Going Green in the Golden State

I cruised up to the Central Valley of California after three days on the road traveling from the Heartland to the West Coast. Interstate 70 ushered me through the Flint Hills and Rocky Mountains, and Interstate 15 took me through Fishlake National Forest and right by the future site of Dairy Farmers of America’s (DFA) newest cheese retail store in Beaver, Utah. A few more U.S. highways and mountain roads guided me through Death Valley National Park and Sequoia National Forest. The end of my journey brought the hot, white sand and cold, blue water of the Pacific Ocean.

 

Along the way, I witnessed a turkey with feathers fanned,strutting his stuff for some nearby hens. A pheasant flew so close to the truck, I had visions of cracked windshields. Lights from a wind farm shone like stars scattered across a field, and solar panels glinted in the desert sun as far as I could see.

A couple hours from my final destination, the verdant acres of Philip Verwey Farms greeted me with a much-needed respite from the road and provided hope that the beauties I encountered during my cross-country trek would be here for many years to come.

That’s because Philip Verwey and his son, Brent, are committed to green practices on their dairy farms and to being industry leaders in sustainability. Green operations make good business sense, as well as environmental sense, and the Verweys believe they’re good for the dairy industry, too. Brent explains that implementing sustainable practices is important to the Verweys because it allows them to demonstrate the viability of these practices to their fellow dairy farmers.

Philip Verwey and Frank Cardoza

“Being environmentally friendly is good for everyone,” he says. “It’s good for the public and it’s good for the industry. By paving the way and helping show these practices work for the business, more dairymen may be open to making some of these sustainable changes.”

Staying at the forefront of environmental innovations has enabled the Verweys to partner with their local and national regulatory agencies, and they’ve invited other dairy farmers to see their work in action through open-house events and allowing writers like myself to visit the dairies.

The nitty-gritty
Philip Verwey Farms consists of about 4,600 acres, 10,000 milking cows and 7,000 young cows not yet in the milking herd. And, with that many animals, there is bound to be some major manure. Instead of letting all this waste simply go to waste, the Verwey family turns it into electricity. And bedding for their cows. And fertilizer for the fields. Oh, and at full capacity, their anaerobic digester can create enough energy to power the farm and allow the Verweys to sell two-thirds of the total energy back to their local utility cooperative. For the family, being good stewards of the land also means emissions reduction and water conservation are top priorities for themselves and their employees.

We take care of each of these individual areas and will ensure the longevity of animals and the dairy industry.
— Frank Cardoza

Frank Cardoza, controller at Philip Verwey Farms, manages the day-to-day operations of the three farms. “When they hired me, Philip and Shelley said there were three things important to them,” Frank told me. “Number one is that we create a safe working environment that will attract hard-working people who want a career in the ag industry. Two is to ensure there’s no animal abuse and use the best animal handling practices. And number three is the environment. Always find ways to conserve water and reduce air pollutions. Those are the three things Philip and Shelley wanted me to focus on, and they all work together in harmony. We take care of each of these individual areas and will ensure the longevity of animals and the dairy industry.”

Harmony feels like the perfect word to describe the Verwey operation. Between recycling and conserving water, producing bedding and fertilizer, and creating energy that fuels the farms, the whole system works in sync.

A self-sustaining cycle
While many components comprise the sustainable systems on Philip Verwey Farms, they can be broken down into three main parts: recycled water, the anaerobic digestion system and the electric feed mixers. These three parts work together to create a green, self-sustaining cycle. The water flushes manure into the anaerobic digestion system, which creates electricity to run the feed mixers, which provides a total mixed ration to feed the cattle. The cattle then produce the wholesome milk with which we nourish our families, as well as the byproduct the water then flushes to the digester.

Recycled water
The water starts its journey through the dairy as it’s pumped from electric wells that provide fresh drinking water for the animals. Recycled water is then used to flush the lanes in all the freestall barns. It passes over screens in separators where large solids are sifted out and sent on to live another life as bedding and fertilizer. The water is then recycled and used to flush the heifer corrals. Lastly, the same water flows underground to the anaerobic digestion system, where it produces natural gas to power generators that deliver energy.

The goal for the dairies is to recycle all the water they use. Frank estimates they’re currently close to the 90-percent mark.

Anaerobic digestion system
Anaerobic digestion is the process where manure from the dairy herd is converted into energy by microorganisms in the absence of air. As Brent toured our group around Philip Verwey Farms, he summarized their system, which was commissioned in October 2016. The large, covered lagoon — double-lined to prevent groundwater seepage — where the conversion occurs is a half-mile long by 300-feet wide. It has a holding capacity close to 30 million gallons and energy potential of 20 million kilowatt hours’ worth of electricity — enough to power 5,000 homes or three large dairy facilities.

Brent walked our small group out on top of the black, rubber cover, which the biogas transforms into an enormous, curved balloon. As we reached the summit of the cover, we were treated to a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding fields, where the water table seeped through green fields and birds flapped and chirped.

As we descended, we walked straight toward the stack at the generator site, which gleams in the sunshine and gives off almost no emissions.

Electric feed mixers
One day while driving home, Philip had the idea to further reduce emissions by converting the farms’ traditional diesel-fueled mixing wagons to an electric-driven feeding system. He submitted a proposal to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District through their Technology Advancement Program and was granted funding to help complete the project.

Philip subsequently eliminated the emission of more than 20 tons of nitrogen oxides each year through the use of two stationary mixers.

The total mixed ration Philip feeds his cows contains 12 different types of feed, including wheat and corn silage the family grows on the farms. The electric mixers prevent sorting of all these feeds and reduce diesel usage from running tractors. The farms’ diesel usage went from roughly 7,000 gallons of fuel every three to four weeks to 500 gallons of fuel for the same time frame.

Additionally, the blending of the mixed ration is more consistent and uniform, and the efficiencies provided by the mixers cut feeding time in half — from 20 hours per day to about nine hours per day.

Frank Cardoza, Brent Verwey and Paúl Alcarai

The future
As I left Philip Verwey Farms, with the date palm fronds swaying in the breeze, I couldn’t help but wonder what would be next for the Verweys. Would it be the natural gas filling stations they are planning? The fleet of natural-gas-powered tanker trucks? Or some other new technology to reduce their carbon footprint and increase efficiencies? Philip is always trying to do more. He’s an innovator and is constantly looking for ways to run his dairies more efficiently. With his penchant for installing environmentally friendly features on his farms, I’m sure the next green thing is right around the corner.

Learning from the Past

Marilyn Calvin | Thunder Ridge Dairy | Mount Vernon, Mo.

For Marilyn Calvin, a dairy farmer in Mount Vernon, Mo., one of the hardest things she’s had to face was coming home alone after her husband suddenly and unexpectedly passed away in 2010.

