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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

LocalHarvest Newsletter: A Glass Half Empty

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LocalHarvest Newsletter, March 20, 2018
A Glass Half Empty

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest Newsletter.

US dairy farmers are in a crisis. Thirty percent have left the business in the last 10 years. Prices are the lowest they have been in the last three decades, yet costs of production keep inching upwards. If this pace keeps ups, we will be down to just the largest, vertically integrated mega dairies in a couple decades. There are a lot of contributing factors to this dilemma. Like fleas on a dog, it is not one flea that causes the itch, but all of them sucking the life out of the animal that makes its life miserable. There is so much despair in the dairy world that farmers are committing suicide at an increasing pace. Now when the dairy processor mails the paltry milk check to the farmer, they send a list of suicide crisis hotlines at the same time.

Why is this happening? Overproduction is part of it. We continue to breed more productive dairy cows who produce more milk. When milk prices were high in 2014, a lot of farms bought more cows. Larger herds of more productive cows means a lot of milk. Add to that trend is the growth of what I like to call "gigantiation". The gigantic dairies in the West are getting even bigger as they figure out how to pack more cows onto a piece of land and flaunt, bend, or break local environmental laws. Take this 30,000 cow dairy that was just approved in Oregon in 2017 despite objection from thousands of citizens and several environmental groups. Now, just one year later, the Oregon State Department of Agriculture may shut them down for numerous manure and wastewater violations.

One aspect of the crisis that has been occupying my brain is the increased consumption of plant-based milk alternatives and decreased consumption of fluid milk. In just the last five years, there has been a 61% increase in plant-based 'milks' and nearly 30% of Americans consume these beverages on a daily basis. Real milk consumption has dropped 22% in last two decades. There is most definitely a relationship here, although it can't all be blamed on the rise of almond, soy, and coconut milk. Dietary fads and allergenicity are also part of this shift.

Does increasing our consumption of plant-based milks benefit US family farmers? Certainly not as much as dairy milk, which is produced by around 41,000 farmers around the country and processed at regional milk plants. Small dairy farms can be licensed to bottle and sell their own milk. I don't know of any farms that bottle and sell their own soy or cashew milk in this country, but if you learn of any, please do let me know. Most of the plant-based milks are manufactured and distributed by only a few very large corporations, such as $6 Billion dollar company DanoneWave, makers of popular Silk and So Delicious brands. They buy ingredients from some US farmers, such as California almonds, but much of the ingredients are imported from other countries, such as coconut from the Philippines, or cashews from Africa and Vietnam.

Similar to my lab meats article in January, I think about what the loss of those independent dairy farms mean in a larger context. They mean less dollars circulating in their rural economies. They mean that tractor dealership, feed mills, and even slaughterhouses that harvest the veal calves and older cows have much less business to the point of many of them going out of business. Less economic activity, fewer jobs, loss of multi-generational farms and their hard-working families. What happens to their land? In some rapidly urbanizing states on the East Coast, these picturesque farms get bought up as gentleman farms where maybe a couple horses will be kept, or they are subdivided to pay off the family debt and sold for housing.

To be clear, I am not for saving giant factory farms, and as this article clearly shows, it is not the giant factory farms that are going out of business. It is the independent dairy farm with an average herd size of 200 cows. As yes, there are issues with how some animals are raised, fed, housed, and their manure managed. Again, not the point of my article. I only want to encourage you to think about the larger and long-term repercussions of the loss of family-scale farmers, the loss of rural jobs, economic activity, and working lands. Our dietary fads have serious consequences on our food security and rural communities, ones that we rarely think of. We are putting more of our food dollars into the hands of a few corporations, which not only makes our food system less resilient (ever heard of eggs all in one basket?) but it is also like a giant vacuum cleaner sucking the life and resources from our rural communities into the hands of a few masters. It is time to democratize our food system. It is time to build the economic power of our rural communities, to see them as equals, to partner with them for the good of all. Now go get yourself a glass of milk.

Kindly,
-Rebecca Thistlethwaite




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From the LH Store

There are many CSAs to choose from all over the country. We sing the praises of Community Supported Agriculture all the time. I hope you know how much we adore this sacred, nourishing partnership of producer and eater. You can use the LocalHarvest search engine to find CSAs in your region. It is not too late to sign up for the season, but please do it soon. Farmers need to know how many seeds to put in the ground, chicks to order, pigs to raise, etc.



CSA Management

Speaking of CSAs, they are a delightful way to get your food in season, but they can be a paperwork headache for all but the most office-oriented farmer. Thankfully, Local Harvest has put together two of the most popular and useful CSA management software programs that are used by hundreds of farmers across the country. Check out CSAware and CSA Manager if you have not already and email one of our friendly customer service staff to learn more!



From Our Bookshelf

Woody Tasch's new book Soil 2017: Notes Towards the Theory and Practice of Nurture Capital is a lyrical, heady ride exploring that nature of capital- financial and natural- and the cultural supremacy of fast money. Through poetry, essays, and data, Woody brings to life the paradoxical situation of the modern era, that while the GDP goes up, quality of life around the world goes down. War, disease, soil mining, and human exploitation inflate the GDP while dehumanizing us and depleting the natural resilience of our earth. Soil 2017 is both philosophical and practical, with chapters on how to bring investment back into alignment with our values of diverse, regenerative, health-promoting food and agricultural systems. Order it here.



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