mt. crawford creamery - new business or bust

Sometimes I tell people I grew up on a farm. This is partly true. Cows graze on the hills of the Will brothers' farm as the sun sets on Tuesday, April 16, 2013, in Mt. Crawford. The Wills have around 70 cattle on their farm, not including the calves, which are born year round.My uncle, a cattle farmer in Kansas, had a few extra head of cattle on his farm. My family had just moved to southeastern Missouri and was living on quite a bit of acreage — something new for us.

Daniel Will and uncle Frank Will pull a calf into a trailer to move it to a larger pen on Wednesday, April 10, 2013 in Mt. Crawford. The Wills raise Holstein and half Jersey/Holstein cattle.My father is from Boston — he’s a big guy, played college football, still maintains a thick Boston accent and, of course, an affinity for clam chowder. As you can imagine, he’s not much of a farmer. But for some reason, my uncle thought it would be a good idea if we raised some of his British White beef cattle. It was quite the experiment.

Kenny Will stands outside of the store portion of Mt. Crawford Creamery at the end of the working day on Tuesday, April 16, 2013, in Mt. Crawford. The creamery has been in the process of opening for three years, and the Will brothers hope to open by the end of April or early May. “The biggest challenge in all of this, there’s no where you can go and get plannings or talk to someone to tell you what you need and this is how you do it,” Frank Will said. “You’re kind of going blind on it. You’re just kind of feeling your way in the dark. We basically came up with this design by ourselves.”We lived on that property for about four years on 27 acres. Of course, living in a rural area, my younger sister and I were both involved in 4H. She was an excellent sport — raised a steer every year, usually with a Disney-themed name, and showed him at the Cedar County fair. But, despite being on a farm, my direction with the cattle was a little different — I liked to photograph them. I guess you can see where this is going now.

Kenny Will takes a bucket back to the milking barn after feeding raw milk to some of the farm's dogs and cats on Wednesday, April 10, 2013, at Mt. Crawford Creamery. The farm's pets serve many purposes, such as herding cattle, though Frank Will says he wishes the cats were better mousers.

I received my first digital camera for my eighth-grade graduation — a five-megapixel Canon Powershot point-and-shoot something-or-other. I thought I was so cool, taking pictures of inanimate objects in the field and posing my sisters for pictures. I won a blue ribbon at the 4H fair for a very “artistic” photo of worn flip-flops by the pool. But the cows were some of my favorite subjects.

Calves pause while eating on Tuesday, April 16, 2013, at Mt. Crawford Creamery. The Will brothers believe the creamery's biggest selling point is that people can literally see where their milk is coming from, as the store will be on the same property as the cows, and the cows are milked directly behind the store. Not that this is a revolutionary thought, but I think where you grow up, and what you surrounded yourself with, really dictates what you are drawn to, whether you know it or like it or not. And around here, agricultural stories are my favorites.

Kenny Will talks with his son, Daniel Will, as they feed the cows before milking on Tuesday, April 16, 2013, at Mt. Crawford Creamery. The dairy farm has around 70 cattle, each of which are milked twice a day.I feel at home in my cheap boots, walking through mud, the smell of the cows not disgusting me, but instead dredging up memories of my childhood. I guess that’s why I spent so much time on this Mt. Crawford Creamery story as I did — something my coworkers can probably attest to, with some annoyance at my absence.

Kenny Will takes his grandson, Edward Will, from daughter-in-law Lauren Will as granddaughter Ariel Will watches in the creamery's store on Saturday, April 6, 2013, at Mt. Crawford Creamery. The property where the farm sits has been in the family since 1927, and has been used as a dairy farm since Kenny and Frank's father, Melvin Will Jr., and Melvin's brother, James, took over.I enjoyed spending time outdoors with Kenny and Frank and the Will family — waking up at 3 a.m. to make the 5 a.m. milking, yawning all the way, just to hang out in the barn, snap away and talk shop in the times between. I followed them around for two weeks like a little shadow, not acting as a contributing member of their farm, but just as a picture-taker — capturing memories for them and myself, just as I did as a young girl. It felt natural, and I felt at home.

Edward Will climbs out of the tractor before his father, Jeremy Will, on Thursday, April 11, 2013, at Mt. Crawford Creamery. While Jeremy's father and uncle, Kenny and Frank, live on the land where the milking barn stands, Jeremy lives with his two children and wife on a separate farm about a mile away, which houses much of the machinery, crops and cows that are breeding.I really enjoyed working on this story. It was hard to balance the happiness that I felt being there with the fact that the Wills were sort of forced into this as a last resort — that's not usually a good thing. All in all, I wish them the best of luck in their new venture and hope to get out there and get a bottle myself soon.

Jeremy Will takes a drink from a jar of chocolate milk as he talks with his father during a break on Tuesday, April 16, 2013, at Mt. Crawford Creamery. Frank Will, Jeremy's uncle, had just mixed up a fresh batch of chocolate milk, and was still playing with the amount of cocoa and sugar it needed. Feel free to check out the story I worked on with Laura Peters on our newspaper's website. There's also a larger photo gallery and video.

Kenny Will rounds up the cows for the day's second milking on Saturday, April 6, 2013, at Mt. Crawford Creamery. The cows are milked twice a day, every day of the year. Kenny Will leans against a piece of feeding machinery to take a break before starting the day's second milking on Saturday, April 6, 2013, at Mt. Crawford Creamery. Kenny and his brother, Frank, have spent the last three years and invested over a million dollars trying to open their own creamery. The say the creamery was a last-resort option to keep their farm afloat, as they say they were not earning enough money selling their milk for others to bottle. "By golly, if we’re going to stay in business we got to do something else or quit. We’re too old to quit and we’re too dumb to run a computer," Kenny said.Kenny Will pours a class of chilled raw milk for breakfast after the day's first milking on Wednesday, April 10, 2013, at his home on the farm in Mt. Crawford. Kenny and his brother, Frank, both live on the farm, but in separate houses. They both wake before dawn and milk the cows at about 5 a.m. in the morning. The sun is up by the time they are done, when they break for breakfast.