FireFly Farms - More Than Entrepreneurs, More Than Foodies

Last Updated on Nov 4, 2016 at 10:14am | Agribusiness

Everyone reflects.
 
Mike Koch, 54, recalls the summers he spent at his paternal grandparents’ 88-acre farm in Waverly, Iowa. The stern Swiss-German couple raised cows, pigs and chickens. What they didn’t eat they sold for some cash.
 
Koch looks back through the haze of 54 years and remembers making cheese in the kitchen with his grandmother, “a gravely serious woman of few words” who held a special love for nature and the land she lived upon.
 
“She was as much Wiccan as Christian,” Koch said, referring to a pagan, nature-loving movement. “She was a devout Christian and Protestant and had an incredible connection to the Earth and the seasons.”
 
That memory had a lot to do with Koch and his husband, Pablo Solanet, buying a tiny farm in Western Maryland a couple of decades ago. They have built a thriving cheese business named FireFly Farms, with a creamery attached to a welcoming retail store. (They also own a home in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of the District.)
 
FireFly is no subsistence farm. It sold 110,000 pounds of its nine brands of cheese last year, grossing $1.3 million. The business managers expect to sell $1.6 million this year.
 
They are more than entrepreneurs. They are more than foodies. Koch and Solanet are committed champions of rural business and sustainable agriculture, and they have created an enviable life as self-supporting as Koch’s grandparents’ farm in Iowa.
 
“Nobody is going to get rich making cheese. It’s a way of life,” said Koch, a former high school English teacher who served two years as director of economic development for Garrett County, on the western edge of Maryland. “I want to put people to work in rural America. It has become unfashionable to do so.”
 
FireFly employs 15 full-timers, which equates to an annual labor bill of $600,000. There is health insurance, a 401(k) plan and vacation for each employee. Read more.