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.