A modern heritage foodstead
Today, as your local food challenge, I’m asking you to look at your dairy habits through a different lens. I’d like to ask you to consider your dairy purchase in the context of how it bolsters or undermines the health of your local dairy farms.
The amount of dueling data about what to buy and what to eat is overwhelming. Obviously we consider our dairy choice from the standpoint of our own experience – as purchasers and eaters.
Do we want it low-fat? Which yogurt do we think tastes best? Do we think activia regularis has special digestive properties not shared by the live culture in any other yogurt brand? Which is the least expensive? Which lasts longest in my refrigerator, what brand is most convenient for me to purchase and the big Organic or non-organic decision.
Talk and debate are important, but just as important are the actions we can take as individuals. Actions that are like a vote yay or nay for practices and products we want to support or not.
I guarantee the only reason corporations spend millions lobbying to restrict labelling, journalistic opposition, environmental restrictions and federally mandated milk prices is because it is profitable for them to operate without challenge. And most of the time, all it takes for us to comply with the corporate program is for them to obscure information.
The behind the scenes reality of the complicated business relationship between the government, dairy processors and dairy farmers is something most suburbanites & urbanites have not the slightest understanding of. On the consumer end, you worry when you hear about milk prices going up because that means food prices may be following. But what if milk prices don’t go up when they need to?
At the moment, the government set price for milk is actually lower than the farmer’s costs to produce the milk and it’s been hovering at a painful level for a very long time. Dairy farms that have been in business for generations are being lost at an alarming rate.
And while large processors are not prohibited from voluntarily raising the prices they pay to farmers to share in weathering a crises, national processors like Dean Foods and Dairy Farmers of America instead press to keep the federal price limit as low as possible regardless of the economic climate affecting their farmer suppliers.
Instead of using their profit to support their farmer/suppliers, they instead have invested in building their own competing mega dairies instead. Dairies that have not been solid investments and have only further undermined the income stability for existing farmers.
And, they spend tons of money on lobbyists to make labelling of bovine growth hormones on dairy products illegal. And to muscle federal milk prices down or up. And to downgrade organic standards so they can use decidedly non-organic ingredients like carrageenan and eliminate pasture requirements for cows.
That’s good business you say? Maybe from the standpoint of a shareholder. But when it comes to the availability of healthy food, we need to think more like investors.
We need to plan longer term than just the current season. Remember the old Aesop’s fable of the goose and the golden eggs? If I’m a dairy processor, and my milk suppliers are squeezed out of business, where am I going to get my milk?
I’m going to have to look to foreign countries, create my own supply, or substitute another material. I don’t know about you, but none of those options is very encouraging to me. The first, importing milk? Well, many of the commercial foods you’re eating today are already using imported milk protein concentrate from China.
And processors forming their own dairies sounds like a win-win doesn’t it? Not so fast, this has already been happening and the type of dairy created is a mega-dairy housing thousands of cows on not enough land, polluting communities with massive manure lagoons and pounding alternatives out of the dairy business.
National corporations syphon their money out of communities unlike smaller local dairy businesses whose taxes and spending dollars are spread mostly throughout their local home economy.
Of course this is my opinion, and yours may differ, but I am not a fan of consolidating many businesses into one, just as I’m not a fan of single massive monoculture crops of any type.
Diversity cultivates alternatives which prepare us with multiple strategies for weathering challenges of weather and economy. And if the last few years haven’t convinced us of the importance of viable strategies for adapting to economic and weather change, we’re definitely not paying attention.
Sure, dealing with many quirky suppliers is less convenient for big processors to coordinate in the best of times. But times are always changing – it’s short sighted to believe that any business will enjoy an unchallenged run of perfect prosperity.
When you realize that farming is especially vulnerable to uncontrollable circumstances, it’s clear that provisions for handling uncertainty need to be part of the business model.
How’s it going to serve us when there is no competition for the mega dairies and their powerful lobbyists turn their efforts toward increasing the federal milk prices and lowering production standards?
Never mind the number of amazing dairy products that will become so rare you’ll be more likely to see the Loch Ness monster than a bottle of cream-line milk.
In a nutshell, supporting local dairies has never been more important. The Local Food challenge is an awesome opportunity for us to muddle our way through home dairy-ing together.
My challenge to you is this:
What to buy for the next part of the local dairy challenge? You’ll need a gallon of milk and a small container of cultured buttermilk.
Come back Wednesday when we’ll be using your milk to make a soft European style cheese. I promise you won’t need any special equipment or ingredients and you’ll be amazed at how easy and udderly delicious it is.
Okay, what are you waiting for? Get out there and find that milk.. ready, set, GO!