Punita Patel

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As told to Kassidy Lankford

Tell me about your background.

I grew up in India and moved to the United States when I was 17. I’ve spent more life in the USA now than I did in India. I’ve worked as a nurse and a gardening teacher in the past, but when we moved from Missouri to Florida I told myself I’d do something that I’d been wanting to do for 10 years — starting a buffalo dairy farm. Before, it was never the right time, but when I got a restart in Florida it was perfect timing. Weather-wise, Florida is ideal for buffalo and they like swampy areas. I started out with one buffalo in my back yard in Ponte Vedra, and I now have 14. I am currently looking for a farm to house some of them.

Tell me about Backyard Buffalo and what you guys do.

We are a small dairy — these are milking animals. We produce local milk and milk-based products such as yogurt, ice cream, and more. The milk is so good, but it is hard to find here in the Jacksonville area.

In a way, I started this for personal reasons. I was craving buffalo milk and I could not find it anywhere. It is delicious. Even people who have never tried it before fall in love at first sip. It is high in protein and fat, and it is creamier and sweeter than cow’s milk. The taste is very clean and there is not much of an aftertaste. To me, it is like liquid ice cream. It also tastes wonderful in tea or coffee. Throughout this process, I’ve also really fallen in love with these animals. They’re easy, gentle, and affectionate. They are so resilient and they thrive in Florida.

What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced as a female business owner?

I have a lot of challenges. It would be hard to say that all of these problems are gender-related, because it is never clear cut.  However, one issue I’ve had as a female business owner is being taken seriously and struggling with licensing or any permitting issues that come up. I find that it’s hard for folks to take me seriously because they’ve never seen a solo female farmer — it’s always a farmer’s wife. I had an experience in which an inspector asked me if I’d ever even seen a buffalo and questioned my ability to handle these animals. I replied that of course I’d seen and handled them- I grew up in India! I don’t need to be macho or manhandle these animals. They’re sweet, like dogs, and not out to hurt people. While I do face a lot of challenges, I also receive so much support. The support outweighs the challenges.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your work with Backyard Buffalo?

My favorite thing is spending time with the buffalo. I spend time watching them, brushing them, and simply interacting with them. It’s very relaxing. I absolutely love it. I also love interacting with the people who support our mission at the farmer’s markets. I always leave the farmers market feeling recharged — the interactions are fuel for me. Right now, we go to the Beaches Green Market in Atlantic Beach on Saturdays. Prior to the pandemic, I was a vendor at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre Farmer’s Market, but that was shut down and they are just now opening back up. I’m excited to get back in there.

What are your upcoming business goals?

My primary goal for 2020 is getting our products officially approved for human consumption. I’ll open a bottle of champagne when that happens! I’d also love to see our products hit the shelves at local grocery stores

What advice would you give to a fellow small business owner during these trying times?

My advice is based in my own experience. I would tell a fellow small business owner that their goals are possible. I’d advise small producers go directly to the consumers. Having farmer’s markets available to us has saved our business and has made it possible for us to be here today, because we have direct access to the consumer. Small producers like myself are staying around because of this. So, my advice is to find a way to go directly to the consumer and use social media to your advantage — that’s where the people are, and that’s how people find unique products. Don’t underestimate the farmer’s markets. They are full of artisans who produce high quality products.

What do you love to do outside of work?

I love to spend time with my family, travel and visit different farmer’s markets to try different foods. Food is my passion — that’s what has gotten me into this business.

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