Farm to Fork

Producing fresh, local, sustainable dairy foods

Milk, cheese and yogurt are some of the freshest and simplest foods we can include in our diets … and all three take just a few steps and a few hours to get from the dairy farm to your fork (or spoon or glass). That’s because the dairy farms and farmers that produce them can be found near you – in all 50 states – making them truly a locally grown or produced food choice.

dairy farm to fork

Fresh & Local

Some foods are only grown in certain areas of the country, but dairy is local and based in all 50 states. There are more than 50,000 dairy farms in the United States, including more than 8,000 here in the Midwest. In fact, milk’s journey from the farm to the grocery store takes only about two days! Not only is this journey fast and efficient, it enhances milk safety and quality – you can be sure that your grocer is selling dairy that’s very fresh. In these same two days, milk also makes its way to nearby school cafeterias, fueling kids with nutritious food and boosting the local economy. Many schools provide fun and educational activities for students to learn more about cow milk production and how dairy fresh food gets from the dairy farm to their lunch tray. Through Farm to School programs, everybody wins!

Take 48 seconds to watch the journey your milk makes — whether it’s to your grocery store or school — in 48 hours.

Real & Safe

There are countless choices in the dairy case, but with claims such as organic and antibiotic-free, how do you know what to choose?

Good news — all milk, as long as it is pasteurized, is wholesome, safe, nutritious and dairy fresh. That’s because all dairy farmers, regardless of their farms’ size or ownership, follow strict regulations and best practices in cow milk production for the health of their families, their cows, their neighbors and you! You can see milk’s safety journey for yourself. Join Dr. Lloyd Metzger, a professor from South Dakota State University, as he walks through the rigorous steps farmers and dairy processors take in cow milk production to keep bacteria, antibiotics and other potential contaminants out of the milk supply.

Delivering Goodness from the Ground Up

Dairy farmers’ commitment to fostering a healthy planet is just as strong as their commitment to producing nutrient-rich milk on their dairy farm for you and your family to enjoy for a healthy lifestyle. In fact, dairy foods are important contributors of many nutrients in the diet that are vital to good health. Few other foods deliver these nutrients in such an affordable, appealing and accessible way.

But when it comes to sustainability, consumers have a shared responsibility, particularly as it relates to choices we make about the food we put on our plate and our efforts to reduce overall food waste.

dairy farmer milk

On-Farm Practices

Cow milk production involves more than milking cows. For dairy farmers, a cow’s comfort and health is very important to their overall sustainability efforts because healthy and well-treated animals produce high-quality, wholesome dairy foods. When it comes to animal care, nutritious diets, healthy living conditions and good veterinary care are practices routinely used by all farmers to keep their herds healthy. In addition, dairy farmers and the dairy community have created FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management), a nationwide, verifiable animal well-being program that brings consistency and uniformity to on-farm animal care practices.

On the farm, dairy farmers are conservationists and use a variety of recycling practices so that they use as little water and energy as possible in the daily management of their farms. Many dairy farmers also spread natural manure into the soil to replenish the soil so crops grow better, reducing the amount of commercial fertilizers needed.

Dairy Farmers Committed to Sustainability

See how dairy farmers Dean Marshik and Clare Palmquist have focused on sustainability to make sure their farm lives on for generations to come.

Dairy farmers rely on scientific advancements and on-farm sensibilities to look for new ways to be sustainable. Examples of sustainable farming practices include:

  • Crop rotation to mitigate weeds and improve soil quality,
  • The introduction of beneficial insects to control harmful pests,
  • No-tillage or reduced tillage crop farming for soil and fuel conservation, and
  • The use of new products with enhanced environmental benefits.

midwest dairy cows

Cows are also the original recycler, with the bulk of their diet including by-products that humans can’t digest.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the world population is estimated to exceed 9 billion by 2050. To meet this growing need, farmers are working hard to reduce their impact on the environment, using less land and resources to produce more food and milk. Compared to farms in 1960, USDA statistics show that U.S. dairy farms today are producing almost three times more milk with about half the number of cows.

But the work is not done. The dairy industry continues to take steps to become even more sustainable. While dairy farmers have already made great strides in reducing the carbon footprint on their farms, the industry is working together to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 – the equivalent to taking 1.25 million passenger cars off the road each year.

Food Waste – We Can All Help

Food waste is a significant concern today, and something we can all have a major impact on. According to the USDA, nearly one-third of our food, valued at $162 billion annually, goes uneaten and ends up in a landfill.

One of the most impactful things families can do to help ensure that nutritious foods are available for everyone is to reduce their overall food waste. Small steps add up. Making healthy, nutrient-rich food choices with protein, including dairy fresh products like milk, cheese and yogurt, is an easy way to maximize your calorie input at meals and snack times, helping you to feel fuller longer. Being mindful of portion size is another critical way to help minimize food waste.

Consumers can put their commitment to sustainability into action by:

  • Buying only what you will eat and think about getting the most nutrition for your money – planning meals and grocery shopping with a list is a key to this step!
  • Taking home leftovers from your restaurant meals.
  • Being creative with leftovers at home using recipe sites that allow you to search by ingredient.
  • Freezing food before it spoils – that large casserole will freeze and be a great dinner at a later date!

Nutrition, agriculture and sustainability are no longer separate conversations. We can each play a role making choices on the farm and in our homes that help us preserve our environment for future generations.