“I would always call him when I got to the airport,” Marilyn remembers of the many trips to Dairy Farmers of America’s (DFA) — her milk marketing cooperative — board and council meetings. “After he was gone, I would get to the airport and there was nobody to call. And then I got home and nobody’s here.”

After he was gone, I would get to the airport and there was nobody to call. And then I got home and nobody’s here.
— Marilyn Calvin

Walking through the front door and knowing her husband wouldn’t be there to greet her is still painful, but it has never stopped Marilyn from walking right out through the back door and getting to work. A dairy farm requires the kind of work that can’t wait for sorrow to fade, or for your legal affairs to be in order. The cows must be cared for every day, regardless of life’s other challenges.

Challenges are old hat for Marilyn. She and her husband, Kenneth, embarked on their careers as dairy farmers in 1972 with nothing but two cows (Marilyn bought these), a bird dog named Beaver, a shotgun and a car payment (Kenneth contributed the last three). Today, the operation consists of about 500 acres, with 200 dairy cows and 170 replacement heifers — cows that aren’t currently producing milk. Marilyn is in partnership with her son, Kenlee, and they run the farm together with the help of a long-time employee.

As a first-generation dairy farmer and wife who inherited the farm, Marilyn offers a unique perspective on succession planning. The tragedy of her husband’s unforeseen passing resulted in valuable lessons learned and a willingness to share her story.

Equal is not always equitable
As a farm family with three children, two of whom have careers outside the farm, the Calvins knew it was important to find an attorney who understood farm family dynamics and was familiar with their circumstances. Marilyn has a saying that “equal is not always equitable,” and she put a lot of thought and planning into finding an attorney who truly understood her philosophy. Marilyn’s goal is to keep the farm intact for future generations, including her three grandchildren, and to provide for all her children fairly.  

“When one of your children has put their life, their assets and their time into the farm, and then you have other children who have jobs outside the farm, it can’t all be equal,” Marilyn says.

Adapting
Although Kenneth and Marilyn had a trust in place well before they needed it, Marilyn discovered all her planning did not prepare her for losing her spouse and business partner. From long nights alone when a cow needs help calving in the middle of a snowstorm, to missing her partner when she wants input on a big decision, Marilyn adapted as best she could while keeping the farm running. Additionally, she learned the importance of establishing her own credit. Kenneth was very mechanical — instead of buying new equipment when something broke down, he could fix it. With Kenneth gone, however, Marilyn has to purchase new equipment more often. Having a little credit in her own name helps make that possible.

Kenlee and Marilyn Calvin

Talking it through
Facing one’s own demise is unpleasant, and dividing a business or assets can be messy. Marilyn found, though, that talking it through and having a plan saved heartache at a time when her family couldn’t take any more.

“Any young person who stays on a farm deserves to know where they stand,” Marilyn says. “You’d be surprised how many dairy farmers I’ve met who are farming with their families, and they don’t know if they’ll inherit the farm.”

A simple, yet meaningful piece of advice Marilyn offers is to prepare while you can. “A loved one suddenly passing away can happen to anybody. They’re here and then gone all of a sudden,” Marilyn says. “He wasn’t only my husband — he was my business partner and my best friend. And now he’s gone.”

A Stay Worth Working For

Hugging and hand milking cows, bottle feeding calves and soaking up the sun in lush, green pastures are a few of the activities in which guests can partake at Spectacular Views & Moos, an Airbnb hosted by dairy farmers Daniel and Angela Schmid in Bloomville, N.Y.

 

The Schmids operate Mountain View Dairy, a 270-acre, 50-cow dairy atop a picturesque hill with breathtaking views. Daniel’s father, Walter, bought the farm in 1969 after he moved to the United States from Switzerland. Annemarie, Daniel’s mother, joined him about a year later, and they’ve been on the farm ever since. Currently, Daniel and Angela manage the dairy and are venturing into agritourism — combining their agricultural pursuits with tourism and the chance to connect people with their food.

While the dairy is the real bread and butter for the family, their agritourism business is burgeoning into a life of its own. In a world where consumers are more and more interested in where their food comes from, and social media can provide as much misinformation as truth, the Schmids decided to share their love of dairying with people through social media, their Airbnb rental and the opportunity to camp with the cows. 

Guests from around the world have booked, from places including Japan, Los Angeles and Houston. Some guests enjoy the views and their solitude; others want to learn about the dairy and participate in milking and other farm chores. Angela loves engaging with the guests and is willing to let them be as involved as they like.

“I have a deep passion for this farm and I love being able to share it with our guests,” she says. “They come as strangers and leave as friends.”

It seems the guests love it, too. As one Airbnb reviewer from New York City noted, “Be sure to take them up on a tour of the farm. If you’re anything like us, knowing where and how your food gets to you is such a meaningful experience. On top of that, the view is absolutely stunning.”

Glamping, anyone?
Lori Ciafardoni, Cheri Rossi and Desi Carter (from New York, Minnesota and Florida, respectively) took the Schmids up on their offer of an interactive Airbnb experience and booked Spectacular Views & Moos for an early-summer weekend. The three ladies work remotely for The State University of New York and attend commencement every year at the campus near Mountain View Dairy. They wanted to rent a place nearby with room for all of them. As Lori and Cheri searched together over the phone for a suitable rental, Spectacular Views & Moos jumped out at them.

“Views & Moos, what’s this?” Lori exclaimed, and then immediately called Desi and told her, “We’re staying with cows.”

They didn’t actually sleep in the barn during their stay, and they passed on the chance to camp in tents in the woods by the fire pit. Glamping is a little more their style, so the ladies stayed in the house on the property. They did, however, get a much more hands-on experience than they planned, including a little snuggle time for Lori and Snow, a 1,300-pound Holstein whom Lori hit it off with instantly.

The parlor
True to their word, Daniel and Angela let their guests be as involved with the farm as they liked. So, amongst the scattered moos of 50 impatient cows waiting just outside, Desi, Lori and Cheri strolled into the Schmid’s milking parlor at 6 a.m. on a crisp, bright Friday morning. Daniel and Angela gave them a tour and explained the process they go through twice a day, every day, to milk their herd. The ladies, with their boots on, were ready to start and dove right in.

The bovine ladies filed in, took their places and ate some grain. The Airbnb guests took their cues from Daniel and Angela and cleaned udders, connected milkers and even learned to milk by hand, which Cheri said was completely different than she expected and was her favorite part of the whole experience.

The milkhouse
Once the cows were milked and back to grazing in their pasture, Daniel cleaned the parlor and Angela took Desi, Lori and Cheri to the milkhouse. Here, she explained the mechanics of getting milk from 50 cows to their 1,500-gallon, stainless steel milk tank, into a tanker truck and to a plant.

