Farm Fresh Bottles

Customers can return glass milk bottles to Farm Fresh stores for 10 cents off their next purchase.

Ken Trevarthan/Staff Photographer

When it comes to Farm Fresh milk, there is just something special about those glass bottles.

The sight of the rounded edges and the heft of the thick glass bring to my mind a time long ago when milk men were still part of everyday life. These half-gallon bottles seem to keep the fresh milk within them extra cold, like a massive icy mug.

My family and I have become such big fans of this milk that we make pit stops at Farm Fresh Dairy Stores almost every time we return from visiting our extended family in Southern Illinois.

The stores are supplied by the Chester Dairy Co., located in its namesake town along the Mississippi River in southwestern Illinois. Owner Jason Ohlau, who bought the company several years ago, said the dairy opened in 1932 and launched its stores in the 1970s.

Ohlau said there are now Farm Fresh stores in nearly 30 towns in Southern Illinois and adjacent Missouri. He said the stores have been kept within an approximately 100-mile radius of the dairy so that the milk does not have to be transported far.

"People want to know where their food items come from and they want to know they are quality products," Ohlau said.

I was first introduced to Farm Fresh years ago at the store along Illinois Route 37 in Marion, north of my parents' hometown of Goreville. I have since visited some of the other stores, including the one along U.S. Route 50 in Salem that is their northernmost.

All of the stores I have seen are in nondescript, rectangle-shaped buildings about the size of a large convenience store. They are well stocked with a wide selection of groceries, but the main attraction is the milk.

Customers can select from a variety of white milks, chocolate milk, strawberry milk and orange juice in the half-gallon glass bottles, as well as different sizes of plastic bottles. Ohlau said the glass containers remain a popular choice.

"Customers enjoy them. I think there is a nostalgic value to them," Ohlau said. "I think milk just tastes fresher out of a glass bottle. That is what people tell us."

The popularity of the glass bottles is likely helped by the fact that customers can return them to the stores for 10 cents each off of their next purchase. Ohlau said each bottle is washed and reused approximately 18 times before being taken out of rotation.

On one occasion, my family returned more than a dozen accumulated bottles. We slide the bottles into plastic milk crates in the back of the store, fill our little shopping cart with a new supply of milk, and then place our precious cargo in a cooler for the ride home.

Some of the smaller, plastic bottles of milk get drank on the way back to Mattoon to wash down the Herrin-based Town Bakery crème horns that are often featured at Farm Fresh Dairy Stores.

We particularly enjoy the store along Illinois Route 149 in West Frankfort because it's near a Dixie Cream Donut Shop, which also happens to supply the Huck's convenience stores in Charleston and Mattoon with fresh doughnuts.

I think the Bavarian cream doughnut topped with a dollop of filling is delicious, while my wife enjoys the jelly doughnut. Our daughter calls her favorite cake doughnut with chocolate icing and colorful sprinkles, "Arnie the Doughnut," after the title character in one of her favorite children's books.

Once the Farm Fresh milk makes it home to our refrigerator, it becomes a prized commodity.

We reserve the milk for drinking and savoring in a tall glass, not for diluting over cereal or as an ingredient for cooking. When the milk is this good and it is from so far from our home, we try to make it last as long as possible.

This column and previous entries in the series also can be read at www.facebook.com/RobStroud.DayTripper.

Rob Stroud is a staff writer for the JG-TC. Contact him at rstroud@jg-tc.com or 238-6861.

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