MENAHGA, Minn. -- A fifth-generation Finnish dairy farm in northern Minnesota is exclusively breeding an A2 herd and bottling A2 milk.

“We’re the first in Minnesota to do that,” said Joel Hendrickson, a 2003 Menahga High School graduate.

Joel and wife Amanda own a 310-acre farm, three miles south of Menahga, situated next to the Otter Tail and Wadena county line.

As Ten Finns Creamery, the couple began bottling and selling their locally produced whole milk in December.

The business -- and its name -- was inspired by their 10 children: Zach, 14; Maddie, 12; Julia, 11; Lucy, 9; twins Lily and Maria, 8; Lane, 6; Nora, 4; Finn, 2 and Emma, 1.

“The last five years have been kind of down,” Joel said of milk prices. “We thought this was a way our kids, in the future, could still milk 120 cows and make a good living off it.”

The Hendricksons hope people with milk sensitivities can comfortably enjoy their creamy, real milk.

What is A2 milk?

About five years ago, Joel read about A1 versus A2 milk in a dairy magazine.

“A lot of these people who think they’re lactose intolerant, a lot of times, that isn’t the case. They don’t know what it is, so they say ‘lactose intolerant,’” he said.

“They are sensitive to the A1 protein,” Amanda added.

Two major protein groups– casein and whey – are present in cow’s milk. Brad Heins, a University of Minnesota Extension assistant professor in organic dairy management, explained that casein makes up about 30 percent of the proteins in cow’s milk. There are two forms of casein: A1 and A2.

Regular milk comes from cows that produce both A1 and A2 proteins. Cows with an A2 gene only produce A2 milk.

Milk from humans, sheep, goats, donkeys, yaks, camels, buffalo and sheep mostly contain the A2 protein, said Dr. Gonca Pasin, executive director at the California Dairy Research Foundation.

Hendrickson family members who have tried their A2 milk found that symptoms, like diaper rashes and stomach aches, went away -- only to return if they resumed drinking regular milk.

Amanda said, “A neighbor down the road just felt bloated, gassy. He can drink our milk. It’s amazing. It’s so much positive feedback since we started this.”

Ten Finns Creamery was inspired by the Hendrickson's ten children. (Submitted photo)
Ten Finns Creamery was inspired by the Hendrickson's ten children. (Submitted photo)

A family business

Even in high school, Joel was buying cows and building a dairy herd. In 2009, he began renting a barn and farmland from former Menahga School Board member Curtis Hasbargen. The Hendricksons purchased their own property in 2013.

Ten Finns Creamery is a family affair, with the children helping with feeding, milking and bedding the cows.

Amanda said, “Whenever there are calves born, we ask what they think we should name them. Say, the mom’s name starts with a K, we try to keep the offspring also start with a K.”

A1 and A2 proteins in milk are a relatively new discovery, Joel said. “Going back 10 years ago, there was no such label as that.”

Realizing there was a potential market for A2 milk, the Hendricksons started selecting bulls that had the A2 gene and breeding all their cows to A2 bulls in 2014.

Two years ago, they conducted DNA testing on all of their cows. Sixty percent were A2, so they culled out the A1 cows and only purchased A2 cows from farmers who were cutting back herds or selling out.

In spring 2019, the Hendrickson started building their own creamery. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture inspected and certified it in mid-December.

Ideas That Kick, a Minneapolis-based agency, designed the Ten Finns logo, website and milk carton.

Throughout the whole process, Amanda said they “have received a huge amount of support from family, friends and the local community.”

Off to the market

On average, their cows produce 1,000 gallons of milk every day. They currently send the bulk of that milk to Nelson Creamery Association in Nelson, Minn.

“Slowly, as the demand grows, we’ll just run more through my creamery,” Joel said, and Nelson Creamery will get less and less. “They know about that, and they’re all supportive.”

Amanda said, “I don’t think we want to become huge – just big enough that we can process our milk through it. That’s all we want.”

The Hendricksons ran the first batch of milk through their creamery on Dec. 17, and by Dec. 19 it was on grocery store shelves in Menahga.

Along with The Clean Plate and Lake Country Foods in Menahga, Ten Finns milk is being sold at Shell Sport and Bait in Menahga, Mills Country Market in New York Mills, Super One Foods in Wadena and the Perham Locker Plant.

“The Ten Finns Milk has been a great addition to our store. We have a lot of customers purchasing this milk for different issues, and many of them have voiced to us how much it has helped," said Joy Jarvi, co-owner of Lake Country Foods.

The milk sold out quickly.

A Clean Plate “moved more milk in two days than he moves in a week,” Joel said, adding that locals are very supportive. “I think a lot of people don’t necessarily feel that they need A2, but lots of people know us.”

“We’ve had a lot of positive comments on our carton,” said Amanda Hendrickson, co-owner of Ten Finns Creamery. It was designed, with input from the Hendricksons, by Ideas That Kick. (Submitted photo)
“We’ve had a lot of positive comments on our carton,” said Amanda Hendrickson, co-owner of Ten Finns Creamery. It was designed, with input from the Hendricksons, by Ideas That Kick. (Submitted photo)

In search of a distributor, the Hendricksons have met numerous times with Mason Brothers Grocery Wholesaler in Wadena.

In the meantime, the Hendrickson say it’s most helpful if customers ask for Ten Finns milk directly from their local grocery store owner.

“The grocery stores can’t hear from us. They need to hear from consumers going in there requesting our product,” Amanda said.

Milk by Ten Finns Creamery is minimally processed and non-homogenized, so cream settles on the top.

Soon, they’ll be producing A2 butter. They are waiting to approve the Ten Finns label.

Lactose intolerant or protein sensitivity?

According to Consumer Reports, there is limited scientific research on the benefits of A2 milk.

A small study, funded by the A2 Milk Company in New Zealand, found that some people may take significantly longer to digest milk that contains both A1 and A2, which could lead to gastrointestinal inflammation, gas and abdominal pain.

The June 2019 Consumer Reports article notes that more large-scale, human trials comparing the effects of A1 and A2 are needed.

“A2 milk appears to be all the rage in the dairy industry today,” said Heins, but claims that A2 milk is easier for humans to digest, improves health and lowers risk for some diseases have not yet been scientifically proven.

“The future will tell if A2 milk is just a fad or if it will permanently have a seat at the table of the dairy industry,” he said.

For more information on Ten Finns Creamery, visit www.tenfinnscreamery.com.