The Locke Family's Top O' The Morn Farms
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Farm to TableMarch 2016
By Fache Desrochers
Photo: Brittany Wilbur
As a general rule, people tend to think of nostalgia and practicality as incompatible. One is form, and one is function. One prioritizes aesthetics, and one holds ease of use and return on investment as the highest law. Essentially, nostalgia is the flighty artist and practicality
is the rigid technician, and never the twain shall meet.
Until they do. And when you think about it, whether it’s a machine that is both beautiful and efficient, or an idea that appeals both to the heart and the mind, the greatest triumphs in innovation are nearly always the result of a successful marriage between form and function.
For the Locke family, form and function come together in the eye of a perfect storm that hovers right over their dairy, Top O’ the Morn Farms, which specializes in the old-fashioned method of farm-to-table dairy delivery. Not only was it an appealing, nostalgic idea for the Lockes to bring the milkman back from near-obsolescence, but it also made undeniable business sense. At the top of this list of practical pros are the many benefits of the use of glass. “We are able to reuse our bottles about 24 times each, so it’s a very sustainable container,” says owner and operator Ron Locke. “And glass truly is a quality package. It really preserves the flavor of whatever you put in it.”
Locke is one half of the couple who have opted for a fresh take on a return to basics. He and his wife Evie boast long-standing family dairy pedigrees, and were both motivated to depart from the usual big-ag pursuits of most Central Valley farms in favor of a smaller operation that would afford them a greater hand in the quality control of their product. As one of the only farmstead dairies in California, the Lockes felt uniquely placed to experiment with returning to this more localized method of dairy distribution.
“We’re a farmstead, which means that our cows, our bottling plant and our home are all on our dairy,” explains Locke. Farmsteading has a lot of implications, but for consumers, the main takeaway is that the Lockes’ dedication to living with and overseeing every part of their dairy production process means one thing: uncommon quality.
The usual dairy process sees milk pumped from cows into a tank, then onto a truck, then into a silo at a processing plant where it is combined with milk from other dairies –
all before it has even begun to be processed. “Which isn’t to say that that makes the milk undesirable at all, but it will inevitably lose some of that clean, crisp taste that fresh milk has,” clarifies Locke. “Our milk goes directly from the barn to a processing tank to a bottle, so it’s handled as little as possible. And that, plus our extremely natural fortification process, really seems to make a wonderful difference in the taste.”
Although there exists a wide world of dairy products, the Lockes are purists, and prefer to focus on honing their expertise in producing the finest milk and butter. But as a delivery service, they also realize that they have a unique opportunity to offer other local products to their customers. “We have locally roasted coffee beans, vintage cheese made in Traver, honey from Terra Bella, pastries from independent Valley bakers, and we’re adding new inventory all the time. It’s important for us to support our local farmers whenever we can,” Locke says.
Although their heart is with their community, the folks at Top O’ The Morn are shrewd enough to realize the importance of a larger test market – particularly as a tick on their quality control checklist. “We use dairy competitions to try and measure our standards against what other dairies are doing,” says Locke. Top O’ the Morn regularly competes – and holds its own – at events around the country. “Wisconsin’s World Dairy Expo is the biggest dairy competition certainly in North America, but probably the world,” says Locke. “And we have won the open division three years in a row with our milk. So it seems that if we can win there, we can truly feel confident in our quality.”
Top O’ the Morn Farms is an example of what happens when the nostalgic love of a product meets the capabilities of modern technology. And for Locke, the pursuit of simple quality is the best reward. “We have our cows, we care for them, we have control over the use of the milk they give us, and the way we distribute it,” says Locke. “Honestly, it’s nothing fancy. Just old-school techniques of the simplest, freshest ingredients possible.”
Top O’ the Morn Farms • (559) 688-7515
Drive thru: 1421 E. Prosperity Ave., Tulare • (559) 687-1757
6 am-8 pm • www.farmfreshmilk.com
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