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What Food Do We Want?

Our Know Your Farmer video this week is a visit with Anne and Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm. Butterworks is an iconic dairy farm in Vermont. The Lazors have been organic pioneers for the last thirty years. Their farm has evolved from selling whole milk to primarily selling yogurt. Their cattle have moved from eating farm-grown grains to being entirely grass-fed. The Lazors are always curious, always exploring, always sharing what they are learning. That is why they are so widely respected and admired. People in Vermont have a genuine sense of gratitude towards them.

PLEASE spend a few minutes visiting with these thoughtful organic farmers. You won’t be disappointed! They show a real organic farm in process, struggling with the market even as they become ever more successful in the fields.

And THAT is the koan that real organic farmers face.

We grow the real food that people want, but that they often can’t find.

Butterworks Farm Know Your Farmer Video
Jack and Anne Lazor of Butterworks Farm in Westfield, Vermont.

As the COVID-19 rolls across the world, organic farmers are impacted in unexpected ways.

Demand for local, organic food is exploding. 

Food sales from farm CSAs (“Community Sponsored Agriculture”) are doubling and tripling. The farms can’t keep up. Likewise, farms selling pasture fed-beef through the mail are up all night fulfilling orders. Smaller farms selling branded organic vegetables to stores are unable to meet the swelling demand. Sales at farm stands are booming. Small dairy farms selling milk, yogurt, and cheese directly to stores or from their farm stores cannot keep up with the demand.

This pretty clearly shows that we are craving local/regional food coming from organic farms. This is the food system that so many of us have worked towards and supported for so many years. Suddenly MANY people want the same thing. 

We want food we can trust.

Grass fed cows on pasture at Butterworks
Cows on pasture at Butterworks Farm in Westfield, Vermont where milk is processed on site into cultured dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk. Not far away, friends and neighbors are raising cows on pasture under contract with bulk suppliers.

At the same time, pastured organic dairy farms selling into the bulk market continue to struggle. There is no lifeline hidden in COVID for these farms. Family dairy farms are dying in the mass market. And soil-grown organic berry farmers are still being pushed out of the wholesale marketplace. You won’t find the soil-grown organic blueberries you want in a supermarket.

It appears that huge corporate producers of organic dairy and berries are able to keep out local competition, regardless of what people want. The megacorporations do not allow much in the way of actual competition. They are so powerful in the marketplace they seem to be able to dictate their terms to the stores, both big and small. They give great continuity of supply at a very low price, just like all conventional agriculture. They just don’t permit people who shop in supermarkets to have a choice.

The difference between the various kinds of farms is so stark right now. Is it true that eaters desperately want real organic tomatoes, meat, and greens, but don’t care about berries, milk, and eggs?

I don’t think so.

Butterworks Farm Jersey Cows
Cows being raised the way we hope the organic label stands for.

So many of those desperate organic dairy farmers are spectacularly skilled and successful at producing high-quality milk. And they are being pushed out of business by the large CAFOs that shouldn’t be certified as organic in the first place. 

The reason that the USDA organic label was created was to encourage the growth of real organic farming. That was intended to be for the benefit of both the consumers and the farmers. Now we know that such farming is for the benefit of ALL citizens of our planet, regardless of whether they choose to eat organic or not. That is why Denmark has made it a national commitment to encourage organic farming. It is for the benefit of ALL their citizens.

real organic standards board meeting 2019
Members of the ROSB from a less virtual time, before Coronavirus.

Real Organic Standards Board Restricts “Split Farms” and Passes Labor Practices

Anne Lazor of Butterworks is one of the fifteen members of the Real Organic Standards Board who met via Zoom last week for our third annual meeting. Despite COVID-19, this group of respected organic advocates continues to shape the ROP standards.  They are responding to comments from the 560 approved farms that have applied for Real Organic Project certification. This is continuous improvement. 

The biggest change this year was the addition of some standards intended to provide very basic protections for farmworkers. We know that our baby guidelines are a long way from real labor standards, but they are the beginning of an important conversation within ROP. One step at a time. Protecting organic farms should also include protections for those that care for the soil, plants and animals that make up the farm. ROP’s efforts in social sustainability will begin with a pilot program that is focused on providing educational resources about basic labor laws and farmworker protections.

Now we are ready to start our virtual inspections in the Time of Corona.

Many thanks,

Dave