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North Hills Monthly

Buying Local Benefits Dairies and Milk Lovers Alike

Apr 01, 2018 09:33AM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Nehrig Cows

Operating a dairy in 2018 is no easy proposition, but three local family-owned dairies are thriving despite the odds.

Jayne Sebright, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence, said that dairies today face a complex set of challenges. Current milk prices are extremely low, and farmers have to manage costs and still produce the best product possible just to stay in business.

According to Dan Kleinschmidt, vice president of Turner Dairy Farms, milk consumption has declined nationally in the last 7 to 10 years, while efficient production of milk has improved. “Another issue is that there are so many beverages on the market,” Kleinschmidt said. 

In the middle of the last century, most people drank milk, water or coffee. Today, consumers have an array of options ranging from energy drinks to soda to sports drinks. Plant-based milk alternatives such as soy and almond beverages have also displaced some milk sales—sometimes as a result of misconceptions.

“The perception is that these beverages are good for you, but if you read the label, you see that real milk is the healthier choice,” said Sebright.

Not all the news is bad, however. Pennsylvania’s climate is ideal for dairy farming, and Pennsylvania has a relatively large population of multigenerational, family-owned farms and dairies. Sebright said that opportunities are ripe for dairy processors to set up shop in Pennsylvania because the industry needs more processing capacity for products like cheese and yogurt. Nationally, Pennsylvania is ranked in the top five for production of ice cream and butter, and the dairy industry is a huge economic driver for the state.

Turner Dairy Farms in Pittsburgh is among those family businesses that are vital to the state’s economic success. Founded by Charles G. Turner in 1930, it remains family-run and includes second, third and fourth-generation family members—many of whom are directly involved in its day-to-day operations. Kleinschmidt said that the company’s commitment to quality has resulted in its ability to buck economic trends for the industry. Despite declining milk sales nationally, Turner has seen increases in four out of the past five years.

“Our niche has always been the quality of our product. We put time and money into keeping the integrity of the product,” Kleinschmidt explained. 

He said that the company works with its 39 producers—many of whom are also multigenerational business partners for Turner—to ensure that cows are treated responsibly. All of its milk is sourced from farms within a 70-mile radius, and the company holds itself to standards that far exceed industry mandates for allowable bacteria. For pasteurized milk, Turner is 60 times stricter than the USDA requires.

“Our founder defined the mission as perfect products, perfect service and treating people right,” Kleinschmidt said. “Chuck Turner, Jr., our president, has a background in food science, and that helps drive our commitment to quality. We are only as good as our last batch of milk.”

Marburger Farm Dairy in Evans City is another family-owned and operated dairy with a long history in western Pennsylvania. Founded as a horse farm in 1842 by George Marburger, the dairy was established in 1938; today, the operation is run by Jim Marburger, his son Craig Marburger, and his daughter Carrie Robb. In addition to its own 40 head of cattle, Marburger processes milk from 70 local farms. 

In the face of industry hardship, Marburger Farm Dairy continues to thrive. The dairy built a new plant in 2000 and is expanding again to meet production demands. Its buttermilk is known well beyond Pennsylvania and has won multiple awards for being the best in the nation at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI. 

Jim Marburger encourages people in the community to support local dairies. “When you buy local milk, you help the dairy farmer and all the farmers we buy from,” he explained. Buying local benefits the consumer as well, Marburger said, adding that, “Everybody tells us our milk just tastes better.”

United Dairy is headquartered in Martins Ferry, OH, and has a dairy plant in Uniontown, PA. Tom McCombs, milk procurement manager for United Dairy, said the family-owned business is among the top 200 dairies in the nation, producing 3.5 million gallons of milk each month. 

Founded in 1954, United Dairy is currently run by brothers Joe and James Carson. Despite its size, McCombs said the dairy has retained its family-owned ethos; farmers deal directly with the Carson family.

United Dairy sources its milk from approximately 300 milk producers located close to its plants, both to support local farms and because of its commitment to quality. “Sourcing locally keeps people in business, and it also keeps the milk fresh,” McCombs explained. “Our milk takes 24 hours from the time it leaves the farm to end up on your table.”

That commitment to local sourcing is close to Sebright’s heart. “It is so important, whether buying milk at the grocery store or at a local farm market, to check the label and make sure it’s Pennsylvania milk,” she explained.

She encourages consumers to visit the www.whereismymilkfrom.com website to check which dairy produced the milk. “Pennsylvania dairy farms produce some of the highest quality milk available anywhere,” Sebright said.

For more information and to see which local farms supply your milk, check out www.turnerdairy.net, www.marburgerdairy.com and www.fikesdairy.com.