Glass bottles clink together as Seth Miller picks up a small crate full of six empty milk jugs.

He opens a cooler and replaces the empty jugs with six half-gallons of fresh milk.

It's one of about 40 stops the modern-day milkman makes daily for Apple Valley Creamery.

"You meet interesting people and see interesting things," he said.

Sometimes Miller drops off more than just milk. The East Berlin-based creamery also delivers produce, butter, ice cream, jams, meats and more to homes and businesses.

To get products to the creamery's 65 customers in York County, his day begins at 6 a.m., loading items into a storage refrigerator on the delivery truck.

Seth Miller of Apple Valley Creamery in East Berlin is carrying on the tradition of the milkman, delivering dairy products, as well as other food items to
Seth Miller of Apple Valley Creamery in East Berlin is carrying on the tradition of the milkman, delivering dairy products, as well as other food items to homes in York County. (Bil Bowden photo)

Miller typically makes it to the first house by 8 a.m., and the longest days end at 5 or 6 p.m., he said.

"But I enjoy being able to move around a lot and being outdoors. I don't like being stuck at a desk all day," Miller said.

A throwback: Miller, who grew up on the southeast coast of Africa, gave up a desk job to seek change.

The Grantham resident likes that his new career is a throwback to the 1950s and  '60s.

"Some customers opt for home delivery for old time's sake," he said.

In 1963, about 30 percent of consumers received milk through home delivery, according to the earliest survey available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By 2005, that number had dropped to 0.4 percent, but last year it was a little more than 1 percent.

Customers seem more willing to pay a little extra -- because of delivery -- than they would in a store "because fresh milk in glass bottles tastes so much better," Miller said.

The customers: For Colleen Robbins, it's about taste and convenience.

The Windsor Township resident has been using Apple Valley Creamery's home delivery service for two years.

"With four kids at home, I don't have time to run to the store several times a week," she said.

Her husband and children ages 13 to 18 drink about three gallons of milk a week, Robbins said. She also buys meat, produce and jams from the creamery.

"We try to stay as local as possible with our food, and my family feels it tastes a lot better," she said.

Though home delivery service might cost a little extra, the Robbins family is actually saving money.

"We're spending less by not running to the store all the time. When we go to the store, we always end up buying things we don't really need," she said.

Dave Dietz has been using the delivery service for five years, receiving 100 gallons of milk every Thursday at his Central Market produce stand.

He tried selling cardboard containers of organic milk, but it didn't sell well. A friend referred him to Apple

Valley Creamery, and it's been a benefit to his business, he said.

"People really like it, and it's given me some regular customers," said Dietz, whose family has a farm in Hellam Township.

He also sells the creamery's butter, heavy cream, half and half and lemonade.

"To me, it's an act of solidarity. We're a small farm, and they're a small farm. I'm growing my business while also supporting the local guy," Dietz said.

How it happened: Apple Valley Creamery has been owned and operated since 1928 by the Stoner family. Don and Cindy Everett joined Larry and Sharon Stoner in ownership in 2005.

The owners launched the home delivery business in December 2007.

"We knew we'd never grow big enough to support our families without growing the retail end of things," Don Everett said.

Using a distributor or selling directly to stores would have been a financial struggle for their small business, he said.

"We thought home delivery was a way of expanding our retail dollar a little further. It seemed like a really good fit for us," Don Everett said.

The creamery's home delivery business now has 450 customers, with about 300 of them receiving products every week.

The 65 customers in York County are spread throughout Shrewsbury, Glen Rock, York City, Hanover, Red Lion, Spring Grove and other municipalities.

Apple Valley Creamery seems to be the only milk delivery service in York, according to several local sources.

"It wouldn't be a growing part of our business if we didn't have a good, quality product, but it is a positive that we're the only home delivery game in town right now," Don Everett said.

-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoo