It was after 6 p.m. and approaching 0 degrees Fahrenheit on a March evening when Doug Turner started the second milking of the day of his 42 cows at the family farm in Waitsfield, Vt. In a work-worn orange hoodie and flannel-lined jeans, the third-generation farmer started from the southeast corner of the barn, attaching one of his three milking machines to the swollen udder of a black and white cow.
“This one’s my oldest,” Turner told me, patting Bianca, a Holstein approaching her 13th birthday.
The milk flowed out of the barn, through a steel hose, to the tank in Turner’s cramped, old-fashioned milk house. Every other day, a milk truck from Organic Valley picks up this dairy and brings it to a processing facility -- the closest ones are in Connecticut or New York -- where it is pasteurized, homogenized, packaged, and dispatched to the grocery shelf.
All told, the average American gallon of milk travels 320 miles from udder to grocery store shelf, a journey that often crosses state borders. That seems like a long way to go, given that milk is produced in all 50 states.
But farmers don’t have much control over where their milk goes, or how much they get for it. If Turner can’t get by on what Organic Valley will pay him, he’s short on options. Striking out on his own, and setting his own price, would mean massive costs of starting his own processing plant. Now, new developments in micro-pasteurization from a Vermont company could change that.
Many of the farms that were here when I grew up in central Vermont have closed now, and much of the milk produced by the remaining few goes straight out of state. I set out to look at this technology to see if it could be the key to cutting down on dairy miles and saving small farms.