This is a good milk story. Thanks to my partner and her nose for any new foodie development we've started getting Bella Vacca full cream milk in a bottle. Yes, a glass bottle, with a screw-top metal lid even. Old school.

And like the old days, the bottles are reused. You pay $8 for the first 1 litre bottle of milk, then $3.50 when you exchange the empty at the growing number of places in Northland where Bella Vacca is supplied.

The bottles are collected, taken back to the family farm west of Kawakawa, washed and sterilised, and filled again with milk that's pasteurised on-site.

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Bella Vacca (Italian for "beautiful cow") is one of a new breed of environmentally conscious producers in the primary sector.

They're popping up because there's a growing market. Increasingly we care about where our food comes from and what impact its production has on the environment.

These businesses are often small-scale, independent and utilising social media to reach and interact with their customer base. It's the localism of a hundred years ago combined with 21st-century connectivity.

Like most families, we go through quite a bit of milk, so discovering Bella Vacca is good news. There'll now be three or four plastic bottles less a week going into landfill or shipped overseas (if our local councils can find a country to take them since China stopped).

I'm not fooling myself that I'm saving the planet in any big way, but it's a choice our family can make. It feels like something.

And it's part of a groundswell of public opinion which I'm confident will eventually see single-use plastic bottles go the same way as plastic shopping bags. We're only just starting a national conversation on plastic usage and our infuriatingly disposable culture.

But it's more than the glass bottles that has me sold on Bella Vacca milk. I also get to bypass a model of export-led dairy farming which I don't believe is sustainable, for both the farmers involved or New Zealand's natural ecology.

Given a choice, I'd prefer not to support farming practices that, to stay profitable in international markets, results in stressed animals and highly polluted waterways.


And I'd much rather directly support a family to make a living than see my money going to corporate salaries and shareholder dividends for owners of mega-herds.

Now, the last time I wrote about dairy farming I copped a fair bit of heat online and in person. Fair enough, I don't mind that.

The debate about how the export dairy industry operates in this country isn't going away, neither are the threats to that industry from rising fossil fuel costs and competition from plant-based protein technologies (at least in overseas markets, if not so much in New Zealand).

Consumers making ethical and environmentally informed choices, both locally and internationally, is something dairy farmers, and the wider farming sector, is going to have to adjust to.

Some forward-thinking farmers already are. This wannabe do-gooding townie says good luck to them.

■ Vaughan Gunson is a writer and poet interested in social justice and big issues facing the planet.