RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Unidentified Man: C'mon.
JOHN BURNETT: The air is rich with the smell of manure. You can see these dark forms moving in the twilight, their hooves in the mud as they make their way to the milking barn.
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BURNETT: In the warmth of the milking barn, farmer Bill Dix coaxes the cows to their positions.
BILL DIX: Come on, step up.
BURNETT: Their big trusting eyes are curious of a stranger with a microphone. They munch on a snack of grain while the milking machine does its job.
DIX: Come on, step up.
BURNETT: Dix and his wife have 235 cows on 300 acres. They sell half their milk to Snowville Creamery, which is housed in an industrial-looking metal building right on the premises of his farm. The owner and founder is a lean, 58-year-old diary engineer and tai chi fanatic named Warren Taylor, whose aspiration is:
WARREN TAYLOR: To be the Che Guevara of the American diary industry.
BURNETT: He's more like the Neal Cassady of milk, the frenetic, impassioned beatnik in Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." The hyperactive dairyman bounds from place to place, pouring forth his philosophy of how he plans to transform the industry, starting right here at his milk plant in Pomeroy, Ohio.
TAYLOR: I built Snowville Creamery to prove to the American dairy industry that the reason our children have had a 30-year continuous decline in their consumption of milk is not entirely Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola's fault, but because the dairy industry has been delivering a continuously declining quality of milk in terms of its freshness and taste.
BURNETT: Most importantly, Taylor says his milk comes from cows that dine on grass or hay.
TAYLOR: This is in stark contrast to the vast majority of milk in America, which is made from cows confined in barns, partly so they can be milked three times a day, and are fed a diet that is predominantly corn and soybeans. Those cows produce about twice as much milk a day as the cows here in a pasture- grazing situation.
BURNETT: Taylor is by no means the only dairyman in America doing it this way. One dairy journalist estimates five percent of milk producers graze their cattle on grass. But like the rest of American agriculture, the dairy business is moving toward fewer and larger farms and it's dominated by a handful of giants. In fact, the U.S. Justice Department is currently investigating whether the influence of the huge co-op Dairy Farmers of America and the huge processor Dean Foods violates antitrust laws.
MONTAGNE: producing as much milk as cheaply as possible - especially now that low milk prices are driving some dairy farms into bankruptcy. Mega-dairymen, like John Woelber of Central New Mexico, say it's just not economically practical to put cattle on grass.
JOHN WOELBER: You can put them out and let them eat grass and let them do whatever, and produce half what they're doing today, but where are you going to put 2,600 cows on one place? How big does that place have to be? How many acres do you have to have, to have 2,600 cows? And how do you keep up with that?
BURNETT: The dairy industry is not really paying attention to Taylor's one-man insurgency - at least not yet. Chris Galen, spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation, rejects the idea that his members compromise taste for quantity.
CHRIS GALEN: Of course, flavor is in the eye, or at least the tongue, of the beholder. And so if people detect a difference in taste, then I'm not going to tell them that they're not detecting it. We all know the placebo effect is quite powerful. If you're paying six or seven or eight dollars a gallon for milk, versus three dollars, you might think it tastes better simply because it costs more.
BURNETT: If you want to revolutionize the American dairy industry, how can you compete with milk that's that cheap? It's expensive to make your milk.
TAYLOR: There's only one way I can compete with milk that cheap, and that's to make milk that is clearly different and better.
BURNETT: To test his boast, I followed Taylor to the Whole Foods Market on P Street in Washington, D.C. The manic milkman is giving samples in front of the dairy case where his milk sells for three dollars a half-gallon.
TAYLOR: Would you like to try some of this milk?
DIX: I like your enthusiasm.
TAYLOR: Oh, well, I'm a dairy evangelist.
BURNETT: Unidentified Woman: Ooh, that's good. Where is it?
TAYLOR: Unidentified Woman: I'm going to get one.
TAYLOR: Unidentified Woman: Thank you.
TAYLOR: Yes, ma'am.
BURNETT: Since beginning operations two years ago, Snowville Creamery has been expanding production about five to 10 percent, month over month. Now, with 80 outlets, mostly in Ohio, they finally became profitable this month. Washington, D.C., is their newest and farthest market.
DIX: Oh, that's so good. My mom used to get this stuff from a farm near us when I was growing up. It's like that. It's really good.
BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: The owner of Moses, Brad Davis, told a TV station he thinks the marking may be a message from above, though he's still trying to figure out what the message may be.
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