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.