Milk Run

“There is no better way to understand an animal than to milk a cow twice a day. Every day.” Anonymous

 cows-loungingRay Hall was a spare, reticent, tall man, slightly stooped with practical plastic framed sturdy eye glasses and a baseball cap. He was a dairy farmer on the North Road in Mount Vernon, Maine, who, when he chose to deploy it on necessary occasions, had a warm smile. His farm was clean, well-organized, closely scheduled and had many cows with breeds I can’t remember; I think Guernsey and Holstein. They decorated the fields and hills behind the barn in paintable pastoral beauty.

The Halls were generations deep in Mount Vernon; Ray’s son built a ranch house on the property with his wife, preparing to continue the traditions. Milk was collected each day in a separate small room off the big barn into a spotless chilled stainless steel tank that had an interior slowly rotating mixer to keep the cream from separating. Fresh cold milk has the improved character that new eggs with tiny feathers stuck to them have for those who have raised hens (as we have) or have had the good fortune to live near an egg farm. The taste, the color, the wholesomeness is qualitatively better than the stored, pasteurized, homogenized factory product.

Several of us might gather in Ray’s milk room and catch up on gossip while we waited our turn to refill our bottles. In a town like Mount Vernon, we enjoyed every opportunity to stay current with the goings on of our neighbors; most of the talk was benign. Folks wanted to be able to help if needed, or at least be aware of the sensibilities.

Ray sold his milk to Cumberland Farms, which would send the tank truck to haul off the day’s production for processing and bottling. For the locals, however, who brought their own clean bottles, there was a spigot on the tank and an honor system cash box nearby. Seventy-five cents a gallon, as I remember, but it was a long time ago. The milk had to be shaken before pouring to blend the cream back in unless we let it rise to the top and skimmed some for coffee or whipping or recipes. We’ve never had better milk before or since.

 “My father..liked to be a farmer. He enjoyed his dairy farm and felt the calling. So there was a dedication. I was dedicated as a child to the service of God, and so there was this continual centering of a greater purpose than your own.”  Phil Jackson

In the spring of 2010, armed federal marshals and state troopers raided the Amish dairy farm of Dan Allgyer called Rainbow Acres. Almost a year of expensive investigation preceded the raid. The customers were not deceived, understood the potential risks, trusted the farmer and made the informed decision that raw milk unprocessed by machinery was healthier and tasted better; some people cannot drink milk that has been heated, bagged and tagged in a factory. The Federal government thought differently, showed up with a warrant, then bagged and tagged Dan instead.

Two aspects of this struck me; they are closely related, perhaps ‘inextricably entwined:’

We have been distanced incrementally from the sources of our food and consequently from authenticity. We are increasingly an X Box, artificial intelligence (oxymoron?), virtual reality culture. Rita’s grandparents on both sides raised their own vegetables and fruit, made their own wine, raised, slaughtered and dressed chickens and an annual pig, making sausage, bacon, hams and the thin sliced cured ham miracle called prosciutto; neighbors would line up at their house for it. The skills commonly known to our grandparents to milk cows, grow gardens, hunt or raise our own animal protein or merely wander at leisure in fields and forests are being stripped away to be replaced with LED screens and speakers. Much time and energy is spent to entertain and distract ourselves from the human contact, work and real life dirt, calluses and sweat necessary to sustain us.

 bureaucracy-cartoonSecondly, we surrender ourselves and even welcome a self-perpetuating huge bureaucratic Federal apparatus which has been granted more and more free rein to rein us in. The monolith desires to protect us from any freedom that could possibly cause us harm as perceived by a progressive nanny state. We far too frequently don’t get to decide what level of risk we are willing to pursue to live more closely in touch with real things, events and places. In this usurpation of liberty, we drift ever closer to the Borg and distance ourselves ever further from the vision of the Founding Fathers for an independent, virtuous and knowledgeable electorate.

Journey down to Washington, DC and walk past the astonishingly large gray office buildings housing the minions and machinery of the bureaucracy. It just might give you pause.

