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Another Family Farm Fades Away

Get big or get out.

That was the mantra that took over agriculture back in the 1970's.

Small family farms aren't efficient. We need massive farms that can process inputs and move out product on an industrial scale.

Sounds more like a factory producing widgets than a place to raise an animal. Or a family. Doesn't it?

Meet Denis Poutre.

I knew Denis must be a generational farmer when I learned that he lives on Poutre Dr.

We went to his farm to buy some hay. I could tell it was an old farm because of the maple trees. You can always spot an old Vermont farm because of its big, old maple trees.

Since I have cows, of course I started talking cows with him. Until recently, he had 50 head of red and white holsteins. He just retired and sold his cows.

I don't blame Denis for retiring. He's earned it.

What made me sad, though, was when he said that when the driver of his milk truck picked up his last load of milk, the guy said, This will be the last milk ever picked up here.

Because, the dairy co-ops are moving to big farms with thousands of cows. They want farms that can fill up a milk truck in one shot. They don't want to stop at several smaller farms to fill up.

They are no longer signing contracts with small family farms.

Even if you have a small family farm, it's impossible to make a living on it.

  • The farmers who sell to co-ops have zero control over the price that their milk sells for.

  • They have zero control over the price of fuel that dictates the cost of feeding cows.

  • Co-ops don't pay farmers enough to both keep their cows and support their families.

  • No matter how hard they work, they keep digging themselves farther into financial holes.

This is because co-ops treat milk like a commodity. And they don't care about paying farmers a living wage. They only care about cutting costs, so they can sell the cheapest dairy possible at the store.

Denis's cows before he retired.

Rather than moping about the state of agriculture these days, I want to do something about it.

I don't know if it's possible to reverse the trend of increasingly bigger factory farms.

But I do know that milk is not a commodity.

Before the life has been processed out of it by the processing plants, milk is one of the most nourishing foods known to mankind. And farmers that produce it deserve to be paid enough money to support their families.

How do you support family farms, and not the giant co-ops that are strangling their own farmers?

Stop buying dairy products that co-ops produce. Find small, local farms who sell product directly. Sometimes that means going to the farm to pick up raw milk. But you can find things like local cheese and yogurt, and even batch-pasteurized milk (which is much better for you than UHT-pasteurized milk) at health food stores around Vermont.

When you buy local, your money goes to small family farms, and not into the pockets of corporate giants.

When I drink a glass of milk, not only do I want it to be good-for-me-raw-milk, but I want it to be good for the farmer, too.

I'd like to think that the future of Vermont's family farms is bright, because so many Vermonters care about buying local. Remember that every time you buy food, your dollars are voting for the kind of Vermont you want your kids to inherit.

Vote thoughtfully.

Denis loading hay for us.

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