Last week I reported that Danone, a multinational who owns Horizon Organic, announced it will terminate the contracts of all their organic dairy farmers in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine (plus a few in New York) so they can focus on cheaper milk from western CAFOs.
Can we as consumers and community members do anything to help? Should we, for instance, boycott Danone? I think it's a tough call. Hitting these multinationals in their bottom line is probably the only way to get their attention. However, if everyone stopped buying Horizon Organic milk then the company could drop yet more small farms. It's insidious, isn't it?
You could send a letter to Danone. You could sign online petitions that probably exist. Politicians in the affected states are forming commissions to figure out what they can do to help these farmers. There is a lot of appropriate outrage and strong words of support right now, but I'm not convinced even the politicians have much influence or options in this. This decision is not personal. It’s simply the never-ending drive to procure raw products at ever cheaper costs. That a few dozen farm families will pay for this decision is perhaps regrettable, but irrelevant.
I fear that local, family dairies will continue to be squeezed out of business until a handful of mega corporations own a handful of mega dairies. This has been going on for over 50 years. We just happen to be reaching a critical stage when there simply are not many dairies left. The only chance I can see for family dairies is to sell local and to brand themselves as better quality than "factory milk." But even that has limitations as communities can absorb only so much milk. Even if the more than two dozen small- to medium-sized Vermont farms who received notices of termination were to process and distribute their own milk and dairy products our state couldn't handle that much influx in supply. They could perhaps join forces to create a regional processing and distribution operation to get products more efficiently to bigger markets such as Boston and New York. But then they would be up against the big players -although without the cash and marketing clout. Aaggghhhh!
It may be an imperfect model, but I still believe small farms should feed their communities and let other farms feed theirs. That means staying fairly small. That means the community needs to support their farms (and other local businesses). That's all Lisa and I have tried to do: feed people within a one hour radius. We're not interested in making and selling products to the rest of the world. We're not interested in shipping milk or ice cream to Texas, California, Washington DC, etc. although we are asked to frequently.
One of my favorite quotes posits that “It may be useless to try, but it would be cowardly not to.” So please, send your letters to Danone and our elected officials. And buy locally. Opt out of the multinational, share-price-is-everything, screw-everyone-who-gets-in-our-way, default consumer model. They clearly don’t care about you, only your money. So make sure they don’t get it.
Horizon Organic, owned by Danone, just cancelled the contracts of 89 organic dairies in Maine, Vermont and New York. Why are they doing this? Because bigger farms out west, many flaunting the National Organic Standards, produce cheaper milk. Driving trucks around all our dirt roads is not as cost effective as pulling up to a few mega-dairies.
So what will happen to these farms? They are being given a 12 month notice so the impact may not be immediate, but it could be dire. The few other organic processors like Organic Valley and Stoneyfield are not bringing on more producers. Maple Hill is letting producers go and Upstate Niagara is slowly reducing volume and pay price. Other options seem…. elusive.
Does this affect Kiss the Cow Farm -or you? Not directly, but yes, this does affect all of us who live in small, rural communities -communities that have been based on agriculture for over 200 years.
The Walk-In Cooler
If you think of farm equipment, what comes comes first to mind is probably a tractor or pickup truck. Yet most equipment, even tractors, are specialized for particular jobs and generally not used that often, sometimes not for months. The walk-in cooler, though, is used every day of the year.
A walk-in cooler is standard equipment on most farms, although no one ever thinks about them. But it’s there, a few steps from the farm store, or in the processing shed, or tucked around back. Even farmers don’t think about the walk-in much. Hearing the condenser run is just part of the constant background noise.
There are two options for getting a walk-in cooler. You can buy a one with insulated panels for the walls, floor and ceiling. These are powered by large condenser units. There are many manufacturers and models. Even found used on Craigslist, for example, they cost a few thousand dollars. Worth it, but a lot of money for a small farm.
The other option is a D.I.Y project. The farmer builds the box from plywood and foam insulation. (The more insulation the better). Instead of an expensive refrigeration unit, a cheap electrical component (called a CoolBot) and an air conditioner keep the walk-in cool. The electrical gadget tricks the air conditioner into running longer than normal so it cools the temperature down to 35-40 degrees. It works well, is a much cheaper option, and is easier to repair.
This came in handy this past week when our walk-in cooler stopped cooling. Of course it is was a 90 degree day, because that’s just how these things go. Thankfully we had a spare (and more powerful) air conditioner we got last year at a yard sale -just in case. It took a bit to install the larger unit and wire it up, but this morning the temperature in the walk-in is a chilly 37 degrees. Aahhhh.
It must be August.
Huge barn spiders sit dormant in their webs waiting for the carless trespass of another. The goldenrod is tall and yellow, the milkweed purple. Little round knobs fill the apple trees. The blueberries are plump from all the rain. The orchard and timothy seed heads sway slowly on top of their long, spindly stems.
The air is hot, humid. Still. There is an earthy, dirt smell. Clouds fill the pale blue sky, yet they are harmless today: no ominously dark towers rise on the horizon this afternoon.
Leaves are turning yellow, though surely it’s too early? A lone bird chirps his song but receives no reply. A chipmunk stutters in the shade behind the shed. A far-off crow caws.
The lazy days of summer. All that’s needed is a hammock…
Randy Robar, co-owner of Kiss the Cow Farm