“The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint… But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in cleaned, carpeted, warmed and well lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy…” C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters.”


Filed under Maine Tales

3 responses to “Milk Run

  1. Rita

    I remember the first time I was in DC and walked past one of the huge, cold buildings that housed one of our federal bureaucracies. My mouth dropped as I raised my eyes and tried to comprehend how many bureaucrats arrived at work there each day and this was just one of many such buildings. Pictures do not do it justice. You have to stand beside one and you will finally get a glimpse of the massive and therefore, by it’s very nature, oppressive size of our federal government.


  2. Michael E. Amaral

    I remember a daily 1/2 gallon or so of milk delivered straight from the cow to a milk can on a horse-drawn cart arriving early every morning when I was living in Santa Barbara, Sao Miguel Is. Azores.

    I can clearly recall the mechanical doorbell ringing, I’d open the double doors and see a farmer standing there with a galvanized steel pitcher. The idea was, he’d pour his pitcher full (which he just scooped from a milk can) into the household milk can. Sterile Technique? Zero. Keep in mind the household didn’t have a refrigerator either.

    The cows in Sao Miguel are the happiest cows in the world (what a view…!)…I coined the phrase “Ilha das Vacas Felizes” (Island of the Happy Cows), but since they spend the night outside, they get to sleep in their own waste. Then they stand up and the milkman milks their “spotless” udders.

    Watch “All Creatures Great and Small” reruns on Netflix to get a handle on how cows were handled in the old days (albeit in England…but it still was rural). Or better yet: Google image search “dirty hands milking cows”.

    Government mandated pasteurization has saved millions of people, Jack…millions.

    Before that, people were dying of TB, etc.

    It was a chronic problem, especially with infants.

    Milk born illnesses have shrunk to minute levels today.

    “Making America Great Again” does not mean putting our population at risk as they once were.

    The attempt at “deconstructing” our protective government agencies could easily backfire. Take away the regulatory environment and greed will raise its ugly head, and yeah, some small kids could die.


    • Mike,
      Beautiful description of Santa Barbara life with the cows.

      But I’m afraid we are talking past each other. I don’t think you mean to infer that I’m in favor of killing off infants with typhus or tuberculosis, nor do I think that you favor a monolithic police state that enforces draconian, unfair laws and regulations.

      Again, though, “Make America Great” is a trigger phrase meant to denigrate the new administration, and it’s not all, always and everywhere about Trump. My points are larger than that. I do believe that starting somewhere back in the earlier progressive incarnations of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, we are witness to the bureaucracy metastasizing into something unwieldy and with a life of its own, headed towards uncontrolled independent action. It can be kicked into action by executive orders and legislation, but its languid, though inexorable movements and its tendency towards self feeding and self protection are well established. Presidents and Congresses come and go, but the bureaucracy lives on its own.
      The roots of the argument of Federalism vs. small government in our country go back to Hamilton, Adams, Madison and Jefferson. My firm belief is in the principle of subsidiarity: matters of state and decision making are best left to the most local, least centralized authority that is competent to handle them. We are unlikely to settle that fundamental divide in some blog comments.

      For the record, I do not demean what Louis Pasteur identified and remedied (although I think the world would benefit from avoiding homogenization). That such regulation for large factory operations that supply huge supermarkets whose patrons must trust that the food is clean is necessary and desirable. What I bemoan is that a local farmer who runs clean (Ray Hall milked with machines through tubes to his vat that were cleaned daily) cannot earn the trust of his neighbors to run a clean operation and sell milk that is time tested by many buyers. I suspect that the milk buyers in Santa Barbara trusted their milk seller, and if it turned out someone got sick, his business would have dried up (pun intended) pretty quickly.

      I appreciate very much your contributing your time and thoughts so articulately to join in the discussion. Perhaps in that discussion, always in good faith, we can learn a little bit about what is worth learning a little bit about. And about each other. And I really did love the insights into life in the Azores.


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