“Gary Hirshberg and the Real Organic Project walk into a bar together…”
As it turns out, what happens next is not a joke.
Tonight at 6 PM we will host a 40-minute bonus session for our Milk & Money symposium. We will post a portion of our interview with Gary (co-founder of Stonyfield). It was a long, engaging interview, but tonight we will excerpt the parts where Gary describes his Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership.
This is Gary’s brainchild to change the market for organic milk in New England. It is an attempt to recruit eaters to a consortium of small independent labels (like Butterworks, The Milkhouse, Sidehill, and Strafford Creamery) AND market giants like Organic Valley and Stonyfield. Conspicuously missing from that list is Horizon, Danone’s organic brand. Horizon is in the process of dropping 89 organic dairy farms from its producers. That is ALL of their supplier farms in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, and a significant number from New York.
Horizon will NOT be part of this coalition.
Gary Hirshberg represents the ultimate rags to riches story in organic.
He became partners in 1983 with Samuel Kayman, a co-founder of NOFA, to take Stonyfield from a 4 cow operation into being the biggest organic yogurt company in America.
Real Organic Project certifies some of the farms that sell to Stonyfield and Organic Valley, but neither brand would entirely qualify for Real Organic certification. Our standards are higher than the USDA’s, and while many of their farms would qualify, some would not.
Nonetheless, we support these brands to the public. From what we can tell, they mostly do not deal in CAFO milk, and they pay their farms the highest price that they can afford. But they do not publicly challenge the organic food system enough to throw the CAFOs out of USDA organic. They have been mostly silent to the public about the USDA’s failures, even as they have imposed higher standards on themselves.
“Nonetheless, we support these brands to the public. From what we can tell, they mostly do not deal in CAFO milk, and they pay their farms the highest price that they can afford. But they do not publicly challenge the organic food system enough to throw the CAFOs out of USDA organic. They have been mostly silent to the public about the USDA’s failures, even as they have imposed higher standards on themselves.” – Linley Dixon (Co-Director, Real Organic Project)
This strategy has not been successful. The farms selling to Organic Valley and Stonyfield are mostly operating at a loss. The highest prices being paid are still too low to make a living. This is not because Organic Valley and Stonyfield want to screw their farmers. This is because cheap milk is flooding the American market from the western CAFOs. We are all part of a larger food system.
Until the organic movement stands up and says NO in a united voice, we will continue to lose.
That means that real organic farms will continue to be pushed out of business, replaced by fauxganic CAFOs who can actually make a profit selling milk at a ridiculously low price. They charge what their milk is worth. That milk is then sold to the supermarket Store brands and the organic milk price becomes depressed.
Because it isn’t organic milk! All milk may look the same, but we know it is NOT the same.
So we are at a crossroads. Will we let the hundreds, maybe soon to be thousands, of organic dairy farms that are producing the highest quality milk go out of business? And when they do, what will we be drinking and serving our children? What will happen to the land that was being tended by some of the best farmers in America? What will happen to the communities in which those farms are a keystone? What will happen to our health, our water, and our climate when good farms are replaced by bad farms?
Gary has a plan to help some of those small farms. We don’t agree with every detail. It doesn’t challenge the structures that support so-called “organic” CAFOs. It doesn’t challenge the USDA to enforce the rules and to create better rules. It doesn’t even challenge the wrong concept of an “organic” CAFO.
BUT it does call out to eaters to support family-scale farms in their region. It is a call to action, and I think we should support it, improving it as we go. In this case, the perfect is definitely the enemy of the good. The Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership is not the final answer. It places the oversight in the hands of the processors and leaves out some farms that also lost their contracts. But it is a start.
Come tonight and listen to what Gary has to say. This session is 40 minutes long. It is entertaining. If you haven’t gotten a symposium ticket, you can still attend tonight’s bonus session.
Click here to attend at 6 pm Eastern time.
But if you haven’t gotten a symposium ticket, yet, there is still time! You can watch last Sunday’s session at your leisure, and you can still watch the final session this coming Sunday afternoon.
Better yet, join our Real Friends program and you will get a complimentary ticket. And you will be supporting the transformation of our food system.
Dave and Linley
“There's a huge shift underway towards large confinement, “organic in-name-only” operations in the Western United States that milk 5,000 to 10,000 to 15,000 cows and somehow supposedly meet the 30% dry matter intake from pasture rule. Which they don't. And if they do, it's only because they do really creative math.”
– Caitlin Frame, The Milkhouse Dairy & Creamery
Visit our podcast series for the most interesting stories you can find. Together, these speakers dive deeply into the problems and solutions of our time, searching for the next steps.
Please join 1000 Real Friends to support our work.