How to help your local dairy farmer

There’s a crisis happening in the food world and few have any idea that one of our country’s most beloved food industries is on the verge of collapse.

Your local dairy farmer is on the brink of disaster.

Milk does a body good, but not the dairy farmer

As things stand, current milk prices equal half of what it takes for dairy farmers to feed and milk their cows. If milk prices don’t stabilize soon, independent dairy farmers across our country will fold. Some warn that beyond the loss of local dairy farms, many of these farmers are losing the will to go on.

In just six months, two dairy farmers have committed suicide.

Thanks to the recent recession and pressure from large dairy corporations like Hood and Horizon, individual farmers are struggling to keep from losing everything. Every carton of milk sold at the grocery store represents a loss of funds at a local dairy farm.

According to Amanda St. Pierre of Dairy Farmers Working Together, many farmers are so depressed by their increasing debts they refuse to put time towards bringing public awareness to their cause–for fear of missing valuable hours of work.

A lose/lose situation

According to a recent Los Angeles Times story, California dairy farmers have been hit especially hard. As the number one dairy state, California farms produce one-fifth of the nation’s supply of milk—that’s $7 billion worth of milk annually. LA Times writer, Jerry Hirsch reports that farmers are staying afloat by getting loans on their property and selling off their cows for slaughter. If milk prices don’t go up soon, he wrote, farmers will spend the loaned funds in short time and quickly go out of business.

As an increasing number of dairy farms face bankruptcy, the future for our nation’s milk farmers looks increasingly dim. Even the organic dairy farmers—once the most profitable sector of the dairy business—have seen any profit disappear as health-conscientious customers skip the higher-priced organic milk for lower priced options from large conglomerations. Now, many farmers are wishing they hadn’t made the investment to go organic.

Respect the Cow

After seventeen years as a beans and rice vegetarian—I avoided meat and poultry for political and ethical reasons–I started eating red meat after becoming increasingly desperate for a change of diet and a source of real iron. I forsook food politics for the health benefits of–and pure enjoyment from–unabashed eating. A thorough read of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma changed all that, however, as his words reminded me of the need for political and ethical eating–even as an omnivore.

I quickly adapted my post-Pollan diet to create ways for my buying dollars to show respect for the animals’ lives, the planet’s needs, the farmers’ work and the talents of dedicated artisans–while still enjoying my foodie cravings.

When I read this week’s shocking story in the LA Times about California dairy farmers, I began wondering what I could do as a consumer to help put a stop to this mounting crisis.


Request local dairy farmers’ participation at your local farmers’ market: According to a recent New York Times article, some New England farmers are considering selling their milk directly to the public. Research dairy farms in your area and ask the farmers to participate in your local farmers’ market.

Local dairy farmers could take advantage of the recent popularity of local farmers’ and begin to offer their products directly to the consumer. With this sort of presence, consumers will have access to information about where their milk comes from, how the cows are raised, and will have a direct relationship with the farmer that will result in dedicated buying dollars. In addition, the Vermont House of Representatives recently passed a bill month to increase the amount of raw milk a farmer can at farmers’ markets.

When possible, pay extra to buy local.

Boycott bad brands
According to the Organic Consumers Association, brands like Horizon not only manipulate local farmers to lower their milk prices, but as a corporation they use loopholes in national organic standards to sell a milk produced from factory farm feedlots where the animals have been brought in from conventional farms and are kept in intensive confinement, with little or no access to pasture.

Get political

–Sign the Holstein Association’s petition for the USA Dairy Price Stabilization Program.
–Sign a letter from Farm Aid to Secretary Vilsack asking for his support in setting fair prices for milk for our nation’s Dairy Farmers.
–Donate to Dairy Farmers Working Together or email them here to join their newsletter to find out about the upcoming Dairy Farmers Working Together conference call, slated to happen on June 30th. On this call you will be able to hear about issues facing dairy farmers and what concerned consumers can do to support dairy farmers.
— Send a letter to HP Hood to stop requiring Organic farms to reduce production.

