UGA business assistance helps Thomasville cheesemakers grow and thrive

Jessica Little grew up on her family’s farm in South Georgia. Although she loved sustainable agriculture and showing her cows in 4H, she didn’t want to return to South Georgia and work on the farm once she’d left.  

However, grass-fed cows, cheesemaking experiments, the food-to-table movement and an Atlanta traffic jam led Jessica and her husband Jeremy back 

Mom noticed the milk from their grass-fed cows was different and started crafting artisanal cheeses,” Jessica Little said. “While sitting in Atlanta traffic – again – Jeremy decided it would be awesome to make cheese. We returned home, fell in love with cheesemaking and purchased their creamery in 2005.” 

The Littles opened the Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop in downtown Thomasville in 2010. By 2015, they needed to expand their cheese production to meet national demand

They contacted the UGA Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Valdosta State University and began working with area director Walt Moore and business consultant Alyssa Foskey, as well as business consultant Andy Fried from the Kennesaw State University office. 

We needed help writing a business plan and exploring (Small Business Administration) financing options for a new creamery,” Little said. The SBDC was instrumental in making sure our projections and calculations were sound.” 

Fried helped with their projections and financial analysis for a loan that allowed the creamery to expand from 3,500 square feet off a dirt road to 12,000 square feet in a business park.  

Since then, they have added jobs and now have 56 employeeswith plans to hire three more. Sales have increased by 40 and the Littles expect to see another 26 percent increase in 2022.  

Sweet Grass Dairy has received over 30 national and international awards for their cheese. They’ve been featured in Southern Fork podcast, and in magazines including Georgia Trend, Southern Living and Food and Wine. Thomasville County named Sweet Grass Dairy its 2018 manufacturer of the year. 

 The new facility has allowed us to do a lot more retail packaging, enabling us to expand into Harris Teeter, Publix and Whole Foods. We wouldnt have been able to do the retail volume we did out of the old facility,” Little said.  

She returned to the SBDC in fall 2021 when the creamery’s opening was delayed due to COVID  

With that and supply chain issues, our profit margins were off,” said Little. Although we had more sales than ever, we were in a cash deficit. Andy suggested the changes we needed to help us figure out our future.” 

 “The shutdown was a challenge,” Moore agreed. “We helped with strategic planning and how to structure to keep sales where they need to be.”  

The SBDC understands entrepreneurs have to be jacks of all trades,” Little said. “It’s really hard to be an expert in in every aspect of our business. They’re there to help support you, make you better in business and help you grow.”