Milksheds 101 – A Primer about a “Cow”mplicated Topic



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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. Farmers (farm families, farm managers, and farm workers)
  4. Agribusiness, livestock supply, farm supply companies, and veterinarians: those who provide products and services that farms need to stay in business
  5. Milk Handlers (milk brokers, co-ops, or farm owners /individuals) – those responsible for selling milk from farms to milk plants
  6. 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
  7. Milk processing plants – safety labs, quality control labs,  equipment, assembly lines, and some very expensive and very sanitary equipment.
  8. 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.
  9. Retailers – Groceries, restaurants, fast-food chains, convenience stores, caterers, ice cream parlors, cheese-mongerers, etc.
  10. 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.
  11. LAWS and legal events:  Along with regulations, many local, state,  federal, and again, international laws touch that tall, cold, glass of milk.
  12. 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!


Farmland: Part 2(a) – NYC Food Faces its Farmers!


The New York ‘on-the-ground” Food Journey Begins

The roadway to Farmland (the movie) is paved with Farmland to Food connections. And even though I’ve spent a lifetime connecting the trails from producers to brands to end users, and back again, I would never in a million years have anticipated what happened next. (Note: you may need to refer to the previous post to completely follow this post).

Caught up in all the emotions brought on by the first sight of the Freedom Tower, the grumbles of my hungry stomach reminded me that I was on a mission to find lunch. At this point, just anyplace that was clean would do. After passing a couple of places that were little more than dives, I saw some happy-looking diners, and looking up, I saw this sign:


Looked like a winner! And in yet another moment of random surprise or ‘it was meant to be,’ this happy food cart signage made me certain I would eat at this place:


Never before, in any region of the country had I ever seen a restaurant that so boldly acknowledged that FARMS and FARMERS were something to be grateful for! I was hooked from that moment on! Of all the places in the world, NEW YORK is perhaps one of the last that I would have expected to see something like this! This restaurant sources food from both organic and conventional growers (emphasis on organic), but makes a real effort to source as many ingredients as possible back to it origin – the FARM from which it came! How serious – well – see for yourself . . .


American Flatbread is a chain of approximately 12 Vermont-based restaurants in the Northeast, founded purposely to source food from as many regional growers as possible in their immediate foodshed. Not only do they say they do, they go to the trouble of identifying their growers with nametags and where they can be found. I LOVE this effort, and this belief in bolstering their local food economies! If you walked into a restaurant in your area of the country, and asked them where the farms were that produced the food they sold, how many restaurant managers or servers could answer the question? (Why not try that the next restaurant you go into?!?!)

A closer look at the Foodshed map revealed there was an additional reason to love American Flatbread – I was startled to realize I have actually met one of their cheesemongers!


Cooperstown Creamery is owned by Gina Tomaselli, a cheesemaker I had met a year earlier in Raleigh at an American Cheese Society conference. She had entered an award-winning tomme, an Alpine cheese, in the ACS competition. (I have no idea which of her cheeses that American Flatbread has chosen to serve). She told me she sourced her milk from a herd of nearby Brown Swiss cows – the protein in their milk helps create her unique cheese flavors. Gina’s cheeses have even been served at the last White House Inaugural Luncheon that began President Obama’s second term.

A bit more about American Flatbread’s philosophy on foods and farming was found on another wall:


The pizza was one of the best I’ve ever had, perhaps because it had the added ingredient of ‘sourcing from your farm neighbor!’ But as I left, I had to laugh, because I realized the pineapple on this pizza probably was not grown in a tropical forest in Brooklyn!

During the evening, the Angel of Music drew me to Broadway. The Phantom of the Opera has often been a companion on driving trips to cattle shows and sales, but to experience the elegant production up close and personal, Music of the Night, indeed!

Just down the street from the Majestic, the Phantom’s home stage, a police horse and mounted NYPD officer calmly monitored the crowd in front of a world-famous restaurant.


Yet again, another connection to Farmland, and the foundation for this journey. The Bright Lights of Broadway would be very dim, and a lot less safe, without hay and oats for horses. Where would Sardi’s and other gourmet restaurants be without the beef, chicken, and grains, fruits and vegetables plated which are the origin of their deliciousness?

And the last Farm-Foodland connection for the evening, but certainly not the least – one of my all-time favorite food pleasures:


Through the years, I’ve enjoyed many encounters with farm friends in Vermont, mainly through dairy cattle and dairy industry efforts. Those beloved Woody Jackson images are a vivid reminder that FARMS and FARM ANIMALS are the launching pad that enabled Ben and Jerry’s gourmet ice cream to ride the carpets of pop-culture puns to an affiliation with a global food company. Unilever, now the parent company of Ben and Jerry’s, operates one of the world’s biggest ice cream plants in my home state of Tennessee.

Whew, what a day! Much as the Phantom is the muse in the background that inspired Christine’s beautiful melodies, so is FARMLAND the muse for the GREAT AMERICAN LIFESTYLE.

More to come.

Farmland is Foodland.