A Father’s Story, A Daughter’s Legacy

Tammy Lowery | Buckner Dairy | Fair Grove, Mo.

I first met the family from Buckner Dairy amid a cacophony of voices as a group of dairy farmers converged in Springfield, Mo., for a meeting of their dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). We met as strangers; happenstance joined us at a table where we shared lunch, stories and cold glasses of milk. Some tales were outlandish, most were funny and, I was assured all were true. They centered on farming and family. I was struck with the group’s dedication to dairying, family and storytelling. 


The family’s patriarch, Charles Buckner, is a stalwart in the Missouri dairy community. One of the first stories he shared wasn’t about his family’s rich history on their operation, but about its bright future at the hands of his eldest daughter, Tammy Lowery.

Windy or calm, frigid or sweltering, and even on the rare perfect days Missouri occasionally offers up, you’ll find Tammy in the parlor, working with the cows. She’s been on the farm all her life, milking cows before she was 10 years old. She has known since she was a little girl she wanted to stay there. When she got a little older, she committed it to ink and paper: “I wrote in my high school newspaper that I was going to be a dairy farmer,” Tammy reminisced. Her dream came true in 1980, when she began managing the dairy branch of her family’s farm.  

Standing in the parlor on a frigid February day, Tammy was a bit reticent to speak about herself and her work. As on every farm across the globe, work at Buckner Dairy goes on regardless of the weather, world events or visitors to the farm. Although Tammy’s work is extraordinary, to her, it’s everyday life. She takes care of her family, takes care of her cows and feeds the community.

When given the opportunity to share stories about her love for dairying, Tammy becomes downright voluble. She knows each cow as it files into the parlor, pointing out that this Holstein may shy at the camera flash, the Braunvieh back there was likely to be a little feisty and kick off the milker a time or two, and in general, the Crossbreds (a Holstein and Jersey mix) are her best milk producers. Tammy says the Crossbreds are sturdy cows, usually provide large quantities of milk with high butterfat percentages, and she and her brother, William, who manages the beef side of the operation, agree they are more economical when it comes to feed.

As Tammy expertly evaluates each cow and completes her morning work, she shares her true passion: “Teaching kids about the dairy, that’s one of my favorite things.”  Tammy explains, “we have preschool to sixth-grade kids come out to learn about the farm.” William says most of the kids come through the Head Start program in Springfield, Mo., and usually, it’s the first time these kids have ever seen (or smelled) a farm.

Knowing from personal experience that an infatuation with farming can form at an early age, Tammy makes it a point to educate youngsters about life on the family farm. She teaches the kids about hard work, educates them about the dairy industry and offers the chance to form a passion like hers. 

Sharing their dairy story is as much of a family tradition for members of the Buckner family as the dairy itself. “This is the oldest dairy farm in Greene County,” Charles told me. Theirs is a Century Farm that started as 60 acres in 1914 and has become a diversified operation of more than 350 acres, 300 dairy heifers, 150 beef cows and 150 dairy cows. 

Charles began milking cows in 1952, and the farm is part of life for all four of his children. Two of his grandchildren even work on the farm a couple days a week. They’re the fifth generation to work and learn on Buckner Dairy, and as Tammy mentions, “there are three great-grandchildren in the family now, and who knows, they may decide they want to carry it on when they get older.” Passing farm knowledge between generations through stories and experiences is part of this dairy’s long tradition.

The milk from Buckner Dairy is picked up every other day from a family of haulers that has been transporting the Buckner’s milk for three generations. After pick-up from the 2,000-gallon milk tank on the farm, the milk journeys to the Cabool, Mo., plant where it’s added to Starbucks® coffee drinks or to the Hiland® Dairy Springfield, Mo., plant, where it’s processed as fluid milk 

Providing milk for the community is a point of pride for Tammy and her family. They drink milk from their farm, and Tammy’s mother, Katherine, offered me a Starbucks Frappuccino® after inviting me in to her home. 

