Jul 9, 2024

Promise Valley Farm and Creamery Turns Passion into Dairy Products

Promise Valley Farm and Creamery is a small, family-run organic dairy farm located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Since 2021, Mark Nagtegaal (’99) and his wife, Caroline, have run Promise Valley Farm and Creamery, a small certified organic dairy farm located in Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. Getting a first-generation dairy farm can be tough in Canada, where dairy is supply managed.

“You have a quota that requires you to produce a certain amount of milk,” explains Nagtegaal. “The milk we produce is initially owned by the provincial marketing board.”

After spending a decade milking Holsteins and not being able to sustain dairy farming because of the high capital cost of the supply management system, he and Caroline began dreaming of on-farm processing and direct marketing their dairy products, which would help them establish a viable dairy farm.

“Now, we purchase our milk back from the provincial marketing board—on paper, anyway, as the milk doesn’t leave our farm,” he explains. “We process it and set the final price for the product, whether that’s milk, cheese, or yogurt. We can consider the cost of production and more, which makes it a more sustainable system to work within.”

What’s so special about Promise Valley Farm and Creamery whole milk and yogurt? The milk comes from gentle-in-spirit Guernsey cows, who produce a flavor-rich milk that’s high in fat and protein while retaining a golden color because of its high beta-carotene content. There’s an idyllic historical heritage value to the breed, but they’re also great to work with, says Nagtegaal.

“‘Idyllic’ is great right up until it doesn’t work from a business standpoint, so we need a mix of what we’re passionate about with the reality of what works in the marketplace,” he says. “We’re milking 13 cows right now and have about 30 Guernseys altogether. Ours is a small farm in a sense, but once you think about the value of our milk and yogurt, it’s more like a farm that’s four times the size.”

"‘Idyllic’ is great right up until it doesn’t work from a business standpoint, so we need a mix of what we’re passionate about with the reality of what works in the marketplace."

Part of the Promise Valley Farm and Creamery experience is getting fresh organic milk on tap: visitors who stop by the farm store can bring or purchase a reusable bottle to fill up at the milk dispenser.

“We also sell four types of cream-top yogurt,” adds Nagtegaal. “These are available in grocery stores too. My favorite is the vanilla bean one, but the plain yogurt is our most popular.”

From milking Holsteins in 2006 to raising Guernseys in 2024, Nagtegaal became interested in regenerative agriculture— practices that rebuild soil organic matter and restore degraded soil biodiversity. He first heard about rotational grazing from Professor of Environmental Science Dr. Robert De Haan ('85). At the time, De Haan and Agriculture Stewardship Center Steward Mike Schouten ('81) helped run a dairy farm on Dordt’s campus; Nagtegaal interned there after graduating from Dordt with an animal science degree.

“Some people might have thought it odd at the time, but in many ways, Dr. De Haan’s thought process was ahead of its time.”

Rotational grazing is just one of the creative farming practices that Nagtegaal implements at Promise Valley Farm and Creamery. “When we think about our farming practices, we constantly consider the Creator and why that matters in terms of what we do with creation,” he says.

There are many ways to do dairy work, and Nagtegaal is careful with how he talks about his approach. “It’s easy to take what you believe and go a little too far in one direction or the other,” he says. “It’s been a challenge to be passionate about doing things differently without throwing others under the bus or, you might say, ‘getting weird’ about it.”

In particular, the Nagtegaals are passionate about limiting the use of chemicals in their food products and on their animals. “We agree with the spirit behind organic and regenerative practices, as we think they yield a product that is better for a human to consume,” he says.

Too much separation between people and their food source—knowing how it’s produced, how it’s grown—is also not good, he adds. “God created the soil to grow things for us to eat, and many of us have zero connection or understanding of how it works. I think that’s a problem.”

Nagtegaal says he constantly checks his motives and understanding of what he is doing with agricultural practices. Ultimately, he wants to stay focused on the creation mandate—that is, “to glorify God by unfolding creation’s potential and participating in its flourishing.” He hopes that others can “unfold creation’s potential” by working on or buying products from small family farms like Promise Valley Farm and Creamery.

Sarah Moss ('10)

A picture of campus behind yellow prairie flowers