Do You Know How Milk Goes from Farm to Table?

When you add milk to your shopping list, do you think about milk’s journey from the farm to your table? A survey of 1,000 moms with children ages 12 and younger revealed that many have misperceptions not only about the distance milk typically travels, but also how farm-fresh milk comes from the farm to your dairy aisle.

The farm-to-table movement is a strong factor when moms go grocery shopping, since more than three-quarters of those surveyed look for locally sourced food options for their families.1 But many moms are confused about milk’s short journey from the farm, a trip that is about 300 miles from the farm to grocery stores. More than three-quarters of moms didn’t realize how far their milk typically travels, while 16 percent think milk’s journey is more than 1,000 miles. Additionally, 50 percent of moms think it takes more than a week to arrive in the dairy case.

In addition to distance, many moms also have misconceptions about the milk production process. Milk is minimally processed, and a remarkably simple and wholesome beverage, yet processing is an area many moms may not understand. More than a third of moms surveyed incorrectly believe that preservatives are added to milk, while 17 percent hold the inaccurate assumption that sugar is. Neither preservatives, nor sugar, is added to milk. In fact, there are just three ingredients: milk, vitamin A and vitamin D.

To help clear up these misperceptions, the National Milk Life Campaign launched a new video series “Glass is in Session.” In this series, both moms and kids can learn more about milk and the journey it takes from farm to glass.

Where Does Milk Come From?

We know how milk comes from cows, but there’s so much more to milk’s journey from the farm to the table.

It’s easy to grab a gallon at the store without knowing the facts about dairy farming. There are more than 47,000 dairy farms in the United States, and 97 percent of those farms are family-owned and operated. These farms range in size: Some have fewer than 30 cows, while others have more than 500 cows. The majority of dairy farms in the U.S. have between 50 to 99 cows.

Since a cow can produce around six gallons of milk each day, farmers have a lot to do in a short time to get farm-fresh milk to your family.

The Milk Production Process Explained

Once the milk arrives at the dairy processing facility, there are three steps to processing milk before you can buy it at the store.

  1. The first step is standardization, where the different types of milk fat percentages are created, like reduced fat, lowfat and fat free (or skim) milk. This is also the step where milk is fortified with vitamin A and vitamin D.
  2.  Next, the raw milk is pasteurized, or heated to kill bacteria and extend its shelf life. This helps keep milk fresher for longer.
  3. The last step is homogenization, which disperses milk fat to create a uniform mixture and also prevents the cream from rising to the top.

All of these steps ensure the milk you buy is safe and ready for you to drink — typically, reaching the grocery store just 48 hours after leaving the farm. 


How Are Dairy Farmers Pioneers of the Farm-to-Table Movement?

The farm-to-table movement helps to connect you and your kids more closely with your food. From your ingredients’ origins to how your food choices are farmed, purchasing and eating in-season foods that are local to your area can help you and your family to support sustainable agriculture.

While milk is one of the original farm-to-table foods, it also is an integral part of the larger sustainable agriculture process. Sustainability is an important aspect of dairy farming. From using sustainable cow feed to reusing water and repurposing manure for fertilizer, farmers contribute to building a healthy planet while reducing waste. Additionally, they work to deliver exceptional care for their cows and also produce better products that preserve our natural resources responsibly. In fact, since 1944, U.S. dairy farmers have managed to decrease the amount of land and water it takes to produce a gallon of milk, resulting in a 63 percent smaller carbon footprint.

What Does Choosing Farm-Fresh Milk Mean for You?

Milk is so much more than a nutrient-rich beverage that your kids really do love.2 It contains essential nutrients — including calcium and vitamin D — that are difficult to get enough of without milk in the diet. It also has 8 grams of high-quality protein that help to build and maintain lean muscle.

Additionally, milk is an easy-to-use delicious addition to many of your kids’ favorite recipes, like creamy macaroni and cheese, as well as a key ingredient in some of their number one treats, like ice cream.

This is also true for many award-winning chefs as well. Miami chef and restaurateur Giorgio Rapicavoli makes sure farm-fresh milk is on his menu. He uses milk to develop interesting and innovative flavors for his dishes — and credits milk to help elevate comfort to the classics.

To learn more about how milk gets from the cow to the store, why milk and cookies are the perfect pair and more fun ways milk makes meals, check out our other “Glass is in Session” lessons on YouTube

1 Written by Weber Shandwick on behalf of The Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) and conducted using Google Surveys, June 2017

2 Exactcast research for MilkPEP with study of 2,400 moms and 1,500 kids.