This morning I screwed the cap off a fresh quart of Hiland Dairy’s skim milk and was temporarily transported back in time and space to a small farm in rural South Carolina where I spent a considerable amount of time as a kid not yet 10 years old. I lived with my grand-parents, E.C. Cooke and his wife Ethel in a small three bedroom, cinder block house surrounded by tobacco, cotton and a productive summer garden. Those were wonderful days, filled with the normal responsibilities of a kid in an environment where everyone contributed to the maintenance and lifestyle associated with rural America in the late 50’s. My responsibilities included feeding the free range chickens, cutting fresh produce in the garden for meals that same day and staking an old milk cow out in a “pasture” that was mostly comprised of weeds and enough grass to keep the old cow going. If she had a name, I have long since forgotten it, but will never forget her gentle disposition and the necessity to keep one’s bare feet out from under her hooves as you moved her about looking for something fresh to eat. We had no fences and the old girl was tied to a stake that you had to drive into the sandy soil we lived on. Nights and bad weather saw her to a stall in the barn.
Her milk was wonderful but likely not palatable to those used to the pasteurized and homogenized milk that we take for granted today. Grandmother kept a pitcher of milk in the ice box and once every two or so weeks would carefully churn the cream, skimmed from the milk into a smooth, rich butter. I suspect a number of my readers have never tasted “raw” milk, a delicacy I cannot recommend from memory. I do remember Ethel milking the cow with a practiced dexterity, after carefully and gently wiping down her udder to remove the dust ever present on the farm. Ethel delighted in her ability to offer a squirt of milk to the farm cats that gathered around to watch the milking, eliciting giggles from the cousins as we watched. In those days, milk was considered a super food, dense in nutrients and a universal beverage in virtually every home in America. Later in life, I drank copious amounts of milk while serving in the US Army, where milk and coffee constituted the bulk of our liquid intake outside of water. In my teen years, milk was slowly replaced by carbonated beverages, dense in nothing more than sugar and various preservatives, relegating milk to the tastes of a few traditionalists that still enjoyed it’s flavor and texture. Occasionally, I would eat breakfast or lunch at school cafeterias where Sharon held forth as a principal, and delighted in noting the presence of cartons of fresh milk served to these kids, some of whom were consuming the only nutritious meal they would see that day. Today, the winner of the Indy 500 will drink a cold bottle of milk in celebration, a tradition that was started by Hall of Fame driver, Louis Meyer in 1935. Louis didn’t care for champagne, preferring the milk over other possible drinks after the grueling race. Thanks, Louis, for reminding us of this timeless delicacy.
Milk production is not for the faint hearted or lazy genre. It requires a 24 hour a day commitment, a love for living creatures and the ability to work endlessly in a day where your efforts are likely to be rewarded by the selling of your herd and exit from the farm. In America, 3,000 dairy farms folded in 2018, amounting to 6.5% of our milk producing capacity. Wisconsin alone lost 700 farms, amounting to two a day, a number that has grown to 3 farms a day going out of production thus far in 2019. Cows require milking twice a day, 365 days a year, leaving no time for a weekend getaway, much less an extended vacation. Our banks will not make loans in this environment, sealing the fates of producers who are struggling to maintain their existences. You must have an appreciation for the gentle, demanding nature of dairy cattle, and the heartbreak associated with the necessity to kill bull calves at birth as they have little value as beef in today’s demanding society. Today’s production practices and equipment is expensive as is the housing and maintenance of your herd. Today’s markets are simply not supporting this effort.
What is happening? Milk is being replaced with any number of alternatives believed by many to offer superior nutrition. Almond, coconut and soy milk products come to mind. There are any number of nutritionists who condemn milk and any dairy products. Trade wars and an incredibly tough pricing system have contributed to the demise of milk’s popularity. Milk is inconvenient in today’s market driven by products that don’t spoil when kept for inordinate lengths of time. In a society where common water is sold at prices inconceivable to us just a few years ago, milk is a forgotten alternative. A quick perusal of the beverage choices in your market will reveal valuable marketing and display space devoted to alternative beverage choices at a ratio that clearly does not favor milk that must be refrigerated and discarded when it reaches the end of it’s relatively quick shelf life. We are watching an industry in decline.
From the simple one cow operation on my grandparents farm, I grew up with milk as a staple commodity in the military, where it was not only served fresh daily in our mess halls, but could be bought on base at the “Dairy Bar” a retail outlet set aside for milk and milk products. Thankfully, milk is still served in our schools where our children, for awhile, will be able to enjoy this delicious alternative to the preservative and chemical laden drinks that are passed off today as being “nutritious”. I am thankful that I can still dial up a milk-fat percentage and select a carton of milk at our grocery to suit my tastes.
Join me today as we watch the spectacle unfold in Indianapolis and ending when the winner spins his way into the winners circle. Grab a glass of cold milk and celebrate with him. Mr. Meyer had it right……
Got milk? No home should be without it.