When fourth generation dairy farmers Kevin and Deb Baker were faced with the challenge of expansion to enable their adult children to join the family business, they came up with a unique solution. After much planning and hard work from the whole family, Baker’s Golden Dairy in Columbiana County became one of the few dairy farms in Ohio to bottle its own milk.
From the Beginning
Kevin and Deb Baker have been farming at their current location in New Waterford since 1999. Starting with about 50 cows, they worked to expand their farm while raising four children: Kurt, Keith, Kasey and Kaleb. Each has a passion for farming and has taken on a role in the family business. Today, the Baker family milks 100 cows and farms 500 acres of crops.
The idea of bottling its own milk had been with the family for a few years, but did not seem realistic until their daughter, Kasey, decided she wanted to return to the farm after finishing her dairy management degree at Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute.
With additional help and additional income needed from the farm, they decided it was the right time to begin bottling their own milk. “This is what we need to be doing,” said Kevin. “We knew we needed to expand and I didn’t want to increase the herd size.”
While they are still not sure how improved the returns will be, they are hoping to make more money by doing the processing themselves. “We can still make money on 100 cows if we can take out the middle man and bring that back to the farm,” Kevin said.
Building a Business
Accustomed to hard work, the Bakers completed most of the construction for the bottling facility themselves. From pouring the concrete to putting on the roof, it was a family affair except for a few experts called in to assist with the installation of the pasteurization and bottling equipment.
When construction was completed, the Bakers worked with four different inspectors to make sure the facilities, equipment and monitoring systems were in compliance with all state and federal standards for milk production.
While they had been promoting their milk on Facebook and their own website, they were unsure what to expect when they opened the store. “You think maybe we’ll sell some the first week,” said Kevin. “But we put it on Facebook that tomorrow will be our first day, and it was unreal how many people came in.”
In addition to being bottled right on the farm, there is more that sets the milk from Baker’s Golden Dairy apart. “Our milk is nonhomogenized. No one else offers the full cream line milk; we wanted to be different from the store milk,” said Kasey.
Nonhomogenized also means the cream will separate and rise to the top, but the customers do not mind the “shake well” suggestion printed on each label.
“We’ve been wanting them to make milk for years. This has been a blessing for everybody in this area,” said Joe Calderone, a loyal customer and neighbor of the Bakers. “We enjoy knowing it’s fresh.”
Milk from Baker’s Golden Dairy is definitely fresh. “We finished milking this morning around 9 a.m. and the milk was bottled by noon. You can’t really get any fresher than that,” said Kasey.
The Bakers have recently added something else unique to their product line: root beer milk. “We don’t know how long we’ll keep it, but we wanted to try it and see how it sells,” said Kevin. “We might try other flavors eventually; it’s something different we can offer.”
In addition to milk, Baker’s Golden Dairy offers local cheese from Minerva Dairy, meat and seasonal produce items. Plans are already in place to increase their product offering by growing more produce and expanding their line of dairy products produced on the farm. “We’re hoping by springtime to get into ice cream,” said Kasey. “Everybody really wants ice cream and we want to do it ourselves.”
With a herd of cows that currently produces an average of 700 gallons of milk a day, they are still selling about 90 percent of their milk to a processor. “We’re going to keep growing, feeling our way around. We’ve got a long way to go to get rid of all our milk,” said Kevin. “I don’t know where we’ll go; it’s actually endless.”
They are also looking at what consumers want.
“Consumers want to know where it’s coming from,” said Kevin. “We’d like to do a field day in the fall and some education for younger kids. We’ll just keep working at it and see what happens. We’ll see what another year brings.”
Kayla Weaver is a freelance writer from Upper Sandusky.