Locavore: Milking it

by Crumbs

15 September 2017

Oliver raises his 24 pedigree Ayrshire cows on the same farmland in South Hams that his grandfather used to farm.

We catch up with Oliver Lee , founder of How Now Dairy - a man on a mission to get us buying pints of the white stuff fresh from the farm...

While all farmers face their own challenges, the past few years have been especially tough for dairy farmers. Not only have they had to contend with plummeting milk prices, meaning less profit, but milk has become ever-more unfashionable. The rising trend for alternatives such as almond, coconut and soy milk, not to mention the increase in people who claim to be dairy intolerant, has meant that milk – which was once seen as a healthy beverage promoting growth and strength – is now viewed with increasing suspicion.

But not everyone is prepared to throw the milk out with the bathwater. Step forward Oliver Lee. This enthusiastic 24-year-old is the brains behind How Now Dairy – an innovative new start-up delivering fresh milk in the South Hams area. Oliver is on a one-man mission to get people drinking and enjoying the white stuff again.

He says: “So often when buying milk, we are unaware of where it comes from, how many cows are producing it and what kind of farm it’s from. Milk is a wonderful foodstuff that contains most of the essential nutrients needed for life, but sometimes we forget the minor details and intricacies of ‘common’ foods which can make them as interesting and as specialised as the finest wines. Here at How Now Dairy we want to change the way people think about milk.”

Fighting talk if ever we heard it, but what, we ask, inspired this former Chemistry student to try his hand at an industry that’s seemingly on its way out?

“My grandad was a Devon dairy farmer,” he says. “I remember visiting as a child and just being in awe of the farm and how it worked. Sadly, he passed away and most of the land was sold off, but I’m using the 40 acres the family was left with to run the dairy. I’m passionate about this industry and want to leave the land better than I found it. We’ve developed a mantra which sums us up perfectly: ‘Look after the land and the land will look after your cows. Look after your cows and they will look after you’.”

The ethos behind How Now Dairy is simple – to create fresh local milk for the local area. There’s no processing or complex supply chain. Oliver owns 24 pedigree Ayrshire cows, which graze on the different plants that he’s intentionally sown or which have been left to grow naturally. Allowing the cows to eat a variety of plants helps to improve the qualities of the milk, boosting its Omega-3 essential oils and important minerals such as iodine and selenium.

Once the cows have been milked, he pasteurises and cools the milk then packages and delivers it fresh, direct to his customers’ doors. “I endeavour to create creamy milk which tastes just as it should,” he says. “I can tell you everything you need to know about your milk, including which field the cows grazed in and all the cow’s names!”

It sounds so refreshingly simple, but in these days of mass production, can this really become a sustainable business model? “Yes, I believe it can,” says Oliver. “The last thing I want to create is one big superfarm, mass producing milk for millions of people. How Now Dairy intends to stay local and intimate, only supplying milk within a 10-mile radius of the farm. If successful, we’d like to expand and create ‘milk bubbles’; a repetition of small local farms, each supplying their local populations.”

To help him get his business off the ground, Oliver has had the support of The Collaborators, a branding agency that runs an innovative programme called The Seed Fund, offering marketing advice and support to South West food producers. They’ve helped him build How Now Dairy’s brand presence, including creating a website and logo. To keep customers up to date with the dairy’s development, Oliver has also launched Milk Minutes, a monthly video blog. “We want to educate people about where their milk comes from and how it’s produced,” he says. “Milk Minutes gives us the opportunity to take people onto the farm to see where their milk comes from.”

Aside from his valiant quest to reinstate the humble milk round as a regular part of people’s weekly shop, Oliver is also devoted to ensuring How Now Dairy upholds ethical standards. The dairy is part of the Free Range Dairy movement, which means they’re committed to keeping the cows outside for over 180 days a year. They’re also halfway through the two-year process of being certified organic by the Soil Association.

When it comes to packaging, the milk is bagged, rather than bottled. “The bags use 70% less packaging than conventional cardboard cartons, and there’s no heating or washing costs associated with glass bottles. Bagged plastic is recyclable and more environmentally efficient than any other option,” explains Oliver.

We raise our hats (or should that be: pop our milk bottle tops?) to that!