When I stay at John and Rachel’s* home in Lancaster County, one of my morning tasks is to go on a milk run. This doesn’t mean running down to the store but rather to the closest source possible. And in this part of the world, that means another Amish farm. Here’s the jar I used one morning:

Not “Strawberry Jelly” but organic cow milk in that jar, enough for a family of nine (and one guest).

So most mornings, the smell of something nice cooking is beginning to fill the home as I stumble downstairs around 6 or 630 AM (depending on when that day’s breakfast hour is, agreed upon the night before…this is not a dairy family with a rigid wake-up time).

You never know what Rachel’s got in mind for breakfast but usually includes any of: overeasy eggs, scrambled eggs, waffles, toast, bacon, pancakes, sausage gravy, shoofly pie or cake, and assorted condiments and beverages (milk, coffee, homemade ketchup, water, smoothie, powder seasoning, maybe some kombucha).

Breakfast here, by the way, is typically a scramble to grab what you can, as this home consists of six boys and one girl, and most of them are old enough to scrap hard for their share. Reminds me of how my dad, also one of seven, used to describe his meal tables.

And if you’ve eaten at an Amish table before, you know that there are not a lot of niceties, at least not compared to the rest of over-polite America. If you want eggs, you say in a definitive tone, “eggs”, ditto ketchup or whatever it might be.

But back to the milk-getting.

Dating back to the earliest days of my staying at John and Rachel’s, I would regularly joke that I would go swipe milk from the next-door-neighbor farmer. The next door neighbor…was actually my friend’s dad and “next door” was technically the other half of a single 200-year-old farmhouse which could be transformed into a continuous abode simply by opening the parlor doors (which is what they do when hosting youth singings or other large groups).

Later they moved to the house just down the lane. So I would go procure milk then from John’s brother. A bit longer walk but not by much. The routine was the same. Go into the milkhouse with the somethinghundred-gallon stainless steel bulk milk tank, unscrew the cap at the bottom, position the jar or pitcher I had gotten from Rachel, and move the lever just a bit until a pressurized stream of raw organic milk would come shooting out. Fill, rinse the outlet off with the hose, cap it and go. Oh and be sure to say hi or bye to whoever’s finishing up the morning milking tasks on your way out or in.

On my latest visit I stopped once at John’s brother for milk, and then the next, Rachel suggested we could try at a neighbor’s farm. John’s 12-year-old-son Eli was along with me. As we were pulling in, Eli mentions this farmer also has sheep’s milk, with what might be a hint of a mischievous tone. Eehhh…let’s keep it cow today, alright?

The purveyor of the establishment happened to be in the milkhouse as we entered. I had met him, a fifty-something farmer (maybe sixty-something by now) on several occasions dating back years. I’m not sure if he recognized me but he did recognize Eli. We got our milk and headed out to return in time for breakfast. No cash is transacted on the spot. I assume someone makes a note of it (either the milk-drinker or the milk-owner or perhaps both), worked out efficiently and cleanly in the Amish communication ecosystem, though I’ve never bothered to ask exactly how.

Milk is one of my favorite drinks and has been so since childhood. The milk from these farms is fresh, ice-cold and delicious. Thankfully I have til now avoided contracting adult-onset lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy or anything like that, and God willing I don’t plan to. Would hate to have to give up die Millich.

Fetching the morning milk is just a little task I’ve been doing for the decade-plus I’ve been visiting this Amish corner of Lancaster County, a bit of doing that lets me feel semi-useful as the real toil of running an Amish farm and household goes on around me. But it’s one that’s accompanied a lot of treasured morning memories.

Amish Milk in the News

Speaking of milk, Amish farmers in Wisconsin are having a tough time of it. Rick Barrett reports in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that about a dozen Amish farmers in the Monroe, WI area have been dumped by their milk buyer. This is against the backdrop of a milk market which has brought farmers depressed prices for years and has led to many dairies going out of business.

“Unfortunately, the Cooperative does not accept Grade B or Amish dairy farm milk into their milk supply”…“You will need to secure a new market on or before [Jan 1]” was the message in the letter which farmers got last month.

I spoke with Rick a couple weeks ago about why farming is important to the Amish, among other topics. The angle here is that it might be a discrimination case. To me it seems like an own-goal by the co-op who dumped them (seems they could have gotten by leaving out the “Amish” language and just stuck with the no-Grade-B-milk-anymore stipulation). However this is the Amish, and legal action initiated by Amish is highly unlikely.

Grade B milk can only be used for making manufactured dairy products, like these blocks of Muenster cheese. Photo by Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

In any case, there may be an alternative buyer, a nearby cheese plant, to come to the rescue. Interestingly, there’s at least one state organization to help the farmers, with a spokesman stating they are available to help them “find new markets”.

And in the “alternative milk” category, camel milk has gotten a foothold in the US, and looks to be growing. Thanks to reader Ed we’ve seen the camels of Lancaster County here more than once (they’re owned by an Amish camel milk operation, which I hear is still in business). Several weeks ago came a CNN story about a Saudi entrepreneur who has teamed with Amish in Missouri to produce the milk. At $18 a pint, the price is comparatively stratospheric.

I’ll continue to stick with cow…but I won’t turn down a glass of camel if I come across it. I’ll usually try most things at least once, if I can get a promise it won’t kill me.

*Not their real names

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