Hidden Houston: Oak Farms Dairy
by: Rod Rice, April 23, 2007 12:04:00 pm
Oak Farms Dairy, sounds like it's nestled in the rolling hills of Washington County, with cows grazing in bucolic pastures. Well, unless you live or work near it, you may not know that Oak Farms Dairy is just southeast of downtown Houston on Leeland between Polk and the Gulf Freeway. It's the last surviving dairy inside the city.
"There used to be eleven in Houston, eleven dairies."
Luke Kubecka is Oak Farms' Chief Engineer he's worked for Oak Farms for almost 40 years. The dairy is still at its original location and much of the work takes place in the original building. It began in 1940 as Lone Star Creamery.
"And at that time I imagine the gallon output was probably, maybe 10,000 gallons a day. Today we're doing about between five and five and a half million gallons a month."
Luke Kubecka's four decades at Oak Farms isn't that unusual, second and even third generations are employed there. Project Manager Gordon Harris has been there seven years and he says he's still known as the new guy.
Touring the plant, Harris says the basics of a dairy haven't changed over the years, milk arrives, it's processed, packaged and shipped out. The dramatic difference in output over the years is automation. As we enter the packaging area there are two things you notice, it is loud and wet, everything everywhere is wet because the plant is in a constant state of being cleaned.
"We produce a lot of the school milk here and that's what you're seeing running off the machines here; school milk, in the small half pint bottle. You've got two machine's doing the same operation here so you've got two operators continually feeding the packaging material in, and then it's going in an filling, coming out of these conveyers, going over to put the dates on them, then they'll go out to the packagers and then they'll go on to the cold storage into the cooler."
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, milk cartons of various sizes are moved along conveyers.
Harris says about 80% of the plastic bottles are made in the room next door, plastic is formed into the proper size and the within a few minutes it's filled with milk and placed in milk crates that are snaked along a chain like conveyer in the floor into the cooler.
"It will stay right between 34, 35 in here."
A computer makes up each order and stacks the crates on pallets that are loaded onto trucks to await delivery. From farm to store takes about two days. Gordon Harris says the "sell-by" date is 17-days from the time of production.
"As far as how long it lasts afterwards, it all has to do with how long did it take to get from the grocer's shelf to your refrigerator, how long did you leave it sitting out during dinner. All the different variances as temperature, that all affects it. The colder you can keep and the more constant you can keep it, it'll last several days past that date."
Farm fresh milk from inside the loop, Oak Farms Dairy, hidden in Houston.