MARQUETTE - By now, the DeBacker Family Dairy glass milk bottles in grocery stores across the Upper Peninsula are a common sight for most shoppers.
The dairy's cream line milk is different from most other milk sold in stores because it is bottled in a way that does not prevent the cream from separating from the rest of the milk.
Tracy DeBacker said that's because the family-run farm is trying to stay natural when it comes to its plethora of products.
A view of the DeBacker Family Farm. (Photo courtesy of the DeBacker Family Farm)
"We try and keep everything as natural as possible," DeBacker said. "We just think it's important for people to know where their food comes from."
In keeping with that old-style attitude, the DeBackers have been bottling their milk for the last three years in glass bottles. Customers pay a deposit on the bottles that is returned when they bring the bottles back to the grocery store.
"We decided to put the cream line in glass," DeBacker said. "It wasn't until this January that we bottled in plastic. We do both so that way you hit both markets."
On the Web: debackerfamilydairy.com
The 220 cows on the farm are milked twice daily with the milk bottled the same day.
"When we milk our cows, we pump the milk directly to the plant so the milk that goes into the bottles, that's from that morning's milking," DeBacker said.
The same philosophy goes into other products on the DeBacker farm.
"The ice cream, what you're eating today was made this week. We don't stock pile the ice cream," she said.
The dairy also produces a staggering list of products including, chicken, beef, goat, lamb, pork, more than 40 kinds of block cheeses, 20 kinds of cheese curds, beefsticks, summer sausage, yogurt, hand-rolled butter and more than 120 flavors of ice cream.
But with so many different products, the DeBacker farm was finding it difficult to get each one on shelves in grocery stores, so they decided to open their own locations.
"They took the milk and the ice cream, but there was still so many other products, it was like, "How do we get all these products out?" People would drive all over, even from Houghton," DeBacker said. "We thought, "Why don't we just start putting stores up, that way we can have all of our products for sale.'"
The business now has a store on the farm in Daggett, one in Escanaba and one in Menominee.
The farm store also offers a lunch and dinner menu with a variety of meals available during store hours.
DeBacker's also sells some of its products in 35 different locations throughout the U.P.
The DeBacker farm was born in 1999 when Tracy and husband Terry, a fourth-generation farmer, first rented a farm in southern Marquette County. The dairy started out with 100 bred heifers, growing steadily from there.
In 2004, the family moved its operation to Daggett in Menominee County, where it secured a large parcel of land for the dairy to grow on.
"We moved the whole farm 70 miles south and started over," Debacker said. "There's many days we would look at each other and go, "What are we thinking?"
"We still do that," she joked. 'What are we thinking?'"
The DeBacker family includes six daughters, whom DeBacker said she'd love to leave the family business to.
"It would be nice to see each of them take on part of the farm," she said.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.