Dairy Month

Spotlight on Strafford Organic Creamery

As part of our celebration of Dairy Month, we’d like to take a moment to shine our Co-op Spotlight on a Vermont dairy that keeps us stocked in local, organic milk and some of the best ice cream we’ve ever tasted. Strafford Organic Creamery is nestled in the hills of Strafford, Vermont on the 600-acre Rockbottom Farm, which has been in the family for two generations. Farmer Earl Ransom and his wife, Amy Huyffer, milk 65 grass-fed Guernsey cows and carry on the tradition of tending the land organically without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers, just as Earl’s father did when he first founded the farm in the 1960s. Amy generally focuses on running the creamery while Earl handles the farming aspects of the operation. Their four young boys also help out on the farm, making it a true family affair. 

Photo by Amy Donohue Photography

Their herd is made up of Guernsey cows, famous for their rich, yellow cream, perfect for making premium milk and ice cream. The cows spend the entire growing season rotating on fresh pasture, grazing high-quality forage including grass, alfalfa, legumes, and clover. They rotationally graze across 56 paddocks, moving onto fresh pasture every 12 hours, turning sunshine into food, and sequestering carbon along the way. This same forage is harvested and stored for feeding the cows through the colder months.  According to Amy and Earl, “everything we do, from the crops we grow for them to the gentle routines of milking, is focused on their comfort and well-being, and helping them create super-tasty milk and cream.”

 

Photo by Amy Donohue Photography

 

Their commitment to the environment is not only evident in the way they chose to farm, but also in the reusable glass packaging they choose for their milk. In December of 2019, when Kimball Brook Farm announced they would be ceasing production of their organic dairy products, Amy and Earl received many requests from retailers asking Strafford Organic Creamery to consider switching to plastic jugs to fill the void left on the retail shelves in the wake of Kimball Brook’s closure. After reaching out to gather community input and giving consideration to the vast quantity of virgin plastic that transition would add to the waste stream, they held strong on their commitment to packaging their milk in reusable glass. According to Amy, “we don’t get all our first choices on everything we do, but we do get to choose how we care for this beautiful piece of land, which cows to milk and how to feed and house them, what ingredients to add (or not add) to our products, and what kind of bottle to put it in. It feels really good, after going to all the trouble to make milk like this, to put it in a bottle that will keep the milk cold on the counter, seal in the flavor, and that we’ll see circle around again next month.”

Earl is one of only three Black dairy farmers in the state of Vermont, according to the 2017 USDA Census data. This past February, VPR interviewed Earl about his experiences as a Black farmer in a state and occupation that is predominantly white. Despite the fact that Earl was born and raised on his Vermont farm and is carrying on a rich farming heritage started by his father, he still reports feeling like an outsider. “Nobody expects to see a Black guy milking cows or driving a tractor,” he says. He reports routinely receiving visits from seed salesmen or other drop-ins who ask to speak to his boss. Unfortunately, he bears the burden of helping these visitors see the error in their ways and check their preconceived notions about what a farm owner looks like. These kinds of microaggressions occur so regularly that Earl has become used to them, though, of course, it’s not Earl’s job to educate others about racism or the challenges of being a Black farmer in Vermont. 

Despite the ailing state of the dairy industry in Vermont, Strafford Organic Creamery remains financially sound. Earl credits their ongoing success to their loyal local fanbase and the fact that their farm controls their own production, bottling their own milk since 2001 and making weekly batches of their ice cream by hand. He believes that there is a place for Vermont dairy in the broader agricultural landscape, despite the challenges the industry faces and he’s optimistic that his sons will want to carry the torch into the next generation at Rockbottom Farm. 

 

Strafford Organic Creamery from Farmers To You on Vimeo.

Supporting Local Cheesemakers during Dairy Month

We’re so fortunate here in Vermont to be home to some of the finest cheesemakers in the world. Vermont cheesemakers set records in 2019,  collectively taking home an astounding 44 ribbons at the prestigious American Cheese Society’s 36th Annual Awards competition in Richmond, Virginia. The 2019 World Cheese Awards hosted by The Guild of Fine Food in the UK saw 7 Vermont cheesemakers take home awards, including 2 gold medals. The Vermont Cheese Council lists 53 cheesemakers in our state, 8 of which are located in Addison County. According to Vermont Cheese Council Executive Director, Tom Bivins, “The importance of the dairy and cheese industry to Vermont agriculture is significant socially and culturally, as well as enhancing our sense of place and supporting agriculture economies in their communities.”

