By Tim Shuff
Food in the Hills – May 18, 2012

John and Marie Miller Their on-farm dairy promises not only a fresher product but one with more diversity and character. Photo by MK Lynde

Make history this summer. Walk into a food market in Creemore and pick up some fresh Jersey milk in a glass bottle from Miller’s Dairy. Then drive past John and Marie Miller’s farm on County Road 9 so you can say, “That’s where my milk came from.” Or stop by Bonnie and John den Haan’s Sheldon Creek Dairy near Hockley Valley to buy whole milk direct from the farm, and meet some of the cows it came from that morning.

Simple as it sounds, neither of these things – buying milk produced by a specific farmer or fresh off the farm – has been legal in Ontario in a half century. Instead, all milk has been blended together by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) and trucked hundreds of kilometres to large processors.

Spurred by the demand for local food and stories of a growing underground market for farm-fresh milk, the DFO has launched Project Farmgate, a pilot program to help farmers begin processing milk on-farm.

The first three farms to take part are Limestone Organic Creamery near Kingston and the Millers’ and den Haans’ right here in the hills. All open this spring and for the first time in two generations, since the Ontario Milk Act established the DFO in 1965, consumers will be able to buy cows’ milk direct from the farmers, and select from a specific herd or breed of cow.

The new micro-dairies promise not only a fresher product, but one with a lot more diversity and character. Soon there will be a lot more to say about milk – about nutrients, colour, creaminess and flavour, even season. Imagine, milk with terroir. We may soon become milk connoisseurs. It’s white, liquid proof that consumer demand for local food is making a difference not only to what ends up in our fridges, but to the sustainability of local farms and farming communities.

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