On Milk + Ethics

On Milk + Ethics
June 24, 2019 Summit Coffee
In Blog

Our commitment to storytelling in 2019 is in direct response to one of our biggest weaknesses as a company: neglecting to broadcast all that we do, all that we’re aspiring to, and everything that makes Summit what it is. Usually it’s a conversation or a passing comment that sparks something in my mind, and reminds me to share that part of our story. Perhaps the most disproportionate balance between work put in and storytelling put out is Summit’s approach to ethical practices. I’ve hopped on my soapbox about employment, and coffee sourcing, but have forgotten until now to talk about one of our core ingredients: milk.

In the past few weeks, the scandal surrounding Fairlife and its unethical treatment of cows has reminded me of why we work with our three dairy partners: Homeland Creamery, Mills River Creamery, and Farm to Home. I’ll admit, until about seven days ago my kids were chugging Fairlife milk like I take down my coffee. But once videos from Fairlife farms went viral enough for this suburban dad to catch glimpse, the Fairlife went down our kitchen sink and out of our household.

This is not a boast about my milk purchasing practices — if anything, I am slightly embarrassed to be so late to the game. Rather, I want to highlight a Summit team decision in 2016 to work with local and ethical dairy farmers. After coffee, Summit spends more money on milk than anything else. More than paper cups, more than flour + sugar, more than avocados. Between our three cafés, we often purchase more than 200 gallons of milk per week, so being thoughtful about where we are spending $60,000 annually is one of our biggest opportunities to make a difference.

One of the clichéd sayings I agree with most is, “you’re only as good as the company you keep.” The partners we work with, source from, invest in, all need to represent similar brand values to Summit. That means caring for community, for quality, for collaboration. What I do on an individual level matters, to be sure, but what our company stands for (especially behind closed doors) matters way more. And I am here to broadcast that we spend way more time than we probably should vetting our partners. Call it responsible capitalism, or social entrepreneurship, or any other hot term — we just call it good business.

In the picture above, my then 2-year-old Silas walked the fields at Mills River Creamery just outside of Asheville — roaming happily among dozens of cows doing the same. The Johnston family is a third generation dairy family in the Mills River area, and all of the milk comes from cows that have been raised on the farm that the family has made home since 1975. Mills River Creamery does not give the cows any growth hormones, and they only use an antibiotic if a veterinarian prescribes that it be done for an individual animal.

It became evident roaming the fields with the Johnstons and Kendra, their wonderful liaison who delivers fresh each week to our Asheville café, how much they care about the cows. They have names, and are well fed and cared for. One of them even was named the most beautiful dairy cow in the U.S. by an industry magazine — yes, apparently that’s a thing. The Johnstons are modest people, with hopes to grow their milk business alongside bigger dreams to change how Western North Carolina understands dairy farming. And we’re humbled to be part of that mission, for their story to be part of ours.

Similarly, east a couple hundred miles in a small town called Julien, Homeland Creamery is a seventh-generation dairy farm Summit has been working with for more than three years. Prior to this switch, we sourced the most affordable milk possible, from PET Dairy, with little consideration to quality or ethics. In 2000, brothers Chris and David Bowman, along with their wives Jayne and Terry, poured the new foundation to Homeland Creamery starting with just 30 gallons in their first batch. Another farm with humble beginnings, aiming to bring transparency and ethics to an industry largely devoid of them.

A quick aside: let’s also be clear that this milk is damn good. We wouldn’t just buy milk because it’s from well-fed cows. Local milk, especially from Mills River and Homeland, is downright delicious. Scientifically speaking, both dairy farms process milk under the HTST (High Temperature Short Time) Pasteurization method, through which a high percentage of the milk’s natural enzymes and beneficial bacteria is retained, adding to the flavor and health benefits of the milk.

As consumers, we make hundreds of choices from what we consume, to what we wear, to who we listen to and how we go from home to wherever it is we go, and back again. Most of us lack either the time or money, or both, to be awake enough with every single purchase. The beauty is, here’s a case of you creating a difference without having to change a habit. If you visit our cafés, and get a latte or cappuccino, or put cream in your drip coffee, you’re making a decision to support ethical consumerism.

If you get anything from this story, please take away the understanding that we put countless of hours and energy into everything we purchase and sell, so that you as our friends and customers can trust that you’re making an important decision by visiting and supporting Summit. Together, we can make a difference, every day. We already do.

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