It’s February 3rd and the snow is falling. Driving along Double Ditch road to Twin Brook Creamery, Mt. Baker is obscured by clouds and a white sheet covers the barren fields. I spot the tell-tale landmark, a classic box van with the logo “Twin Brook” painted on the side, and, as I pull into the driveway, I drop into a Normal Rockwell painting.
Glass milk bottles sit empty on the porch of their farmhouse. A few curious Jersey cows munch on grass in the fields. Classic red barns hunker down under the silo.
Yet, inside this idyllic setting, this 117 year old dairy has had to lean in hard to fight for its existence. And this fight required looking back as a way to move forward.
Bucking the common sense of big agricultural trends in favor of “old school” ways, Larry Stap and his family made several unique choices. For instance, selling off their high-volume producing Holstein herd (the most common milking breed in the United States) in favor of Jersey cows. A gamble because Jersey cows are smaller and produce less milk. But, boy do their “girls” (what the Stap family affectionately calls their herd) produce heavenly milk fats and solids!
When you have cows that create such beautiful milk, choices to preserve the high-yield quality of their milk prevail.
A deliberate decision was made to keep the milk fats and solids intact, which meant pasteurizing the milk at the lowest temperature possible. But, doing this also takes a 1000 times longer than Ultra-Pasteurizing. When time is money, this is a huge commitment. In addition, they wanted to allow the milk to live in its natural state: cream on top (non-homogenized).
Enter the throwback glass milk bottle… Hello, I think the girls would be sorely disappointed if we didn’t show off their glorious work!
Their choices paid off. QFC wanted Twin Brook in all their stores. Twin Brook only had the capacity to start in 7. QFC agreed, allowing Twin Brook to add one store at a time as their capacity increased. Other grocers caught the fever and sustainability was born.
Then, in 2009, the recession hit. Hard. Milk prices tanked. It was one of the wettest years on record and they lost crops. The bank was knocking on their door.
But, there were other people knocking their doors, too.
Demand for Twin Brook milk was growing. They needed money to expand.
Banks shook their heads. Lenders couldn’t catch the vision and Twin Brook, running outside of the conventional lines, didn’t fit in their box.
So, Twin Brook went to their community to raise the funds. And raise they did. Seven people contributed $130,000 to expand their plant. The support of the community companied with the backing of raving fans enabled them to get even better at what they do. In fact, every investor was paid back in full 2 years after their investment.
Larry is proud that Twin Brook customers are committed to seeing them grow. It’s the customers that have kept him going. When I asked, was there ever a time you wanted to throw in the towel? He responds, “Yes, but I couldn’t because of our customers.”
Since their bottling plant expansion in 2010, they are thriving and searching for new ways to bring their milk to our community.
So, what’s up next for this family-run creamery?
- Strawberry Milk, people! I happen to be the happy taste-tester of this new venture and give it two-thumbs up.
- In addition, they’re doing feasibility testing in cream-top yogurt (and, yes, you guessed it…in glass jars!) and exploring Kefir.
This entrepreneurial mix of old and new at Twin Brook is an example of a way that dairies will be able thrive into next generation. When you look at the creamy milk, it looks so pure and effortless. All these choices are deliberate acts when creativity meets ingenuity. What is important to remember is the beautiful story of struggle and determination that that brings that to you.