Kate Turcotte of Orb Weaver Creamery

For years, Vermont’s artisanal cheeses have been a rare bright spot in an otherwise ailing dairy landscape, but as VPR reported in April, Vermont’s specialty cheesemakers are taking an extra hard hit during the pandemic. With the mandatory closure of restaurants and institutions across the state and the fact that many consumers are needing to significantly trim their food budgets, sales for Vermont’s specialty cheese producers dropped 50-70% almost overnight. Adding to the crisis is the fact that these farmers and cheesemakers were ineligible for the emergency relief loans made available to most other small businesses in the initial $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package. They were able to qualify for the payroll protection program made available in the second tier of the relief package, though it remains to be seen if this will be sufficient to prevent a significant decline in the number of specialty cheese producers in Vermont.

Morgan & Chad Beckwith of Ice House Farm in Goshen

Of course, the cows and goats must still be milked, so many of Vermont’s resilient cheesemakers quickly shifted their business models to include direct-to-consumer sales through online platforms, roadside farm stands, and by partnering with other local farms to be included in community-supported agriculture (CSA) packages. The Vermont Cheese Council stepped in to help provide a way for cheesemakers to keep moving cheese our of their aging spaces by creating an Online Sales Directory and the Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN-VT) created an online farmers market, to help connect shoppers with cheesemakers from Blue Ledge Farm, Bridport Creamery, Champlain Valley Creamery, Fairy Tale Farm, and Ice House Farm. 

Blue Ledge Farm installed a mini-fridge at their farm stand to keep their direct-to-consumer sales flowing.

Since 1939, June has been designated as Dairy Month, so what better way to celebrate than by stocking up on some of your favorite local cheeses? Perhaps you have a graduation to celebrate, a socially-distanced barbecue with friends, or you simply want to treat yourself to that perfect wedge of your favorite cheese. Your local cheesemakers will certainly appreciate your support.

 

June is Dairy Month

Since 1937, Americans have been celebrating June as National Dairy Month. As we take this time to heartily celebrate our dairy farmers this month, it’s hard to avoid mention of the many challenges that dairy farmers in Vermont and across the country continue to face as they endure the fifth consecutive year of low farm-gate milk prices. This means that the price farmers are paid for the milk they produce is well below the cost of production. As a recent press release from Rural Vermont states, “our agricultural heartbeat is in threat, as is our farmland. With an average farmer age of 58 and consistently inadequate milk prices, the future for our dairy community, and its accompanying 80% of Vermont’s agricultural land is in jeopardy as it goes through a formative transition.” 

The Local Scene

Our local dairy farmers need our support now more than ever, though some recent developments give us reason to feel optimistic.  In April of 2019 over 50 Vermont dairy farmers and eaters gathered for a meeting geared toward developing strategies for viability. The overwhelming sentiment shared throughout the meeting was one of hope and gratitude for the local support they’re receiving. The six dairy farmers on the panel that day, along with many other conventional and organic dairy farmers in attendance, underscored the value of having strong local support. They recognized the need to provide ongoing education for the community about the impact of supporting local dairy. As George van Vlaanderen of Does’ Leap Farm in East Fairfield stated, “It’s contingent on us to educate friends and neighbors about where our food comes from and the impact of voting with your dollars. We can support a prosperous agricultural future by supporting our farmer neighbors today.” Amber Machia of Red Barn in HIghgate echoed his sentiments, reminding those in attendance that impact of spending food dollars locally extends well beyond the farms, affecting the multitude of other local businesses connected to local dairy farms, including feed supply stores, trucking companies, label and package makers, and distribution hubs.

Happy grass-fed cows at Butterworks Farm

National Support

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the most senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, played a key role in forging the 2018 Farm Bill’s dairy priorities and, as a result of his efforts, the Farm Bill dramatically expanded support for dairy producers, providing flexible, affordable coverage options through the new Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program. The goal of the Farm Bill is to benefit producers of all sizes, but offers up to five times more support for the smallest farms, as those farms tend to be hardest hit during times of crisis. This is particularly good news for Vermont dairy farmers, as most manage herds of less than 200 cattle, qualifying them as small dairies by national standards. Leahy, along with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and others, penned a bipartisan letter in April asking Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to prioritize the implementation of the dairy provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill to help provide some much-needed relief to dairy farmers without delay. Leahy followed that up with an additional bipartisan letter on May 17th urging Perdue to increase trade war relief payments to a level that more accurately reflects the damages dairy farmers have faced, as the current trade mitigation program has failed to fairly compensate dairy farmers slammed by retaliatory tariffs. It sure is nice to have a local Senator fighting so hard for our farmers.

