Tampa dairy farmer and USF St. Petersburg student Pam Lunn has made some really bad cheese in her day. Where some people would look at their bad cheese in disgust and defeat, Lunn spiffs hers up, makes a fancy feast for her dogs and reexamines her goats’ food sources.
Eventually perfected after years of practice, Lunn’s goat cheese is sold from her stand, The Dancing Goat, at downtown St. Petersburg’s Saturday Morning Market. The Dancing Goat is the Lunn’s family business with husband, Jim; daughter, Carleigh; and son, Clinton—each an integral part of the company.
Paving the way for Florida dairy by selling her fresh goat milk and cheese products in different markets has provided a bit of success for Lunn and her farm, though the farm was nearly shut down in February.
“As of late August, things were so bad we were expected to shut down,” Lunn said. “Then a bunch of people volunteered to help out on the farm and luckily sales started going back up.”
Friends and family have urged Lunn to give up her days of hard labor to make use of her degree, but her passion for agri-business and devotion to her land and animals will not let her stop.
“I am determined. I don’t give up and I am persistent,” Lunn said. “I want this business to make it, and I want people to understand that urban agriculture is part of the future.”
Raising goats and selling cheese isn’t something they teach in classes at USFSP, but Lunn’s knowledge of raising a farm and producing goat milk and cheese is the result of hours of studying and a little experience from helping her father maintain his land on the mobile home park he owned.
“Thank goodness my daddy wanted a boy and took the time to teach me a few things,” she said.
Lunn graduated from West Virginia University with a teaching degree to appease her father, and soon realized that she hated it enough to quit and join the corporate world.
Ending up in the road building industry as a contractor, she evaluated the socioeconomic impact of building roads on communities, which taught her how resourceful land can be. With only four dairy goats at the time, Lunn and her husband built a barn in 2000, and planned on opening a miniature dairy in their retirement.
It never occurred to them to turn a profit from their small dairy until after Sept. 11, 2001, when her husband was laid off and her contract was broken due to funding cuts from the war. Lunn and her husband decided to jump into their retirement plan early, which brought them to where they are today.
“Recycle, reuse and repurpose” is their farm’s motto, appropriately named and characteristic of her concepts regarding the recycling of bad cheese. Though Lunn’s beliefs of sustainability and localism have been strong all along, it wasn’t until a trip to Italy, when she was invited to attend a Slow Food Conference, when her outlook on life and food changed completely.
“In 10 years unless you know a farmer or produce food yourself you’re going to have trouble getting food,” said Lunn.
Boldly stated, and thoroughly believed, Lunn’s concern for the future of food if changes in consumerism and farming aren’t made is something she emphasizes with her constant focus on organic products and practice of buying locally.
“In Italy, I realized what was going on around the world,” said Lunn. “I became aware of local foods and what people will do for their food. If it weren’t for little gardens in yards, people wouldn’t eat. Anywhere you went there were people living off their land, and since land is scarce in Europe, people treasure their food to the extent that they grow it themselves.”
The next avenue of expansion for Lunn and her farm is in pouring soaps, which she already makes for Cigar City Brewing, available for sale in its tasting room.
As a self taught goat herder and dairy farmer, Lunn knows a thing or two about self discipline and running her own business, but admits to the time and extent of research it takes to get where she is now.
“Each day I am looking up something, reading a new outlook or hunting through past notes to remind myself of knowledge that I need to retain,” she said. “My education did not consist of picking up a book once a week or reading a couple articles on the Internet. I mean, I have really studied.”
Where some USFSP students are facing upcoming graduation dates, other students may still be wondering, “what am I going to do with my degree?” After graduating 38 years ago from WVU, Lunn currently takes classes at USFSP for the health benefits, and offers other students some advice: “go with the flow, and don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
Photo by Daniel Mutter