Rapid retail expansion may have put paid to many traditional doorstep milk rounds but communities in the Yorkshire Dales are set to benefit from a modern alternative, fresh from the farm.
The National Park will get its first fresh milk vending machine next weekend (March 23) and it is inventively mobile.
Small-scale dairy farmers Ben and Adam Spence, and Ben’s wife Sam, have converted a horse box into a mobile shop containing the machine and they will park it in different villages across Wensleydale, seven days a week, starting after a launch event on their farm next Saturday.
The venture, known as The Home Farmer, offers customers the chance to self-serve fresh whole milk into glass bottles and enjoy the taste of milk produced from the family’s cows at Thorngarth Home Farm in Aysgarth.
The near 80-strong herd are grass-fed, spending up to eight months a year grazing outside. The farm sells milk to the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes but the vending machine is a necessary diversification with both brothers having returned to the Dales to farm.
Their grandfather Harold bought the farm in 1953 and it later passed into the hands of their father David.
“With Dad building the farm up, me and my brother went off to do other things,” Ben said. “I trained as an accountant and my brother as an architectural engineer but when the farm got too much work for Dad, we decided to come back.
“It was always our intention however not to do more of the same. I did a degree in agricultural business management at Reading University and it was drilled into to me to add value to your business.”
The brothers’ return to the farm led to them securing a share of European LEADER funding to invest in a new dairy and milking parlour in order to replace facilities that were 40-years-old.
Following backing from David Hartley, managing director at Wensleydale Creamery, and inspired by a fish and chip van which pulls in at Dales villages to serve locals, the family settled on their mobile vending machine concept and gained financial support from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund.
Ben said they also drew on his experience living and working in Manchester as an accountant.
“I would see milk on the shop shelves sold as cheap as possible and people not appreciating how much work goes into making it. With our vending machine we are branding our milk from a high welfare herd, giving it an identity and taking it direct to the consumer. It’s all about a product that is fresh from our cows and on someone’s breakfast a few hours later.
“When I lived in Manchester, I didn’t go much further than a mile’s radius to get anything and people order online now, so we weren’t going to get people living in a village five miles away coming to the farm to use the vending machine.”
The Home Farmer will spend half days at Aysgarth, West Burton, Hawes and Askrigg. Customers can buy a litre for £1 in cash or as part of a loyalty scheme which offers the same quantity for 90p.
The family hope to create a market for 50 litres of milk a day and they have plans to manufacture their own farmhouse cheese as part of the enterprise.
Ben said: “We are a small dairy farm and we want to do what we do and do it well. The reaction we’ve had on social media so far has been amazing.”