The closings of schools, workplaces and restaurants have shuttered the work of dairy farmers across the country. Before the pandemic, milk prices had already dropped roughly 40% over the last six years due to corporate farming and the popularity of plant-derived milk alternatives. The current sharp crash in milk prices is leaving farmers with very few options other than dumping the milk down the drain.
But a small dairy farm in Greenville, Illinois, is still pumping and delivering fresh milk to locally owned grocery stores daily. In some cases, Rolling Lawns Farm is producing more than ever, from making its largest batch of chocolate milk last month to creating new flavors hitting shelves soon.
On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske touched base with Michael Turley, owner/operator of Rolling Lawns Farms, to hear how the farm is faring.
The farm’s primary market before this was restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries. Grocery stores were secondary. The ratio of sales has essentially flipped now that so many food service places are closed and grocery stores are booming.
In an effort to prevent panic shopping, some grocery stores have set limits on milk products, but early on, Turley told patrons to skip the "limit one" signs in the dairy case and assured them the farm would be able to meet their demand.
Any unused milk goes to Dairy Farmers of America’s processing plant in O’Fallon, Illinois.
“That’s helped a great deal,” Turley said. “We’ve been very blessed that we found a home for all of it, and certainly the food pantries in the local area, we’re able to support them. And that’s a weekly process; something that’s much needed and really gratifying for us to help support.”
During this period, Turley said the company has been experimenting and finalizing recipes for new flavors they hope to release soon. They’re keen on releasing six new flavors this year, in addition to the strawberry and chocolate flavors they already distribute.
The two upcoming flavors are orange cream and cappuccino.
“That’s in the works. We’re ready to commercialize, but we’re waiting on the state inspectors,” Turley explained. “The shelter-in-place laws for Illinois [are extended] through May 30, so none of the state inspectors can travel and help us advance any of the product development until they’re able to do a site visit and test the product.
“So we’re kind of in a holding pattern, but we certainly can do the research and the product trials we’re doing.”
The family business has been operating for exactly 100 years — witnessing economic depressions, droughts and everything in between. Turley said the ongoing pandemic is just another hurdle the farm can manage.
“We have a lot to be thankful for, so we’re ready for the next 100 years.”
Some good news on the farm symbolized that. Turley said every dairy man has a favorite cow, and his is one named Faith, because of her extroverted personality. She gave birth to a calf, despite complications, this past Monday morning.
“We just find that new life, no matter when or how tough things are, it just gives us a sense of optimism that we’re going to give it another day and another week.”
There’s an ongoing naming party for the calf — and “Hope” is the likely choice.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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