Vermont Dairy

Exploring Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont

“There is this violent irony in our food system, in that the people who provide food security for all of us are the most likely to be food insecure themselves”. This was the heart of the message shared by University of Vermont Scholar Teresa Mares at a recent gathering at the Middlebury Unitarian Universalist Society. Mares was sharing insights gleaned during research for her book Life on the Other Border:  Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont, which aimed to shed light on the intersections of structural vulnerability and food insecurity experienced by migrant farmworkers in the northeastern borderlands of the United States. 

By the Numbers

Half of all workers on U.S. dairy farms are migrants and most are from Mexico. Losing them would double the total retail price of milk and cost our nation’s economy more than $32 billion. Across the U.S., Latinx farmworker food security occurs at 3-4 times the national average and  Mares recognized that there was a lack of data on food security among farmworkers in Vermont. Through her research, Mares was able to identify that there are approximately 1,000-1,200 Latinx migrant workers sustaining the Dairy Industry in Vermont. Most of these individuals are from Southern Mexico, but some also come from Central America. These workers are mostly men, but steady numbers of migrant women are also employed on Vermont’s dairy farms. They are concentrated most heavily in Franklin and Addison County.

Roughly 90% of these workers are undocumented, due in large part to the fact that dairy workers are ineligible to work seasonally on farms on an H2A Visa, as is common in Vermont’s apple industry. A whopping 68% of Vermont’s milk comes from dairies employing migrant laborers, representing annual sales of $320 million, translating to 43% of New England’s milk supply. These individuals pay taxes, yet they’re unlikely to have the opportunity to utilize any of the resources that their tax dollars support. They are not eligible for food assistance resources like 3-Squares VT or WIC unless they have a U.S. born child and even then, they must be able to endure the risk of exposure associated with the completion of a government form. 

After surveying 100 migrant farmworkers (75 men and 25 women) in Vermont, Mares discovered that 18% of the state’s migrant farmworkers experience food insecurity, meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. She also recognized that these numbers fail to paint a completely accurate picture of the data, as the standard USDA survey that is used to asses food security operates on the assumption that if one has money then one must have access healthy food. This assumption fails to account for the various other barriers that the average migrant farmworker experiences when trying to access healthy food. The reality for most migrant farmworkers is that access presents a greater challenge than financial instability. The survey also makes assumptions about what constitutes a household. Migrant farmworkers are often living in cramped quarters with many of their peers and are thus not representative of a typical household. Given this multitude of factors supported by information gathered during a series of in-depth interviews with farmworkers, Mares determined that 50% or more of farmworker households likely struggle with access to food. 

Challenges to Access

When working 70 or more hours per week without a day off, as is the reality for most migrant dairy workers, it can be rather difficult to find time to shop for groceries. Add to that the rural isolation, lack of transportation, and a crippling fear of deportation experienced by a migrant farmworker living in a predominantly white community located well within the 100-mile jurisdiction of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and it’s easy to understand why most members of this community (96%) rely on a third-party to access food. Mares also shared that there’s limited access to culturally-appropriate food in Vermont and a general lack of awareness of the kinds of food available in many stores. If you’ve never been able to enter a Vermont grocery store, you can only take your best guess as to what might be available when preparing your grocery list for a third-party shopper. Additionally, when you’re living in a household with 5 or more adults and you’re only able to shop every 15 days, there becomes a need for a significant amount of refrigerated storage space that is often lacking in the substandard housing where these individuals live. Mares expressed her strong belief that any strategies aimed at alleviating food insecurity among this group must be willing to travel to the farms and meet the farmworkers where they are. 

Resiliency

While it’s clear that Vermont’s Dairy Industry is heavily reliant on migrant farmworkers from a financial perspective, Mares challenged those in attendance to avoid measuring the worth of this hard-working group of individuals in economic terms. Their true value to our community runs much deeper. Mares’ book sheds light on the many ways that these individuals display resiliency and creativity in the face of a very challenging and isolated existence. They’re a culturally-rich group of people who often possess agricultural knowledge that far exceeds the actual farmwork that they’re employed to do and our failure to engage with them as members of our community results in a lost opportunity for valuable and meaningful cultural exchange.

Thanks to their brave willingness to organize and advocate for better working conditions, combined with the efforts of organizations such as the Huertas Project, the Addison Allies Network, Migrant Justice, and the Open Door Clinic, creative solutions are emerging to help support and foster increased resiliency among our migrant farmworker communities. We’re grateful to Teresa Mares for her willingness to shed light on this important issue and we’re grateful to the local organizations that are finding solutions to the challenges Mares outlined in her work. We look forward to exploring ways to support this effort. 

