Siblings Stephanie and Hayley Painter want to bring their fourth-generation family-run organic dairy to consumers across the US with their recently launched brand aptly named, Painterland Sisters, featuring organic skyr-style yogurt.
Stephanie, a Millennial, and Hayley, a Gen Z, these two hope to change up how farming is seen in America and help bridge that gap between consumer and grower/maker. Having grown up in Pennsylvania on the 5000-acre family farm, they knew they wanted a connection back to the land, but were not always clear on what that career trajectory would like. Stephanie Painter, the older of the two sisters, says that she made a deal with her dad, “I told him at 18, that I would return to the farm in 10 years. And at 28, I came back, and launched this company with my sister.”
Younger sister Hayley wasn’t too keen on farm life first either, but then realized its beauty: “When I was younger I took for granted the unique opportunity I was born into. I couldn’t wait to go to college and experience the unknown: to wear white shoes instead of boots, to expand my palate of new foods and to have neighbors that weren’t my family members or cows,” she says.
While the two may have pursued their passions in college, and tried their hand at other professions, they were deeply connected to the farming way of life, which was started by their grandfather George Painter who bought a plot of land in 1941 and then his son, John Painter, began the dairy in the 1950s to add onto it.
“We both grew up on our family farm alongside our 13 cousins and feel deeply connected to the land and the animals. As farmers, we now have the opportunity to take control of our own destiny by connecting directly with consumers,” says Stephanie.
The Painterland Sisters skyr yogurt is a thicker, creamier Icelandic-style organic yogurt that is lactose-free, high in probiotics and high in protein, Stephanie explains. Produced in Pennsylvania, the skyr is made from organic whole milk and sweetened naturally using fruits and cane sugar, most of which comes from nearby American farms. It’s made by one of the few, only one of two, Icelandic-style yogurt makers in America, she clarifies. “He happens to be nearby here.”
The Painterland farm became certified organic by the USDA in 2003. Their practices have been not just organic, but also regenerative for years preceding the certification, she explains. Now, they are working on becoming certified for regenerative as well. From chemical-free fertilizers and weed removal to animals that graze freely on open pastures, “this is how we’ve been farming for years. And now we can give it a name, regenerative!” Stephanie says.
Their cows primarily feed off the pastures, but a small part of their diet (about 10 percent, she says) is supplemented with feed, salt, and minerals. The feed’s ingredients, she notes, comes from the farm itself.
Given the increased interest in plant-based and alternative milks, Stephanie and Hayley argue that there’s still an opportunity for dairy. “The yogurt we’re making is a nutrient-dense food, a good source of fats, and is easy to digest even for everyone,” Haley says. All their yogurts include organic lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, making it more gut-friendly even for those with dairy sensitivities. “Honestly, we think it would be great if all yogurts and milk-based products had lactase added to them,” she adds.
As newbies to entrepreneurship, the sisters have turned to friends, distributors, and mentors to build the brand. They started with John F Martin, a fourth-generation local business, to get their product into regional shops. “They give us a chance. They were our first sale,” says Stephanie.
Then they grew into national distributors. As of November, they’re now selling in Sprouts across the country. And thanks to Greenspoon, a seasoned food and beverage broker, they’ve been able to secure more retail locations on the East Coast and in the Midwest.
Multiple sources have enabled them to fund this costly venture: a business loan, grants for farming, and credit cards. “We applied for grants that create a value-add to the farm,” explains Hayley.
“Plus, we did what many entrepreneurs do. We maxed out our credit cards,” adds Stephanie.
In total, they’ve accumulated about $1 million in funding. But they feel the risk is worth it. “Dairy has gotten a bad image lately. But it’s not true for all dairy. The way we run our farm, it’s actually helpful for the environment, and it’s nutritious food. Many greek yogurt companies are adding in protein powder to their mixes to give you that high level of protein. We’re giving you a pure organic product instead,” she argues.
The farm, they say, will always be an extension of the brand. “We just walk outside if we want to capture content for our social media. It’s very much who we are. This is the lifestyle we grew up in, where our grandmother made us food from the land daily, and we spent our lives outdoors, walking up and down hills.”
“Only 2% of our country is involved in agriculture. I am a part of that 2% and I am proud of the lifestyle I was born into and am choosing to actively stay a part of. It’s a wholesome life,” adds Hayley.
While their product may be a bit pricier than competitors, they’re convinced that Americans who want to support American farmers, and a healthy lifestyle, will gravitate to their values and their startup.