Why I Buy Local Milk
I buy local milk because it tastes great, and I know the animals are raised well. I’ve seen the test results and the farm itself, and am confident that the local milk I buy is good for me and the environment.
For most of us, the idea of a dairy farm involves a lot of grass, sun, and happy cows. The reality is something different for most dairies. Reports of a recent dairy fire really brought it home to me this month.
South Fork Dairy, in Dimmit, Texas, burned on April 12. Eighteen THOUSAND cows died. This stuck with me for days. So I did some research.
Here is a satellite image of South Fork Dairy in April 2022. South Fork Dairy was a fairly new facility, with a barn over 2 million square feet in size. That means their barn was over 45 acres in size.
This barn had about 19000 cows in it. I believe this image speaks for itself. I don’t see pasture, I see manure lagoons. I see corn and soybean fields that can’t survive without irrigation.
Dairy herds keep growing in size, because it is cheaper to feed the cows and run the “operation”. Cows are treated as commodities, not animals.
I started buying local milk because it tasted good and I wanted the best milk I could find. I drive 20-30 minutes each week to get it, but it lasts for weeks in the fridge.
The more I learn about how the majority of milk in this country is raised, the happier I am that I have a local milk source to enjoy.
Local Milk in Maryland
I buy my milk from Nice Farms Creamery. Bob sells his milk to me at the Sunday Annapolis farmers market, year round. Each week, Bob likes to tell me about the cow that shares my name. Theresa the cow is nine years old, and recently had a baby heifer calf.
I’ve been to Nice Farms Creamery. I have seen how their Jersey cows were treated, the fields that they graze, and how they were milked. I know there are about 50 cows on their land.
The milk has to be pasteurized, is in plastic because it is really expensive to add a glass facility to a small farm, and is unhomogenized. It is not certified organic, but test results on their webpage show you how nutritious their local dairy is.
Jersey cows give less milk, about 6 gallons a day, than their larger Holstein cousins. Holsteins are the dairy cow of choice for most dairy farms, as they give 9 gallons of milk a day. Jersey cows give higher fat content, which makes their milk taste better.
Here is an image of Nice Farms Creamery at about the same scale as the South Fork Dairy image. South Fork Dairy is maybe twice the size, but has 19000 cows to Bob’s 50.
Nice Farms Creamery has 201 acres, with 120 acres of permanent pasture. Compare that to the 45 acre warehouse for 19000 cows at South Forks Dairy.
I know this farm runs their cows on grass and forage. Bob worries when they have no rain. He lets me know that as spring goes on, the milk will change color thanks to fresh forage. Cows get a ration of grain when being milked, and I have seen how content they were during milking.
Not only does the local dairy give me long lasting milk, but the butter is the best I’ve ever had.
I’ve encouraged Bob to raise his prices. He charges $7 for a gallon of his local milk. Grassmilk at Safeway charges $13 ($6.50 per half gallon). I’ll drink Grassmilk when I am out of my local dairy, but I’m paying more for something that doesn’t taste as good.
Bob wants to keep his prices because he wants to make sure his milk is affordable for everyone. I love that sentiment, but I also want to make sure Nice Farms Creamery stays open!
Organic dairy makes up about 3% of all milk in America. There are doubts that some organic milk farms aren’t really following the rules. However, organic dairy should be on pasture at least 120 days a year.
Nice Farms Creamery is not certified organic. And they aren’t the only small dairy out there that has chosen to not get certified. Certification can be expensive, time consuming, and some farmers just aren’t interested.
The market for better milk is growing. More people are looking for organic dairy, or at least higher quality milk. Buying local milk from a trusted farmer can be one way to find that milk.
The average dairy farm in America has 1000 to 5000 cows. Few are as large as the South Forks Dairy. Some are quite small. Most are not raising their cows on grass. The cows are not living their best life, and they are not giving you their best milk.
One of the reasons I buy local food is the size of the farms. There are a lot of corporations out there that are looking for my money. The larger the operation, often the more care there is in maximizing profit over animal welfare and soil health.
A small farm is usually growing more diverse food rather than a single crop or two. They have the time and energy to make sure what they produce is the best. I like to think about it as a artist versus a factory.
I like knowing my farmers. I like buying direct from a farm and looking the farmer in the eye rather than buying from a store that buys their product from lots of farmers.
A local honey guy could sell me fraudulent honey and make some extra cash. But usually the people selling fraudulent food are doing it at a large scale because it is easier to hide supply chains and there is a lot of money involved.
I make the trip down to Annapolis nearly every Sunday for the milk alone. I always buy something else from the other vendors there.
I feel good because the local milk tastes so good and I know it is better than anything I find in the store. Seeing the headlines of 18000 cows dying in one fire is disheartening, but I know people want better for their food. Buy local where you can. It matters.