Culinary community helps cheese farm that lost goats in Hanksville floods

Mesa Farms is renowned for its farming methods and for giving back to the community.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune via AP) This photo, taken Sept. 13, 2017, shows Mesa Farms owner Randy Ramsley separating curds and whey into molds to drain and age into raw tomme or semi-hard alpine cheese. Ramsley sells a variety of goat milk cheese and yogurt at his farm's storefront on Highway 24, east of Capitol Reef, Utah, and at Tony Caputo's in Salt Lake City.

Every year, Randy Ramsley replaces his nanny goats with kid goats and raises these herds like he would children. And when the Sept. 1 floods sank his farm and took 11 goats, it was a financial loss, but also a personal one.

Ramsley’s farm is located near the banks of the Fremont River and when it swelled over its banks after a monsoon storm, the waters rose too fast for the goats that make his signature cheese and they drowned. Now the culinary community all over Utah is raising money to help him rebuild his 50-acre Mesa Farms and Market.

More than six feet of water flashed through the towns of Hanksville and Cainesville over two weeks ago, impacting the livelihoods of hundreds of people. With no official state or federal emergency relief money to assist these towns, locals have relied on online fundraisers to cover the millions in damages the floods left behind.

“Randy works as hard as anyone I’ve ever heard about or met, and he is very far from wealthy,” says Matt Caputo, CEO for the market and deli Caputos, who buys cheese from Mesa Farms.

Caputo added that Ramsley operates a farm that has helped many people and organizations who value regenerative farming techniques, which focus on growing food and raising livestock without harming the land. That’s partly why he sells his cheese at Caputos.

“He does it for different reasons, and in this capitalist world, doing something for those reasons is really hard to do,” Caputo said.

Ramsley’s passion creates incredible, high-quality cheese, according to Caputo. Caputos ages the cheese from Mesa Farms and sells it for $25 to $32 per pound.

“Randy’s cheese tastes natural, and it tastes like a place that it comes from,” Caputo said. “You can taste the vibrancy and the health of his animals in his cheese.”

Since the fundraiser was launched, donors gave about $13,000, enough to help him restock most of his lost herd with the help of other goat farmers in the Salt Lake Valley. Any extra money will be used to help with the upkeep of his fencing and the hay he will need to buy this year.

Before the floods, Mesa Farms offered help to local communities, including the Navajo Nation.

Cynthia Wilson, traditional foods program director for Utah Diné Bikéyah, says that Mesa Farms partnered with the nonprofit to give 18 goats to Diné sheep producers in San Juan County during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wilson, who is Navajo (Diné), says Mesa Farms became a food resource for many Indigenous families from the Four Corners region.

Wilson added that Mesa Farms is a leader on food sovereignty — making healthy foods with the most environmentally sustainable methods for the nearby community. She thinks many of Mesa Farms’ methods could help farmers and ranchers in the Navajo Nation.

“For someone like Randy and Mesa Farm and Market, it is an example of what we are trying to restore here in our communities, among Indigenous Peoples, restoring Navajo churro sheep and reconnecting back to the holistic use of an animal,” Wilson said.

For Ramsley, the outpouring of financial support is getting him back on his feet. “Having lost those 11 would have set me back a year in being able to keep my herd genetics and productivity up, but because of the fundraiser and because of sheer luck, I’ve been able to locate some replacement yearlings,” he said.