Tired of selling milk at a loss to distributors, McCray’s Farm starts bottling its own milk

July 25, 2013
Gena Mangiaratti
Daily Hampshire Gazette

Though a summer day inside the creamery at McCray’s Farm looks busy, owner Steve McCray is hoping to make the family-owned business even busier — and not just in the summer, but all year round.

Starting this week, the creamery will be selling its own bottled milk, and for the first time in around 20 years, the creamery will be open year-round.

Since his father Donald McCray started the dairy farm in 1955, the milk produced has been shipped every two days to Agri-Mark, a local dairy co-op based in West Springfield, McCray said. From there, it would either stay with Agri-Mark, or go to Hood in Agawam, Garelick in Franklin, or Guida in New Britain, Conn. — “whoever needs it most is where it goes,” he said.

But in selling the milk to other companies, McCray said, he has no control over how much money he receives for his milk. And it’s gotten to a point where the price of commercial milk no longer sustains the cost of running the dairy farm, he said.

By selling the milk to Agri-Mark, McCray said the farm only makes around $20 per 100 pounds of milk — but break-even costs hover right around $24 for the same amount.

Every day the milk truck drives in, it’s another day losing money, he said.

Selling its own bottled milk will put the family-owned business “in charge of (its) own destiny,” McCray said.

Now with a dairy plant and bottling structure right on the farm, McCray can pasteurize, bottle and sell the milk right on the premises — and choose at what price he sells it. He said he is planning to sell his milk at $3.95 per gallon. Currently, the creamery sells Hood milk for $4.50 per gallon.

The creamery opened in 1987, and for the first few years, McCray said the family tried to keep it open year-round, but found they weren’t generating enough revenue during the winters.

“If you don’t sell something besides ice cream to sell in the winter time, it’s not good,” he said.

In addition to ice cream, the farm’s creamery sells sandwiches, soup, bakery products and toys, but McCray said that because of the farm’s position, he cannot count on these items alone to draw customers year-round.

In its efforts to diversify, The McCrays began hosting hayrides in the 1970s, and added a petting farm in 1972. It launched its renowned “haunted” hayrides around Halloween in the early nineties. and a mini golf course was added in 2004.

McCray said that while these attractions draw a lot of customers on a seasonal basis, the demand drops off significantly during the winter time. Bottling milk, he said, is an effort to make the dairy farm self-reliant.

“We’re not on a major route. It’s more of a destination than a drive-by,” McCray said. “If people are going to stop, they’re going to stop because they are intentionally coming here.” Barbara Cote, an employee at McCray’s for two-plus years, said that while on some summer days, the customer flow is off and on — getting more crowded around meal times — on other days there is a steady stream.

On Wednesdays, she said, she can count on it to be busy because the contractors mowing nearby lawns always stop in for lunch.

But on almost any day, she might be surprised with a busload of patrons. On Thursday, the Ludlow Senior Center took a “mystery trip,” and made McCray’s Farm their third stop, where they had ice cream after going to the Eric Carle Museum and then Atkins Farm for lunch, said Sarah Gmeiner, activities director at the senior center.

McCray said that since he doesn’t expect people to come all months of the year for just milk, he will be looking for feedback as to what his customers would like to see available for purchase. Some possibilities of products he might sell year-round include locally produced butter and eggs.

“Now we’ve got to get them acclimated to coming, but not just for milk,” he said. “We have to make it worth their while to come out here.” He will also sell ice cream year-round, he said.

Customers who visited McCray’s Farm Thursday said they plan to try the bottled milk when it becomes available.

José Perez, of West Springfield, said he is looking forward to being able to know exactly where his milk is coming from. He and his wife, Melanie Perez, and their 5 year-old son, Manny, come to the farm around three or four times a month for the petting farm and the ice cream.

Cote, who lives in South Hadley, said would like to see the sale of milk bring a whole new clientele to the creamery. She hopes the residential community in the area will begin to purchase their milk from the farm.

“And our milk will be fresh,” she promised.