Milk with Dignity

A bright spot in local dairy news this year was the adoption of the Milk with Dignity program by local dairy giant Ben & Jerry’s. In a recent article in VT Digger, Marita Canedo, Migrant Justice staff member and event panelist representing the Milk with Dignity Program, reflected on Ben & Jerry’s adoption of the program as a human rights victory. “It took more than two years in a public campaign and 4 years in conversation. We had to have translators and it took a long time, but we finally had everyone at the same table. There are human rights in that ice cream.” The Milk with Dignity Program brings together farmers, farmworker, buyers, and consumers to ensure dignified working conditions in the dairy supply chain, asking the corporations making the most in the dairy industry to pay for a higher standard of human rights for workers.

This came as part of a larger Values-Led Dairy Vision adopted by Ben & Jerry’s, which specifies that all dairy used by Ben & Jerry’s in the manufacture of its products will be sourced from dairy farms which have:

  • Thriving and dignified livelihoods for farmers and farm workers
  • Exceptional animal welfare standards for cows
  • A flourishing ecosystem in which feed is grown ecologically, without the use of harmful chemicals or GMOs, and in a way that protects water resources and promotes biological diversity
  • Farm operations acting as a net carbon sink through minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon in the soil.

Ben & Jerry’s sources most of the milk and cream from members of the St. Albans Cooperative. 

Grass-fed Organic Dairy Offers Solutions

The US milk glut and the accompanying drop in dairy prices over the past few years have wielded a tough blow for conventional and organic dairy farmers alike, though organic and grass-fed dairy farms are still faring better than their conventional counterparts. Consumers are beginning to recognize the importance of supporting organic dairy production that utilizes traditional pasture-based systems of rotational grazing. Not only does this system of natural grazing aid the environment in terms of soil restoration, increased biodiversity, improved water quality, and flood mitigation – but it also it guarantees healthy lives for the animals, and they, in turn, produce meat and milk that is healthier for us than the grain-fed alternatives. Soil scientists have determined that grazing animals are critical to the process of building soil organic matter. According to Jean Paul Courtens of Roxbury Farm, who presented at the recent Real Organic Project Symposium at Dartmouth, a mere one-percent increase in the soil organic matter on the four billion acres that are used for agricultural production on our planet would allow for the sequestration of 102 billion tons of carbon dioxide. When raising livestock using managed rotational grazing, it is possible to sink more carbon than one is producing, making organic agricultural production an active part of the solution to the ongoing threat of climate change.  

Happy grass-fed cows at Larson Farm & Creamery

 

 

 

 

June is Dairy Month

Since June of 1937, Americans have been celebrating National Dairy Month. As we celebrate, it’s important to note that the Dairy Industry is making headlines lately due to sustained low milk prices which continue to deliver a tough blow to dairy farmers – particularly small dairy farmers managing fewer than 200 cattle. In Vermont, small dairy farms are the majority, so this downturn in the dairy market is hitting Vermont communities particularly hard. While times are tough for our local dairy farmers, it’s important to remember just how critical these farmers are to our local economy.

Here are a few facts about dairy in Vermont:

Economy

  • Dairy brings $2.2 billion to Vermont’s economy
  • Dairy brings $3 million in circulating cash to the state, each day
  • Annual sales of Vermont dairy products and by-products = $1.3 billion
  • Dairy accounts for more than 70% of Vermont’s agricultural sales
  • 6,000 – 7,000 jobs in our state depend on dairy
  • 63% of New England’s milk supply comes from Vermont
  • Every cow brings $12,500 in economic activity to Vermont annually
  • $400 million in annual dairy sales comes from fluid milk
  • $650 million in annual dairy sales comes from cheese
  • A whopping $1.3 billion in annual dairy sales comes from the sale of dairy-based items like yogurt and ice cream

Landscape

  • Vermont has about 750 family-owned dairy farms, the majority of which have less than 200 cows
  • 15% of the state is covered by dairy farms and the fields that provide their feed
  • More than 80% of Vermont’s farmland is dedicated to dairy
  • About 25% of Vermont’s dairy farms are certified organic

Way of Life

  • 97% of Vermonters say dairy farms are important to the state
  • 92% of Vermonters say dairy farms add to the beauty of Vermont
  • 91% of Vermonters say dairy is important to Vermont’s way of life
  • Vermont has the highest number of artisanal cheesemakers per capita
  • The Vermont Cheese Council lists 49 active cheesemakers
  • The Co-op carries over 100 local cheeses!

