May 22, 2018
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‘Yankee ingenuity’ gets milk machine back in operation

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

MACHIAS, Maine — The farmer-owned milk company Maine’s Own Organic Milk, otherwise known as MOOMilk, had a few production problems last week, but milk was being bottled and shipped on schedule as of Saturday.

Although consumer sales are below where they need to be for the company to begin making a profit, they are still strong and growing, officials said.

MOOMilk secretary David Bright said this past weekend that a bearing on the filling machine at Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook seized up just as production began Wednesday.

As a result, no milk was processed until repairs were made early Saturday. This meant a few grocery stores had no inventory, but Bright said an extra delivery run was made early Saturday to fill the gap.

Bright said it was old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity that solved the production problem.

“The manufacturer of the machine said it would be three weeks before they could get a mechanic on-site,” Bright said. “Obviously that wasn’t acceptable, so Smiling Hill did the right thing and got a local machine shop involved. There will be MOOMilk deliveries from Oakhurst on Monday. We had fresh milk come in Sunday morning, which will be in stores on Tuesday.

“Smiling Hill, with some technical help from Oakhurst, did a great job getting things up and running as fast as they did,” Bright said.

MOOMilk was formed last year after Hood LLC did not renew its contracts with 10 Maine organic milk producers, citing a soft market. There was no other organic producer willing to pick up the farms so the farmers banded together and created MOOMilk. Smiling Hill Farm agreed to process the milk — 17,000 or more pounds a day — and Oakhurst Dairy in Portland is distributing it to more than 49 stores in Maine and New Hampshire.

Bright said the production issue was “one more trial by fire for the little milk company that could. Down-home Yankee ingenuity gets the problem fixed when the out-of-state factory boys can’t come through.”

Aaron Bell of Tide Mill Farms in Edmunds is one of MOOMilk’s producers. He is optimistic but realistic about how the company is doing.

“We have come a long way without advertising,” he said. “We are already selling 3,000 to 4,000 gallons a week but we really need to double that production. We need at least 3,000 additional gallons to have a good cash flow in the company and to ensure viability.”

Bell, who said there are six children on his Washington County farm who are learning sustainability from MOOMilk production, said that consumers that support MOOMilk are actually supporting a way of life.

“It is a better, caring community that comes out of small family farms,” Bell said. “Think of all the people out there that want a healthy environment and healthy families. Here is their chance to support what they believe in.”

MOOMilk is a unique company, one that Bright said is being closely watched by other agricultural ventures in Maine and other states. “We truly have the opportunity to be the model for a new business model that reduces the distance between on-farm production and the customer,” Bright said.

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