While Angela explained the process of cooling the milk and taking test samples for quality, her guests peppered her with questions about pasteurization, expiration dates and cow care. Being a nurse, Lori was especially inquisitive about the health of the Schmid’s herd. She asked about treatments when cows get sick, which led to a discussion about antibiotics.

I have a deep passion for this farm and I love being able to share it with our guests. They come as strangers and leave as friends.
— Angela Schmid

“We won’t take a risk that any antibiotics would ever get into the milk tank,” Angela explained. “We don’t have the piping system connected to the tank when we milk a cow that’s getting antibiotics. The cow still gets milked, but the milk goes into a separate pail, as it can never go into milk processed for human consumption.” Angela then went into detail about the testing protocols in place on every farm to prevent antibiotics — which, just like humans, cows receive when they are sick — from making it into dairy products: “Before our milk hauler will take our milk, the driver agitates the milk tank for 10 minutes and takes a sample, which he sends to the processing plant. The processing plant won’t accept milk that tests positive for antibiotics. Should any milk on that truck test positive, it would all be dumped.”

Providing answers to questions about milk, cow care and anything else related to dairy farming is part of the reason Angela loves agritourism. It allows her to engage with the public and promote the industry she loves. In this way, she can dispel some of the confusion people face when making food choices and bring them a little closer to agriculture.

She says, “With social media, it’s easy to share our day-to-day with people who wouldn’t normally get a chance to even see the inside of a dairy barn, let alone touch or hug a cow. It’s important to let them know we are here and we welcome them to come, see, ask questions and maybe even find a little passion.”

Reflections on the hill
After a visit to the pasture where the three ladies hugged cows and made friends with Sprinkles, the only Jersey on the farm, they had a picnic-style lunch and enjoyed the views from on top of the hill.

Reflecting on their morning of learning, milking and hugging cows, Desi, Cheri and Lori said they had really just been looking for a place to stay, but ended up with an unforgettable experience.

“Knowing it’s a working farm, we didn’t think we would be that involved because we would be in the way,” Cheri said. “But, they totally let us get in the way!”

Desi admitted they’ve already booked the Airbnb for next year’s commencement trip and she will be bringing her husband along to share the experience.

Whether it’s hosting foodies from New York City, glampers on a commencement trip, campers enjoying the fresh mountain air or just folks looking for a place to stay, the Schmids have found a meaningful way to connect people to dairy and the families who produce it.

Masters of Metal

Rick Avery | Paul Mueller Company | Springfield, Mo.

The sound of clunky, steel-toe boot covers shuffling on the cement floor and some rather routine clearing of my fogged-up safety glasses do nothing to mask the instant aroma of a shop — the largest and cleanest I’ve ever experienced — as I begin what is sure to be a stimulating tour.

A sheet of metal clambers onto a long, steel table, and a bead from the welder is carefully uniting the enormous pieces of silver material when we arrive at our first stop in the expansive 1-million-square-foot building. Welcome to Paul Mueller Company, or as I’ve seen it referenced in shiny, metal letters: Mueller.

Although intrigued by Mueller’s wine and beer equipment (only a couple of their many product categories), this company piques my interest for its prominence and reputation in storing and handling another delectable product — milk.

 

This Springfield, Mo.,-based company’s rich history, tradition and reputation go back to the 1940s. The now global metal manufacturing company began humbly when two young entrepreneurs, Paul Mueller and Gordon Mann, shook hands on their sheet metal endeavor. The partnership was short-lived, as Paul took over the company only a few years later when Gordon fell ill.

In the years and decades following, Paul ventured into a slew of industries, one of which was dairy manufacturing processing equipment in 1946. The entire Paul Mueller Company story could no doubt fill a novel, and I’d surely be in line to pick up my own copy, because Paul’s reputation, like that of the company he left behind, is filled with passion, craftsmanship, hard work and immense pride. I had the opportunity to talk with Rick McClenning, Mueller’s national sales manager, who not only knows the business backward, forward and inside out, but is clearly touched by Paul’s legacy and the sense of pride he instilled in his employees. 

“There are several employees who had a personal relationship with Mr. Mueller and are still working here today,” explains Rick. “The number of employees that have been here 30-plus years is just amazing in today’s society. There’s really a sense of loyalty, a sense of family, a sense of continuation — there are multiple people here who have members of their family who also work here. That’s unusual in today’s world, but it’s a very big, small business and a family-driven operation.”

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“Your name, your heritage is on the building.”

 

— Rick McClenning

Even after Paul ended his tenure and turned over his day-to-day control, he remained a familiar face at Mueller until his death at the age of 99 in 2015. Not only was he on the board of directors, but he continued to come in almost every day into his early 90s.

And who better to leave his family business to than his grandson, David Moore.

“There’s a sense of responsibility that comes with that, and there’s a sense of responsiveness that comes with that as well,” Rick says. “Your name, your heritage is on the building.”

Beyond its headquarters in Springfield, which has about 600 employees, Mueller does a lot of its dairy product manufacturing in Osceola, Iowa, and has another facility in the Netherlands.

This particular tour continues through the Springfield facility as we follow Regional Sales Manager Jordan Blunt along the multitude of steps it takes to craft a milk tank. Although dairy is just one of the industries Mueller has a hand in, it’s one of their larger business units, accounting for 60 to 70 percent of the milk cooler market share in North America.

With that large of a presence in the milk tank market, the shiny Mueller logo can be spotted on a good majority of Dairy Farmers of America’s (DFA) more than 14,500 member farms. 

Before these cylindrical, smooth and somewhat flashy milk coolers — spanning from 300 to 8,000 gallons in capacity — can arrive at a dairy farm, they go through the multi-step process I watched on a walk-through of the colossal facility.

 

Follow me on the journey of the making of a milk tank (the condensed edition).

Step 1
It all starts with a pallet of raw sheets of metal, which are brought into the Mueller facility and await their turn through the assembly line. This assembly line isn’t filled with robotic movement and a handful of employees supervising the process. No, this process breaks that stigma. The man-made touch is evident in each step these milk coolers take before they’re loaded on the dock.

Step 2
From the slatted, wood pallets, each sheet of metal is lifted onto a solid, expansive table to be welded together using a food-grade finish. This machine requires a skilled employee’s hands, ensuring precision is achieved. The raised bead from the weld is then flattened and smoothed, leaving behind a seamless finish. The sheet is then wrapped into a single, open-ended cylinder.

Step 3
As you can imagine, a manufacturing facility requires a fair share of welding, leading to an assortment of unique welding helmets hanging in stations to be donned by an eager employee. Once the milk tank makes its way to this step, several employees use lifts to move each end of the cylinder into place before securing them with another set of precise welds.

