Jul 9, 2024

Steensma Creamery Makes Small Batch, Local Skyr

Steensma Creamery in Lynden, Washington, founded by fourth-generation dairy farmers, crafts skyr yogurt while promoting agricultural education in their community.

Since she was little, Ellie (Steensma, ’19) Corbin has dreamt of making her own dairy products. She’s a fourth-generation dairy farmer, having grown up on a farm in Lynden, Washington, her great-grandparents purchased 75 years ago.

“Our parents are also passionate about growing and making their own food. My mom taught me about preserving food and canning, and my dad showed my sister and me how to make yogurt when we were very little,” she says.

Corbin is equally passionate about educating others about the importance of agriculture and knowing where food comes from. After earning an agriculture education degree at Dordt, Corbin returned to the Pacific Northwest to teach biology and start an agriculture program at Mount Vernon Christian School. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Corbin suddenly found herself with plenty of downtime—as did her sister, Kate, who’d recently moved back to Whatcom County from Seattle.

“We started talking about what it would look like to make our own products from the milk on our dairy farm,” she says. “We had family recipes and were aware of what other products our dairy farm friends in the community were creating.”

Some dairy farms in Lynden have begun to focus on creating niche dairy products like artisanal cheeses. The Steensma sisters took notes and made plans.

Corbin wanted to make cheese; Kate, yogurt. In the end, they met in the middle with skyr (pronounced skeer) yogurt, an Icelandic yogurt-like cheese.

Now, Steensma Creamery produces the Pacific Northwest’s first local skyr: made in small batches, incubated for a full 24 hours, and strained of curds for a “full-bodied, creamy treat that is rich in protein and probiotics.” Skyr, created from whole milk and live bacteria cultures, tastes subtly sweet and is delicious in fruit smoothies, savory soups, waffle batters, tangy salad dressings, and more.

Most of Steensma Creamery’s customers are within 50 miles of the farm; the furthest south they currently reach is Seattle. Steensma Creamery has plans to expand, but what Corbin and her sister value most is “that local customer base, because we have the ability to connect with people and share with them the story of how their food is grown.

“My parents have always welcomed groups to tour our family farm, and that instilled in us a love of connecting with people and telling our story.”

Farming is a tough industry; there are many regulations, and farming requires hard manual labor and long hours.

“Our family farm had to get creative because we wanted to stay small. To do that, we had to pick a unique product and pursue a niche market,” explains Corbin.

Corbin is thankful for the work of her twin brother, Zach (’19), who serves as the herd manager on their farm. “Working with the cows is a crucial part of this equation,” she says. “He wants to be one on one with the cows.”

They have 200 lactating Jersey and Holstein cows on 200 acres, where Zach and others rotate the cows from one field to another. During the winter months, the cows eat hay and grass silage from the fields.

“What I learned is that farming is a way to protect our world and be stewards of what God has given us."

Fewer farms in Whatcom County means that it’s easier for the local population to be unfamiliar with farming practices. “Fifty years ago, when my grandparents were farming, most people they knew were farmers. Today, there’s a greater disconnect between people and their food. This is why educating the public about farming and growing food is so important to us.”

Corbin says that, because of her parents’ passion for teaching people about the value in farming, pursuing agriculture education at Dordt was an easy decision. “What I learned growing up in farming is that it is a way to protect our world and be stewards of what God has given us. Obtaining my education at Dordt provided the validation for that, because I saw the same passion for protecting agriculture in my professors.”

Corbin recalls how her agriculture professors were actively engaged in what the purpose of agriculture is, and why it matters for us especially as Christians. “When it comes to agriculture, our call as Christians is to care for the land and the animals—to be stewards of God’s creation. That was a huge part of shaping who I am, and to find faculty members who validated what I care about made me even more passionate about agriculture.”

Sarah Moss ('10)

A picture of campus behind yellow prairie flowers