Teaching kids about the dairy, that’s one of my favorite things.
— Tammy Buckner

Buckner Dairy is full of tough, driven women. Tammy proudly regaled me with a couple of stories about her mother, who milked cows for 58 years. Katherine milked by hand for many of those years, including while she was pregnant with her first child, Tammy. Only four hours before going into labor, Katherine was in the parlor, milking and checking the cows. Today, although she’s handed the milking off to Tammy, she still accompanies her husband and children out to the barns and fields to care for the animals.

William, namesake to the farm’s founder, his great-grandfather, and born the same day he passed, lives in the original farmhouse. Tammy’s sister, Janet, is a staple on the farm, feeding calves and helping with everyday chores. Their other sister, Sherry, lives on a farm not far away and is always available when they need another set of hands. “We’re a really tight-knit group,” Tammy says. 

Charles and Katherine have 10 grandchildren, all with varying degrees of involvement in agriculture. This family is narrating its traditions into the future, teaching the next generation how to dairy and the importance of family farms. 

Tammy’s dairy expertise is the result of dedication, years of hands-on experience and lessons learned from her family. As a way to transfer some of that knowledge to others in her community, Tammy participates in promotions and education for the Greene County Farm Bureau. The program promotes agriculture and educates the public about its importance. 

As evidenced by Tammy’s community involvement, empowering the next generation to be an active part of the agriculture industry is a large part of her life. She was the first female officer in the Fair Grove Future Farmers of America (FFA) program, paving the way for generations to come. Her children and many of her nieces and nephews participated in the same program years later. 

During the brief hiatus between morning and afternoon work, I gathered with the family around the dining table. We refreshed ourselves with Frappuccinos® likely containing milk from the very cows we’d just seen outside, looked at family photos and shared a few more family anecdotes. And with a multitude of grandchildren and great-grandchildren creating their own stories, there will be plenty more to share in the future.

R&D: Research & Deliciousness

Christian Atkinson | DairiConcepts | Springfield, Mo.

Christian Atkinson | DairiConcepts | Springfield, Mo.

Depending on the day, Christian Atkinson is making out-of-this-world garlic bread,adorably sized pizzas or homemade cheese crackers. Today, he’s whipping up macaroni and cheese — but there’s no fluid milk, pats of butter or shreds of cheese in sight.

While most 11-year-olds would flip the channel after “Arthur” was over on PBS, Christian Atkinson would stay tuned in, enamored by Julia Child. Then, he would head to the kitchen and make dinner for his family. But forget  spaghetti and meatballs, he was determined to try
new things.

“I’ve always been a person who tries to make different things work — be creative,” Christian says.

As the development chef for DairiConcepts, a provider of specialty dairy ingredients for many companies across the food industry and a subsidiary of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), in Springfield, Mo., Christian is doing just that. He provides sales support by working with dairy-based powders and concentrates to inspire customers through a variety of product applications.

I’ve always been a person who tries to make different things work — be creative.
— Christian Atkinson

Being a classically trained chef gives Christian a solid foundation, but working with concentrates isn’t what they teach in culinary school.

“It’s just a different set of ingredients,” he says. “You have to figure out how to use the ingredients, and then your culinary skills take over — that’s the science behind it.”


While working with powders and concentrates may sound like a science experiment, the ingredients are all made with real dairy, fresh from local farms. The dried and concentrated formats make them perfect for incorporating into shelf-stable food products, like cheese-dusted chips and boxed macaroni and cheese. 


For Christian, he is able to marry his creativity with knowledge of ratios to jot down the perfect formula. He often makes powders shine through dips and incorporates concentrates into dressings and sauces. 

“I work backward,” says Christian. “I’ll create the classic recipe as a ‘standard’ and then formulate it using DairiConcepts products.”

He will even join the food scientists in the lab to do a little powder development when he has time. One of his favorite table-to-lab creations was a Mexican hot chocolate powder. While it’s not on the market, it made a mean flavored popcorn for taste testing. 

Spending his weekdays in the kitchen doesn’t deter Christian from cooking at home — although his style is a little less scientific.

“I meal prep and eat pretty simply — lots of protein and veggies,” he says. “I’m much less precise and more fun and relaxed.”

His signature dish? Jalapeño artichoke dip. But at the end of the day, whether he’s dreaming up a new application for a powder or making a dip for family, Christian’s passion for food is evident.