 

Organic Dairy

Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF), the organic certification program of NOFA-VT, has just over 200 dairies certified in Vermont; up from just 33 in 1998. This increase in organic dairy production in Vermont is something to celebrate for a number of reasons. On an organic dairy farm, cows graze on pasture during the growing season, eat organically grown feed, and are not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Well-managed organic dairy farms are less harmful to the environment than conventional dairies (think:  a cleaner Lake Champlain!), and there is evidence that the milk they produce may be better for our health, thanks to higher amounts of CLA (an antioxidant) and ALA (an Omega 3 fatty acid).

While this increase in organic production is exciting, it’s also true that organic dairy farmers are not immune to the tough times in the dairy industry. According to NOFA-VT, “Organic dairy farms in Vermont, and nationwide, are seeing historic lows in their pay price, with some farmers receiving an almost $10/cwt (hundredweight, or hundred pounds of milk) drop over the past year. Some milk buyers have also implemented a quota, limiting the amount of milk a farm is able to produce. The pay price and situation differ among milk buyers, as they have all been affected by, and handled, the oversupply differently. These sudden, and for some, drastic changes in pay price means that some farmers are being paid close to, at or even below their cost of production, and can not make ends meet. Due to this, we’ve seen an increase in disaster requests for our Farmer Emergency Fund from organic dairy farmers for assistance in meeting their feed costs and covering basic needs.” If you’re interested in contributing to this fund and helping provide a much-needed lifeline to these farmers that mean so much to our local economy, click here.

Milk With Dignity

June is Dairy Month, and we’re excited to celebrate all aspects of Vermont’s Dairy industry, including the migrant workers who are responsible for anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of the state’s dairy production. Vermont is home to about 1,200 – 1,500 migrant workers, mostly concentrated on dairy farms in Addison and Franklin County. Dairy work is generally considered desirable among migrant worker communities because it offers consistent, year-round work and usually provides some form of housing. However, because dairy work is year-round, there is no legal pathway to citizenship for workers. It is estimated that about 90% of migrant workers are undocumented, though the exact number is unknown.

Unfortunately, Vermont’s migrant dairy workers often face dangerous and unhealthy working and living conditions. In December of 2009, an accident resulting in the tragic death of migrant worker José Obeth Santiz Cruz, who was killed while working on a farm in Fairfield, Vermont when his clothes were caught in a ‘gutter scraper’ without proper safety protections, sparked the birth of an organization intended to support workers enduring human and workers rights abuses. Migrant Justice has documented farmworker stories, struggles, and denial of rights through interviews, surveying hundreds of farmworkers, organizing monthly community meetings, and running a hotline that was launched in June of 2011. In 2014, Migrant Justice farmworker leaders designed and completed a survey with 172 dairy farmworkers across the state of Vermont to collect up-to-date detailed information about the working and living conditions that dairy farmworkers face on a daily basis.

The survey revealed significant injustices faced by Vermont dairy farmworkers, which are in violation not only of existing labor and housing laws but more fundamentally of basic human rights principles. It’s also important to note that migrant farmworkers are excluded from many fundamental rights under the law including the right to the Vermont minimum wage:

The results of their survey, combined with information gathered over several years of open communication with migrant workers through their various programs, led Migrant Justice to launch the Milk with Dignity Campaign. The Milk with Dignity Program brings together farmworkers, farmers, buyers, and consumers to secure dignified working conditions in dairy supply chains. The Program enlists the resources of food industry leaders to provide a premium for milk to participating farmers who agree to work towards compliance with the labor standards in the Milk with Dignity (MD) Code of Conduct. The premium helps offset farms’ costs of compliance with the Code and rewards farms that comply.

Farmworkers converted worker’s rights and housing violations into solutions in the creation of the MD Code of Conduct—defining the human rights essential to a dignified workplace and fair housing. The Code is created by the very workers whose rights it is intended to protect and is further improved upon through an intensive feedback loop from participating farmworkers and farmers in the MD Working Group. The Code sets standards for working conditions relating to wages, health and safety, housing, schedule and rest, non-retaliation, non-discrimination, and other
labor conditions. Their members also noted that some dairy farms already had most of the Code of Conduct’s standards in place, demonstrating that it is both necessary and possible to raise the bar in the industry through this campaign.

Migrant Justice is now inviting corporate buyers of milk to take the lead in the dairy industry by sourcing their dairy through the MD Program to ensure workers’ rights in their supply chains. They were able to secure a commitment from Ben & Jerry’s in June 2015 to be a pioneer in the Milk with Dignity Program and have been working ever since to hash out the details of how to operationalize the  Program. To learn more, contact info@milkwithdignity.org or call 802-881-7054.To get involved, contact info@migrantjustice.net or call 802-540-8370.

