Support for JD Country Milk May Indicate Willingness to Change Both Policies and Consumer Habits

Jersey calf, Kentucky

Jersey calf, Kentucky

Merging the notions behind two prominent slogans, I Got Hope that Kentuckians may rebuild a healthy, sustainable dairy economy. This could be good for our human and community health, if done correctly. Tom Eblen'sLexington Herald-Leaderstory today about JD Country Milk, the Schrock family's dairy farm operation in Logan County, Kentucky, feeds that hope.

Tom deftly describes two sides of the family's current situation: satisfaction that their milk is in such demand, and utter exhaustion, even burnout, from the work involved. The parents and parents children work impossible hours, nearly round the clock, milking and handling the milk from their 38 milk cows. They recognize that more people have come to value JD Country milk because it comes from nearby, is pasture-based and free of unknown chemicals and drugs, and is processed as little as current laws will allow.

The entire world of milk production and marketing is too complex for Savoring Kentucky to address adequately. It is fair to say, though, that we consumers have helped create the situations we now find unacceptable with massive scale agriculture, and a lot of consumers are willing to try something different, smaller, more personal, and more local. If more consumers take interest in locally produced milk, and if consumers are willing to pay more for the kind of work required to produce milk of the JD Country ilk, would that be enough to ease the strain on the Schrock family at JD Country Milk? More generally, would it be enough to make small dairy farms work (again) to support families at decent levels, enough to attract more families back into dairying in a sustainable way? I do not know, but I Got Hope.

Small scale dairy farms in Kentucky have nearly disappeared, as the dairy industry has consolidated, and as most of us have come to take for granted that our milk has to come from who-knows-where, from cows fed who-knows-what and treated who-knows-how, with all potential problems washed away (in theory) in a torrent of processes that cool/heat/cool, manipulate and transform the milk's very molecular structure in order to render it "safe" for all of us to drink. Still -- and this is important -- a lot of people in Kentucky love "fooling with cattle," have a gift for working with animals, and have the land to support good pasture. They need some different laws and some different consumer habits to make the risk of a dairy start-up worthwhile. Will that support come to pass?

Passionate arguments are common about every aspect of milk production and marketing. I have my own views, which may or may not be correct, but I find the demands of milk processing and transport to be scarier than any risks that might come from buying fresh, unpasteurized milk from a farmer I know, in a licensed or certified, inspected, clean, small, pasture-based dairy farm. As far as I know, Kentucky has no way to offer that situation currently, but we could create one. Some states have moved in that direction.

I'm hoping our legislators and health advocates can take heart and inspiration from the success of the JD Country Milk dairy operation. JD Country milk does undergo some processing, but much less than commercial milk.

Perhaps greater awareness of the recent factory farm egg-salmonella link will create more openness among us consumers to consider the ways massive scale agriculture and processing fail to produce acceptable food safety. Perhaps support can build now for a rather different premise about safety: The state could certainly create an inspection and licensing program for small dairy farms, and the costs could be covered by the increased income from a reinvigorated dairy economy -- IF our policy-makers were willing to buck the present dairy industry's wishes.

Going beyond inspection and certification that the state might do, we consumers can make changes in our own expectations and habits. Knowing a farmer and a farming operation personally, visiting the farm, trusting (and verifying) the farmer's careful management of all manner of food, including milk, amounts to a powerful type of food safety based on mutual care, something that cannot be "inspected in." I Got Hope that we are moving in that direction in significant enough numbers to support big changes in our state's farm and food economy.

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The world is coming to visit central Kentucky this year for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. To help our visitors know more about Kentucky's food and food ways, Savoring Kentucky is rolling out 116 Savory Kentucky Bites, one for each of the 100 days before WEG begins, and 16 for the days during WEG, September 25 - October 10. Today's Savory Bite is number 76.