A group calling itself the ‘Save the Thornloe Cheese Committee’ is holding a rally Saturday morning in an attempt to keep the operation alive with a new buyer.
The event takes place at the Old Ag Station/Heritage Barn in New Liskeard from 1 to 3 p.m. and aims to raise awareness and garner support to reopen the beloved cheese plant under new and local ownership.
Organizer Robin Flewwelling, a local dairy farmer, says there is some interest from two potential owners, and his group wants Gay Lea, the current owner, to leave the plant as is for an easier purchase.
He hopes the rally will help their cause. “We are hoping to raise more awareness and sign up more people to put pressure on Gay Lea and keep their feet to the fire so they will leave behind enough for the next buyer.”
Gay Lea closed the plant on October 30 putting 30 people out of work. It had been operating since the 1940s.
Flewwelling adds there are two or three interested buyers who are looking at the books and the property to see if they can make a go of it. “We are hoping they leave everything behind. The quota, sell it at a good price, they leave the recipes and the equipment so a new buyer can make a go of it.”
The Thornloe plant was in a similar position several years ago when being run by Parmalat and northern residents banded together to keep the plant open. It was purchased by Gencor before being sold to Gay Lea.
Flewwelling, a member of the Gay Lea Cooperative himself, says he had high hopes when the sale was made. “They had a track record of buying small processors and cheese makers, ramping them up and keeping them going, and being a farmer’s cooperative. We thought it was a great match. But apparently, it wasn’t.”
He adds he isn’t sure whether they had planned since day one to not invest in the operation.
“They didn’t do any upgrades or repairs that were any more than needed,” he says. “Then they put a note on the door that it was closed, they sent us an email and that was it.”