Economy of Scale Trumps Localism
Some three hundred acres of our Staunton Harold Estate are occupied by a diary farm, the largest in the area. For as long as anyone can remember the milk has gone for processing to nearby Ashby de la Zouch But not any more; Ashby is closing, and the tanker will make the daily journey to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, some ninety miles away. It must make economic sense in somebody’s book, but to me it seems unreal.
Growing up down the road in Melbourne, our milk came from the nearby farm. Each morning the farmer loaded churns into his horse and trap and toured the village. My mother went out with her jug and, using his dipper, he ladled out as many pints as she asked for. It was about as local as it could be.
There was a downside. With the milk he ladled out TB, which was called ‘consumption’, and which in my recollection killed more people than cancer. The battle to eradicate that scourge has gone on ever since, and as far as the milk is concerned is largely won. Farmers themselves are sufficiently confident to drink milk direct from their dairies, without the added precaution of pasteurization.
For the rest of us the source has become anonymous, the ‘food miles’ almost certainly considerable. Despite ‘economies of scale’ the milk reaches us at several times the price at which it leaves the farm. I know of two smaller farmers locally who are selling their milk direct, via farmers’ markets and other outlets; that is a trend I’d like to see extended – micro dairies to match micro breweries. Aylesbury is a fine town I’m sure, but it’s one I’ve never visited, and nor should my milk.