Co-op Board Member Louise Vojtisek, General Manager Glenn Lower, Author Teresa Mares, Education Coordinator Emily Landenberger, and Board Member Lynn Dunton.

Vermont Cheeses Set Record!

We all know that Vermont Cheeses are the best, but it sure is exciting to see that the rest of the country agrees!  At the prestigious American Cheese Society’s 36th Annual Awards competition (ACS) in Richmond, Virginia, Vermont producers, big and small, collectively took home 44 ribbons, marking Vermont’s best showing to date. Additionally, five Vermont cheeses were finalists for the Best of Show!

There were more 2000 entries at the 2019 ACS with 25 Vermont companies submitting cheeses to be judged. This annual competition is supported by the Vermont Cheese Council which provides technical assistance and marketing support for Vermont’s cheesemakers.

“These awards reinforce Vermont’s commitment to quality, which starts with the farmer, on the farm, and is carried right through until the cheese is served, “said Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts. “Many thanks to the cheesemakers and the Vermont Cheese Council for their hard work helping Vermont’s economy grow by continuing to reinforce and grow the quality of Vermont products.”

Winning Cheeses from Vermont include:

  •  Barn First Creamery, Westfield: Malloy, 1st Place
  • Boston Post Dairy, Enosburg Falls: Eleven Brothers, 2nd Place; Gisele, 3rd Place
  • Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Cabot: Cabot Founders Private Stock, 1st Place; Cabot Centennial, 1st Place; Cabot Garlic & Herb (New York) 1st Place; Old School Cheddar, 2nd Place; McCadam Brick Muenster (New York) 2nd Place; Cabot Salted Butter, (Massachusetts) 3rd Place
  • Cate Hill Orchard, Craftsbury Commons: Vermanchego, 2nd Place
  • Consider Bardwell Farm, West Pawlet: Rupert Reserve, 2nd Place; Goatlet, 1st Place with Crown Finish Caves
  • Fairy Tale Farm, Bridport: Nuberu, 2nd Place
  • Grafton Village Cheese Company, Grafton: Shepsog, 1st Place and Best of Show Finalist; Traditional Clothbound Cheddar, 2nd Place; Bear Hill, 3rd Place
  • Jasper Hill Farm, Greensboro: Cave Aged Cheddar, 1st Place in Category and Best of Show finalist in collaboration with Cabot Creamery Cooperative; Alpha Tolman, 1st Place, Cabot Clothbound, 3rd Place in collaboration with Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Bayley Hazen Blue, 3rd Place; Calderwood, 3rd Place, Hartwell, 3rd Place; Winnimere, 3rd Place; Little Hosmer, 3rd Place
  • Maplebrook Farm, Bennington: Whole Milk Block Feta, 1st Place
  • Mt. Mansfield Creamery, Morrisville: Starr, 1st Place collaboration with Sage Farm Goat Dairy, Stowe
  • Parish Hill Creamery, West Westminster: Reverie, 1st Place; Kashar, 1st Place; Suffolk Punch, 2nd Place
  •  Sage Farm Goat Dairy, Stowe: Starr, 1st Place collaboration with Mt. Mansfield Creamery, Morrisville; Spruce, 1st Place, Smoked Chevre, 2nd Place; Morse Camembert, 2nd Place
  • Spring Brook Farm/Farms for City Kids Foundation, Reading: Tarentaise Reserve, 1st place and Best of Show Finalist; Reading Raclette, 3rd Place
  • Vermont Creamery, Websterville: Bijou, 1st Place and Best of Show Finalist; Classic Spreadable Goat Cheese, 1st Place; Cremont, 2nd Place; Quark, 2nd Place; Goat Feta, 3rd Place; Clover Blossom Honey Fresh Chevre, 3rd Place; We Be Chivin’ with Wegmans Market Affinage Program, 1st Place and Best of Show Finalist; Sweet 16 with Wegmans Market Affinage Program, 3rd Place
  • Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company, Woodstock: Clothbound Windsordale, 3rd Place
  • Vermont Shepherd, Putney: Well-Aged Invierno, 1st Place
  •  von Trapp Farmstead, Waitsfiled:  Mad River Blue, 1st Place

    The ACS is the leading organization supporting the understanding, appreciation, and promotion of farmstead, artisan, and specialty cheeses in the Americas.  ACS hosts North America’s foremost annual cheese-based educational conference, and world-renowned cheese judging and competition.

