Seven Questions for Celeste Nolan of Laurel Valley Creamery

Erin Edwards
A still from "Farmsteaders," directed by Shaena Mallett

Celeste and Nick Nolan are Southeast Ohio dairy farmers, farmsteaders and parents of six whose Laurel Valley Creamery cheeses have become a must-have for many Central Ohio restaurants and markets. On Monday, Sept. 2, the Nolan family’s story will be shared nationwide on the PBS documentary series POV. Directed by Shaena Mallett, “Farmsteaders” follows Nick and his family as they work to resurrect his grandfather’s dairy farm and launch a farmstead cheese operation in Gallipolis.

“More than a story of sustainable food production, ‘Farmsteaders’ is a story of resilience,” said Justine Nagan, executive producer/executive director for POV/American Documentary, in a press release. “Viewers will be left in awe watching Nick and Celeste, building their farm while raising their family. ‘Farmsteaders’ is a proud declaration of rural American perseverance.”

I touched base with Celeste via email to learn how the documentary came about and what she hopes viewers will take away from the film.

“Farmsteaders” premieres at 10 p.m. EST on Monday, and it’s not to miss.

How did the opportunity to do the documentary “Farmsteaders” come about and how did it evolve?

The idea for “Farmsteaders” was developed by Shaena Mallett, the film's director, who used to help Nick with our booth at the Athens Farmers Market. Nick and Shaena were brainstorming ways to promote our new-ish business and “Farmsteaders was initially supposed to be a weekly web series about different projects here on the farm. We started filming without a hard plan, and the story behind the film developed as the footage was shot.

“Farmsteaders” is a very intimate documentary filmed over five years. What reservations did you have, if any, about letting cameras into your home?  

Shaena is such a kind and real person, and she did 100 percent of the filming herself. We never hesitated to allow her access to all of us, our home, farm, children and emotions. I would, however, hesitate if she wanted to share all of the footage:).

How did you react when you learned that the documentary was going to air on PBS?

We were so excited. Shaena called me, and then we both called Nick together. Shaena is talented and dedicated, so it wasn't at all surprising that her abilities are being recognized on a national platform. Between Nick and I, there was a "you were right" moment. He was always confident that the project would appeal to a broad audience, while I was willing to participate and grateful for the footage regardless of the outcome.

When you started filming the documentary in 2011, what were your worries as a family and a farmstead? Having watched you weather some difficult challenges through the lens of “Farmsteaders,” I wonder if you worry about different things now?

In 2011, we had babies, toddlers and kids. In 2019, we have kids and teenagers, which seems to be the biggest difference to me. We still face environmental, economic and personal challenges similar to the ones we faced in the documentary, although the parenting challenges have evolved as we each grow into the people we are destined to be. The toll dairy farming takes on a family has never been more apparent than it is today. And now, almost 14 years in, the hardest challenges are the ones that aren't visible. They are internal. 

It’s likely that there are two distinct audiences for the documentary: fellow farmers and us city folk who’ve come to know you through Laurel Valley cheeses served at local restaurants and markets. What do you hope each group will take away from the documentary?

To fellow farmers: We get you, your struggles, your joys, your exhaustion. I hope that you can watch this and see yourself and your neighbors reflected on screen, and I hope that “Farmsteaders” inspires others to reach out to you—to learn about, support and appreciate the sacrifices you make to produce the foods they enjoy.

And to the city folk: I hope you take away an understanding and appreciation for the complexity of rural life and an agricultural livelihood. I hope after watching this you want to know more about where your food comes from. And I hope we all realize that urban or rural or in between, we all have more in common than we have differences.

Who have been some of your biggest partners in the Columbus area?

We have had so much support from so many business owners in Columbus. You won't find our cheese at any chains or big box stores. You will find them at independently owned grocery stores and restaurants across the city. Kevin Caskey and his family at Skillet [who make a cameo in “Farmsteaders”] have been instrumental in our success in the Columbus market. Weiland's [Market] and the Hills [Market] Downtown have also been supporters from the very beginning. There are many talented chefs across the city who use our cheeses in such creative and unique applications. I value each and every relationship we have built over the years.  

Where will you be watching the premiere of “Farmsteaders”?

At Jackie O's Pub & Brewery in Athens, with Shaena and as many of our friends who are willing to come out at 10 p.m. on a Monday night!

You can find a full list of partner restaurants and markets that sell Laurel Valley Creamery cheeses at The trailer for "Farmsteaders" is below.