Another Chance for Alaska-Grown Milk
New facility in Palmer processing milk for Valley dairy farmers
PALMER - When the Matanuska Creamery closed its doors in December, things weren't looking good for Valley dairy farmers.
“I knew if nothing gets going, we’ve got to get slaughter these cows.”
For the past month, Keith Yoder had to dump thousands of gallons of milk he couldn’t sell. And he worried about what he would do with his herd of nearly 200 cows.
“I got three sons, and its wonderful to work together, I've wanted to keep going. I had a desire to stay together and keep on dairying,” he said. “I asked, Lord, what do we do now?”
Those prayers may have been answered for Valley dairy farmers. Yoder's milk is once again being processed, at a new dairy plant in Palmer, Havemeister Dairy.
“I believe there is still a market for local milk, and something that's fresher than what you're getting from outside,” Ty Havemeister said. He’s also a dairy farmer—a third generation dairy farmer, in fact—and he believes that, when it comes to dairy products, people want a local option. So he started building his own bottling operation at his family farm after his parents told him the industry in the valley might force them to close.
“About a year and a half ago, we realized, the way things were going, we were going to have to do something different or get rid of the cows,” Havemeister said outside his new bottling plant in Palmer. It’s a small operation—significantly smaller, in terms of facility and equipment size, than the recently closed Matanuska Creamery—but it’s one that Havemeister said is built to be sustainable. The dairy started bottling its own milk in August of last year, and while the Havemeisters initially had trouble selling just their own milk, business picked up around the holidays.
Now the dairy processes about 500 gallons of milk a day, and stocks shelves in Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, and up to Talkeetna. That’s enough demand to require more raw milk than the dairy’s own cows can provide. So they’re turning to other farmers in the valley and purchasing their raw milk. It keeps the milk flowing, and the bottles moving. And buying raw milk from other dairy farmers means those farmers can keep their cows.
“I want this industry to succeed,” Havemeister said, “and I want it to be healthy.” While some farmers in the valley have already decided to get out of the dairy business—meaning they’re either selling or slaughtering their cows—those that remain will be ramping up production over the next several months. Havemeister said he’s already bottling every drop of milk that comes his way, but believes he can process up to 1,000 gallons of milk a day.
That's good news for people like Keith Yoder. “Lord, it's too good to be true!” he said when he learned the dairy would take his milk. “We just wanna keep going, get it together, and get milk down here the quickest way [we can].”
And that’s encouraging news for customers—and dairy farmers—that want to keep Alaskan-grown milk on stores shelves.