Organic milk vending machine bridges gap between cows and consumers in East Devon

We’re used to buying fizzy drinks, sweets and crisps from vending machines, but what about fresh milk?

Clinton Dairy in East Devon has set up a 24/7 milk vending machine at the popular Otterton Mill visitor centre, less than 2km away, in an effort to reduce food miles, waste, and connect the farm with the local community.

Customers using the Clinton Dairy vending machine, which will be refilled with fresh milk daily, will be able to see the cows which produce their milk grazing in the surrounding fields along the River Otter.

The vending machine’s location at the mill, which is understood to be among the 20 oldest businesses in the world, represents a synergy between history and modern innovation.

Farmers usually sell their milk to dairy companies which is then transported, often many miles away, for processing at regional pasteurising depots. Whereas the majority of milk from Otter Farm is processed 50 miles up the M5 in Bridgwater, the milk supplying the vending machines is pasteurised at a purpose-built facility at Otter Farm, so will boast little over one food mile – the distance food has to travel between source and destination.

Barney Tremaine, Farms Manager of Clinton Devon Farms Partnership which owns the farm, said: “We wanted to give local people the opportunity to buy our fresh organic milk produced only hours before by cows grazing on their doorstep.

“By cutting out the middle man and reducing food miles, the milk will be as environmentally friendly at it gets and raise the profile of organic farming, which prioritises animal welfare.”

The refrigerated vending machine holds 100 litres of whole milk and is fitted with a cash and card payment facility. Each litre of milk costs £1.50 and customers can purchase a re-useable, recyclable glass bottle for £2.50, or bring their own bottles, so customers will also be helping fight the war against single-use plastic.

The working water mill at Otterton Mill dates back to the 11th century, with the attraction best known for its artisan bakery using flour milled on site.

With a business ethos focusing on local producers, the mill was considered the ideal location for the vending machine, which has its own purpose-built shelter accessed from the road.

To be certified as organic, milk must come from cows which have not received antibiotics or synthetic hormones and have been fed grass which is pesticide-free. The herd of 570 cows are entirely grass fed and outdoor reared.

“Organic milk is creamier than ordinary milk, but the main difference is from an animal welfare perspective,” explained Barney. “Rather than being yield driven, organic milk production involves a far more holistic approach to animal welfare which revolves around reducing stress on the cows.

“Because of the extra costs involved with organic, profit margins are still tight, hence trying to cut out the middle man. The main result is much happier cows and a more environmentally friendly farming method.”

Demand will determine how often the vending machine needs refilling and whether more are installed at other locations. Upholding a zero-waste policy, any leftover milk will be fed back to the calves.

While the majority of milk destined for supermarket shelves is homogenised, which means that fat molecules are artificially broken down to stop the milk separating, Clinton Dairy milk is non-homogenised and uses a gentle pasteurising process allowing a tasty layer of cream to form on top, maintaining flavour.

“There may even be a nostalgic appeal to buying fresh milk using a re-useable glass bottle,” added Barney.

Chris Wright, co-owner of Otterton Mill, said: “These machines provide a sustainable way to buy locally produced milk, so it dovetails with our own ethos.

“Our visitors will be able to go for a walk past the cows which have produced their pints of milk, so in a world where we all need to do our bit, selling milk in this way is a really positive contribution.”