Step 4
Each tank features two cylindrical layers, allowing space to run piping and wiring into the tank without being exposed to the creamy, white goodness that will eventually fill the inside layer to the brim. Foam insulation is then sprayed into the gap to provide optimal efficiency for cooling the milk. The tank also receives its legs in this step before any rough edges are ground down by a crew sporting matching safety glasses, gloves and neon orange earplugs.   

Step 5
From my conversations with Rick and Jordan, I know calibration of each tank is essential at Mueller — it’s part of their brand promise for a quality product. Once each tank has been assembled, it is carefully calibrated by pulling gram and cubic centimeter draws of water repeatedly from the tank. This part of the process ensures each tank is calibrated as accurately as possible, so dairy farmers can know exactly how much milk their tank encases at any given moment.

Step 6
No matter the capacity of a tank, their shiny, silver, stainless steel aesthetic is a signature feature on the dairy farm. So, before the finished milk cooler leaves Mueller, it is thoroughly shined and sanitized. Then, it receives the final seal of approval as a plate featuring block-style Mueller letters is affixed to the front by a pair of steady, callused hands.

 

Each of these steps culminate into a reputation of quality and customer service, the reason Mueller is a household name on dairy farms.

We really appreciate the fact that we’re on the dairy farm side of this business.
— Rick McClenning

The pride Mueller employees take in their products, especially their milk coolers, is like that of a farmer’s cow reaching 100 pounds of milk produced in a day — neither of these accomplishments occurs overnight. They take time, dedication, continuous improvement and a family working together toward a shared goal.

“We really appreciate the fact that we’re on the dairy farm side of this business. While there are certainly tough times in the dairy economy cycle and there are negatives that go along with it, it’s a real blessing to do business with the dairy farmer end user,” Rick says. “There’s just something a little different about the people who dairy farm. And that’s special and neat, and helps us enjoy coming to work every day to be able to serve that group of people.

A Father’s Story, A Daughter’s Legacy

Tammy Lowery | Buckner Dairy | Fair Grove, Mo.

I first met the family from Buckner Dairy amid a cacophony of voices as a group of dairy farmers converged in Springfield, Mo., for a meeting of their dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). We met as strangers; happenstance joined us at a table where we shared lunch, stories and cold glasses of milk. Some tales were outlandish, most were funny and, I was assured all were true. They centered on farming and family. I was struck with the group’s dedication to dairying, family and storytelling. 

 

The family’s patriarch, Charles Buckner, is a stalwart in the Missouri dairy community. One of the first stories he shared wasn’t about his family’s rich history on their operation, but about its bright future at the hands of his eldest daughter, Tammy Lowery.

Windy or calm, frigid or sweltering, and even on the rare perfect days Missouri occasionally offers up, you’ll find Tammy in the parlor, working with the cows. She’s been on the farm all her life, milking cows before she was 10 years old. She has known since she was a little girl she wanted to stay there. When she got a little older, she committed it to ink and paper: “I wrote in my high school newspaper that I was going to be a dairy farmer,” Tammy reminisced. Her dream came true in 1980, when she began managing the dairy branch of her family’s farm.  

Standing in the parlor on a frigid February day, Tammy was a bit reticent to speak about herself and her work. As on every farm across the globe, work at Buckner Dairy goes on regardless of the weather, world events or visitors to the farm. Although Tammy’s work is extraordinary, to her, it’s everyday life. She takes care of her family, takes care of her cows and feeds the community.

When given the opportunity to share stories about her love for dairying, Tammy becomes downright voluble. She knows each cow as it files into the parlor, pointing out that this Holstein may shy at the camera flash, the Braunvieh back there was likely to be a little feisty and kick off the milker a time or two, and in general, the Crossbreds (a Holstein and Jersey mix) are her best milk producers. Tammy says the Crossbreds are sturdy cows, usually provide large quantities of milk with high butterfat percentages, and she and her brother, William, who manages the beef side of the operation, agree they are more economical when it comes to feed.

As Tammy expertly evaluates each cow and completes her morning work, she shares her true passion: “Teaching kids about the dairy, that’s one of my favorite things.”  Tammy explains, “we have preschool to sixth-grade kids come out to learn about the farm.” William says most of the kids come through the Head Start program in Springfield, Mo., and usually, it’s the first time these kids have ever seen (or smelled) a farm.

Knowing from personal experience that an infatuation with farming can form at an early age, Tammy makes it a point to educate youngsters about life on the family farm. She teaches the kids about hard work, educates them about the dairy industry and offers the chance to form a passion like hers. 

Sharing their dairy story is as much of a family tradition for members of the Buckner family as the dairy itself. “This is the oldest dairy farm in Greene County,” Charles told me. Theirs is a Century Farm that started as 60 acres in 1914 and has become a diversified operation of more than 350 acres, 300 dairy heifers, 150 beef cows and 150 dairy cows. 

Charles began milking cows in 1952, and the farm is part of life for all four of his children. Two of his grandchildren even work on the farm a couple days a week. They’re the fifth generation to work and learn on Buckner Dairy, and as Tammy mentions, “there are three great-grandchildren in the family now, and who knows, they may decide they want to carry it on when they get older.” Passing farm knowledge between generations through stories and experiences is part of this dairy’s long tradition.

The milk from Buckner Dairy is picked up every other day from a family of haulers that has been transporting the Buckner’s milk for three generations. After pick-up from the 2,000-gallon milk tank on the farm, the milk journeys to the Cabool, Mo., plant where it’s added to Starbucks® coffee drinks or to the Hiland® Dairy Springfield, Mo., plant, where it’s processed as fluid milk 

Providing milk for the community is a point of pride for Tammy and her family. They drink milk from their farm, and Tammy’s mother, Katherine, offered me a Starbucks Frappuccino® after inviting me in to her home. 

Teaching kids about the dairy, that’s one of my favorite things.
— Tammy Buckner

Buckner Dairy is full of tough, driven women. Tammy proudly regaled me with a couple of stories about her mother, who milked cows for 58 years. Katherine milked by hand for many of those years, including while she was pregnant with her first child, Tammy. Only four hours before going into labor, Katherine was in the parlor, milking and checking the cows. Today, although she’s handed the milking off to Tammy, she still accompanies her husband and children out to the barns and fields to care for the animals.

William, namesake to the farm’s founder, his great-grandfather, and born the same day he passed, lives in the original farmhouse. Tammy’s sister, Janet, is a staple on the farm, feeding calves and helping with everyday chores. Their other sister, Sherry, lives on a farm not far away and is always available when they need another set of hands. “We’re a really tight-knit group,” Tammy says. 

Charles and Katherine have 10 grandchildren, all with varying degrees of involvement in agriculture. This family is narrating its traditions into the future, teaching the next generation how to dairy and the importance of family farms. 

