Howard and Gladys Gibson bought 120-acres and began Lochmead Farms in 1941 and since then, each generation has been part of this successful family business. Stephanie Gibson-Hawks, general manager of Lochmead Dairy, is a third-generation Gibson.
Having grown up working on the Lochmead Family Farms in Junction City, she shares that it was “everything you would expect…it was a good life.” After leaving town to attend Oregon State University, and later Cascade Culinary Institute, Stephanie returned home to run the ice cream room. Since then, the company and the family have continued to grow, and Stephanie and her husband recently purchased her grandparents’ home—right next door to her parents. “My husband is a patient man,” she says, laughing. “I’m back on the same ten acres that I’ve lived most of my life. Talk about full-circle.”
Seventy-six years from Lochmead’s beginnings, there are now three divisions of the Lochmead enterprise: Lochmead Farms and Lochmead Dairy produce fresh dairy products, and the Dari Marts are a chain of 43 convenience stores in Oregon that stock Lochmead products along with other foods and sundries. You’ll find a Gibson family member in every part of the company. Stephanie works in the bottling and production facility that is part of the dairy. Despite Lochmead’s growth, the family made a conscious decision to not expand Lochmead into other states. “We like being local,” says Stephanie. They’re proud to be a single-sourced dairy that allows them to stay close to their existing facilities in order to ensure delivery of their high-quality products. Expanding out of state would jeopardize that quality control. “Our farm is just four miles down the road,” Stephanie points out.
At the farm you’ll find the entire Holstein herd living in open-air barns equipped with misters, fans, and the ever-popular back-scratcher. The misting and fanning mechanisms help keep the cows at comfortable temperatures because as it turns out, comfortable cows produce more milk. “The technology they’re coming up with continues to help keep these cows happy,” Stephanie laughs describing how the cows line up to get to the back scratcher.
“We don’t kid ourselves, we have nothing without those cows. The good part about our family is they’ve been very proactive in every effort of sustainability.” Their milk is produced without artificial growth hormones, and Lochmead has installed solar panels on the dairy, the warehouse, and fourteen Dari Mart locations. As for the herd’s diet, 80% is grown on the farm, where they also have a methane digester that can generate enough power to run up to 330 houses—the equivalent of removing 700 cars from the road. Additionally, Lochmead holds firm to maintaining short distribution routes to keep their milk at its most fresh.
The Gibson’s dedication to providing quality products to their customers has no barriers. Nearly ten years ago, Lochmead became the majority owner of the renowned, dairy-free company Coconut Bliss. To the folks at Lochmead it doesn’t matter if your bowl is full of their vanilla ice cream that won first at the World Dairy expo last year or a bowl full of the coconut based, dairy-free confection. Whether their customers abstain from dairy for allergy or ethical reasons, “we get to support them making those decisions,” says Stephanie. “Ultimately, what we like to do is make people happy.”
While being proud of the work they do and how they do it, Stephanie explains that the dairy industry isn’t all ice cream and happy cows. Between the ever-changing environment, lack of incoming farmhands, and fluctuating consumer-driven food and health trends, “it’s just a tough business,” she declares. Nonetheless, Lochmead is dedicated “to try to sustain it, keep it alive.”
Stephanie, her mother, and sister-in-law are all members of Oregon Women for Agriculture. Each year they take new books to classrooms to work with teachers on how they can integrate the agricultural industry into their curriculums as “a way to incorporate farming back into what [the kids] know…to teach them about their food.” Stephanie thinks this industry offers valuable lessons about how to work hard and how to treat animals with respect. “There’s this comfort knowing that I get to contribute to my community, I get to employ people in my community. It’s a very special product in my mind.”