Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 11, 2012

Small dairy farms wage cost vs. value battle

Let’s talk milk. Before we pull up our milking stools and get down to business, I need to admit some biases.

First, I like milk. I like the taste of it and I like to cook with it. There are some recipes that allow for substitutes, but my default position is, use the real thing.

Next, though I’m not a chemist or nutritionist, I have a belief, based on a lifetime of experience and probably some out-of-date science news, that milk is good for us. It builds strong bones and a glass of cold milk at bedtime will help you sleep.

Finally, milk played an important role in my personal history. When I was a boy, my father supported our family by delivering milk for a couple of local, family-owned dairies — neither of which survived the growth of large corporate dairy operations.

One of my first paid jobs was as an assistant on a home milk delivery route. My grandfather, who scratched a precarious living out of a dusty, western Oklahoma cotton farm, taught me to milk a cow when I was 5 years old.

I was (and still am) amazed that we could pull such a rich delicious food product from such a large animal that seemed so patient and willing to share with us.

So, I admit whenever milk appears in the news, my eye automatically drifts that way and I always attach more importance to the story than it may warrant.

Milk is in the news recently because family dairy farms in New England (and probably around the country) are on the verge of extinction. Their survival will depend on the willingness of consumers to pay more for dairy products in order to preserve these family farms. If consumers won’t (or can’t) come to the rescue, these family businesses will go the way of the blacksmiths.

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