Tammy’s dairy expertise is the result of dedication, years of hands-on experience and lessons learned from her family. As a way to transfer some of that knowledge to others in her community, Tammy participates in promotions and education for the Greene County Farm Bureau. The program promotes agriculture and educates the public about its importance. 

As evidenced by Tammy’s community involvement, empowering the next generation to be an active part of the agriculture industry is a large part of her life. She was the first female officer in the Fair Grove Future Farmers of America (FFA) program, paving the way for generations to come. Her children and many of her nieces and nephews participated in the same program years later. 

During the brief hiatus between morning and afternoon work, I gathered with the family around the dining table. We refreshed ourselves with Frappuccinos® likely containing milk from the very cows we’d just seen outside, looked at family photos and shared a few more family anecdotes. And with a multitude of grandchildren and great-grandchildren creating their own stories, there will be plenty more to share in the future.

R&D: Research & Deliciousness

 Christian Atkinson | DairiConcepts | Springfield, Mo.

Christian Atkinson | DairiConcepts | Springfield, Mo.

Depending on the day, Christian Atkinson is making out-of-this-world garlic bread,adorably sized pizzas or homemade cheese crackers. Today, he’s whipping up macaroni and cheese — but there’s no fluid milk, pats of butter or shreds of cheese in sight.

While most 11-year-olds would flip the channel after “Arthur” was over on PBS, Christian Atkinson would stay tuned in, enamored by Julia Child. Then, he would head to the kitchen and make dinner for his family. But forget  spaghetti and meatballs, he was determined to try
new things.

“I’ve always been a person who tries to make different things work — be creative,” Christian says.

As the development chef for DairiConcepts, a provider of specialty dairy ingredients for many companies across the food industry and a subsidiary of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), in Springfield, Mo., Christian is doing just that. He provides sales support by working with dairy-based powders and concentrates to inspire customers through a variety of product applications.

I’ve always been a person who tries to make different things work — be creative.
— Christian Atkinson

Being a classically trained chef gives Christian a solid foundation, but working with concentrates isn’t what they teach in culinary school.

“It’s just a different set of ingredients,” he says. “You have to figure out how to use the ingredients, and then your culinary skills take over — that’s the science behind it.”

 

While working with powders and concentrates may sound like a science experiment, the ingredients are all made with real dairy, fresh from local farms. The dried and concentrated formats make them perfect for incorporating into shelf-stable food products, like cheese-dusted chips and boxed macaroni and cheese. 

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For Christian, he is able to marry his creativity with knowledge of ratios to jot down the perfect formula. He often makes powders shine through dips and incorporates concentrates into dressings and sauces. 

“I work backward,” says Christian. “I’ll create the classic recipe as a ‘standard’ and then formulate it using DairiConcepts products.”

He will even join the food scientists in the lab to do a little powder development when he has time. One of his favorite table-to-lab creations was a Mexican hot chocolate powder. While it’s not on the market, it made a mean flavored popcorn for taste testing. 

Spending his weekdays in the kitchen doesn’t deter Christian from cooking at home — although his style is a little less scientific.

“I meal prep and eat pretty simply — lots of protein and veggies,” he says. “I’m much less precise and more fun and relaxed.”

His signature dish? Jalapeño artichoke dip. But at the end of the day, whether he’s dreaming up a new application for a powder or making a dip for family, Christian’s passion for food is evident.

“No one really thinks about where a product comes from, and I find that part really interesting,” he says. “I love being able to think both creatively and strategically to come up with the best solution for a customer.”

A Plant with a Purpose

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When Brian Paris, general manager of Craigs Station Creamery, drives to work each day, he is filled with a strong sense of belonging. 

As he pulls up to the state-of-the-art facility, he passes grazing cows, farming equipment and dairymen and women hard at work out in the barns — an idyllic setting not typical of many dairy ingredient plants.

 

“For me, to drive here every morning and to see the farms and the grainery and the tractors and everybody out working, it’s like, ‘Wow — I am a part of this,’” Brian says. “It’s just so cool to be a part of this.”

A joint venture of eight family-run farms and Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Craigs Station combines the resources of a leading dairy company with the traditional values of family farming. The creamery, located on one of the partnering farms in Pavilion, N.Y., specializes in producing highly customized dairy ingredients for world-class consumers, from Icelandic-style yogurt company Siggi’s to Norman’s/Dairy Delight, a super kosher manufacturer in New Jersey.

The plant’s ability to produce dairy ingredients in a variety of formats — including rBST-free, Orthodox Union kosher, super kosher, lactose-free and more — has attracted a diverse group of customers. But the majority of them have one thing in common: a genuine concern for where their dairy ingredients come from. 

“Our customers are obviously very concerned about the environment,” Brian says. “They have a strong sense of wanting to have their products made with ingredients that come from a place where there’s care and thought taken in regard to the environment, and we are very much designed to do that.”

The farm families involved in Craigs Station have been employing sustainable farming practices for generations. Today, they use the most innovative, environmentally friendly techniques to continue producing fresh, high-quality milk. From reusing water to composting for fertilizer, the partners in Craigs Station incorporate conservation efforts on their farms wherever possible. The plant itself runs on energy from an on-farm digester, which recycles waste from the dairy, plant and even some local food companies to reduce the operation’s carbon footprint. 

And because all of its milk is sourced exclusively from eight local family farms, Craigs Station is able to meet the needs of its eco-conscious customers through a process that is also highly traceable. 

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“The fact that I’m out at the farms on a fairly regular basis is not something typical that would occur at other plants, and I love it.”

- Brian Paris

 

“We have eight farms,” Brian says. “The milk cannot come from any other place but one of these eight farms, which makes us extremely unique.” 

Brian is in near-continuous contact with all eight farms, an experience he says he feels lucky to have as manager.

“The fact that I’m out at the farms on a fairly regular basis is not something typical that would occur at other plants, and I love it,” Brian says. “I work in such a way that after 30-some odd years in the industry, I’m actually doing what I always wanted to do, and that’s to be out on the farms. To be able to get out and amongst the very source of our milk … It really gets me going, like,
‘I have an obligation to make this thing work, and I have to really work hard to do this because I’m supporting what’s going on at
these farms.’”

“These farmers work hard,” he adds. 

The farmers involved in the original facility are also part of a new phase: Craigs Station Cheese. As a joint venture with DFA, their milk marketing Cooperative, and Arla Foods, an international dairy cooperative based out of Denmark, the plant is in the early stages of producing artisan cheeses with one of the strongest traceability stories on the market.

No one exemplifies the hard work that goes into producing the milk for Craigs Station Creamery quite like Kristy Northrop, a partner at Lawnel Farms, located just a mile down the road from the plant.

