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Over the past few months, our industry has been dealing with its latest crisis: 135 small organic dairy farmers in the Northeast have had their contracts terminated — 89 by Danone, 46 by Maple Hill Creamery. With very few options for survival, these family farms and their communities are facing financial peril if nothing is done to help them.
The only saving grace in this scenario is that we can come to their rescue — without having to rely on the government to intervene in time.
Spearheading this effort is the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership, which was just launched by Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and long-time CEO of Stonyfield.
The goal of this first-of-its-kind partnership is to engage all stakeholders — consumers, retailers, cooperatives, processors, distributors, government agencies and institutions — from New York City to Maine, in order to solve the crisis of disappearing family farms.
In terms of a specific action item, consumers are being asked to sign a pledge, linked here, to purchase one-fourth of their weekly dairy purchases from 35 brands, listed here. These brands have committed to increase their purchases of Northeast organic family farmers’ milk, which will help save the 135 at-risk farms and create a more secure environment for the region’s organic family farms going forward.
“I know a lot of these farmers and their communities, and what has happened to them is a tragedy that goes against everything I have worked for since the 1970s,” said Gary Hirshberg, who is no longer a shareholder in Stonyfield. “These people are heroes, doing very labor-intensive work where nothing is easy. But they are promoting animal welfare and building soil health by sequestering carbon, something incredibly valuable in a time of climate change. We have until the end of 2022, and if these farmers don’t get new contracts, they will go under and areas of the country that can least afford it will take an estimated $160 million economic hit.”
Whereas many e-petitions that we are asked to sign often have little impact, that is absolutely not the case here.
The partnership will be appealing directly to buyers at retailers and institutions to carry more organic milk from the Northeast. So, the greater number of signatures — indicating consumers’ interest and commitment to purchase these products — the stronger our case will be.
Furthermore, the partnership is also inviting restaurants, cafeterias and any other outlet that sells dairy products to also become licensed as partners. Licensed partners who have signed affidavits to grow their organic purchases will be entitled to proudly display the partnership logo at the point of sale and also online to enable easy identification by consumers.
“Horizon (Danone) and Maple Hill dropped all of these farms for financial reasons, but they are not giving up any of their market share and will still be selling organic milk on the shelves in our state,” said Annie Watson, co-owner of Sheepscot Valley Farm in Maine, which is part of the Organic Valley network. “They are willing to cut ties with the people in this region but not their stomachs or wallets. That is the truth.”
One very hopeful aspect of this partnership is that each individual can have a meaningful impact.
“Everyone can do something, and this is a low lift,” noted Gary Hirshberg. “The simple act of pledging to purchase one-quarter of all weekly dairy items from the 35 participating brands will support the Northeast region for generations to come. Plus, if we are successful here, this could be a model for how we accelerate local organic in every region of the country.”
The Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership is an educational project affiliated with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, a 501(c)3 charitable non-profit organization, and it has assembled a board of directors and advisory board from many different parts of the organic dairy value chain.
Please forward this email to anyone you know who lives in New York City to Maine and they can sign the pledge here.
Max Goldberg, Founder
In conjunction with the American Farmland Trust and California Certified Organic Farmers, this initiative will support historically underserved farming communities in California to expand acreage of organic farmland.
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