fairlife milk: An Interview with Dairy Farmer Sue McCloskey

fair oaks dairy, sue mccloskey
Mike & Sue McCloskey with their favorite “cast” dairy cow

Why am I writing about a dairy farm?

1. Because everyone drinks milk or knows someone that does.

2. Because this is not an ordinary dairy.

3. Because I want you to see that farmer’s can be cool, just look at Sue in her sequin fox sweater.

If you drink milk,  you may have visited Fair Oaks Dairy in Fair Oaks, Indiana. The sister company, fairlife, hit the market exactly a year ago with a higher protein, lower sugar, lactose free milk and has made it into a store you shop in: Target, Publix, Walmart, Mariano’s, Kroger…you get the idea. There has been a lot of hoopla and media attention surrounding fairlife because of the partnership with Coca-Cola. Right on the bottles of this delicious milk is the signature of the couple who founded and stand behind it, Mike & Sue McCloskey.

 I had the pleasure to meet Sue, on a freezing cold day, at the Fair Oaks Farms  to find out what it’s like to be the lady of the dairy. 

fairlife dairy interview
Sue and I, deep in discussion, in the dairy adventure barn

So what’s the big deal?

 This dairy that you tour is one of 11 local dairy farms totaling 35,000 milking cows and it is open to the public. You can go to the dairy and see everything from the cows being milked to calves being born. There is a cafe named Cowfe where you can enjoy the milk, cheese and ice cream and the Farmhouse Restaurant for lunch, dinner or even a wedding. In addition to seeing the cows being milked on the carousel, there is a birthing barn (at least 6 born every day!), a pig barn adventure, soon to be chicken barn and someday even a hotel, goats and bees. Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs filmed an episode here. The place is a big deal, located between Indianapolis and Chicago on I65, and is owned by McCloskeys and their partners.

Why Indiana? 

The McCloskeys are not from Indiana and they were not born into farming. Mike is a veterinarian, specifically for dairy cows, and that is how he became interested in dairy farming. Their first dairies were in California then New Mexico. Indiana had the land they needed for their vision of a  bigger dairy, which they decided, would also be open to visitors. 

Why open your farm to the public? 

 The McCloskeys knew they wanted to create a “a dairy experience” when they moved to Indiana for a couple of reasons. There were always groups that wanted to come and see the cows, from a church group to the local kindergarten class.  But the main reason, Sue said, was that they wanted  to create  “complete transparency” with people.  “There is a misunderstanding about large, modern agriculture. That there is animal cruelty, pollution and an inferior product. If we invite the consumer right into our farm (the tour takes you right into the cow barn), you can see for yourself that we are not hiding anything, our cows are healthy and treated with care and we produce one of the most nutritious and safe foods on the planet.” 

 They are also on the cutting edge in regards to the pollution component.  They use the cow manure to run the just about the whole joint and to fuel their 42 tanker trucks!! This was years in the making and is an ongoing project, the goal to become completely carbon neutral  in the future.  In this month’s Fortune magazine, there is a detailed article written precisely about how this “stool to fuel” works on their farm.

sue mccloskey fairlife
Sue thinking: you don’t know anything about cows do you?
fair oaks dairy, cows
This baby calf was just born! The momma is licking it clean.
fair oaks milk
This is Fairlife at my grocery store!

What is fairlife?

 Their latest product, fairlife, is a milk that has been ultra-filtered. To put it very simply, the milk is filtered into 5 parts: fat, protein, vitamins & minerals, lactose, and sugar. When they put it back together, there is no lactose, less sugar, more protein and more calcium. It’s like “super milk”!  (check out their website  for details)  In addition to fairlife, is a brand of milk geared towards teens, called Yup, which has been launched on the East Coast. 

Who is Sue?

Sue is just a girl from New Jersey with an art degree, that moved to San Diego and met a veterinarian. She was not a dairy farmer nor was her husband. This mom of 4 could never have predicted that she would be a dairy farmer celebrity. All of her kids have worked at the farm in one way or another, from waitressing to one of her son’s recently deciding to get involved in his own way, by helping start a Fair Oaks Farm milk delivery business. 

Sue is so passionate about their business that she is even educating the consumer when she is in the grocery store. Recently, she overheard a couple assessing the dairy shelves, the girl said that she doesn’t buy milk anymore because she heard it may contain gross stuff besides milk. Well, she just couldn’t let the moment pass. Sue explained to them that she is a dairy farmer, that all that is in milk, is milk and that of course, they needed to try Fairlife. She mentioned that her name was right on the bottle, the proof of her commitment and dedication to the brand. The couple promised to try it out. “That is what this is all about, informing the consumer, changing the perspective. ”

fair oaks farm milk

So let’s get down to some personal details about Sue:

Is your closet organized? 

Yes, it actually is. I have a cowboy boot collection! So I have a couple of shelves where I display my favorites!

Last vacation?

We went to the Super Bowl in San Fransisco. It was great! We’ve gone 7 years in a row. I love football! I got to sit next to Franco Harris at an event! (I’m like ummm, who is that?)

White or chocolate?

White ’cause it goes with everything from Oreos to hamburgers

If you could drink a glass of milk with anyone, who would it be?

Right now it would probably be Dr. Scott Kelly who is wrapping up his Year In Space. I’m sure he’s got some great stories and is also missing a cold glass of farm fresh milk!

Since you live kinda remote …..where do you shop?

Online shopping makes life easy. I love the Gilt website for finding good buys. One of my favorite small shops isn’t too far from my house; Civvies in Culver, Indiana has a great curated collection of fun female frockery. The Julie’s who own the store travel to London, Paris and the local U.S. markets to find unique pieces.

Guilty pleasure?

Although I don’t do it often enough, a pool and a book are my guilty pleasure.

Do you have time for a hobby?

I hope someday if things ever slow down (not holding my breath) I could get back to painting/drawing. I truly miss it but, for me, it needs a measure of solitude to get into the creative zone.

Most interesting or famous person you’ve met?

Mike Rowe, aka Dirty Jobs/Somebody’s Gotta Do It, is probably the most interesting (and fun, don’t get me started on stories that end with hot tubs and Black Sambuca!). The most famous would probably be President George W. Bush. I remember telling him that my boys (young at the time) said to tell him hello and as I was walking away he called to me and said, “You tell them that I said that they need to listen to their mama!”

Favorite book?

A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Iriving

Favorite app?

Although I’m not a big app user I’ve got to say that there’s some brilliant, creative funny stuff that people do with Snapchat.

How do you stay healthy?
Drink lots of milk, of course. But as my great aunt, Sonny, and my Nana both told me, everything in moderation.

Do you have any questions for Sue? Email her, she’d be happy to hear from you. Sue@fairlfe.com

fair oaks dairy adventure indiana
The Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure in Indiana

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