June 13, 2018
By Marlee Moore
Michaela Sanders milks cows twice daily at her Blue Ribbon Dairy in Elmore County. The fourth-generation dairy farmer pasteurizes, bottles and sells milk on her farm and in local stores.
Just like the cream in its on-farm-bottled milk, Blue Ribbon Dairy in Kent is rising to the top — of people’s grocery lists, that is.
“Every morning I wake up and I’m like, “OK, let’s take care of the girls today,” said Michaela Sanders, a fourth-generation farmer who opened Blue Ribbon Dairy in November 2017.
“The girls” are Sanders’ 19-cow dairy herd, which churn out milk customers purchase in grocery stores, farmers markets and at the family dairy between Tallassee and Eclectic in Elmore County.
“The only way I could get back into the dairy business was doing my own processing,” said Sanders, whose family sold its Lott Dairy herd in 2005. “People want to know where their food comes from. I tell them all they have to do is come to the farm. You can watch the whole process if you stay long enough.”
Her day starts at 4:30 a.m. with milking, followed by chores. Pasteurizing, cooling and bottling milk are daily duties, too, for Sanders with help from mom P.J. Duke.
Around 4 p.m., customers show up to feed calves and watch afternoon milking in the white-washed, flat-level barn Sanders’ great-grandfather built in 1946.
They’re customers like Anne Simmons, who visited the dairy with daughter Charlotte this spring. After feeding calves, she left with two gallons of Blue Ribbon Dairy’s creamy Grade A milk.
“Michaela is open to letting the kids run around and learn more about what’s going on,” Simmons said. “We wanted to support someone local and do something new. It’s just a fun day to come get fresh milk.”
Sanders, who attended Auburn University, worked in dairy promotion before opening Blue Ribbon Dairy. She showed dairy cattle growing up and, thanks to grandfather C.D. "Buddy" Lott, routinely brought home blue ribbons.
Lott passed away before the farm-to-bottle dairy opened, but his encouraging spirit still fuels Sanders’ dedication to dairy.
“I’m thankful I had a grandfather who provided me a place to live out my lifelong dream,” she said. “He said, ‘I’ve told you what to do. I’ve taught you how to do it. Y’all just have to learn how to do the bottling.’”
Businesses like Blue Ribbon Dairy add value to dairy in an era where sales are sliding, said the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Guy Hall. Thirty years ago, nearly 400 dairies dotted Alabama. Today, there are less than 40.
“I think this could be the future of milk production in Alabama,” said Hall, the Federation’s Dairy Division director. “Blue Ribbon Dairy’s name recognition and proximity to Montgomery should boost the business because the public can see production of a wholesome, local product.”
Blue Ribbon Dairy is open Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday 2-4 p.m. at 5290 Chana Creek Road, Tallassee, Alabama 36078. To learn more, follow the farm on Facebook and Instagram.