Hillcrest Creamery - Wholesome Milk With A Taste All Its Own
Arvin Decker is a learned man of letters.
In his case, those letters happen to be M-I-L-K.
The 49-year-old dairyman has been producing milk on his family’s farm south of DeRidder for the past 30 years. And while times have certainly changed for the dairy industry in Southwest Louisiana, Decker has continued operating on a smaller scale for one very important reason.
“I wanted to produce a healthy, tasty, high-quality, creamline milk for my neighbors and the people around me, especially for the mothers who need wholesome milk for their children,” he explained. “That’s the most fulfilling thing to me. I appreciate that more than anything, to be able to look a mother in the eye and assure them they’re getting milk that is safe and healthy.”
Decker has been around long enough to see the dairy business change from local farms to a global market that caused prices to plummet and those small operations to wither away in time. He recalls his father starting the farm in 1983 and supplying milk for Borden’s Dairy in Lafayette.
Now he characterizes his business as a “micro-dairy” that sells a variety of milk, yogurt, cream and butter in a small store at Hill Crest Creamery off Willow Branch Road south of DeRidder.
On the family farm is a small store, but Hill Crest milk can also be found at Back Home Collections in DeRidder, Soileau’s Meat Market in Rosepine, and at
Pops and Rockets on Pujo Street in Lake Charles. Decker and his wife, Lisa, also bring their products to the Cash and Carry Farmers Market in Lake Charles.
“Once people taste it, they know my milk is distinctly different from something you would find at most supermarkets. It’s sweet and creamy and lasts a long time,” Decker said. “I cool my milk quite a bit faster than other producers, and that’s partly why it tastes so good. It has a unique flavor all its own.”
Sandy Dubois of Ragley recently stopped by the farm for the first time to purchase a gallon of milk.
“It really does have a different taste. But it’s also a good thing to be able to come and buy your milk at the place where it was produced. You can see where it was made and that gives you some reassurance,” she said.
The life of a dairyman includes milking and maintaining the herd, tending to the fields and fencerows and many hours spent on sanitation to make sure the product is free from impurities and safe to drink.
It’s a job Decker describes as demanding and never ending. Decker has to think long and hard when asked if he has any hobbies and when he last took a relaxing vacation.
“Well, I like to canoe and do some fishing, but I hardly ever get the chance. I have to be here,” he said. “But I think probably my favorite hobby is just gettingout and talking to people and visiting with friends. We thought about not going to the farmer’s market but then we thought about all the people we’d miss and the friends we’ve made.”
Decker’s circle of friends reaches well beyond Southwest Louisiana. He makes the time to maintain internet contact with friends and acquaintances in the Republic of Haiti.
His family, originally from Kansas, began mission work in the Caribbean Island country when Decker was 6 years old and returned to the U.S. to settle in Louisiana when he was 13. Fluent in Haitian Creole, Decker last visited the island in 2008 but still speaks to his old friends through the internet communication software Whatsapp.
Decker said that when he begins to feel that the life of a dairyman has its challenges, he thinks of the people of Haiti who have been besieged by a series of hurricanes and earthquakes over recent years.
“I have a soft place in my heart for the people there. They have to struggle to find a meal,” he said. “They live mostly outdoors and their homes are only there for sleeping. There is very little electricity and running water and the food supply is distributed through an open market system on a cash-only basis.”
Thinking about the plight of the people of Haiti only makes Decker appreciate his own tranquil life in Southwest Louisiana.
The Deckers have two daughters and a granddaughter living on the family farm, a son who works at a local company and another son who lives and works in Kansas. While he runs the farming operation, Lisa tends to the record keeping and business side of the operation.
“There are a lot of good people in this area and I appreciate them,” he said. “I’m outdoors most of the day and I make a point to enjoy the beauty of nature all
around me. This is a beautiful place. It’s a complete life.”