Delhi native Kyle Clark is bringing something new to his fifth-generation family business, Clark Dairy Farms.
The 25-year-old launched Clark Milk Creamery in March, producing whole and 2% milk, cream and half-and-half from the family’s retrofitted building at 2899 Elk Creek Road in Delhi.
“We’ve always, for the last 117 years, been a dairy farm just like any other commercial dairy farm,” Clark said. “Then, as of March 1, we opened our creamery.”
Clark said he is partners with his father, Thomas, on the dairy farm, but sole owner of the creamery. Bringing the latter to life, he said, was the realization of a concept years in the making.
“We’d been working on it for forever, but physically for a year and a half to two years,” he said. “I’d been dreaming it up through college and when I came home, I actually started doing stuff.
“At college, there was a small creamery right there on campus,” said Clark, a graduate of SUNY Morrisville. “I got a job there my junior and senior year … and I fell in love with it. I had a really good relationship with my boss, I bought a lot of equipment out of there and that’s what kick-started me. I just became infatuated with it and couldn’t stop learning about it and talking to people about it, so I decided to try it and now here we are.”
Starting the creamery, Clark said, brought challenges, even before the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus.
“It used to be, 100 years ago, that more dairy products were produced in Delaware County than anywhere in the state, and now it’s one of lowest-producing. The way it was going in this region, it was getting increasingly difficult and (dairy) prices were poor for many years,” he said. “This was supposed to be the best year yet, but now it could potentially be the worst. We knew we needed to do something different and spread out some risk.”
The support of his father and the community, Clark said, has proven fortifying.
“My father has sacrificed more than anyone and he basically invested his retirement in me … when I told him I wanted to come back to the farm,” he said. “My dad just really trusts me.
“We’re in the second month of processing for our local customers and we’re producing about 1,000 gallons a week,” he said. “That’s a lot better than we thought we’d be doing. All our restaurant clients pretty much stopped buying milk, so it’s scary, but we’re doing really well and selling more than we thought we’d be. I couldn’t imagine a better community to start a small business in.”
Clark credited the milk’s distinct flavor with driving its popularity, saying he milks a 200-head Holstein herd.
“It’s fat-pasteurized, so it’s heated to a lower temperature, but for a longer time and that changes the flavor,” he said. “We did that because it was what we could afford to do. We knew it would change the flavor and were nervous if it would be good or bad, but we keep getting compliments about how sweet our milk is, which is a direct effect of how we pasteurize. Everyone says they love it and that it’s the best milk they’ve ever had. People are loving it; it’s been crazy.”
Clark said he’s tried to pair quality with affordability.
“The reason milk is so cheap is because people are doing massive volumes at these big plants; when you’re doing 300-gallon batches, it’s hard to do that efficiently enough to keep costs down,” he said. “So, it is a little more expensive, but I still think we’re competitive. We really want everyone to drink our milk.
“Everyone has a different idea of what they’ll pay for local, but we try to keep it under,” he said. “The whole time we were building the creamery, we tried to source as much work and supplies locally as we could, because that’s our mission: to support the community we hope will support us and, thus far, that’s happened.”
Clark said he hopes to continue developing products and growing the brand, while “staying with that hometown feel.”
“I’m working on a drinkable yogurt and we’ll have chocolate milk coming very soon,” he said. Clark butter will also be released soon. “I just want to keep growing, but maintain the same feel; I don’t want to ever get too big that people don’t know they’re buying it right from the farmer.”
For more information or a list of local retailers carrying Clark products, visit clarkdairyfarms.com, find “Clark Farms” on Facebook or follow @clarkdairyfarms on Instagram. Products are also sold on site.