Organic dairy farmer Dante Hesse is hoping the customers who lap up his milk by the quart at local New York farmers’ markets will also invest in his future.

What started as a series of “low key” one-on-one conversations with customers at local farmers’ markets near his Ghent, New York farm, has escalated into a serious attempt to raise $850,000 – in as little as $1,000 increments – directly from his dairy-loving consumers.

“I learned pretty quickly that there was a lot of interest, but I also needed to find some council who could tell me how to do this legally,” said Hesse, who founded Milk Thistle organic dairy farm with his wife, Kristin, three years ago. He intends to use the bulk of the money to build an onsite processing plant that will help him ramp up production and diversify into making other milk-based products like yogurt, butter and ice cream.

“If it has to be 850 people at $1,000 each then that’s what we’ll have to do and I think we could get it,” said Hesse.

THE PITCH

Hesse knows the math behind the milk and feels if he’s properly capitalized, he can move into more “value-added” products like butter, yogurt and ice cream, where the gross margins are 20-30 percent higher.