Are consumers interested in spending more for their milk and dairy products to help some of the nation’s family dairy farms, or is the disconnect between consumers and their food too great to overcome?
For supporters of the group Keep Local Farms, their hope is that consumers will be open to paying a little more for milk, with the extra money earned going directly to participating dairies, according to the Associated Press.
The campaign is pulled from a similar movement, one that supports “fair trade” practices. Consumers are proving that they are interested in paying a higher price tag for products such as coffee and chocolate to provide workers with decent wages and sound environmental practices. Keep Local Farms hopes that this same concept could help preserve New England’s dairies.
So far, six colleges and universities have signed up, including Harvard and the University of Vermont. These schools contribute 10 cents for every single-serving container of milk sold. Boston Medical Center, Ski Vermont and some of Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops are also supporting the group.
Other regions of the country also have a similar program. Family Farm Defenders sell fair trade cheese in Wisconsin sold for $6 per pound, and producers who provided milk for the cheese are paid $3 for each pound sold. The group sells $30,000 to $50,000 worth of cheese annually. According to John Peck, Family Farm Defenders executive director, 30 farms are paid an estimated $500 to $1,000 each year.
The question remains: can these groups do enough to sway consumers to dig deeper into their pockets to save a shrinking industry? In Vermont alone, nearly two-thirds of the state’s dairies have closed in the past 30 years because of low milk prices, and the current economic environment is no different for dairy farmers in Vermont or across the nation. Last week, the USDA announced the June’s milk-feed ratio – a rough measure of dairy producer profitability – at 1.38, tying a record-low.
There is a glimmer of consumer support for dairies. After Tropical Storm Irene destroyed Vermont farms, ravaging fields and carrying away feed and livestock, people rallied around their local dairies, donating money and volunteering to help these farms rebuild. Some Vermont consumers are also willing to pay a premium on their electricity bills for renewable energy projects, with the money going to help dairy farmers buy generators that run on methane.
The program is far from new. In 2010, the “Keep Local Farms” program was developed by the Vermont Dairy Promotion Council, the New England Family Dairy Farm Cooperative (NEFDFC) and the New England Dairy Promotion Board. Read more here.