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Valley Milk named Plant of the Year
Valley Milk
Valley Milk in Turlock was named Food Engineering Magazine’s Plant of the Year for its dedication to sustainability and quality (Journal file photo).

Valley Milk in Turlock has been up and running for just over 11 months and already, the state-of-the-art milk processing plant is winning awards.

Valley Milk’s forward-thinking facility this week was named Food Engineering Magazine’s 2019 Plant of the Year for its commitment to sustainability and quality, joining past winners like Kraft Heinz and Frito-Lay as recipients of the award which honors companies who set new standards for innovative and eco-friendly design and construction.

“It’s a really big honor for us,” CEO Patti Smith said. “It’s been a good morale booster, too. Everyone gets to come to work and know that they’re working for not only a great company, but a company that’s been recognized for their facility.”

The recognition comes just before Valley Milk’s first birthday as the plant first began commercial operations in February 2018.

“To be able to start this company as a whole new entity and start winning awards shows you that you’re moving in the right direction and there’s longevity there,” Smith said. “I think it’s a true testament to a lot of the hard work that was put into the design and planning of Valley Milk as a new business.”

Valley Milk was founded by five Central Valley dairy families from Stockton to Chowchilla, who chose to build the milk processing plant in the Turlock Regional Industrial Park because of its central location, quick access to the Port of Oakland and the City’s willingness to work with the company, Valley Milk chairman and founding family member Don Machado said at the facility’s groundbreaking ceremony in April 2016.

It took three years of planning to see Valley Milk’s plant come to life, Smith said, which was designed and built by Shambaugh & Son, L.P., an EMCOR company. The facility processes 2.5 million pounds of milk every day, or 50 tanker loads, which is turned into powdered milk to be sold both internationally and domestically for use in products like cake mix and confectionary candy.

“There’s longevity there,” Smith said. “We’ve put things in place to really support the future growth of Valley Milk.”

It was both the plant’s innovative, automated operations and conservation strategies which attracted Food Engineering’s attention, Smith explained. Technological advancements allow the plant to run 24/7, 365 days a year with fewer employees, with robotics turning a plant that would typically require 100 workers into one which employs around half of that.

From a sustainability standpoint, Valley Milk is incredibly water and energy efficient. The plant retreats water extracted from milk to be used again, making the facility entirely self-sufficient when it comes to water. Valley Milk also not only meets but exceeds California’s strict water and energy regulations — rules the design team kept in mind when planning the facility for both legal and personal reasons. Water is important to both the State of California and Stanislaus County, Smith explained, making its conservation key.

A changing global attitude surrounding conservation also contributed to the facility’s plans, she added.

“We’re supplying global customers and it’s not just about food quality anymore,” Smith said. “It’s about all aspects of the operation, like what you’re doing with water, what you’re doing with energy or what’s your carbon footprint. It’s all of those things now.”

Valley Milk also wanted to ensure a lasting legacy for the company when designing the facility, and Smith believes the new title of Plant of the Year proves they achieved just that.

“This award recognizes us for doing it right the first time and building something that’s going to support itself moving forward,” she said. “You’re not just building for what the regulations are today; you’re building for the future.”