High Price Puts Milk Out of Reach for Low Income New Yorkers

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Milk from the Heart van. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Milk prices throughout the Northeast are 19 percent higher than two years ago, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In New York City, the dairy industry says the average price of a gallon of milk is $4.

The price is out of reach for many low income New Yorkers.

On a recent rainy Thursday, a few dozen people stood in line holding umbrellas waiting for two quarts of free low fat milk given out weekly at the corner of 127th Street and Frederick Douglas Boulevard. According to Harlem resident Robert Matthews, a regular at the milk line, the line is typically three times as long. “Believe me, there’s like over a hundred people here every time they come.”

Matthews, an out of work elevator mechanic, said the milk was not for him, but for his grandkids in the Bronx. "My son is out of work. My son-in-law is out work," Matthews said. "It’s only their wives that are really doing it…things are hard. So I get milk for them every week to take to the Bronx to help them out."

The program, Milk from the Heart, makes weekly deliveries in Harlem and 12 other locations in Manhattan and the Bronx. 

The program is backed by private donors and was originally financed by Leonard and Allison Stern. It is part of the non-profit Homes for the Homeless.

Project Coordinator Jonah Nelson said the purpose of the program was to bring low fat milk to low income children.  

Since its launch in February, Nelson says demand has grown so much the organization can’t keep up with demand.  "We wanted to pilot the program, just to see if it would work — if we could go to 3 or 4 locations and hand out a few hundred quarts of milk." Nelson said demand for the milk exploded. “We hand out about 14,000 quarts a month.”

Josephina Lopez comes to the Harlem site each week to pick up milk. The mother of two says she’s employed as a home attendant and her husband cleans houses, but they still struggle to make ends meet. The milk they get supplements what Lopez already buys at the supermarket where she pays $4.29 a gallon. "That’s expensive," she said in Spanish.

A block and a half away at Steve’s Deli and Fruit, Manager Malik Alrubay says he buys milk from a supplier in Queens for $3.12 a gallon and sells it for $3.69. "So I’m not making a lot of profit," Alrubay said. "I sell it all because it’s a good price…it moves fast."

Prices vary from deli to deli and some charge as much as $4.29.  The state has rules against price gouging and considers $0.58 a reasonable profit margin for retailers. But the Department of Agriculture and Markets has a lot of discretion when enforcing these rules and considers a variety of factors including a store’s overhead costs when determining whether a price is excessive.

Another factor in the rising price of milk is how much farmers get paid for it. The federal government sets the price, and exports factor in. Since the dollar is weak right now, demand from overseas is high, and the price being paid to dairy farmers — $2 a gallon —  is at a record high.  

But milk prices fluctuate dramatically. One New York dairy farmer, Tunis Sweetman, says he’s still trying to recover from 2009, when exports dropped dramatically along with the price of milk. "By mid 2010 the milk prices did start to recover. However, as the milk price started to recover, the grain prices began an upward spike and the grain prices that we’re paying to feed our cows to produce the milk have gone to record levels," said Sweetman whose dairy farm is in Orange County just over an hour from New York City.  

At the milk line on 127th Street, no one was discussing who is to blame for the price of milk.  Instead, people waited patiently in the rain to collect their two quarts.  Some with large families said the milk would be gone in a day. Others were hoping to make it last until next week when the van would return.

It took about 45 minutes to empty the milk van. And workers said, as usual, the milk ran out before the line did.

Stephen Nessen/WNYC
The Milk from the Heart van.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC
A woman collects milk from Milk from the Heart.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC
Milk from the Heart bag with two cartons of milk.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC
People wait in long lines to get the milk.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC
Sonny Whaley, 75, waits for milk in the doorway to keep dry from the rain.


More in:

Comments [15]

joe from NYC

Jeff from Illinois tooted: "And this in a city where the mayor is a billionaire. See a connection? This is the reason for Occupy Wall Street"

No, moron, there is no connection between the wealth of the mayor and the price of milk. TRY READING THE ARTICLE, it's about the price of the dollar and exports. And OWS is run by the dezcendants of Stalinists who starved TENS OF MILLIONS IN THE USSR and who are connected to Wall Street and the Unions who leech off America courtesy of your fake President Øbama.

Mar. 06 2012 01:39 PM

as a person,i feel the

Feb. 02 2012 03:45 PM
Jeff from Illinois

Wow. Almost all the comments are focusing on the health of milk. The real point of this story is that there are so many people who can't afford to adequately feed their kids. If they can't afford milk for their kids, what else are they going without? And this in a city where the mayor is a billionaire. See a connection? This is the reason for Occupy Wall Street.

