Can modern milkmen (and women!) fight food waste?

Issue 162: Yes, you heard that right: 1950s-style glass-bottle home milk delivery could be the way of the future.

Hello! Welcome to Nosh Box, a lunchtime-ish food newsletter that takes a strong anti-strawberry-milk stance.

Read yesterday’s dispatch: The Minneapolis restaurant owner who said "Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served"

Today I want to share an article in Modern Farmer about the comeback of home milk delivery during Covid-19 — and its power to actually strengthen local food chains.

We hear from Angie Rondolet, a milk deliverer in Pennsylvania who has seen demand triple during the pandemic. The detail at the end of this passage from the article was striking in particular:

The recent demand for home delivery has brought the resurgence of the milkman (or milklady in Rondolet’s case) into American homes. Distributors providing this service have been a key link between consumers and local farmers who might otherwise be forced to dump their product with pandemic derailing traditional supply chains.

(Angie Rondolet. Photo courtesy Modern Farmer; Cow Belle)

I’ve written here before about how hard it’s been to get food from farms directly to those in need during Covid-19. Due to restaurant closures and other disruptions during the pandemic, food waste on farms has spiked, and milk dumping has been especially staggering.

In April, the Dairy Farmers of America told the New York Times that they estimated farmers were tossing 3.7 million gallons a day. Here in Boston last month, the DFA hosted a milk drive where they gave away almost 10,000 free gallons — nothing near 3.7 million gallons, but they wanted to do something useful with it.

So, with the potential to fight food waste and connect farms and communities, could 1950s-style glass-bottle home milk delivery actually be the way of the future?

The Modern Farmer article explains that the customer base is ready:

Rondolet started her Pennsylvania-based milk delivery service in 2016. She hoped at the time that others might be longing for the old-school authenticity of locally produced milk, hand delivered in a glass bottle with some conversation at the door. And they have. Her business had gradually grown to the point she was making 120 deliveries each week, but things have really taken off since the pandemic hit. Her company is now delivering to 360 homes a week.

And economically, it seems to be working: A dairy farmer in Connecticut estimated he lost about 50% of his milk business when schools, restaurants, and corporate cafeterias closed — and now he’s recouping some costs by delivering milk for the first time since 1992. Milk companies/farms have also been hiring additional employees, which is certainly welcome during the Covid-induced economic downturn.

Angie Rondolet, the Pennsylvania milk deliverer pictured above, said she predicts the bump will outlast the pandemic. She told Modern Farmer that, even as people return to their normal grocery store routines, she thinks home delivery has helped people better understand and appreciate local farmers and food chains. I hope so too!

Read the full story at Modern Farmer here. See you tomorrow!