“No one really thinks about where a product comes from, and I find that part really interesting,” he says. “I love being able to think both creatively and strategically to come up with the best solution for a customer.”

A Plant with a Purpose


When Brian Paris, general manager of Craigs Station Creamery, drives to work each day, he is filled with a strong sense of belonging. 

As he pulls up to the state-of-the-art facility, he passes grazing cows, farming equipment and dairymen and women hard at work out in the barns — an idyllic setting not typical of many dairy ingredient plants.


“For me, to drive here every morning and to see the farms and the grainery and the tractors and everybody out working, it’s like, ‘Wow — I am a part of this,’” Brian says. “It’s just so cool to be a part of this.”

A joint venture of eight family-run farms and Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Craigs Station combines the resources of a leading dairy company with the traditional values of family farming. The creamery, located on one of the partnering farms in Pavilion, N.Y., specializes in producing highly customized dairy ingredients for world-class consumers, from Icelandic-style yogurt company Siggi’s to Norman’s/Dairy Delight, a super kosher manufacturer in New Jersey.

The plant’s ability to produce dairy ingredients in a variety of formats — including rBST-free, Orthodox Union kosher, super kosher, lactose-free and more — has attracted a diverse group of customers. But the majority of them have one thing in common: a genuine concern for where their dairy ingredients come from. 

“Our customers are obviously very concerned about the environment,” Brian says. “They have a strong sense of wanting to have their products made with ingredients that come from a place where there’s care and thought taken in regard to the environment, and we are very much designed to do that.”

The farm families involved in Craigs Station have been employing sustainable farming practices for generations. Today, they use the most innovative, environmentally friendly techniques to continue producing fresh, high-quality milk. From reusing water to composting for fertilizer, the partners in Craigs Station incorporate conservation efforts on their farms wherever possible. The plant itself runs on energy from an on-farm digester, which recycles waste from the dairy, plant and even some local food companies to reduce the operation’s carbon footprint. 

And because all of its milk is sourced exclusively from eight local family farms, Craigs Station is able to meet the needs of its eco-conscious customers through a process that is also highly traceable. 


“The fact that I’m out at the farms on a fairly regular basis is not something typical that would occur at other plants, and I love it.”

- Brian Paris


“We have eight farms,” Brian says. “The milk cannot come from any other place but one of these eight farms, which makes us extremely unique.” 

Brian is in near-continuous contact with all eight farms, an experience he says he feels lucky to have as manager.

“The fact that I’m out at the farms on a fairly regular basis is not something typical that would occur at other plants, and I love it,” Brian says. “I work in such a way that after 30-some odd years in the industry, I’m actually doing what I always wanted to do, and that’s to be out on the farms. To be able to get out and amongst the very source of our milk … It really gets me going, like,
‘I have an obligation to make this thing work, and I have to really work hard to do this because I’m supporting what’s going on at
these farms.’”

“These farmers work hard,” he adds. 

The farmers involved in the original facility are also part of a new phase: Craigs Station Cheese. As a joint venture with DFA, their milk marketing Cooperative, and Arla Foods, an international dairy cooperative based out of Denmark, the plant is in the early stages of producing artisan cheeses with one of the strongest traceability stories on the market.

No one exemplifies the hard work that goes into producing the milk for Craigs Station Creamery quite like Kristy Northrop, a partner at Lawnel Farms, located just a mile down the road from the plant.

These farmers work hard.
— Brian Paris

The fourth generation on the dairy, Kristy works alongside her husband, brother and parents to oversee every aspect of their operation. With no middle management, Kristy says the family does all of the work themselves — and that work ethic is something she’s already passing on to the fifth generation, her 5- and 7-year-old children. 

“When you’re a dairy farmer, it’s in your blood,” Kristy says. “When it was negative 10 degrees out the other day, every single one of us was out there working. I drug my kids out of the warm house and had them in my office because they need to see the blood, the sweat, the tears that go into this business.” 

Kristy wants to make sure the surrounding community understands, as well. Founded by her grandfather and great-grandfather, Lawnel Farms has been a part of the local community for generations, and Kristy says it’s important to continue to connect with and educate their neighbors about what goes on at the dairy and at Craigs Station Creamery.