These farmers work hard.
— Brian Paris

The fourth generation on the dairy, Kristy works alongside her husband, brother and parents to oversee every aspect of their operation. With no middle management, Kristy says the family does all of the work themselves — and that work ethic is something she’s already passing on to the fifth generation, her 5- and 7-year-old children. 

“When you’re a dairy farmer, it’s in your blood,” Kristy says. “When it was negative 10 degrees out the other day, every single one of us was out there working. I drug my kids out of the warm house and had them in my office because they need to see the blood, the sweat, the tears that go into this business.” 

Kristy wants to make sure the surrounding community understands, as well. Founded by her grandfather and great-grandfather, Lawnel Farms has been a part of the local community for generations, and Kristy says it’s important to continue to connect with and educate their neighbors about what goes on at the dairy and at Craigs Station Creamery.

From recommending Siggi’s yogurt to other shoppers at the grocery store to hosting farm tours and sending an annual community newsletter, Kristy is always looking for opportunities to bring consumers closer to the farm. At on-farm events, the family regularly serves bottled chocolate milk made with skim sourced from Craigs Station, and the visitors rave about.

“It’s very exciting for a small community like this to have something like Craigs Station connected to it,” Kristy says. “I think people are super excited to be able to have this in their backyards.”

For Chris Noble, who serves as manager of Craigs Station Ventures, the group of farms invested in Craigs Station Creamery, the plant literally is in his backyard — it’s located on Noblehurst Farms, his family’s dairy.

“It’s very fresh milk that goes from our facility about 1,000 feet to the creamery,” he says. 

Chris says the creamery is important to the local community in more ways than one. In addition to connecting local consumers to their farmer neighbors, Noble says the plant and the farms involved have created jobs for people in the surrounding area. 

“We think it’s a true benefit, not only to Craigs Station Ventures, but to our community as well,” Chris says. “We’re employing people who grew up in the community, who know agriculture, rather than sticking it someplace in the middle of a city.” 

But Craigs Station’s impact is reaching far beyond the agriculturally rich community where the plant is located. The creamery is also helping to communicate farmers’ stories to consumers who may not be as familiar with how or where their food originates. 

“Consumers really have a great interest in knowing today where their food comes from and, probably as importantly, how that food is being made,” Chris says. “What better way to tell that full story than to locate the plant next to a farm?” 

That’s what Craigs Station is really about — connection. It’s about dairy farmers partnering with their family members, with plant employees and with a leading Cooperative to build stronger connections with consumers.

And all of it is built on family farms coming together. 

“Even though we’re in the same business as dairy farmers, we don’t view ourselves as competitors — we see each other as allies and friends,” Chris says. 

He attributes the eight farms’ ability to work together in part to the ties they’ve shared over the years. In fact, Chris’ grandmother and Northrop’s grandfather were twins, and many of the elder generations on the farms grew up together, going to the same schools, playing on the same baseball teams and generally belonging to the same close-knit farming community that has endured today.

But partnering Craigs Station Creamery with DFA has brought them together in a new way. Most importantly, Chris says their Cooperative has provided a platform to better communicate the farmers’ stories, something today’s consumers are demanding. 

“Sometimes the stories are just as important as the quality of the product,” he says. 

Farmbit

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The alarm clock buzzes and feet hit the floor. A ritual of a few overhead stretches, wipes of the eyes and big, exasperated yawns commence before reaching to the bedside table for glasses and a watch. But like many phones, this watch is smart — it’s an activity tracker. 

By the time teeth are brushed, coffee is hot and boots are on, the activity tracker on dairy producer Kevin Morrill’s wrist has already picked up on his steps and heartrate. A few hundred steps in and he is going to check on cows for the first time of the morning, but he’s not going to the barn; he heads to his office to hop on the computer.

 

In just a few clicks, Kevin is logged into a web program that, much like the smart watch on his wrist, tracks the activity levels of his more than 350 milking cows. While there are several technologies like this on the market, this one is called SCR, which is essentially like Fitbit for cows, “but cooler,” according to Dr. Chris Dutton.

“Imagine if my Fitbit also tracked my reproductive patterns and metabolism,” says Chris, a veterinarian, fellow dairy farmer and applications support specialist with Dairy One, an agricultural technology company that is a member of Dairy Farmers of America’s (DFA) farm service family. “These cows are doing unbelievable things: eating 150 pounds of feed, making 100 pounds of milk and drinking 30 gallons of water all day long. These trackers are educating us — allowing them (the cows) to start talking to us, telling us when they’re comfortable.”

The SCR tracker is attached to a cow’s ear tag and picks up on movement through the built-in pedometer. Based on head movement, the tracker senses the cow’s activity level and connects with a reader in the barn to store the data. The Morrills are able to assess this data — from rumination (the way cows digest food) to breeding patterns — to help them better manage their herd.

Fourth-generation Morrill Farm Dairy is run by Kevin, his brothers, Andy and Ryan, his father, Rob, and mom, Sherri, on two New Hampshire locations. In 2012, the Morrills began leasing a farm in Alstead where Kevin lives, along with the milking cows. The rest of the family lives and primarily works in Penacook at the home farm. There, they do the calving, milk fresh cows (new moms) and house dry cows (those not currently producing milk).

With 60 miles separating the two farms, it takes more than an hour and a half to get from point A to point B. The beautiful, winding roads lined with forests of maple trees, which are tapped with sap lines waiting to drip syrup that will be bottled and poured atop mile-high stacks of pancakes, are to thank for this commute.

While the distance makes for some peaceful views and quiet time, it can be tough for those in Penacook to stay connected with the herd in Alstead. Thankfully, keeping the Morrills connected is just one benefit of the SCR trackers.

One of the key parts of herd management is breeding cows to calve, and therefore provide the wholesome milk consumers know and love. Farmers are very insightful when it comes to catching cows in heat by picking up on behavioral cues, but because they’re waiting to see the activity level change, it’s common not to identify cows until 12 to 24 hours after they were initially in heat. This resulted in lower than optimal conception rates on the Morrill farm.

“We didn’t have an employee to do the work, so we had to find something else to help,” Ryan says.

When the brothers got wind of technology that could help them stay connected and improve reproductive cycles via an ear tracker and mobile app, they started their research.

“We were all really involved. Ryan spent a lot of the free time he doesn’t have,” Kevin chuckles, “on researching the financial side of things. Andy took our dad to several farms to show him how this is actually working.”

At $25,000, SCR initially gave the Morrills sticker shock. But looking at the financials more closely, this one-time investment was able to do what a full-time employee at roughly $50,000 a year would do.

“I wasn’t concerned about the technology working, I was concerned about this being seen as a ‘fix all,’” says Rob, who admittedly drug his feet on making the purchase. “I’m old school, so I was hesitant to invest in something we did without technology before.”

