Thursday, June 14, 2012

The case for milkmen

  1. The economy is still sluggish, and people need jobs.
  2. People aren't eating so healthy these days, and fresh local milk is a good for you.
  3. Raw milk products are experiencing a surge in popularity.
  4. Locally grown and produced goods are huge.
  5. Everything vintage is hip again. Hipsters would love a bottle of milk delivered to their door by a guy on a bicycle. So would most everyone else.
  6. Glass bottles aren't just recyclable, they're reusable, which is even more environmentally friendly.
  7. People have less time, and are willing to pay for the convenience of delivery.
  8. Small dairy farms are going under.
  9. Small dairy farms are key to working landscapes and vibrant communities.
  10. Having fresh local milk show up on your doorstep is awesome!

When I was 24, I lived in an old schoolhouse on a mountaintop in Vermont. It was the most idyllic place I've ever lived – and I've lived in a lot of places. The 350-acre patchwork of fields and forest was scattered with cabins and outbuildings, and each was rented out by some unique, hardy soul. Ann baked bread and kept chickens. Oliver worked at a cheese farm. Brigham kept bees, Brooke blew glass, Grace had a huge garden, Andy fixed things, Laura made pottery and John hayed and split wood. And then there was Lucy – Lucy worked at an organic dairy farm, waking up at 5 a.m. each morning to milk cows in all kinds of weather. She came home smelling like cows, her Carhartts filthy, fingertips raw, cheeks ruddy. She was a Smith College graduate who was well-read and super smart, but while her job was grueling, something about it satisfied her soul.

Living at the old schoolhouse I benefited from the labors of all my neighbors. Honey, eggs and bread made their way to my door regularly. But the thing I enjoyed most was the fresh raw milk that Lucy brought home in glass jugs.

Later, after several years away, I moved back to Vermont and lived in a huge house in a rough-ish neighborhood in an old industrial town. It was not the bucolic, pastoral Vermont I remembered, but I grew to love it there too. One of my housemates, Karen, worked part time at a dairy farm and, once again, I found myself privy to the wonderful secret of milk delivered right to your kitchen. Every Monday, Karen would bring home a gallon jar of raw milk and leave it in the refrigerator for everyone to share. And again, I had fresh bread delivered to my kitchen as well. On Sundays, our neighbor Birdie would bake loaves of sweet white bread and leave a steaming loaf on our countertop. Slathered with honey with a glass of cold milk to wash it down, it was heaven on earth.

I started thinking about milkmen. Anyone who grew up in the era of milkmen will tell you, with more than a trace of nostalgia, how wonderful it was to wake up in the morning and have jars of milk with the cream still floating on top waiting on their doorstep. In some parts of the U.K., this is still common. In America, it's a thing of the past.

Many of the Norman Rockwell-esque features of bygone America wouldn't work well in today's fast paced culture. But milkmen, I think, can and should make a comeback. Can't you see it? Farms flourishing outside New York City, truckloads of fresh milk trucked into central locations each day, and delivery boys and men (and girls and women) loading the glass bottles into milkcrates mounted on their bicycles and maneuvering through early morning traffic (or up country roads) to bring it to restaurants, homes and businesses. We get our newspapers delivered, and our mail... why not our milk? It would stimulate the local economy, help struggling dairy farmers and develop a strong farm-to-table link while enhancing the convenience and freshness that consumers value.

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