    For a complete list of the 2019 American Cheese Society winners, click HERE
    For more information on the Vermont Cheese Council visit www.vtcheese.com.

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.

Spotlight on Monument Farms Dairy

For more than 80 years, Monument Farms Dairy has been a fixture of Addison County’s agricultural landscape. The original 28-acre farm in Weybridge, VT was purchased in 1930 by Richard and Marjory James. The farm now spans over 2,300 acres and is run by Richard & Marjory’s grandsons, Peter and Bob James, and their cousin, Jon Rooney. Peter James is the President of Monument Farms and oversees the farming operations, Bob James handles distribution and sales, and Jon Rooney runs the processing plant.

The sprawling farm is divided into two primary sectors – 1,800 acres is devoted to growing feed crops including corn, alfalfa, and grasses for hay,  and the remaining acreage houses the cows and the processing plant. They milk over 450 cows per day, yielding 4,000 gallons of raw milk daily. That’s over 35,000 pounds of milk!! Having thier own processing plant allows Monument Farms to process and bottle their 37 products on site and serve as a direct wholesaler of Vermont milk to local outlets. In the earliest days of the dairy, they sold primarily to institutions like the hospital and Middlebury College. Now they’re able to deliver milk to 300 customers over 8 routes ranging from 20 miles south of Addison County, all the way up to Vermont’s northern border. They bottle some of their milk under a special Co-op Milk label just for our Co-op, City Market, and Hunger Mountain!

Monument Farm strives to be environmentally conscientious, believing that to be sustainable, every decision must be made with an eye toward the long-term benefits and impacts to the land. They follow a strict nutrient management plan and strive to exceed the state’s regulations regarding water quality. Best management practices are in place for all aspects of the farm’s waste management systems. The farm continually rotates crops to decrease soil erosion, applies manure based on calculated agronomic rates, and maintains buffers on all fields along waterways.

The farm also utilizes Cow Power! Thanks to an anaerobic digester, they’re able to convert cow manure into methane, which is then used to power generators producing 110 kilowatts-per-hour of electricity to use around the farm. The digested manure is then separated to generate bedding for the milking herd and a more odor-free liquid for field application.

The James and Rooney families take a great deal of pride in producing some of the finest dairy products in the state, ensuring that Vermonters have a long-term supply of fresh local milk. Check out this cool video to learn a bit more about life on the dairy farm:

Several of our staffers took a field trip to Monument Farms Dairy for a tour! Here are some photos of our visit:

Celebrate Dairy Month!

Since June of 1937, Americans have been celebrating National Dairy Month!

Why celebrate dairy? Here are a few facts about dairy in Vermont:

  • Dairy brings $2.2 billion to Vermont’s economy
  • 5% of the 321 million gallons of milk sold in VT is certified organic
  • Dairy accounts for 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
  • $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
  • Vermont has about 850 family-owned dairy farms, the majority of which have less than 200 cows
  • Vermont has the highest number of artisanal cheesemakers per capita
  • The Vermont Cheese Council lists 48 active cheesemakers
  • The Co-op carries over 100 local cheeses!

Currently, 20 percent (or about 200 Vermont dairies) are organic, up from just 33 in 1998. This increase in organic dairy production in Vermont is something to celebrate, since organic dairy products have been shown to have many nutritional and environmental benefits. Nutritionally, organic milk from grass fed cows has been shown to be higher in CLA  (an antioxidant) and ALA (an Omega 3 fatty acid). For years, dairy got a bad rap for being high in fat, though now we’re beginning to understand that there are many benefits to consuming healthy fats.

From an environmental perspective, organic dairy production offers improved water quality due to decreased pollution from agricultural runoff (a cleaner Lake Champlain!); decreased soil erosion and increased soil fertility; decreased antibiotic use; and improved animal health and welfare. Additionally, organic dairy farming offers our state an economic boost. According to a report from the University of Vermont from 2012, Vermont’s organic dairy farms contributed $76 million to the state’s economy, supported over 1,000 jobs, and offered a better return on investment for farmers. Now let’s celebrate that with a big ‘ol scoop of ice cream from Strafford Organic Creamery, or a pint of famous Maple Milk from Kimball Brook Farm!

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