By Sherry Bunting, June 5 Hudson Valley Register-Star
If milk is a never-ending tide, then the folks of New York City are the shore it rarely touches.
Not only has distribution into the city been a long term issue, which has improved, today’s urban consumers simply don’t know what they are missing. The dairy industry has, for too long, assumed people know what is in — and out — of real dairy milk!
Last week, local dairywomen Beth Chittenden and Sandy Ferry took more than a dozen “Dairy Vision” youth to NYC to “focus on food and learn about our consumer,” according to Chittenden. An outgrowth of the local 4-H program, youth do not need to be 4-H members to participate in this stepping-stone to the Junior Dairy Leaders program. They meet once a month to focus on different career paths.
“We are closest to the city and yet the lack of dairy in the stores was totaling amazing to these kids,” Chittenden reports. “No milk was found in most of the bodegas, just a couple containers of yogurt and not much cheese, generally, either. People in the city are not used to having milk, which goes back to the distribution issues that linger yet today.”
It’s not like you can walk into a Stewarts and buy milk, chocolate milk, strawberry milk and shakes or into a Mobil gas station to take home a gallon. NYC is different. The only place gallons can be found are in Whole Foods and a few other grocery stores, but not to the quantity and variety found locally and not at convenient corner shops.
The shelf space there is four feet by three feet and that’s it, Chittenden explains. Each kind of milk gets one space. The rest is all almond, silk and soy, and the huge word in the city is “organic.”
“A whole market is being missed here by not getting milk into the city. That is 55 percent of our state’s population,” Chittenden observes. The milk from her family’s Dutch Hollow Farm goes to make Cabot cheese as well as to New York City’s famous Beecher’s Handmade cheese on Broadway. It also goes to Hudson Valley Fresh, which delivers fresh milk to many of the city’s coffee houses.
Chittenden makes regular trips to NYC to talk with vendors and consumers. “We need to change the attitudes in NYC because people don’t know the nine essential nutrients real dairy milk contains. They don’t know that all dairy milk is higher in protein than the competing ‘non-milks.’ So Hudson Valley Fresh has started labeling the grams of protein on the front of the bottles and is using the 9-essential-nutrients post card in the stores,” she explains.
The Dairy Vision students were also surprised to learn that consumers believe conventional dairy milk to be “full of chemicals.” As we kick off June Dairy Month, one of the biggest messages Chittenden and others carry forward is how all dairy milk — organic and conventional — is tested at the farm, on the truck, at the plant, in the bottle to be free of antibiotics or any other chemicals for that matter.
She notes that many consumers believe almond milk to be a healthier choice, but don’t realize dairy milk has more protein, more nutrients, less fat and no added sugar. And, it supports jobs and economic development right here in New York State. Not so with almond and other non-dairy juices referred to as ‘milk.’
“We told the kids ‘this is your future, and it is one that we need to change,’” said Chittenden. “We can’t assume consumers know. The whole concept of milk is different in NYC than it is in the rest of NYS.”
Another aspect of milk’s future is to find a pathway to the poor. While agriculture trade groups have worked to get fruits and vegetables in the Food Banks, dairy milk is the most requested product that is not available at Food Banks. The Great American Milk Drive is an effort to change that, but more needs to be done to get the world’s most healthful and nutrient-packed beverage into the hands of families who depend on Food Banks.
Chittenden says the Dutch Hollow Day at the Dairy on August 1 will feature a Great American Milk Drive display with opportunities to help.
Juxtaposed with the lack of milk availability in the city is the current flood of milk in New York State. Some of the state’s dairy farms have been asked by their handlers to randomly dump milk over the past year due to an excess supply made worse by distribution issues in getting it to populations like NYC. Farms have been cut off with no market in Central New York as well as to the south in Pennsylvania. In some cases, dairy farming on land stewarded by families for generations is in jeopardy. Some have sold their cows, others take it day-to-day wondering if they will have a market for the milk.
Dairies are not widget factories. Cows are like family. They must be fed and cared for whether their milk has a home or not. They can’t be turned off and on like a spigot.
Included in the Dairy Vision students’ NYC trip was a visit to Beechers Handmade cheese, where they observed cheesemaking behind the glass. This has been a great story of connection between the Hudson Valley and NYC. Milk comes in daily by the tanker load right to 28th and Broadway.
If Beechers can do it, why can’t it be done elsewhere in the city? Why is milk not in the stores? Changing this dynamic begins with telling real dairy milk’s story every place possible. Not only does the health and nutrition of future generations of consumers benefit, but the generations of future farmers and the New York State economy depend on this as well.
New York State is the third largest state for milk production in the country. This June Dairy Month, take time to learn and tell the story of milk. You would be surprised how many people have forgotten that the simplest, least fooled-around-with beverage on the planet also delivers nutrition and flavor that can’t be beat and is an integral ingredient in many of the foods, jobs, and economics that sustain us here.
A former newspaper editor, Sherry Bunting has been writing about dairy, livestock and crop production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows. She can be reached at email@example.com.
PHOTO CAPTION: June is Dairy Month and local dairywoman Beth Chittenden led a Dairy Vision students’ trip to New York City last week, where students learned how half of the state’s population has a different concept and availability of real dairy milk compared with the other half in New York State where jobs, farms, rural economies and land sustainability rely on dairy. Sherry Bunting photo.