Brooke and Jonny de Jong are the impressive couple and co-owners behind Venture Milk, LLC.
Brooke grew up near Atlanta, Georgia. After completing her college degree in Art History, she went on to pursue a career in professional kitchens working at nationally recognized restaurants. During her culinary career, specializing in pastry, she took a special interest in sourcing ingredients directly from farmers which included Working Cows Dairy. She later made the move to Alabama to work on the farm and more recently with Venture Milk, LLC.
Jonny has always been very active with the farm operations in Slocomb, AL. At an early age, his responsibilities included mixing feed, cleaning and organizing the shop, feeding calves, clearing land, working the fields, maintaining and fixing equipment, and harvesting crops. He was fascinated with making things; constructed childhood tree houses, constructed dune buggies, and sculpted metal for art competitions. He also practiced karate as a means of self-discipline and self-respect.
Following high school, he sourced his own college scholarships and completed his basic courses while attending welding school where he honed his skills. He went out and earned enough money to later be used to help expand the processing facility. He and his brothers then decided to form and build their own milk processing facility and deliver their own milk around the southeast.
After dating long distance for a year, Brooke moved down close to the farm and soon, they were married. Fast forward about 7 years and they have moved in town with their two girls and two dogs. They are now partners in life, and business, co-owning Venture Milk.
Soul of the South Q&A
1) What was your “aha” moment/When did you decide that this was the industry for you?
For Jonny, dairy was in his blood from the beginning, and he descends from a long line and history of dairy farming from his father’s side of the family. For Brooke, not so much. As a pastry chef working in Atlanta, Brooke had already developed an appreciation for good ingredients and when a tall and handsome dairy farmer showed up trying to sell her milk and cream, she couldn’t resist the sale.
2) How did your upbringing/time spent in Alabama shape your career?
For Jonny, Alabama is where his roots lie and where many of his greatest life lessons have formed including his work ethic and appreciation for the land, locality, and food sustainability. Alabama is now home for both of us and where we are raising our kids. Our career is spent trying to build a more sustainable food model in the state that will affect the coming generations.
3) What keeps you moving forward in the industry? Do you have a quote or motto that you find resonates?
Alabama, for us, is all about community. It has taught us what it means to be a part of something for the greater good. Our goal is to create a sustainable dairy model that supports small farmers and producers in this region of the country where small-scale farming and dairy farming, in general, are dying out.
4) How has your nominator made a positive impact on your idea of/relationship to the industry?
Chef and friend Kelsey Barnard Clark is one of the biggest advocates in our region for food and farming. From the beginning and currently, she has been a big cheerleader in spreading the word about what we are doing.
5) What would you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Honestly, our biggest accomplishment so far is still being in business. Between the recent pandemic and the dying dairy industry in the state, it feels like a constant struggle to balance finding milk sources and keeping people employed, for example.
If y’all know of any grazing dairies, let us know.
6) What would you like to see more of in Alabama as it pertains to your industry?
We would love to see more young people getting into sustainable farming. Food is fuel for all of us and we can’t stress enough how important local food is and will be to us in the future.