From recommending Siggi’s yogurt to other shoppers at the grocery store to hosting farm tours and sending an annual community newsletter, Kristy is always looking for opportunities to bring consumers closer to the farm. At on-farm events, the family regularly serves bottled chocolate milk made with skim sourced from Craigs Station, and the visitors rave about.

“It’s very exciting for a small community like this to have something like Craigs Station connected to it,” Kristy says. “I think people are super excited to be able to have this in their backyards.”

For Chris Noble, who serves as manager of Craigs Station Ventures, the group of farms invested in Craigs Station Creamery, the plant literally is in his backyard — it’s located on Noblehurst Farms, his family’s dairy.

“It’s very fresh milk that goes from our facility about 1,000 feet to the creamery,” he says. 

Chris says the creamery is important to the local community in more ways than one. In addition to connecting local consumers to their farmer neighbors, Noble says the plant and the farms involved have created jobs for people in the surrounding area. 

“We think it’s a true benefit, not only to Craigs Station Ventures, but to our community as well,” Chris says. “We’re employing people who grew up in the community, who know agriculture, rather than sticking it someplace in the middle of a city.” 

But Craigs Station’s impact is reaching far beyond the agriculturally rich community where the plant is located. The creamery is also helping to communicate farmers’ stories to consumers who may not be as familiar with how or where their food originates. 

“Consumers really have a great interest in knowing today where their food comes from and, probably as importantly, how that food is being made,” Chris says. “What better way to tell that full story than to locate the plant next to a farm?” 

That’s what Craigs Station is really about — connection. It’s about dairy farmers partnering with their family members, with plant employees and with a leading Cooperative to build stronger connections with consumers.

And all of it is built on family farms coming together. 

“Even though we’re in the same business as dairy farmers, we don’t view ourselves as competitors — we see each other as allies and friends,” Chris says. 

He attributes the eight farms’ ability to work together in part to the ties they’ve shared over the years. In fact, Chris’ grandmother and Northrop’s grandfather were twins, and many of the elder generations on the farms grew up together, going to the same schools, playing on the same baseball teams and generally belonging to the same close-knit farming community that has endured today.

But partnering Craigs Station Creamery with DFA has brought them together in a new way. Most importantly, Chris says their Cooperative has provided a platform to better communicate the farmers’ stories, something today’s consumers are demanding. 

“Sometimes the stories are just as important as the quality of the product,” he says. 



The alarm clock buzzes and feet hit the floor. A ritual of a few overhead stretches, wipes of the eyes and big, exasperated yawns commence before reaching to the bedside table for glasses and a watch. But like many phones, this watch is smart — it’s an activity tracker. 

By the time teeth are brushed, coffee is hot and boots are on, the activity tracker on dairy producer Kevin Morrill’s wrist has already picked up on his steps and heartrate. A few hundred steps in and he is going to check on cows for the first time of the morning, but he’s not going to the barn; he heads to his office to hop on the computer.


In just a few clicks, Kevin is logged into a web program that, much like the smart watch on his wrist, tracks the activity levels of his more than 350 milking cows. While there are several technologies like this on the market, this one is called SCR, which is essentially like Fitbit for cows, “but cooler,” according to Dr. Chris Dutton.

“Imagine if my Fitbit also tracked my reproductive patterns and metabolism,” says Chris, a veterinarian, fellow dairy farmer and applications support specialist with Dairy One, an agricultural technology company that is a member of Dairy Farmers of America’s (DFA) farm service family. “These cows are doing unbelievable things: eating 150 pounds of feed, making 100 pounds of milk and drinking 30 gallons of water all day long. These trackers are educating us — allowing them (the cows) to start talking to us, telling us when they’re comfortable.”

The SCR tracker is attached to a cow’s ear tag and picks up on movement through the built-in pedometer. Based on head movement, the tracker senses the cow’s activity level and connects with a reader in the barn to store the data. The Morrills are able to assess this data — from rumination (the way cows digest food) to breeding patterns — to help them better manage their herd.

