|Eldon Mundle, left, with son Jonathan next to their now-parked milk truck|
It’s more than the end of an era. It’s the end of a treasured service Eldon Mundle had hoped to pass on to his son.
After 47 years of delivering milk products to homes and small businesses in Wallace, Pugwash and Port Howe, Eldon’s milk truck is out of business.
“I’d bought a new truck just before Saputo bought out Scotsburn’s liquid milk division in 2013 but we were told they were going with independent distributors. I was laughing because I already was one,” Eldon says in the living room of his Pugwash Point home.”
But last month, the Montreal-based Saputo, with its Nova Scotia office based in Stellarton, informed its drivers they had to buy their own trucks and operate on a commission set by the company, a commission Eldon says is half of what he currently makes.
With truck expenses and a driver on salary, “I can’t afford to do it any longer with what they’re offering,” he says.
What bothers Eldon more, however, is that Saputo has made it clear only large accounts will receive deliveries of Scotsburn milk products.
“It’s all about numbers, not people,” he says. “I prided myself on offering a service to the public. Our driver has a key to the Sandpiper restaurant. We still have two or three senior ladies we deliver coffee cream and yogurt to at their home because they can’t get out. We’ve always done that.”
When Eldon took over Mundle’s Dairy Farm from his father, Stan, in 1968, he was already selling propane and providing milk delivery. Back then, milk was in bottles, the truck wasn’t refrigerated, and home delivery was common, no place too small for a stop.
“Everybody got milk. Our commitment was, If you need it, we’ll get it to you,” he says.
Even if that meant heading out on the Skidoo after a storm to get milk to the Sunset Residential Community.
A few years ago, Eldon handed the dairy farm over to his younger son, Jonathan, a father of two who turns 37 next month, and he was getting ready to hand him the keys to the milk truck.
According to Jonathan, the dairy farm isn’t affected because it’s a separate business.
“The milk delivery business was always a sideline for Dad,” he explains. “I told Dad the other day not to worry about me not having the milk truck because I have my snow removal business as my sideline.”
“When we had the big barn fire in October 1978 and had to rebuild, the income from the milk truck helped out,” remembers Eldon.
That fire happened two months before Jonathan was born. When asked how he feels about the end of the milk truck, he surprises everyone, including himself, by getting emotional.
“It’s upsetting to see this happen to Dad,” he explains as he wipes his eyes. “Just because he built the farm to where it is now. It doesn’t bother me to not have the milk delivery; I was continuing that on as a service to the public. As long as the milk will still be in the stores, that’s all that matters. All of a sudden, if this shore ends up with empty milk shelves? That’s what concerns me.”
**** BLOG BONUS **** Mundle's Dairy Farm: A Father-Son Operation
Mundle's Dairy Farm has been a family-run operation since the early 1950s; that means it is small and easily managed by one man with a few helpers.
"Bigger isn’t better in dairy farming,"Jonathan states. "If you’re milking 400 cows or 40 cows, your milk cheque is still in relation to your expenses. Dairy cows are treated better than any animal on this earth besides the family dog,” he says, looking down at his black Lab sprawled on the rug. “I can treat my 45 head of cattle far better than someone can treat his 450. Comfortable cows produce good quality milk.”
And like his father, Eldon, he hopes this small-scale dairy farm can become his legacy.
“I can make a living here on the farm, if nothing changes. It’s something I can hand down to my kids.
Jonathan says when he first took over the day-to-day running of the farm, he relied on his father a lot to make sure he was doing things right but at the same time, he had his own ideas on how to run things.
"I don't exactly work alongside him now," Eldon says. "I tell him what to do and he ignores me."
Jonathan laughs. "Then I tell him what to do and it works."
And there were changes made at the farm once Jonathan was in charge, mainly because of the demands of modernization according to Canadian Quality Milk (CQM) guidelines.
"I asked Dad if he was alright with that and there was some questions because I was going all modern," Jonathan says. "Computerized feeding and Bluetooth milking. I’m about as state-of-the-art as you can get.”
This doesn't make Eldon grumpy; it makes him proud.
“I go out in the barn when nobody’s around and just stand there and look at it. It was time for me to let go and I did,” he says.
But turning the farm over to his son hasn't meant Eldon, now 78, puts his boots up on the footstool and simply watches from the front window. He remains as interested in the goings on of the farm as he ever was.
"I drive back through the fields like it’s still mine, even though it isn’t," he says. "But I enjoy it. I’m looking at a certain cow and coming home and telling Jonathan that she’s getting handy to calving. That’s what’s helping me in my old age.”