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Iconic Chester Dairy, home of 'Farm Fresh,' to close at year's end

  • The Chester Dairy will cease operations on Dec. 31.

    The Chester Dairy will cease operations on Dec. 31.
    Photo by Judy Shields/Shots by Shields

By Renee Trappe
updated: 11/29/2019 11:09 AM

The iconic Chester Dairy, producers of milk and milk products since 1932, will close at the end of the year.

The dairy, which markets fresh milk under the Farm Fresh label and at Fresh Farms stores across southern Illinois, will cease operating as of Dec. 31, according to people close to the dairy.

Dairy owner Jason Ohlau did not return calls on Wednesday, but the closing was confirmed by the Chester Chamber of Commerce and dairy employees posting on Facebook, who say they were told last week of the closing.

Linda Sympson, executive director of the Chester chamber, called the news "devastating."

"Everyone is talking about how terrible it is to lose the dairy," she said. "Not only will the employees, some who have worked there for many years, be forced to seek other jobs, but the dairy is a Chester icon, a place that everyone who grew up in Chester has always supported."

"Farm Fresh milk and juices are the best," Sympson added.

Farm Fresh milk has continued to come in clear bottles, decades after most milk producers abandoned bottles for different packaging. Moreover, the milk has been distributed within only a 100-mile radius of where it was produced, to insure maximum freshness.

It is not immediately clear what will happen to the Farm Fresh stores. The owner of the Du Quoin Farm Fresh, Mike Patel, said on Wednesday he intends to keep his store open after Dec. 31, and intends to find another milk supplier.

In a 2012 interview Ohlau said there were Farm Fresh stores in nearly 30 towns in southern Illinois and adjacent Missouri. It is unclear how many of those remain.

The Chester Daily began business in 1932 as the Chester City Dairy.

According to a 2018 article in Farm Progress, the state of the dairy industry has been in decline for more than three years, due to less milk consumption, an over-surplus of milk and most recently, the loss of export markets due to tariff negotiations.

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