Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Fighting "the man"
Frustrated. A little angry. Mostly frustrated. And more angry than I thought. For the past 13 years we have been selling our milk conventionally to a commercial milk company, I will call Company A. Every other day the truck pulls up to our farm empties our milk tank and goes down the road to pick up more milk from other dairy farms. It is all mixed together and eventually finds its way to the grocery store. If you read the label you would have no idea where the milk came from or who produced it. At the end of each month we get The Milk Check. It no longer covers our cost of producing milk even if you took the organic component out of the equation . (The cost of organic feed primarily).
So, last year we had the dairy certified organic. Years of work which culminated about the same time the organic milk market took a dive. The organic milk buyer who verbally offered to purchase our milk changed their mind. We chose to keep our organic status and sell our milk directly to on farm customers on the days the milk truck does not come. That has been working well. We sell our milk to individuals at a much higher price than we are paid by Company A. The consumer buys it from us at a much lower price than they have been able to buy organic raw milk in other areas. By selling some milk off the farm, about 30 % of our total produced, we are doing our little part to keep the milk market from being flooded which is what happened two years ago driving DOWN the prices paid to dairy farmers .It was a win win win win situation. Until today.
A representative from ANOTHER conventional milk company , which I will call company B, came to our farm, on our property, without invitation. He informed us that Company A has been moving towards closing their doors and many dairy farmers in Illinois are now under contract to his Company B. He showed my husband the current rate of pay which was a little higher than Company A, offering to buy our milk from us if we switched companies now. However...we would be required to sign a statement promising we WOULD NOT sell any raw milk to anyone. He also "warned " us that if we did not sign on with Company B soon, we could expect Company A to drop us from their route very soon. The two companies, once competitors are now merging partners.
When my husband questioned why the quality of our milk, with its very low bacterial counts and high butterfat ratios, and the fact that our annual state surveys always reflect very well on Company A, were not entered into any equations, the representative from Company B mumbled something about quantity not quality.
Keep in mind these facts.
1. It is legal to sell raw milk in Illinois as long as the consumer comes to the farm and brings their own
2. Illinois state law does not limit the amount of raw milk that can be purchased directly from the dairy
3. When we started selling milk to Company A years ago there was no contract signed. We were never
asked or told not to sell some of our milk, raw, directly to the consumer.
4. This is still America. Land of the free where individuals should have the choice to purchase and consume
raw milk as they see fit.
So, what does a hard working farmer and his midlife farmwife do ? We make a plan. It will probably include some files and folders, post it notes and copies of other stories like ours. I will also be calling my state representatives and an attorney or two at The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund. How DARE they attempt to interfere with a small farmers legal ability to make an honest living ! Stay tuned.