Like vinyl records and high-waisted jeans, the milkman has made a comeback.
Oakridge Dairy in Ellington, the largest dairy farm in the state, has been in business since the late 19th century, but the past five years have been particularly difficult, according to CEO Seth Bahler. He felt the company needed to connect more with the community instead of purely producing milk as a commodity to be sold with someone else’s label on it.
Noticing the proliferation of meal-kit delivery services, and with a desire to brand his own product, Bahler conceived the idea for The Modern Milkman. Through a smartphone app or on the website, people can sign up for weekly deliveries of milk, cheese, eggs, butter, yogurt, cookies, bread and more. And no, Bahler isn’t baking cookies. In fact, the milk is the only thing coming from Oakridge Dairy. Bahler teamed up with nine other farms and vendors to be able to offer upward of 15 products.
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He calls The Modern Milkman a combination of the old-time milkman, community-supported agriculture and a meal-kit service, with the success of HelloFresh inspiring confidence. “They’re delivering perishable products from California,” Bahler says. “We have the people around us to build a network. People can buy straight from the farms and we’re working with farmers to get fresh, local products delivered to their doorstep.”
The Modern Milkman started in January 2019 with a pilot program of 20 family and friends in Ellington. By February it was available to the rest of the town’s residents, and within weeks the subscriptions reached 100. Town by town, the service expanded to Somers, Vernon, Stafford, Enfield, East Windsor, South Windsor, Tolland and Manchester. By the end of the year The Modern Milkman was delivering to 450 homes.
When the coronavirus pandemic swept over the nation and started forcing people indoors, Bahler picked up more than 100 new customers in a week. “Now that you think of what really matters, food is extremely important,” Bahler says. “Farmers are extremely important. The driver behind The Modern Milkman is how to connect consumers and farmers.”
With visions of being able to someday reach customers all over the state, Bahler is taking a necessary next step in adding a second truck for deliveries. And since this is The Modern Milkman, the old-school truck has been replaced by a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van.
When placing an order, customers have the option of a family share ($38.50 per week for eight items), full share ($29.99 for six) or half-share ($22.50 for four). Using the full share as an example, there are no restrictions on which six items can be ordered. You can get milk, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, eggs and butter, or you can simply get six bottles of chocolate milk. The varieties of cheese, cottage cheese dips, cookies and granola change every week. The Modern Milkman will send a message the night before to remind customers to go on the app or the website to make their selections for the week.
All stocked up? Going on vacation? You can either pause the service without penalty or choose to donate your box to an area family in need. The Modern Milkman drops off donations every week to the Hockanum Valley Food Pantry in Vernon. And the boxes, liners, ice packs, and glass bottles are reusable, so when a new box is delivered, the old box is picked up.
Part of the reason Oakridge Dairy and the industry in general have been facing an uphill battle of late is due to what Bahler calls misconceptions. He says science and dieticians have proven cow’s milk is the most nutritious despite the increasing presence of alternative milks like soy, almond and oat. And when Joaquin Phoenix wins Best Actor at the Oscars and uses his allotted speech time to criticize dairy farming, that doesn’t help Bahler’s cause either.
“I’m pretty passionate about what we do. We’ve been doing this for 130 years. And we’ve been on the cutting edge of technology and we do know what we’re doing,” Bahler says. “You can’t learn how to farm by googling it. And that’s the problem. You gotta know the industry. People that are from Hollywood that make those statements and get so much publicity right now, they don’t know the work that goes into producing food.
“We have 3,000 acres of open space, we grow crops, we have solar panels, we’re working on methane digesters to create power. We’re part of the solution.”
The Modern Milkman
80 Meadowbrook Road, Ellington