 

Milk with Dignity Short Doc from Molly Stuart on Vimeo.

Spotlight on Vermont Creamery

With National Dairy Month in mind, we’re casting our Co-op Spotlight on Vermont Creamery and reminding member-owners that they can enjoy 20% off their decadent dairy products this week. We’re incredibly lucky to live in a state with the highest number of artisanal cheese makers per capita, and Vermont Creamery ranks high among them. Their cheeses, creme fraiche, mascarpone, and cultured butter have garnered awards locally, nationally, and globally, creating quite a reputation for this incredible creamery with such humble roots. Read on to learn more about how the creamery began, their model for for being a sustainable mission-driven business, and what keeps them inspired to produce their world-renowned products:

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Our Story:

Vermont Creamery was started by two young visionaries devoted to new and non-traditional agriculture, Allison Hooper and Bob Reese. As a college student, Allison spent a summer traveling in France. She worked on a small family farm in Brittany, earning room and board while learning how to make all of the essentials of what was to become her life passion: cheesemaking. Bob always thought he would one day take over his grandparents’ dairy farm. Unfortunately by the time he finished his degree in Agriculture, they’d sold the farm. Appropriately enough, the improbable run as long term business partners began in 1984 during a dinner celebrating Vermont agricultural products. Bob was in charge of the dinner and desperately needed a locally made goat cheese for the French chef’s signature lamb dish. He reached out to Allison, who was then working at a dairy lab and milking goats in Brookfield. Allison made the chèvre on the farm, Bob delivered it to the chef– the dinner was a success and Vermont Creamery was born.
As they say, “time flies when you’re having fun”. And what a fun wild ride we’ve had. A quarter century ago, $2,000 of savings, and a $4,000 loan from an ag-minded Vermont church made possible our first nervous debut of fresh chèvre in the milk house on the farm in Brookfield. We sold first at farmers’ markets, then to food co-ops and French chefs. Back then, fresh chèvre, so popular today, was a dazzling exotic foreign delicacy for American palates. Today, almost 30 years later, 20 Vermont goat farms ship their milk to Vermont Creamery. We are humbled and proud to have won more than 100 national and international awards. Our butters and cheeses populate some of the most prestigious cheese boards in America. But what makes us proudest perhaps is that we have sustained a team of family farms and creamery artisans. Together we thrive making simply great cheese for discerning, appreciative eaters, home cooks and discriminating chefs alike.

Our Mission:

At Vermont Creamery, we strive to produce the highest quality cheeses and dairy products using local ingredients while supporting and developing family farms. We aim to exemplify sustainability by being profitable, engaging our staff in the business, and living our mission every day in the creamery.

Our mission is founded on five principles:

  • The farms: Improve our rural communities by supporting family farms which have best management practices that are sustainable and environmentally sound.
  • A culture of continuous improvement: Invigorate and challenge our creamery community to maintain the highest product quality, excel at customer service and care for our consumers by inviting them to be part of our family.
  • The value of cheese: Promotes a life of good health and meaningful connection through the preparation and sharing of good food with others.
  • A responsible manufacturer: Add value to milk while minimizing our impact on clean and plentiful water, clean air, and land.
  • The Team: Accountability and responsibility allows every team member to create a profitable, meaningful and fun workplace where he/she is challenged empowered and motivated by his/her contribution.
  • A workplace that thinks globally and acts locally: Fostering mutual respect and tolerance in pursuit of a better life for everyone resonates within the creamery, into the community, and beyond

Our Culture:

In 2014, Vermont Creamery became B Corp certified. B Corps are a new type of company that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corp certification is to sustainable business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk. This designation reflects the values upon which our company was founded and our operating philosophies today. We became B Corp because capitalism affects change when it is mindful of doing what is right at the expense of profits. The B Corp Impact Assessment reflects not only what we currently do, but applies rigor to and accountability for our mission.

Our Recipe for Making a Difference-

  • 100% of our company utilizes open book management
  • 100% of Creamery employees participate in profit sharing
  • 100% of our milk comes from small-scale suppliers/farms
  • Our conservation partnership with the Ayers Brook Goat Dairy trains future Vermont farmers
  • 1% of profits are given to support non-profit and community work
  • Cut water consumption by 1/3 even as our business grew
  • 50% of the management team are women
  • 5 days paid maternity and paternity leave per year
  • Carpooling and bike-to-work incentive programs
  • More than 70% of heath insurance premium cost covered by the company

Meet the Goats:

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Vermont Creamery BeetSalad