the Van Keulens agree that Dordt gave them a strong background for their work on the family farm. “We were educated in our fields, but we were also given a broad worldview to take back as a new perspective,” says Kelsi. “Dordt helped solidify the foundation that God’s work is done each day in each thing we do.”

Sarah Moss ('10)

A picture of campus behind yellow prairie flowers