A MILKSHED – just exactly what is it?
For the purposes of this blog, a ‘milkshed’ is all of the factors and people related to bringing milk to a consumer. Those factors include:
- Cows, mainly, but sometimes other mammals such as goats, sheep, water buffalo, or camels. In my view, nut-based and plant-based beverages are not part of a true milkshed; they belong in a faux-milkshed. However, I will freely acknowledge that sometimes allergies to mammalian milks necessitate the existence of the milk-alternative beverages.
- Farms and crops and feed for cows (Some farms have cows, some farms grow feed for others who have the cows. Sometimes a farm does all of that, but often not in today’s world.)
- Farmers (farm families, farm managers, and farm workers)
- Agribusiness, livestock supply, farm supply companies, and veterinarians: those who provide products and services that farms need to stay in business
- Milk Handlers (milk brokers, co-ops, or farm owners /individuals) – those responsible for selling milk from farms to milk plants
- Transport systems – responsible for delivery of milk from farm to plant – includes trucking companies, and those who drive the trucks, those who service those trucks
- Milk processing plants – safety labs, quality control labs, equipment, assembly lines, and some very expensive and very sanitary equipment.
- Distribution networks – from the milk plant to retail outlets such as stores, restaurants, or ice cream trucks! Sometimes, depending on shelf-life of the product, warehouses and then to retailers or restaurants.
- Retailers – Groceries, restaurants, fast-food chains, convenience stores, caterers, ice cream parlors, cheese-mongerers, etc.
- REGULATIONS! And again REGULATIONS! Did you know the dairy industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world? At every step of the way, from farmer to retailer, there are volumes and volumes of local, state, federal, and in some cases, international regulations.
- LAWS and legal events: Along with regulations, many local, state, federal, and again, international laws touch that tall, cold, glass of milk.
- The consumer- the person who drinks a glass of milk or kefir, enjoys yogurt for breakfast, or eats a big bowl of ice cream as part of a celebration. THANK YOU, to each and every consumer and afficionado of milk everywhere!
At every level of that milkshed – there are people, and jobs. And those who supply equipment and services for every level of the dozen steps of a milkshed above. (Really, there may be way more than a dozen – this is just how it worked out at this writing.) Some of those people know only one level or niche of a milkshed, while others know and have experienced several aspects of a milkshed. Those who have ‘been there and done it’ are the ones I trust the most with accurate information about a complicated industry.
There are those who milk the cows, the farm families who live and manage the farm business (and it is a business), the milk fieldmen and fieldwomen who connect the milk plant or milk company and their quality standards with the farm, writers and media folks who communicate to the public and within the different levels of the milkshed about industry events, farm kids, youth, college students and professors, and business executives – and more! Well, you get the picture – at least the start.
100 years ago, a milkshed was often as close as the backyard shed when the family cow was kept in a lot not far from the back door. Almost every residence had one cow. If they didn’t have a cow, there was a nearby creamery, but the consumer pretty much knew where the cows and farms were that supplied that creamery. Today, we live in a national or global milkshed that runs from coast-to-coast, and then around the world.
I am based in East Tennessee, but travel across the Southeast, so that is the local/regional milkshed with which I’m most familiar. However, my working knowledge and travel expands to a much wider base, from coast-to-coast, and border-to-border, and even ‘across the pond’ just a bit.
Those are the basics, but the reality is a Milkshed is much more complicated and intertwined than the very simplified explanation you see on this page. Feel free to ask questions about anything milk! Many of the answers I will know, some I will have to bring others in on, and some questions – well, answers may still be needed, just as answers are still needed for a lot of life issues.
I hope you enjoy the journey with me!