This Isn’t Local

Organic Valley is a cooperative of farmers founded in 1988. It looked like a supply chain bridge that enabled local farms to be players in a food growing business dominated by big agriculture.

Recently, the Organic Valley board made a decision to not allow their milk suppliers to also sell raw milk locally, which is typically the only way it can be sold.

More and more folks, including all of the board members of Organic Valley, are drinking raw milk for its health benefits. Trying to stop their members from selling raw milk runs counter to a statement on their website, “to create and operate a marketing cooperative that promotes regional farm diversity…”

While their reasoning is not that clear, it seems that they have health concerns and concerns that some slip and fall, ambulance chasing lawyers might destroy their business. How liability would pass through their suppliers to them is a bit cloudy. They pasteurize, right? They have no legal responsibility for their member’s sales of raw milk, right?

One of the Organic Valley board members said, “Raw milk sales for some of [the members] became a major part of their business. This did not sit well with some farmers…You have farmers selling milk against us.”

Wow! Competition! What’s the answer? Let’s use our muscle to run ‘em out of Dodge. Let’s use the threat of bureaucratic retribution and crazy tort lawyers to clamp down on ‘em.

Organic Valley pays about fifteen dollars per hundredweight for raw milk. The market is willing to pay one hundred dollars per hundredweight for bottled raw milk. The market for raw milk is burgeoning. Looks like the raw milk business is a pretty good business.

In 2007, only 30% of New Hampshire farms had positive net income, much lower than the U.S. average of 47%. 40%t of Maine farms and 44% in Vermont turned a profit that year. New Hampshire’s economy would get a $70 million boost if its farms performed as well as Vermont’s, researchers said.

There is a lot of talk in New Hampshire about local food and its health merits. “No Farms, No Food” the bumper sticker says. Today, just 6% of the New Hampshire population could be supported by our farms compared to 40% in neighboring Maine and Vermont. A good trend is that 12% of New Hampshire farm output is sold locally compared to 0.5% nationally, 3% in Maine, and 4% in VT. We need more local food production and more low friction, local markets.

Cassidy

So as our struggle to figure out what a world without oil will look like drives us to think ever more locally, we are confronted with a middleman organization, born to help local farmers, that has turned anti local.

In a local model, a customer gets to know the farmer (I actually know the names of the cows that produce the raw milk I drink) and takes the personal responsibility of knowing whether their operation is sanitary and their product healthy.

In the big ag model, regulations “protecting us” have forced many small farmers out of the market because they can’t afford the equipment, from automatic bottling machines and pasteurizing equipment, currently necessary to run a thriving dairy farm.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if Organic Valley’s response had been, “Competition, great! If  I am worried about it that means there is a strong market out there. Let’s explore some means of coopetition or some other win win solution.”

Instead what we get is, “We are the big dog let’s crush ‘em.” So the wonderful, idealistic Organic Valley completes its transformation into Con Organicra. Next they will start to loosen their standards and organic will have no meaning. It’s not illegal so it’s OK, they will say. Great, that’s progress.

Hermione

Organic Valley started out helping local farmers. Now, as an embryonic member of big ag, they are pitting farmer against farmer. Nice job.

Local requires a lot more personal responsibility. It means we must actually cook our own food, no more TV dinners. It isn’t boutique food, it is good, pure (you checked, remember?), food that more and more folks are saying is the only healthy alternative to the food produced by big ag.

You can go the route of group think and follow the bureaucrat’s view, “To put it basically, it (pasteurization) kills the microorganisms that can cause illness,” said Joyce Welch, the administrator for the state’s (NH) food protection bureau. “It’s been going on now for over a hundred years, and there’s a reason why it was started and there’s a reason why it continues – to keep people from becoming ill.”

Suzie

Suzie

I don’t care if the milk I drink has an organic label. I know Hermione and her lady friends. I know what they eat. I know how they are treated. I know how their milk is processed. I’m good. How about you?

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