Acres of Beauty
Established in 1910, the fourth-generation Rolling Lawns Farm located in nearby Greenville, Illinois, has made a name for itself—and its milk—west of the Mississippi. Since 2016, operators Michael Turley and his mother, Connie, have marketed their quality, fresh milk here in St. Louis, where Turley calls home. Although he was born and raised on the 700-acre farm, he moved west in the early ’90s to pursue a career in marketing and advertising. No matter where he lives, Turley remains committed to the land and takes solace in its natural beauty and memories.
Is the home there now the original farmhouse?
Michael Turley | Yes, it was built in 1910 by my great-grandfather, Sam Schmollinger, who started the farm that same year. In 2016, we added a hearth room and expanded my mother’s kitchen.
Any special childhood memories?
I lived in the house with my father, Neal, my mother, and my younger brother, Craig. Growing up on the farm was the perfect life. When you live 7 miles out of town, you often only interact with your family. Life is full of the adventures you make of it. As a boy, I can remember how exciting it was when the Schwan’s driver would show up once a week. It was our equivalent of a surburban ice cream truck.
What is your favorite room?
Definitely the hearth room. It has views to the west with a landscape of green pasture, corn and wheat framed by beautiful sunsets. It’s a peaceful place to end the day. Without question, my favorite thing to do is watch our cows in the pasture at the end of the day, close to dusk. It truly is summertime serenity.
You work at the farm full-time now?
Yes, I had a 25-year career in marketing and advertising, but I left my job at the end of 2015 to focus all of my efforts on the farm.
What do you produce, and how many cows do you have?
Our farm is primarily focused on our dairy operation. We milk 120 purebred Holsteins every morning and night, and have done so for 108 years. Our goal is for each animal to live as long and healthy of a life as possible. The ‘first family’ on the farm is the Bell family. Bell is 12 years old and is the matriarch of Rolling Lawns. She is a great-great-grandmother, and all of her offspring are with her on the farm.
Have you made any significant renovations to the farm over the years?
The farm is constantly evolving, but the biggest renovation is the expansion of our business. We produce 1,000 gallons of milk each day, so we just built a Grade A food manufacturing plant called Milk House in our hometown of Greenville. It’s a 25,000-square-foot building that will allow us to produce, process, bottle and distribute our products. In fact, it will be the first true local dairy in the St. Louis market. While that doesn’t sound all that exciting or progressive, it is when you consider we are doing it in the most commoditized category in the food industry.
When did you establish a relationship with the St. Louis restaurant scene?
We have been working with local restaurants since May 2016 when we sold our first dairy products to them. The vision at Rolling Lawns Farm is to be the Augusta National of dairy farms. Just as Augusta is known for its unparalleled reverence for the game of golf, we use the same respect taking care of the farm and our beloved, registered Holstein cows. We’ve discovered a shared passion with local chefs and food enthusiasts that values the origins of food. Our goal is to meet the chefs’ principles with the farm’s provenance. We are blessed with the relationships we’ve been able to establish with the vibrant St. Louis food scene. A few of the partnerships include Vicia, Yolklore, Ices Plain and Fancy, Kaldi’s, Larder & Cupboard, and the Smokehouse Market. These folks have been with us from the beginning, and it means so much.
Are there any future projects planned?
Plans are underway for an ice cream shop and restaurant in the space adjacent to Milk House. In the end, we will have a destination similar to that of the craft beer brewers in the St. Louis area, in the sense that it will be a total experience where we make the product and share it in a retail setting.
Do you ever have guests on the farm?
We occasionally entertain, always around the holidays. My mom is an amazing cook. Our farm also has been host to approximately 20 international students over the years. The students are primarily from Japan and China and travel to the U.S. to live and work with a dairy farm family for a year-long practicum. They are totally immersed in the farming operation with the intention of bringing the business and cultural knowledge back home to apply at their own family farms.