CHATFIELD, Minn. – The people of Chatfield have a secret; one they are not able to keep a lid on. They get milk delivered to their houses in glass jars thanks to the Kappers family and their Big Red Barn.
“We are milking the cow on-site and then we are bottling it on-site,” said Luke Kappers during a recent farm visit.
Back in 1985, Bob and Jeanette Kappers purchased a farm just outside Chatfield and started milking cattle and raising their children, Jacob, Luke and Ethan.
Today, they are still milking out of the original stanchion barn with just under 50 head of cattle, but in 2004, they added a new feature to the farm, a processing and bottling facility.
Bob commented that he could “see the writing on the wall” in the dairy industry at the time. They would either need to get bigger or do something different to stay in business. Getting bigger was not something they wanted to do, so they went different.
“We learned to survive,” said Jeanette. “You just have to try different things.”
“We do skim milk, 1 percent, 2 percent, whole, chocolate, and cream,” said Bob.
“We also make ice cream and cheese curds,” added Jeanette.
Milk is pumped from the dairy barn through the on-farm store into the bulk tank in the processing room. There, they pasteurize it in small batches using the low temperature pasteurization method, process it and then bottle it into glass bottles.
Customers coming to the farm to buy products on the honor system can take a moment to watch Bob and Jeanette through a window as they bottle the milk.
In addition to the on-farm store, the Kappers run a home delivery route in the city of Chatfield.
“That has been a very supportive, stable route for us,” said Jeanette.
Customers can call up the Kappers, leave a voicemail with their order for the week. The milk is loaded into small, blue coolers and delivered to their door. The Kappers also pick up and reuse all their bottles.
Jeanette explained that customers who are not on the route, but buy from the on-farm store, leave their bottles at the store. All the bottles are brought to the farm and soaked in water before going into the bottle washer/sanitizer. They are sanitized just before they are refilled and stocked back in the cooler.
On Saturdays, Luke and his wife, Jenna, take milk and products up to the Farmer’s Market in Saint Paul. About half the milk they bring up is reserved for repeat customers and the other half sells out very quickly.
They also attend the Farmer’s Market in Rochester.
“A big thing for us this summer is we are going to start a Rochester home delivery,” said Luke. “That will be all through an online website.”
Jenna explains that they plan to create an online subscription system that customers can sign up for and enter in their order for the week. Being that Rochester is a bigger area to cover then Chatfield, they want to be sure they set their customers up right at the start.
The big selling point to their customers is their story. That they are a family run business, all their cows have a name and the customers know exactly where the milk came from.
The Kappers are not an organic operation. Rather, they explain to their customers the importance of responsible use of antibiotics and treating cows when necessary.
“Whether you are organic or not organic, you still cannot have antibiotics in the milk,” said Luke.
Jeanette explains that just like a large milk processing facility, every batch of milk on the Kappers farm is tested for antibiotic residue.
In the barn, Luke and Bob are sure to milk any cow on antibiotic separately and keep that milk out of their processing system.
The Kappers’ Big Red Barn milk processing center is treated exactly the same a large commercial operation would be. They undergo regular inspections, keep detailed records and have to meet all the same requirements to ensure their product is safe for human consumption.
“With organic, a lot of people just trust that word,” said Jenna. “We think it is more important for people to look into the company and their practices.”