Kentucky Historical Society

Milk in the Economy Oral History Project

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This project researches the history of milk production in eastern Kentucky. The family cow was perhaps the single most valuable factor in any subsistence homeplace. Until relatively recently, many mountain families had two cows to provide a constant supply of milk, butter, and buttermilk. Milk and eggs were a basic medium of exchange with merchants in the community stores. Then local economies changed when outside corporations bought land and the coal camps, mill towns, and lumber yards were built. Sometimes local farmers would "peddle" their goods in town but many of the larger companies used company script and company stores to dictate the production and distribution of milk. Now few families have a cow and many people line up once a month for "free" butter, cheese, and dried milk. Dairy production is both an important part of the story and a device for understanding the region's economic history.