A trend of buying milk direct from the farm is growing.
The latest producer to start selling farm-fresh milk in the Nelson region is the Raine family farm in Stoke, which has two vending machines at its gate by the Saxton Field sports complex carpark.
It is the fourth dairy farm to do so, following the first in Golden Bay, then two others in Moutere. A farm at the Glen is planning to start in September.
"It's really exciting. It's about engaging the public with where their food comes from again," said Julian Raine, who owns Oaklands farm.
From this week, the two refrigerated vending machines in sheds at the farm gate on the corner of Suffolk and Saxton Rds will dispense pasteurised milk daily. It costs $2.50 a litre, and customers can either bring their own container or buy a reusable glass bottle for $5, along with electronic milk tokens.
A litre of standard milk in supermarkets sells for $2 to $2.65.
From August, one of the Oaklands machines will dispense raw milk. Mr Raine said he was anticipating good demand, because the farm often received inquiries from people who wanted unpasteurised milk for making cheese.
It's back to the beginning for the family farm. It used to supply to Nelson Milk, with Mr Raine its final chairman and his grandfather, Dick, the inaugural chairman. In 1999, it became part of Kiwi Dairy and the NZ Dairy Group that formed Fonterra.
Until last year, the farm had a winter contract with Fonterra. It was one of three in the district supplying milk to Christchurch, which then went to Talley's to make icecream.
That contract has ended, and while the farm will continue to supply Fonterra, the Raines looked at what else they could do.
Mr Raine said he had seen the vending machines in Europe, and decided to give direct sales and glass bottles a go. "We have gone right back to our beginning."
It is also a significant investment, costing $1.25 million.
Mr Raine called the spending "white knuckle stuff". It includes not only the Italian-made vending machines but a new rotary cowshed with a public viewing area where people can watch the cows being milked - a venture aimed at groups such as school children, so they know where milk comes from.
Initially, 30 cows will be milked over winter, from a herd of more than 200 friesian and ayrshires. From September, the Stoke farm will milk only cows with A2 milk, while the Raines' other farm, at Motupiko, will have a combination of A1 and A2.
By then, the venture also plans to have more vending machines at off-farm sites. Mr Raine said these were still being determined.
Son Tom Raine, who has been helping with the setup, sees it as a good step. "It's a new approach to the farm. Although it simplifies things again, it's bringing it into the modern world. As times change, we have to change."
Asked about the increasing trend of selling from the farm gate, Fonterra's director of milk supply Steve Murphy said: "We recognise that this is a niche service that a very small number of farmers see as an opportunity. It is important that these farmers realise they have a duty of care to meet the food safety requirements set out by the Ministry for Primary Industries and others."
Mr Raine said the family had employed a food technologist to help them write a food safety plan, and the milk was tested regularly by the Cawthron Institute.
At the Glen, dairy farmer Warwick King said he sold a small amount of milk direct to customers who made cheese, and to a family whose daughter's eczema had gone away after she switched to drinking raw milk. He was looking at getting vending machines, and hoped to be operating during the new season in September.
RAW MILK IN DEMAND
The advent of vending machines has been the impetus behind increasing farm gate sales of milk, says Village Milk chief executive Mark Houston.
Village Milk, owned by the Houston family, was the first to import an automatic dispenser to sell milk direct to the public, from its Clifton farm in Golden Bay.
In April last year it gained official approval, with the Ministry for Primary Industries issuing it a notice of registration for its milk risk management programme.
Village Milk now sells between between 200 and 350 litres of raw milk each day. It costs $2 a litre and comes in a reusable glass bottle.
Mr Houston said there had been a lot of farm gate sales around the country that had flown under the radar. "And there still is."
This included people bottling milk and selling it via the internet, and farmers producing bottled milk and putting it in fridges to be picked up.
"In Auckland, they drive for miles to pick up 20 or 30 litres, and take it in turns to rotate the drive."
The advent of dispensers meant there would be more direct sales, he said.
"It's on the move."
Village Milk has another outlet at Lower Moutere, and two more would be set up in Greymouth and Hamilton in September, Mr Houston said.
It was important that the handling of raw milk was hygienic and quality control was taken seriously, he said.
"Our milk lasts 14 days, and it's been tested that it is still good after three weeks, but it does not get there by mistake. It takes a lot of preparation to be that good."
It was worth doing, and he had lots of customers whose health had improved since they began drinking raw milk, he said.
One man who had reflux was able to go off his medication, and people who had thought they were lactose-intolerant were now drinking raw milk.
"People talk about the taste - this is what the real stuff tastes like compared with the processed version - and they like it in glass bottles."
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