Dugan Road Creamery, located at 1751 S. Dugan Road, opened for business in April to provide area residents a locally managed, organic dairy retailer.
The family farm of Chris and Joyce Nelson makes fresh whole milk, soft cheeses, yogurt and kefir on site. They produce 35 gallons of milk daily, including white, chocolate, strawberry, orange creamsicle and cookies ‘n’ cream flavors. Specialty cheeses include mozzarella and cheese curds.
“We bottle four days a week to keep our products fresh. We’re processing something every day,” said Chris, adding the milk is good for three weeks if bought the day it’s made.
Chocolate milk is easily the favorite product among customers so far, he added.
The four-month transformation from strictly a dairy to an all-encompassing micro-dairy processor and retailer proved challenging. MicroDairy Designs, a Maryland company that provides equipment and consulting services to small upstart dairies, helped facilitate the Nelsons’ trip to a Maryland farm in January. There, the Nelsons learned to process, store and package their products.
“The Ohio Department of Agriculture has been really helpful in doing things, helping me set it up and explaining to me what had to be done to get into this aspect of the industry,” Chris said. “We have to perform three antibiotic tests every day on our milk.”
The creamery’s logo was designed by W Productions Signs & Graphics of Urbana.
The Nelsons acquired a pasteurizer, bottling setup and commercial two-door refrigerator. In addition, their milk house underwent a months-long interior renovation. The family sells its products in the milk house and offers tours. Their wish list includes a store-like showroom at their farm, but for now they’re happy with the progress.
Chris reflected on tough decisions, none more difficult than deciding to downsize the farm. A herd once numbering 40 was reduced to four cows, which allows the family to focus more on the business aspect of the creamery. Frustrations with the milk industry’s co-ops was a big factor in deciding to sell directly to customers.
“The market is so up and down for what milk co-ops pay you for your milk by the 100 (pound) weight that we thought maybe processing would be a way to get more bang for your buck, so to speak. So you’re eliminating the middle man and what money they take out,” Chris said.
The rate paid farmers per 100 pounds of milk is often much less than the corresponding retail price, meaning “co-ops make a lot of money,” he added.
Chris said he has no regrets.
“I’ve kind of been a risk taker my whole life,” he added. “Once I get an idea to do something, I pretty much like to do it … From the time we got the idea to do this back in January, we were bottling milk by the end of April.”
The family farm is certified through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distinguish its products as organically made, meaning no chemicals or additives are used. The Nelsons raise their own feed in two hay fields.
Being with family and continuing a legacy of dairy farming are what Chris enjoys most about his work. With 58 years of dairy experience, Chris grew up on a dairy farm near Tempe, Arizona. Currently, his wife Joyce works in all aspects of the business and speaks at events like Champaign County’s annual State of the Plate.
One of four children, their daughter, Jennifer Plahovinsak, manages the creamery’s Facebook page and promotes the family business from her home in Plain City. With a background in toxicology, Plahovinsak most recently worked as a research scientist at Battelle.
Their son Jonathon, a senior at Urbana High School, helps bottle the milk, manage the equipment and take care of the cattle. But mostly, said Chris, Jonathon is tasked with keeping good grades in school.
“That’s our enjoyment,” he said of their time with family.
The biggest challenge moving forward, he said, is educating the public on their milk products.
Shake it up
Their creamline variety of milk is the most natural form of milk there is. Made the traditional way, creamline is whole milk that is pasteurized – like store milk – but not homogenized. As a result, the cream rises to the top. So a little shaking is necessary before drinking.
But that makes it all the better, says Chris, because creamline is more flavorful and natural. Chris also touts the benefits of knowing your dairy products are sourced and processed locally. At his farm, customers can buy milk the day it’s made.
“We feel it’s better for you … It’s got a better flavor to it because it’s not processed as much,” he said. “We can raise our own feed for the cattle.”
Creamline is most popular among older customers, reminding them of their youth. For them, creamline is the way milk ought to taste. But creamline is also becoming popular with younger consumers wanting a more natural product, Chris said.
Store-bought whole milk contains about 3.25 percent butterfat, but Dugan Road Creamery milk is closer to 4 percent.
“All milk has the same 9 basic nutrients in it,” he added.
Pick-up orders can be called in at 937-653-8041 or submitted on the creamery’s Facebook page, titled “Dugan Road Creamery.” In addition, consumers can find the creamery on LocallyGrown.net, a virtual farmers’ market where customers place their orders for weekly pickups at the Champaign Family YMCA.
Craig Shirk is a regular contributor to this newspaper.