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'Is this it? Are we done?' — Days after fire, Shadow Brook Farm operators eye rebuild

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A day after they lost their factory and storefront in an early-morning fire that destroyed an estimated $80,000 worth of cheese products alone, the owners of Shadow Brook Farm and Dutch Girl Creamery were back to work Tuesday afternoon. 

"That's the thing about dairy animals," said Charuth Van Beuzekom, who has operated the farm with her husband, Kevin Loth, since 1996, and who was milking goats during an interview with the Journal Star on Tuesday. 

"Even though there was a fire, and I don't have any way to make cheese, I still have to milk them twice a day. Because they make milk. And they don't stop." 

Shadow Brook Farm fire aftermath

Nubian, Alpine and Saanen goats await their turn to be milked at Shadow Brook Farm on Tuesday.

In the wake of the fire that broke out at about 4:30 a.m. Monday, gutting their $200,000 facility and hospitalizing Ian Richmond, their 37-year-old business partner, Van Beuzekom and Loth, both in their 50s, haven't stopped, either. 

For more than two decades, the couple has sold farm-grown vegetables at local farmers markets and from their own storefront at 2201 W. Denton Road, tucked away near Lincoln's southwestern city limit. 

In 2006, the couple expanded their operation as Van Beuzekom began making goat cheese products, building an on-site cheese factory in 2013 to manufacture and store the byproduct of 150 goats. 

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Together, Van Beuzekom and Loth have sold the products at a handful of local markets from May through December, while amassing more than 200 Shadow Brook "farm share" subscribers, who pay up to $40 a week for a supply of locally produced meat, cheese and vegetables. 

When the fire broke out on the second floor of the facility Monday, Van Beuzekom said Richmond had been sleeping there — a common occurrence this time of year, as the operators log 80-hour weeks in preparation for the coming market season. 

Van Beuzekom said she and Loth had been asleep in their home on the property when Richmond woke them up shortly before 4:30 a.m., alerting them to the fire spreading at the store.

Shadow Brook Farm fire aftermath

Charuth Van Beuzekom, who owns Shadow Brook Farm and Dutch Girl Creamery with husband Kevin Loth, points out a water- and fire-damaged antique that holds recipes for various vegetables.

Van Beuzekom called 911 and her husband ran toward the facility, she said. In an adrenaline-altered state, he ran into the building looking for Richmond, who had already made it out and woken the couple up, Van Beuzekom said. 

"That tells you how absolutely bonkers your brain is when something like this happens," she said. 

By the time the first of a handful of rural fire crews rolled in, Van Beuzekom said the fire had spread to the creamery, where the cheese product was stored. 

Van Beuzekom said she was grateful for the quick work of firefighters, saving the equipment stored in the creamery. The structure itself, though, was a total loss. 

Richmond remained hospitalized in CHI St. Elizabeth's burn unit Tuesday afternoon, Van Beuzekom said. Organizers on Tuesday launched a GoFundMe page to help support Richmond, who lost $8,000 worth of seed in the fire and faces a "a stretch of recuperation time ahead," according to the page. 

The State Fire Marshal Agency determined the fire was accidental and electrical in nature, according to the agency's chief fire investigator. 

Shadow Brook Farm fire, 2.28

A fire Monday gutted the cheese-processing plant and store at Shadow Brook Farm southwest of Lincoln.

One person injured in fire at Lincoln's Shadow Brook Farm, sheriff's office says

As Van Beuzekom watched the flames engulf the facility Monday morning  — destroying the building's entire second floor along with Eastman's plant seeds, their packaging and a winter's worth of cheese products  — she said she weighed the value of the businesses they had built and the cost of keeping going.

"It definitely came up in conversation. 'Is this it? Are we done?'" Van Beuzekom said. "And then you just start thinking about the customers that are depending on you." 

So Van Beuzekom and Loth have opted to rebuild. 

They're navigating the headaches of making an insurance claim and toured a restaurant Monday — only hours after the fire — as a possible temporary location for their cheese-making operation. They're aiming to be operational again by April 1. 

Much of the couple's livelihood was destroyed in the fire. But their resolve was not. 

"We don't want to give up on that dream," Van Beuzekom said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or awegley@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @andrewwegley

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A Kansas City, Missouri, native, Andrew Wegley joined the Journal Star as breaking news reporter after graduating from Northwest Missouri State University in May 2021.

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