Oct. 15 2011 09:16 AM
Lisa from North Carolina

For crying out loud, people! This is not about the milk - it is about a system that is corrupt and broken! Instead of disparaging the milk industry, get on board to do something to end economic injustice in this country!

Oct. 12 2011 05:31 PM
Ken from Queens NY

Well, I guess there are no people who need help in Queens, Bklyn, or Staten Is. I suppose I could go to Manhattan to get the milk (at a cost of $4.50 r/t public transit) I've been out of work for 18 months and can't even get a little free milk.

Oct. 08 2011 01:46 PM

Oh!such savvy people! If only everybody could be so knowledgeable!
If only the dairy farmers could find another occupation! If only the mothers could be more comfortable nursing their babies with their own milk! Then, if the mothers ate well the children could more bright and we could have a much better society! Oh well to the well----someday............

Oct. 07 2011 04:57 PM

Texas Aggie, Soy is HORRIBLE for people. It is no longer a "real" plant as over 90% is genetically modified. Bt toxin is inserted into the DNA of the plant so that it can resist Round-Up. The same for corn, canola, sugar beets, cotton, alfalfa and most recently sweet corn. Feeding this to anyone, including animals is no different than drinking pesticide. If you eat soy, don't bother washing your fruit and vegetables to wash off the pesticides, you're drinking it anyway. Go google it and start w/ the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Association of Environmental Medicine. Lots of good information out there.

Oct. 06 2011 01:30 PM

A couple of years ago, I would have found this situation deplorable. Since then, our family of 5 has gone dairy free. Amazingly, we have rid ourselves of 20 different health symptoms including asthma, acid reflux, joint pain, side pain, diarhea and a host of other chronic issues. We also have well water, interestingly enough, there is a large amount of calcium in water, as well as, magnesium. I had my water tested, however, for a different reason and asked as a side note, could you tell me the calcium levels. I was shocked. For the doubters, if you were to boil water, do you have a white residue in your pan? That is the calcium and magnesium. It's a falicy that we "need" dairy. Save the money and buy other real food, something nutritious and drink water!

Oct. 06 2011 01:25 PM
Texas Aggie from Texas

For those who for some reason think that milk is bad for you, I suggest you stick to soy. It's estrogen level is high enough to put you out of commission relatively soon.

You'll notice that none of the alternatives mentioned come close to milk (or eggs for that matter) in the value of their protein. All of the plant derivatives are too low in a few amino acids, primarily the sulfur containing amino acids. That means that the rest that are present aren't used efficiently and instead are degraded and passed in the urine.

And you'll notice that none of those up in arms about milk have any idea of how the dairy industry functions. I have to laugh at someone from Brazil, where brucellosis in cattle is endemic, pushing raw milk. At least she won't be reproducing.

Oct. 05 2011 08:21 PM

This is a good thing.
Pasteurized dairy is nutritionally void.
May as well poison yourself, honestly.

Oct. 05 2011 06:36 PM

Food and fuel are volatile in price and are not included as part of the government's official CPI statistics. That enables them to claim that there is no inflation. Result: No COLA increases for the poor and elderly when it comes to Social Security. Oh well, just eat a cheap flat-panel television.

Oct. 05 2011 08:41 AM
Jackie Schmidts from New York

Firs they should be handing out half gallons or even gallons, they are cheaper to procure. Quarts are much more expensive to process. Second for all you Veganite extremists out there, go eat your lettuce and leave the rest of us alone. Finally, as for the price charged at the store for milk, it is reasonable considering the price paid to the dairy farmer is at an all time hight and increased over 30% over the past 2 years! got milk? Hope so!

Oct. 04 2011 04:46 PM
Kasia Kaim-Gonçalves from Natal, Brazil

Considering the fact that it is pasteurized, homogenized and full of puss milk from diseased animals, this could actually be good news.
If you drink milk drink it raw!
More info :

Oct. 04 2011 04:18 PM

I agree. Seems like the government propaganda promoting milk is just another hand out to the farm lobby.

Oct. 04 2011 01:26 PM
Lori from Tenafly, NJ

As a person who is lactose intolerant and morally against milk (see I would like to say that milk is in no way a necessity. Ironically, many in the low-income communities who receive the milk are African-Americans, many of whom are lactose-intolerant and suffer as kids until later in life when they figure it out. There are many many delicious milk alternatives to cow's milk now - soy, almond, rice, hemp, coconut, etc. They are healthier for humans, better for the animals and better for the planet. Oh, and in many cases, they are cheaper!

Oct. 04 2011 12:14 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


Latest Newscast




WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public


Supported by