DAYTON — Everyone has a milkman story. Jim Pastor’s begins in Hollywood.
It was there that his own milkman – Mr. Sherman, father of 1960s teen idol Bobby Sherman – would drop off the Pastor family’s milk and, later, encourage a young Pastor to get into the business, bow tie and all.
More than 35 years later, after selling his large milk delivery business in California, “Jimmy the Milkman” Pastor now runs one of two small home milk delivery services in Maine.
The milkman “means something to people,” said Pastor, who delivers Harris Farm glass-bottled milk and some Oakhurst products in coastal York County three days a week. “It’s an American tradition.”
The milkman is a throwback to a different era, but home milk delivery is becoming increasingly popular as people look to save time, connect with local dairy farmers and grab onto a bit of nostalgia.
The milkman was a mainstay for families in the 1950s and earlier, but the tradition began to fade as the dairy industry started to produce homogenized milk in disposable containers. By the 1960s, housewives who shopped at supermarkets had largely replaced the milkman and his delivery route, according to the “From Dairy to Doorstep” online exhibit at Historic New England, a regional historic preservation nonprofit based in Boston.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s earliest survey of home milk delivery was in 1963 when nearly 30 percent of consumers had milk delivered. The number dropped to about 7 percent by 1975 and to less than half a percent in 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available.
Jami Badershall, a spokeswoman for the Maine Dairy Promotion Board, said she knows of only two home milk delivery services in Maine, including Pastor’s, but she won’t be surprised if the idea takes off as it has in other states. Milk delivery is already popular in pockets of California, Oregon, Illinois and New Hampshire.
“This is something everyone used to have, but it’s something the last couple of generations have missed out on,” Badershall said. “People are trying to make a connection to the past and a simpler way of life.”
Mainers also are looking to connect directly with farmers, whether it’s at farmers markets, through farm share programs or, now, home delivery, Badershall said.
“I think (people) want to know where their food comes from. That’s so cliché, but people do really want to know their farmers,” said Rachel Harris of Harris Farm in Dayton. “It’s also part of the nostalgia thing. People are getting back to simple things, especially where food is concerned.”
UP BEFORE DAWN
It’s barely after 3:30 on a rainy Thursday morning when Pastor comes bounding out his front door, a wide smile on his face. He’s already had a few cups of coffee.
With the efficiency of someone who has done it a million times before, he slings crates of empty glass milk bottles into the back of his delivery truck. He adds a crate of eggs and a handful of other local food items he delivers, too, before swinging himself into the cab of the truck.
“I’m going to get wet today,” he says.
At least once a week, Pastor dresses in a traditional crisp white uniform, bow tie and milkman hat included. He sometimes drives a 1961 Chevy milk truck he bought from Bernie Diehlman, who Pastor says is the country’s longest serving milkman.
There is only the faintest trace of light on the horizon as he drives to Harris Farm to pick up the milk he will spend the next few hours delivering in the Kennebunk area.
The short drive across town is now a familiar one for the 57-year-old who moved to Maine from California to take over a milk delivery business previously run by Todd Nutting. Nutting had been looking to sell the business for awhile, but wanted to find the right person, said Harris, who owns Harris Farm with her husband, Clint.
“This winter I got a call out of the blue from this guy in California who wanted to move to Maine and start a milk delivery business,” she said. “It was like it was meant to be.”
Pastor got his start as a milkman in 1978 when he was 21. On his first day, an entire load of glass milk bottles came flying out of the back of his truck when he hit the brakes.
“In my heyday, I did 300 houses in a day. I ran at every stop,” he said. He carried a keyring with 100 keys, so he could put milk directly into customers’ refrigerators.
Within a few years, Pastor was hooked. He started his own business, which he grew to include 6,000 customers, 30 employees and 20 delivery trucks. His monthly gas bill was more than $20,000.
After decades in the “rat race,” Pastor said he and his wife, Sherri, were ready for the slower pace of Maine. Sherri Pastor – he calls her Sherri Dairy and smiles when he talks about how they met at a dairy farm – now owns the Village Scoop ice cream shop in Goodwin’s Mills, a village in Lyman.
Pastor took over the York County delivery route when temperatures were below zero and long, icy driveways were difficult to navigate. But he isn’t complaining. He loves the seasons, the scenery, the people and the potential he sees in his business. People rush to tell him about the milkmen they knew as children. He especially loves swapping stories with former milkmen.
‘A FARMERS MARKET ON WHEELS’
Only the faint shuffling of cows in the field, an occasional moo and the clink of glass bottles break the silence as Pastor packs his truck at Harris Farm. He makes quick work of unloading the empties and replacing them with crates of milk: whole, skim, half and half, and a variety of flavors that “look like Christmas tree lights,” Pastor says.
“There’s an art to loading the truck,” he says. “If you don’t do it right, believe me, you’re messed up for the rest of the day.”
The milk will go to about 30 homes and a half-dozen small businesses from Kennebunkport to Wells. Most homes have a standing order of three or four half-gallons a week, and many people add on eggs or other food – hummus, bread, meat – that he buys from other local businesses. His truck is “basically a farmers market on wheels.” Everything on it comes from Maine.
“People want to go back to the simple times,” Pastor said. “I think people are tired of giving their money to big corporations. People want to help the little guy.”
Before his first delivery of the day, Pastor pulls his truck to the side of the road and hops out. He wants to get the orders together without clinking the bottles together in the customer’s driveway.
At most stops, he drops a crate of milk with three or four bottles by the front door. Some people have him stick it in a fridge in the garage or – every once in a while – bring it right into the kitchen.
Rob Young, who lives with his family of five in Saco, started getting milk from Pastor a month ago. His family loves Harris Farm milk, but it was not always easy to get out to Dayton to the farm store to pick it up. He pays Pastor $3.88 for a half-gallon of Harris Farm milk, plus a $2 service fee.
“I like the idea of the milk being delivered right to my door along with fresh eggs,” he said. “The convenience of getting Harris Farm milk was one of the big selling points for me.”
Kennebunk resident Rachel Phipps has had Harris Farm milk delivered to her home for more than seven years. It reminds her of her childhood in rural Louisiana, where the milkman’s arrival in the pre-dawn hours would often wake her up. Her grandfather would sometimes order her chocolate milk as a special treat, a tradition she has continued with her own children.
“We’re willing to pay a little bit more to support local farms,” she said.
Up in Hermon, Suzanne Moreshead of Siberia Farms knows all about the convenience of delivering fresh milk directly to her customers’ homes. She and her husband, Ed, have been delivering their milk in the greater Bangor area since 2012. They are phasing out sales at farmers markets and retail accounts.
“By next summer, all we’ll be doing is home delivery,” she said. “It’s convenient for the customers. It’s something they don’t have to think about.”
The Moresheads now have about 150 home delivery customers. In the past few months, they’ve started to add products from other businesses and will deliver farm shares customers have purchased through another local farm. Everything on their delivery truck comes from a farm within a 50-mile radius of Hermon.
Back down in York County, as the sun finally rises during his Thursday delivery route, Pastor cheerily talks about the reception from locals when he drives his vintage milk truck into a farmers market or through a neighborhood. He often hands out free bottles of milk and fliers to drum up new business.
Since May, Pastor has added more than 100 homes to his route and is about to add a second delivery day in York, where he sees the most interest. He’d like to expand to 3,000 homes and, once he has York County under control, into the Portland area.
“I tell everyone it’s the milkman’s last stand,” he says, as he navigates his way to the last stop of the day.