After visiting several farms with the system in place and seeing improved cow comfort, as well as the potential return on investment — on both money and time — through use of the trackers, Rob got on board. In September 2017, they installed SCR on their cows in Alstead and haven’t looked back.

 Kevin Morrill

Kevin Morrill

As herdsman, or “the cow guy” deemed by his family, Ryan uses a mobile app to keep tabs on the health of his herd, which he can then communicate to Kevin, and the duo can discuss strategies for care. 

“As soon as we installed SCR here, I wanted it in Penacook,” Ryan says. “I feel more connected with the cows in Alstead than I do the ones that I see and touch on a daily basis.”

Shown by a graph, the lines spike or fall depending on the cow’s baseline. When activity increases and rumination decreases, the brothers know that cow is ready to be bred. Same goes for health: When activity decreases along with rumination, it’s a sign that cow may need medical attention. Even when ice fishing on a nice winter day, Ryan was able to check the app and notice a cow was in heat. With a quick text message, Kevin looped in his workers to breed the cow.

“It’s amazing the small things it picks up on that you don’t,” Kevin says. “I’m guilty. I miss them (cows in heat) all the time, but the computer watches even when I’m sleeping. On health, it will catch a cow sick before she appears to be visually sick.”

Catching sickness early is improving cow health and has reduced the length of veterinarian checks for the Morrills, something that Chris jokes about being good for farmers and their herds, but not his own invoicing system.

Rob was right. It’s not a fix all, but it is improving the farm’s data management and the way everyone communicates. It’s a form of an accountability system — to the cows and to each other. And even though the Morrills have only been utilizing SCR for a few months, they’re already seeing results.

“We are inseminating sooner, which is reducing costs. We’re also treating cows sooner (when needed) and using less and less antibiotics — doing more supportive therapy (fluids and probiotics),” Kevin says. “It’s just helping us do a better job every day to take better care of our herd.”

When the sun sets, things settle down and Kevin’s smart watch goes on the charger for the night, the cows’ trackers keep on gathering data. In the morning, when daylight breaks, Kevin logs in and Ryan checks the app, they’re just as — or even more — connected as they were the day before.

The Mind of an Inventor

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As I listened to this Idaho dairy farmer list off idea after idea for making his operation more efficient, I could almost see the inner workings of a complicated clock with gears turning in a perfectly synchronized manner in his mind. For Terry Ketterling, coming up with new inventions and improvements is nearly the equivalent of breathing — it comes naturally and without pause. 

 

If you talk to Terry’s family, his 150 employees at TLK Dairy, other residents and neighbors in Mountain Home, Idaho, or just about anyone he’s had the chance to bounce ideas off, they’ll probably describe him in one of the following ways. He’s a forward-thinker. Gears are constantly turning in his head. His thought process is inspiring and pushes the envelope. He’s always progressing. 

Yes, those all seem to be accurate ways to describe the mesmerizing way Terry’s mind works. He doesn’t stop at good enough — he pushes to always be better and never reach a standstill, which is why TLK Dairy’s motto, ‘A go-forward outfit,’ is so fitting. 

“We try to be out there way in front – both on the farm and on the dairy. I don’t think I can stop trying to be better,” says Terry as he reflects on his farm and the motto of TLK Dairy. As he talks about his many inventions, I can tell he is fueled by innovation and thrives on thinking of solutions — from a rebuilt city snow blower that picks up manure every day to his newest invention of a modified garbage truck that cleans up leftover feed from the feed lanes. 

Considering the aforementioned praise for the way his brain is able to make connections that lead to innovative solutions, Terry might seem a little too perfect. But don’t be fooled, as he’ll admit with no hesitation that he’s made plenty of mistakes over the years as he’s worked on inventions and new plans for the farm. The key? Keep trying and make mistakes. Above all else, learn from your mistakes. 

“We don’t dwell on things that happened, and we have a plan-ahead mentality that pushes us to not repeat mistakes. We look at our mistakes, learn from them and then we try to move forward in a different way,” says Terry’s son and the next CEO in training, Tony Ketterling. 

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"We try to be out there way in front – both on the farm and on the dairy. I don’t think I can stop trying to be better." -Terry Ketterling

Tony’s admiration for his father’s way of thinking and success as a farmer is clear in the way he talks about TLK Dairy and his goals for the farm. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can while I can. I’m paying attention to the way he does things and the way he thinks, so that when I need to make a big decision, I can make an intelligent one,” says Tony as he reflects on his father’s work on the dairy.

With more than 10,000 cows and 9,000 acres to manage, Terry, Tony and everyone else at TLK are focused on thinking of solutions that will help ensure the future of the dairy. “We want to keep making progress to ensure TLK is here 30, 40 and 50 years down the road,” says Tony. 

Here are a few details about two big projects the Ketterlings have recently added to their farm to progress and become more efficient. 

THE PANTRY

“After years of watching feed blow away, I was ready to do something about it,” says Terry about the new commodity barn at TLK Dairy. After visiting several other farms with enclosed feed storage facilities over the course of about five years, Terry decided to truly go for it when building the Pantry on his farm.

Driving by this large, enclosed building on the road, I could tell it is big; however, as I rode the big, yellow school bus being used for tours on the farm over the bridge overlooking the entire facility, I am in utter amazement at its monumental capacity. 

This expansive tin building, which stretches larger than a football field, is a hub of movement — from semi-trucks dumping feed through the wired grid of the bridge overhead to loaders bustling from commodity to commodity to create the perfect ration of feed.

Just from watching the semis and tractors come and go from the Pantry, you could say all spectators are impressed — myself included. But, as I talked to Terry about more details behind this large project, I am enthralled by the many aspects he had enough foresight to prepare for from the beginning. Every question I asked about logistics and longevity are given a thought-out answer and plenty of reasoning for doing things a certain way. 

From adding extra fans to keep dust to a minimum, to building a lean-to along the back to catch and reuse collected feed dust to having backpack blowers to keep it clean — the Pantry is a true work of art. 

While the Ketterlings will need a year or two of full operation to see the savings it’s providing, Terry and Tony alike believe this investment was smart and effective for their farm. 

The Nursery

One of the other large projects the Ketterlings completed over the past year is a new set of calf-raising facilities that bring calf comfort and care to the next level. Five long buildings sit side by side to house a total of 1,500 little babies nestled in fresh, golden straw. 

The planning stage leading up to the build of these facilities took a lot of hands-on research. “We planned for about eight months and visited other farms in Idaho and Iowa to see what they were doing, which helped us decide what type of facility would work best for us here at TLK,” said Tony as he thinks back to the beginning stages of this now-finished project. 

The calves are in group pens where they can socialize with their friends of similar age and size. With the large space they have, it’s not uncommon see sprightly little, speckled legs and hooves stretched high in the air as they play and enjoy their luxurious lifestyle. 

