WORDS : MITCH LIES
PHOTOS : LYNNPHOTO.COM

What originally began as Lochmead Farms, when Howard Gibson purchased 120 acres near Junction City in 1941, today is known as Lochmead Dairy.  Producing and processing 7,000 gallons of milk a day, they churn out award-winning ice cream from their plant in downtown Junction City.  Lochmead sells most of its products directly to customers at 44 family owned and operated Dari Mart convenience stores in Linn, Lane and Benton counties.

Lochmead also sells yogurt to several institutions and produces gelato mixes for customers as far afield as Alaska.  Among their newest ventures, the Gibson family manufactures and markets a vegan, soy- and gluten-free ice cream by the name of Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss, sold locally and internationally.

International sales aside, the local nature of this operation defines this family run business.  It all started on the farm Howard and Gladys Gibson purchased 77 years ago, four miles north of Junction City.

Today, of course, Lochmead Farms is much larger than the 120-acre plot Howard and Gladys originally purchased, and the Gibsons milk hundreds more than the 100 head of cows  Howard purchased in 1945, the year he began fulltime dairy farming full time.

Today’s dairy operation, run by Buzz Gibson and son Chris, milks 650 cows. The family’s 2,800- acre farm, run by Scott Gibson and his uncle Mike, produces about 85 percent of the dairy’s feed, as well as blueberries, grass seed, wheat and peppermint, some of which are used in the family’s dairy products.

Lochmead Dairy’s vertical integration started in the 1960s when Howard and his three sons decided to take full control of the milk they produced. Instead of shipping it to a processor for bottling and sale around the Northwest, the family decided to build and operate their own plant, selling their milk directly to customers through DariMart stores.

Stephanie Gibson-HawksBusiness did not pick up right away, according to Stephanie Gibson-Hawks, Howard’s granddaughter, who is general manager of the Lochmead Dairy processing plant.

“It was slow going at the beginning,” she says. “It was hard to get people to trust a new store back then, and we couldn’t continue running the processing plant until we sold the milk.”

The trick was free milk.

“My Dad (Jock Gibson) tells how he put a sign out front for ‘Free Milk’,” Stephanie says, “and from that day forward, we’ve had very loyal and dedicated customers who appreciate our high-quality products. They’ve stuck with us for a long time.”

Stephanie emphasizes several key factors that ensure the high quality of Lochmead products: first and foremost, keeping milk fresh.  While some dairies transport milk hundreds of miles for processing, Lochmead’s milk travels four miles from the dairy to the plant.  Once it arrives at the plant, the milk is quickly processed, bottled and distributed to 44 Dari Mart stores.

“Our milk gets from cow to customer in 48 hours,” Stephanie says.

Keeping cows healthy and happy also is important, she says.

“It all starts with the cows. It starts with how well they are treated, the cleanliness of the cows and the milking parlor.  Then, how fast can they get that milk cold and keep it cold,” she says.

The herd size limits the dairy’s production, but that hasn’t stopped the family from expanding.  Among the family’s expansions was the purchase of the Coconut Bliss product line in 2008.

“It was just a natural fit,” Stephanie says. “We weren’t necessarily looking to grow. The goal was to support our employees with a full work schedule and keep the ice-cream room in production to make it profitable.”

“We make very intentional decisions about our growth,” Stephanie says.

As for the future, Stephanie says the dairy may look to pick up more gelato mix customers and increase its yogurt and sherbet lines.  “We would like to see the sherbet line grow because it is a high-end product with very good flavors.”

In the meantime, Coconut Bliss continues on a growth curve. “Coconut Bliss will just naturally grow, and we want to keep up with that,” Stephanie says.

At its core, however, Lochmead Dairy will always be a homespun, family-run operation. “You can count on it,” Stephanie says

Chris Gibson