What ideas do you have for lending support to your local dairy farmer?


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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.


  1. Leah
    June 2

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. As conscientious omnivores it’s totally on us to find out where are food and milk come. I had no idea things had gotten this bad. Great research!

  2. kartho
    June 2

    I am very lucky to live in an area that is serviced by a local dairy that offers home delivery. I have been getting my milk delivered for 6-7 years, and even in that time there have been several changes. There used to be two competing dairies that delivered – one went out of business. My dairy changed from twice a week deliveries to once a week,and most significantly, a listeria outbreak threatened the whole system. The dairy I use had to switch suppliers, and that dairy farm has never recovered. It was an incredibly unfortunate scenario for them, and is a reminder of how vulnerable the bottom of the food chain is, even in my relatively short chain.
    The benefits of dealing with somebody local cannot be overstated. Even during the listeria crisis, I could call my dairy on the phone to ask questions, and I gave my opinions when they were choosing a new milk supplier. (For example, we were adamant that we not switch to a dairy that used plastic bottles.)I certainly pay more for milk than if I bought it at the supermarket, but it is still cheaper than organic milk, and I know exactly where it is coming from and can visit the cows if I’m so inclined.
    I’m attaching my order form so you can see the price list.

  3. Anonymous
    June 2

    Do you know about this?

    > > Please tell everyone who wants organic foods…..
    > US House and Senate are about (in a week and a half) to
    > vote on bill that will OUTLAW ORGANIC FARMING (bill HR 875).
    > There is an enormous rush to get this into law within the
    > next 2 weeks before people realize what is happening.
    > Main backer and lobbyist is Monsanto – chemical and
    > genetic engineering giant corporation (and Cargill, ADM, and
    > about 35 other related agri-giants). This bill will require
    > organic farms to use specific
    > fertilizers and poisonous insect sprays dictated by the
    > newly formed agency to "make sure there is no danger to
    > the public food supply". This will include backyard
    > gardens that grow food only for a family and not for sales.
    > If this passes then NO more heirloom clean seeds but only
    > Monsanto genetically altered seeds that are now showing up
    > with unexpected diseases in humans.
    > There is a video on the subject.
    > And another one:
    > The name on this outrageous food plan is:
    > Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 (bill HR 875).
    > TODAY!
    > Get on that phone and burn up the wires. Get anyone else
    > you can to do the same thing. The House and Senate WILL pass
    > this if they are not massively threatened with loss of their
    > position…. They only fear your voice and your vote.
    > The best thing to do is go to
    > all you have to do is put in your zip and it will give you
    > your congressperson and how to get in touch with them. When
    > you call their office someone will answer the phone, just
    > tell them (politely) that you are calling to express your
    > views on HR 875.

  4. Matt Glidden
    June 3

    Thank you for your thoughtful article on this problem. The URL to sign Farm Aid's petition to USDA Secretary Vilsack is

    Keep up the great work spreading the message about the dairy crisis!

    Matt Glidden
    Web Marketing Manager
    Farm Aid

  5. lillie
    June 5

    very thought-provoking post. milk isn't one of my staple organic/local purchases (like veggies & fruit are)–but i think i might start reconsidering. i'm always interested to learn more about companies, like Horizon, who market themselves as wholesome and sustainable–but who aren't actually running respectable operations. i will seek out some farm-fresh milk this weekend…

  6. El
    June 7

    This is an incredibly important issue. I can't imagine going back to the horrible processed milk I grew up with so I always buy fresh, local milk. There's simply no comparison. I've created a list of local dairy farms in New England that have websites here:

    Pasteurized Milk:

    Raw Milk:

    Maps and Directions are included as well.

    Let's make a commitment buy local milk.

  7. Amanda Nicole
    June 15

    I absolutely agree. I simply won't buy dairy products if they aren't local for these exact reasons. I also just finished reading Pollan's "In Defense of Food," another great read for those who want to love their food and live free of guilt or health hazards.

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