Through the use of a Community Supported Agriculture program Spring Hill Farms is providing customers with straight-from-the-farm dairy products The small settlement of Ben Davis, Mo., in the western part of, Texas County, is home to a very diversified farming operation, Spring Hill Farms. Duncan and Tara Smith now own this farm that has been in the Smith family since 1970. It does, indeed, have many springs and a live creek flowing through the property. They have two Grade A dairy barns, a cheese plant, a beef cattle herd and a commercial Pumpkin Patch. Even though they’ve had the dairy for several years, they were recently licensed as a cheese plant in 2012.
Duncan and Tara have five children who help with the farm. Madison is 19, a freshman at MSU at Mountain Grove, Mo., and takes products to Farmer’s Markets. Weston is 17, and Dawson is 15. These two boys do the milking in the commercial dairy operation. Lydia is 10, and Ben is 8 and they are in charge of bottle feeding the calves. All are home-schooled by Tara.
This 500-acre farm is gently rolling and seeded in fescue and clover. It is cross fenced into many pastures to accommodate separate herds for different purposes. The large beef herd of mostly Angus cows with Gelbvieh/Balancer bulls take up a lot of grazing space. Most are spring calving but they do have a few fall calves.
The dairy cattle are Jersey/Holstein cross-bred cows. Duncan said, “We used Jersey bulls on Holstein cows to get smaller framed cows that are blacked hided and black hoofed.” Some are Holstein colored and others look more like Jersey but all have nice udders. This cross is then either bred to the beef bull or AI’d to Jersey or Holstein.
When asked why they started the cheese making business, Duncan answered, “When we sell milk commercially we get a set price per pound and the milk company processes it, but, if we make our own products we will net more per pound and bring in more dollars for the farm. It is more work but the outcome is more money.”
Approximately 20 cows are considered the cheese dairy herd and are milked in a four stall Grade A Barn attached to the cheese plant. The amount of cows milked here can vary according to the supply needed. The milk is piped directly into the cheese making room and immediately begins the cheese and yogurt making process. Duncan said, “Tara and I do the milking here and we both make the cheese.” The milk is pasteurized at 175 degrees. Yogurt takes about six hours from the cow to package. Then it is cooled and incubated for 12 to 18 hours. Cheese takes longer but all products are fresh from the cow. The Smiths have numerous cooling and refrigeration units to accommodate all these products which includes the 60-day aging period for some of the cheeses. Everything has to be dated.
Needless to say, this cheese making operation requires a lot of time and labor and involves the whole family and must be done quickly, cleanly and efficiently. Duncan and Tara supervise the process of making the yogurt and cheeses so the results are the same quality product every time. The children help with packaging, assembling and stacking.
Duncan said they have a couple of people who are invaluable to their operation, aunt Peg and Debbie Baty, Tara’s mother. They are ready, willing and able to help with anything that needs to be done, can be there at a moments notice, and will work late night hours to get the orders processed. Duncan adamantly stated, “I don’t know what we would do without them.”
Cheeses are Ricotta, Vache, Swiss, and many flavored cream cheeses to name a few. Yogurt is a big selling item and ice cream is becoming very popular. Cream for the ice cream is supplied by Ozark Mountain Creamery owned by the Fry family in Mountain Grove. Duncan said, “This is a marriage between Wright County Cream and Texas County Milk.”
Cheese products are marketed in several different ways at local as well as regional farmers markets but their primary source of getting the products out there is through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Through this organization a farmer offers a certain number of shares to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. In the Smiths’ case the box contains cheese and other milk products. Interested consumers purchase a share or membership, and in return get a box or basket of seasonal products each week throughout the farming season. This arrangement creates several rewards for both the farmer and the consumer.
The farmer receives payment early in the season, which helps cash flow, starts marketing food early in the year or year round, and gets feedback from customers who eat their food.
The advantages for the shareholders are that they get ultra-fresh food, get exposed to new types of food and products, and develop a relationship with the farmer who produces their food and learn more about the food they eat.
CSA is a simple enough idea but its impact has been profound. Tens of thousands of families have joined CSA’s and in some areas of the country there is more demand than there are CSA farms to fill it.
In addition to everything else on the farm the Smiths also operate The Pumpkin Patch, a seasonal commercial operation. Duncan and Tara own the property but are partners in this venture with Dennis and Selina Holland. Naturally, they raise every size and description of pumpkins which are artistically displayed all over the property with flowers and old time objects. The corn for the corn maze is mature and pumpkins are ripe in October, which is when this business starts. Schools and groups are scheduled for five weeks consecutively. Activities include hay rides, tours of corn maze, hay fort, hay bale run, corn bin, pig run and a train ride for smaller customers.
Springhill Farms is a very busy place and it takes the whole family to keep all operations running smoothly. When asked, What is your favorite part of your operation? Tara said, “Decorating the Pumpkin Patch for incoming customers.” She said every year the harvest is just a little different, every fall the colors vary, and every year she thinks it just can’t look any prettier, then, the next year is even better than the previous year. She further stated, “It is almost a magical time. People seem to enjoy coming here and we are glad to be able to share our farm in the Ozarks and make others happy.”


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