Got milk? Virginia Tech does — and it wants to use it.
A new partnership between Dining Services and the department of dairy science brought milk harvested from the university’s own cows to D2 at Dietrick Hall. Available in whole, skim and 1% chocolate, the local milk further separates Tech’s dining program from the rest of the herd.
Dining Services previously had an agreement with the department of animal and poultry eciences to provide local beef and pork to the dining halls. Ted Faulkner, director of Dining Services, had a vision to have local milk as well, but couldn’t find the right person.
Meanwhile, Shane Brannock, Tech’s dairy farm superintendent, heard of Dining Services initiative and wanted in.
“I contacted Dining Services about a year ago asking if they would be interested in partnering,” Brannock said. “They were glad that I contacted them because they had been wanting to do the same thing for quite some time.”
Initial plans were made in the fall of 2011, but several obstacles still had to be overcome.
While the milk comes from Tech’s Dairy Center, located toward the southwest of campus, it doesn’t stay there. After being harvested from one of the 250 dairy heifers, the milk is then shipped to the James River Department of Agribusiness, a Va. Dept. of Corrections-run facility near Richmond, where the milk is stripped and pasteurized by offenders.
“The Dept. of Corrections ships milk all over the state and in North Carolina, Maryland, and DC,” Brannock said.
The university was already in agreement to sell all of its milk to the Dept. of Corrections, so Dining Services had to make a deal with them to have some of the milk shipped back to campus after pasteurization.
Before everything was finalized, Dining Services went in person to tour the plant and make sure that their milk had met the university’s nutritional and taste standards.
“Their chocolate milk profile had a sugar substitute in it, but we felt strongly that the flavored milk be very similar to what we currently had,” said Faulkner. “It took a while for them to convert over to sugarcane versus imitation sugar.”
Before Dining Services could fully convert to the Tech milk, they had to notify their previous supplier that they would no longer be purchasing bulk milk from them. The new milk began to be served on the first day of the spring semester.
After processing it at James River, the Dept. of Corrections brings back 335 gallons of Tech’s milk to campus every other day, equaling about 4,000 gallons a month.
“We’re very proud of this relationship,” Faulkner said. “We want to be transparent with the students on where the food products come from.”
Having this milk being brought from Tech’s fields to its glasses aligns with the university’s sustainability initiative and has left some people udderly excited.
“I think if you have a local resource, you should use it,” said junior Becky Garnett, an animal and poultry science major. “It doesn’t get much more local than across campus.”
Faulkner added that students have requested more sustainable practices such as using local meat and, although the milk must be shipped from James River and back, this is as local as possible.
“We don’t have the ability to pasteurize it on campus, but bringing it back on campus brings it full circle,” Faulkner said.
While offering milk harvested on campus for consumption is an impressive feat for the university, it’s made even more so considering that its students are the one’s doing the milking.
“We rely on student labor heavily,” Brannock said. “We rely on students for
most of the harvesting of milk, for feeding the replacement heifers and other farm labor.”
Students like Garnett not only work at the 600-acre Dairy Center, but also learn there. She viewed the situation as an opportunity to educate the campus community about the dairy industry.
“A lot of people, especially if they grew up in cities, really don’t have any idea where milk comes from,” said Garnett. “They know milk comes from cows, but they don’t know the whole process.”
As far as the milking process goes, Brannock joked that describing it in depth would take far too long. It starts, of course, with the cow.
While Tech’s herd totals more than 500 head of cattle; the milk herd is 250 heifers. A replacement herd that’s being raised to be brought into the milk herd totals 225 head, while the remaining 25 cows are used for research and educational purposes.
Both Faulkner and Brannock were enthusiastic about their partnership. The former said that not only is this a great way to support the school’s initial purpose as an agricultural school, but it also makes good business sense.
“Our goal is to make it a permanent part of our operations,” Faulkner said.