Sweet Success: The Small Farmers and Big Vision of Kalona SuperNatural™
By Annie L. Scholl, Radish Magazine Contributor
When Bill Evans looks out his office window, he sees green grass, four work horses, and an Amish buggy passing with a woman and young child inside. “It’s a nice place to be,” says Evans, 52, referring to his home office in rural Kalona, Iowa, home to one of the largest Amish settlements west of the Mississippi.
That Evans and his employees work from their homes is an indication that there’s no “business as usual” at Kalona SuperNatural (formerly Kalona Organics), a “virtual” company Evans founded in 2005.
Evans started the company after first doing consulting work for Farmer’s All Natural Creamery, which he now owns. His initial position grew into sales. He then got the idea to start a company to help other small farmers bring their products to market. He started Kalona Organics, distributing Farmer’s All Natural Creamery dairy products and Cultural Revolution yogurt. In 2010, the company was rebranded Kalona SuperNatural.
“Things happened so quickly and so fast,” Evans says. “I’ve enjoyed my time. At the end of the day, I’ve used up all I’ve got. I’m stretched every day. I like that. I like the fact we’re creating real products.”
When Evans says “real,” he’s talking truly organic milk products and eggs. The products marketed by Kalona SuperNatural come largely from small, Amish/Mennonite family farms, with average herds of just 30 cows. The work typically is done by hand on farms that have been in families for 150 years. Because of that, herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals have never touched the land.
“They live a very simple and natural life,” Evans says of the Kalona SuperNatural farmers, whom he meets with every other month. “Our products reflect that. I couldn’t ask for a better set of farmers to work with.”
For that reason — and because they are one of only a few companies in the nation that produce non-homogenized milk and minimally-processed dairy products — Kalona SuperNatural products stand out in the marketplace, Evans maintains. “A lot of people appreciate what we’re doing,” Evans says. “I feel like, for a small company, we get a lot of customer feedback.”
While Kalona SuperNatural products are making their way into stores in other states, Evans says shipping products to California, for example, “goes against what we’re trying to accomplish.” Instead, the company is looking to partner with people in other states to establish the same business model, thus helping small farmers in other regions bring their products to market.
That he’s heading up a company like Kalona SuperNatural comes as a surprise to Evans, who didn’t even grow up on a farm. He was raised in Jesup, Iowa, about 25 minutes east of Waterloo. His dad worked at John Deere. His mother was a stay-at-home mom. Evans double majored in accounting and financial management from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
“I thought I’d be a stockbroker,” he says, chuckling at the memory. “What I thought stock brokering was about was different than what it’s actually about.” Eventually, Evans “fell into” cost accounting, a line of work that led him to Farmer’s All Natural Creamery.
“My life experience just shaped me in this direction,” he says. “This has been a blessing to me to be able to do what I’m doing.”
Starting the company, he says, was challenging. “It’s a typical start-up story,” he says. “We lost money the first year. It was a difficult year.”
The company is profitable now. When he started the company, it was just Evans and one other person. Now there are six. The creamery employed less than 10 people and now has 23 employees.
When he looks at the success of Kalona SuperNatural, Evans says he is proudest of the community aspect of the company: “I like forming relationships and partnerships. I get to work with a lot of great people, a lot of talented people — from the Amish farmer with an eighth-grade education doing innovative types of farming to people with doctorates in sales and marketing. It’s just a lot of fun.