Fourth-generation Morrill Farm Dairy is run by Kevin, his brothers, Andy and Ryan, his father, Rob, and mom, Sherri, on two New Hampshire locations. In 2012, the Morrills began leasing a farm in Alstead where Kevin lives, along with the milking cows. The rest of the family lives and primarily works in Penacook at the home farm. There, they do the calving, milk fresh cows (new moms) and house dry cows (those not currently producing milk).

With 60 miles separating the two farms, it takes more than an hour and a half to get from point A to point B. The beautiful, winding roads lined with forests of maple trees, which are tapped with sap lines waiting to drip syrup that will be bottled and poured atop mile-high stacks of pancakes, are to thank for this commute.

While the distance makes for some peaceful views and quiet time, it can be tough for those in Penacook to stay connected with the herd in Alstead. Thankfully, keeping the Morrills connected is just one benefit of the SCR trackers.

One of the key parts of herd management is breeding cows to calve, and therefore provide the wholesome milk consumers know and love. Farmers are very insightful when it comes to catching cows in heat by picking up on behavioral cues, but because they’re waiting to see the activity level change, it’s common not to identify cows until 12 to 24 hours after they were initially in heat. This resulted in lower than optimal conception rates on the Morrill farm.

“We didn’t have an employee to do the work, so we had to find something else to help,” Ryan says.

When the brothers got wind of technology that could help them stay connected and improve reproductive cycles via an ear tracker and mobile app, they started their research.

“We were all really involved. Ryan spent a lot of the free time he doesn’t have,” Kevin chuckles, “on researching the financial side of things. Andy took our dad to several farms to show him how this is actually working.”

At $25,000, SCR initially gave the Morrills sticker shock. But looking at the financials more closely, this one-time investment was able to do what a full-time employee at roughly $50,000 a year would do.

“I wasn’t concerned about the technology working, I was concerned about this being seen as a ‘fix all,’” says Rob, who admittedly drug his feet on making the purchase. “I’m old school, so I was hesitant to invest in something we did without technology before.”

After visiting several farms with the system in place and seeing improved cow comfort, as well as the potential return on investment — on both money and time — through use of the trackers, Rob got on board. In September 2017, they installed SCR on their cows in Alstead and haven’t looked back.

Kevin Morrill

Kevin Morrill

As herdsman, or “the cow guy” deemed by his family, Ryan uses a mobile app to keep tabs on the health of his herd, which he can then communicate to Kevin, and the duo can discuss strategies for care. 

“As soon as we installed SCR here, I wanted it in Penacook,” Ryan says. “I feel more connected with the cows in Alstead than I do the ones that I see and touch on a daily basis.”

Shown by a graph, the lines spike or fall depending on the cow’s baseline. When activity increases and rumination decreases, the brothers know that cow is ready to be bred. Same goes for health: When activity decreases along with rumination, it’s a sign that cow may need medical attention. Even when ice fishing on a nice winter day, Ryan was able to check the app and notice a cow was in heat. With a quick text message, Kevin looped in his workers to breed the cow.

“It’s amazing the small things it picks up on that you don’t,” Kevin says. “I’m guilty. I miss them (cows in heat) all the time, but the computer watches even when I’m sleeping. On health, it will catch a cow sick before she appears to be visually sick.”

Catching sickness early is improving cow health and has reduced the length of veterinarian checks for the Morrills, something that Chris jokes about being good for farmers and their herds, but not his own invoicing system.

Rob was right. It’s not a fix all, but it is improving the farm’s data management and the way everyone communicates. It’s a form of an accountability system — to the cows and to each other. And even though the Morrills have only been utilizing SCR for a few months, they’re already seeing results.

“We are inseminating sooner, which is reducing costs. We’re also treating cows sooner (when needed) and using less and less antibiotics — doing more supportive therapy (fluids and probiotics),” Kevin says. “It’s just helping us do a better job every day to take better care of our herd.”

When the sun sets, things settle down and Kevin’s smart watch goes on the charger for the night, the cows’ trackers keep on gathering data. In the morning, when daylight breaks, Kevin logs in and Ryan checks the app, they’re just as — or even more — connected as they were the day before.