Jim Murphy & Sons

From barn to bottle; it’s all in the family at Ozark Mountain Creamery

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If you’ve ever wondered what TLC might taste like if it came in a bottle, a fifth generation of the Fry family north of Mountain Grove may have your cup of cream. They’re producing milk the old fashioned way at Ozark Mountain Creamery, the only licensed vat pasteurization plant in Missouri.

Time was when this may not have been such a rarity, but today this is the last of its kind. David Fry can remember a time when there were 102 dairy farms within a 10-mile radius of the Fry Dairy Farm. Now there are none.  First came farm dairies. Then, refrigerated trucks made the rounds to pick up fresh milk for bottling, where it was processed for home delivery. Along with it might come cheese and fresh eggs and other dairy products. In a system complicated and wrought with cultural change, it’s fair to say that corporate farming and huge diversified companies saw a good thing and stepped in with more processing, plastic and cardboard containers, longer shelf life and well, it’s a sad story.

All in the family

It’s a long day at the Fry Family Dairies, which sends milk to the Ozark Mountain Creamery where it is pasteurized and bottled the old-fashioned way. From left Teresa and David Fry, Dwight and Lori Fry, share the work with children and cousins on a dawn-to-dusk seven-day schedule.

Today’s milk is a different product, and though milk from corporate cows may be fine for many consumers, for some it’s a matter of taste, health, well-being, and the intangibles that don’t appear on any label. Ozark Mountain Dairy pasteurizes its milk over low heat for 30 minutes, killing the bacteria that can cause problems, but leaving healthy varieties alone.  

Fry Dairy was started in 1957 by Phillip & Dora Fry, who turned it over to their by sons David and Dwight Fry and their families. Her father, A.C. Barton, started the farm.

Only their sister, Virginia Fry, left the farm. She’s now a co-managing partner in the Springfield law firm, Husch Blackwell.

“Farming is truly in our DNA,” she says.  “It is nice for my brothers to be recognized for their hard work and their willingness to take a risk in the middle of a recession. They are the only local dairy where you can buy milk from cows who live right down the road and the pasteurization process that they selected is so much better than the other options.” 

Spouses Teresa and Lori operate the creamery, allowing David and Dwight to devote their time and attention to the farm. David and Teresa have five sons and a daughter, ranging in age from 7 to 30.

All the Fry siblings have worked on the farm at some point, whether it’s feeding calves, working in the fields, or milking the cows. They also have five grandchildren. Dwight and Lori have two sons and two daughters, ranging in age from 10 to 17. The teenagers help milk each evening, with all the kids caring for the calves.

Everyone has their assigned duties, from caring for calves to milking twice a day to growing and harvesting sorghum for silage to milking, pasteurizing, bottling and delivering the product to a growing list of area stores.

From barn to bottle

Bottling is automated, but the equipment is old and proven. Below, plastic lids are a concession to modern technology.

Milk on the farm is produced utilizing grazing in conjunction with a partial mixed ration concept from feed  produced on the farm and purchased. No artificial hormones (RBST) are used in the production of the milk.

“We have long known our milk is a quality product,” reads their very 21st Century web site (OzarkMtnCreamery.com). “We decided to take what we do best, produce milk, make it better with glass bottles, and bring it to the consumer, thus preserving the family farm for our children and grandchildren.”

Using the still reliable vat pasteurization process, it takes 30 minutes to pasteurize milk, but the lower temperature preserves the natural flavor of the milk while ensuring that bad bacteria are eliminated. The process also leaves more of the nutrients and enzymes that aid digestion. Even those with lactose intolerance can often drink the milk. And it all happens within 48 hours.

Ozark Mountain Creamery’s milk is available at a growing number of locations around the Ozarks. You can find the list online. That much, it seems, has changed.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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