A thermometer and automated system optimizes temperatures and air flow 24/7, which keeps the calves happy and healthy. The billowing, plastic curtains on either side of each building are controlled by a thermostat that raises and lowers them to let air flow or to keep heat in — depending on the Idaho-countryside weather. The fans throughout the building are also on the same systems to keep the building ventilated and help cool the calves on warm days. 

For the Love of Lasagna

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You’ve chopped, diced, measured, stirred, sautéed and layered your way to a truly delectable work of art. And, with a generous handful (or several overflowing ones), you top it off in the ultimate Italian fashion, with an array of your favorite cheeses — from Parmesan and Italian blends to mozzarella and colby jack shreds. 

From the garlicky, rich and indulgent aroma already wafting around your kitchen, your stomach will be beckoning for a marinara-painted lasagna to emerge from the 350-degree heat. As you wait for that trusty timer to chime, you can’t help but crack the oven door for a peek at the bubbling sauce and golden cheese. The extra time you spent putting together this hearty
and oh-so-delicious recipe is about to pay off with a steaming plate of goodness.

Behind the marrying of these mouthwatering ingredients are the hands of some incredible moms that we’ve grilled for their show-stopping recipes sure to please even the pickiest of crowds: their kids. 

These recipes are one for the books — cookbooks that is — and we can’t wait to tell you more about the wonderful women who have crafted and plated these dishes on more than one occasion. With all three of these moms being avid connoisseurs of dairy cows and their products, it’s no wonder their go-to recipes are infused with nearly every ingredient in the dairy case.

 

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JENNY EISENGA
Tustin, Mich.
Classic Lasagna recipe

Mother of three kids and 200 cows

After a few rings, Jenny picked up and I could hear her smile break through the barrier of the phone as she said “hello.” Immediately thereafter, sounds of kids laughing, fans swirling, cows bellowing and the general buzz of passersby came through the speaker in a lively hum. The reason for this jumbled noise? The county fair, of course! 

On a normal day, Jenny would be at home entertaining and caring for her group of about 12 to 13 daycare kids. Meanwhile, her husband, BJ, would be outside donning his chore boots as he cared for their dairy cows. So, watching her three children and helping care for animals during this big day at the fair wasn’t a far stretch from Jenny’s everyday regimen. 

When I first reached out to Jenny, there was no hesitation. The first words to fill the air were “oh gosh, we make lasagna all the time,” and she went on to tell me the tale of her classic lasagna recipe and how she makes it for her kids, who are all equipped with picky palettes. 

Originally bookmarked in a church cookbook, as seems to be the case for a lot of small-town favorites, Jenny was passed the recipe for her signature dish from her friend, Tanya. But, she didn’t stop there. Jenny did some ingredient swapping, editing and good old-fashioned taste testing to create her own take on the recipe.  

A conversation about her lasagna was wide ranging — sausage instead of beef can really hit home in the flavor arena. Her kids’ mouths water just at the mention of their favorite dish. But when it comes to ricotta versus cottage cheese, Jenny had strong opinions.

To Jenny, the crown jewel of dairy products is none other than cottage cheese, known for its taste and versatility. Not only is this ingredient a staple for creating a creamy and rich layer between her lasagna noodles, it is also in popular demand by her daycare kids, who are always eager for a morning snack consisting of a considerably sized scoop of this scrumptious curded product and a side of juicy, fresh-cut fruit.

As a further testament to Jenny’s kitchen creations, her daycare kids have told her, “Miss Jenny, you need to put a cookbook together with all your yummy recipes” — the ultimate tribute to this daycare provider and mom.

 

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AMBER TALSMA
Mount Vernon, Texas
Lasagna Roll-Ups recipe 

Mother of three kids and 300 cows

With her mom in active duty military, Amber told me all about hopping and skipping across state lines, and even treading the waters overseas. Moving somewhere new every three years amounted to a lot of pins being added to the map, including her favorite place, Okinawa, Japan, which is a tropical island that left her surrounded by white sandy beaches and the crystal-blue sea that spilled into the North Pacific Ocean. This constant shuffle was met with the promise of returning to Texas, her family’s permanent residence, one day. 

As they traveled from place to place, Amber picked up her cooking craft from her mother as they prepared dishes passed down through her family for generations — something I could tell she is proud of.

“I guess old habits die hard, and you just follow what your mom taught you,” says Amber as she dishes about not one, but two lasagna recipes she keeps in her arsenal of well-received meals.

Growing up traveling as a self-proclaimed military brat, Amber never thought she would end up in a small town as a farmer’s wife. That is, until she met her husband, Jouwert, after college. Jouwert’s parents moved to the United States from the Netherlands in the 1980s. 

Now, she embraces her life as a dairy farmer — especially when it comes to using a hodgepodge of dairy goodness to take her recipes to the next level. She even adds a little flavor to her lasagnas to wow her husband’s taste buds. 

While she grew up using peppers and hot sauce in everything, her husband doesn’t share her spicy-loving palette. “My husband’s family is Dutch, and they aren’t big on spices — the cuisine over there is pretty mild.” So, in an effort to convert him, says Amber jokingly, she’s nudging him in the right direction using red pepper flakes to turn up the heat in their favorite dishes.

 

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MIRANDA RICE
Bedford, Texas
Cowboy Lasagna recipe

Mother of one and teacher of many

After only a brief chat with Miranda, I could tell she had a knack for cooking. As she casually listed off a handful of kitchen tips to boost her pasta recipes, including carefully layering butter within dishes to add even more creaminess to her already rich recipes, and pulling in a variety of ingredients to reach the ultimate texture, I could hear her excitement for cooking.

It came as no surprise considering Miranda has a food-focused blog where she shares her favorite medleys of flavor and two cents worth for creating the ultimate crowd-pleasing meals. Between getting married, having a baby and being a coach and teacher at the local junior high, sharing her recipes through the web has taken a spot on the back burner for a few years. 

Although she’s busy coaching three sports and keeping up with all of life’s hectic demands, Miranda divulged one of her most treasured recipes, Cowboy Lasagna. Like many young moms, she stumbled upon the foundation for her recipe on Pinterest, but transformed it into a rich, creamy and extremely hearty dish her family is obsessed with.

Infused with generous amounts of cream cheese, sour cream, ricotta cheese, butter and cheddar, Miranda’s recipe is all inclusive. If it’s dairy, she’ll find a place for it in her lasagna. 

Just as her lasagna is jam-packed with dairy, so is her life. Dairy has always been a family affair for Miranda as she grew up riding in the tractor, helping unload feed and caring for the wobbling, yet sprightly, baby calves. Her dairy background and passion for the industry could easily fill a novel with narratives of her childhood that has continued with her as she raises her own family.