by Terrie Ellerbee/associate editor
What would dairy farmers like to say to grocery retailers?
Don’t overcharge for milk, but don’t devalue it by undercharging for it either, and please stop putting our product in the farthest back corner of the store.
But the more important request from dairy farmers is a simple one: Introduce us to your shoppers.
The Shelby Report visited two dairy farms in the north Georgia town of Clermont to see the operations and hear from the people whose cows produce milk sold in grocery stores.
Dairy farmers would like to see grocery retailers move more toward informing their shoppers about store offerings—whether products are local, who makes them and how they are produced.
What real dairy farmers look like
Dixie Truelove (pictured above) was born into the dairy business, and got her first calf when she was 6, maybe 7 years old. She remembers being a little older when her first one, named “Sweetie Pie,” died.
Few people consider the little girl Dixie Truelove was when they think of dairy farmers. In fact, few people think of a woman like her. It’s an image problem, and she’s tired of it.
“I want people to see what farmers really look like, because I think they have that idea in their head that they’re not intelligent, for one thing, that they’re all really old and in overalls,” she says. “As the years keep going by, it bugs me even more that there’s an idea of what a farmer should look like, and yet these people work hard, are intelligent, will try new things, new ways of doing things to try to stay in business.
“They really care about what they’re producing, which should be important for the consumer to know, because we are taking care of your food for you, so you don’t have to worry about it,” Truelove says.
Aimee Jones, industry relations communication account manager for the non-profit Southeast United Dairy Industry Association (SUDIA), shared that many dairy farmers have high-level college degrees.
She quotes another dairy farmer who says that in the course of their day, many have to be a horticulturist, veterinarian, nutritionist and scientist—and still milk the cows.
“I don’t think people always appreciate that,” Jones said.
The solution Truelove suggests is one that has been catching on in supermarkets, though not necessarily in the dairy department.
“I think the Krogers and all of the local stores here should really have the photos of your local dairy farmers in their stores promoting the fact that it is still a family business and the fact that we really do care about the product in the store, because we’re also a consumer and we’re shopping right there with them,” Truelove says. “I’ve always thought they should tap into the fact that they have farmers in their area. Sometimes some of the stores may have had a photo with the fruit and vegetables, but even that wasn’t a true local farmer. I just think they could always find local people and have their photo in the store.”
Jones says SUDIA is working on that, but with dairy farm families from Alabama to Virginia to serve, it is no small job.
“We’ve got some point-of-sale retail pieces that are going into Kroger and Publix in Georgia and North Carolina,” Jones says. “But for every retail market, to do that is difficult—but we’re trying.”
The association has taken the approach of going where consumers are: online.
SUDIA’s “Dedicated to Dairy” website features farm families as well as nutritional information, recipes and events—including June Dairy Month—and also highlights the organization’s work with schools and other organizations.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of June Dairy Month. It began as a way to stabilize demand during periods of peak production. Originally named “National Milk Month,” it actually was started by chain stores.
Truelove has another idea for grocery retailers, one that may be easier to implement. It’s something a local Kroger store already does.
“The consumer isn’t forced—if all they need is that gallon of milk, there it is right there on the shelves near the checkout,” she says. “You have your milk right there to grab and go, which I think is important from a consumer’s standpoint.”
They can come back and buy the rest of the groceries another time, she says, but when shoppers need just that one staple, it would be nice if it were available in a more convenient spot in the grocery store.
Truelove Dairy began in 1954, when Dixie Truelove’s father and an uncle started it. Their milk is currently picked up by the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association every other day. While the ultimate destination may vary, recently Truelove Dairy’s milk has been packaged in Publix, Kroger and Ingles private label jugs.
The Glover family keeps cows comfortable
It’s not clear yet whether 10-year-old Eliza Jane Glover will be the next generation to run the family dairy farm. Her father Scott represents the fourth generation in the business. He and his wife Jennifer own and operate Glo-Crest Dairy.
Marrying into the dairy business was an eye opener for Jennifer Glover, a teacher. The constancy of it caught her a bit off-guard.
“Anything can tear up, break or happen on the farm, and no matter where you bought a plane ticket to or what you planned to do, that doesn’t matter,” she says. “That was a big adjustment for me as far as being so dedicated to something. I guess that’s something that I’ve learned to live with because there are so many other positive aspects of farming—the rewards that we see and the passion that Scott has for it.”
Cows are milked at least twice a day, every day, usually at 4:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. The co-op the Glovers belong to, Southeast Milk, sends a truck to pick up the milk every third day or so (sometimes more often as needed). From there the milk goes to be processed and then on to retail stores.
The journey from cow to the refrigerated case may not be terribly complicated, but the pricing structure certainly is, and that’s something dairy farmers have no control over. What they do control isn’t valued enough, they say. Hard work, sacrifice and caring go into the production of what often is a loss leader in the grocery store.
At Glo-Crest Dairy, each of the 60 or so cows is a registered Holstein and has a name. Their comfort is paramount. During Georgia’s hot summers, the dairy uses fans and misters to help keep the cows cool. They have sand and sawdust bedding to lie on and can roam from the freestyle barn out into the pasture on nice days.
Great care is taken to ensure their feed is just the right mix. Each cow eats 100 pounds of feed and drinks 50 to 60 gallons of water a day. They can weigh up to 1,600 pounds.
“I think one of the things that is a misconception is that farmers just use their cows, but what they don’t realize is if that cow’s not healthy and well taken care of, she’s not going to be profitable. Therefore, the dairyman is not going to be profitable,” Scott Glover says.
The nutritive and economic value of milk cannot be overstated, and while it should be priced low enough so that it is affordable, the price also should reflect the work that goes into it, he says.
“I think grocers use milk as a way of getting people into their stores,” Scott Glover says. But then when grocers sell milk for prices that he likens to “giving it away…it really almost makes milk look like, ‘It’s not important to us,’” he says. “But for what it takes to produce milk and get it to the grocery store, milk ought to be priced a lot higher than what it’s selling for.”
The Glovers have become retailers themselves. They opened Mountain Fresh Creamery in 2011 about six miles from their dairy farm. There they bottle and sell their all natural, non-homogenized whole milk, lowfat milk and buttermilk, as well as heavy cream, butter, about a dozen or so flavors of ice cream and ground beef from cows raised on the farm. The milk from Glo-Crest Dairy that eventually will be in grocery stores is what’s left over after the retail products are made.
The Glovers also invite other local producers to sell their honey, sausage, jams and jellies in the creamery’s retail store.