This is a bittersweet time for us as we welcome a few new members to our herd share from another herd share that recently closed in West Michigan.
Of course, we are always excited to add folks to our tribe – people like us who appreciate real, local food. But it is also painful because it means that the family is no longer able to operate their herd share.
Like several farms we know of, this farm was faced with a difficult decision when Dannon purchased Horizon Organic last year. Many farms with Horizon contracts also ran a herd share for additional income on the side. After the purchase, the co-op has been ruthless in finding any herd shares that farmers are operating and giving them the ultimatum – end the herd share or lose your contract.
It’s a ridiculous power game because sales of fluid pasteurized milk are down every year and many processing facilities are either dumping milk as it comes in on the trucks or putting production caps on farmers because of the overproduction problem.
So, it’s not that the co-ops need 100% of every farm’s milk.
But they need to provide the sole income for the farmer, thereby relegating the farmer to serfdom. It is a tactic to simply keep the farmer in his place.
Friends of ours who milk for DFA (Dairy Farmers of America) were shocked to learn that we’ve always had diversified livestock on our farm, keeping pastured hogs and poultry along with dairy and beef stock. This would violate their co-op contract they said.
Because, heaven forbid a farmer could get a paycheck beyond his milk check or selling cull cows at the livestock auction to McDonald’s and Campbell’s Soup.
After speaking with our friends this past spring, we knew this was the position Horizon had forced them into: ditch the herd share or lose your contract.
And, what choice does a farmer have in this situation?
They have invested thousands of dollars into certifying their land and animals USDA Organic. And the paperwork to maintain that certification. And all the equipment to grow and harvest and store that feed.
And all of the cows themselves! Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of productive, healthy milk cows. That they would get next to nothing for at auction. Pennies on the dollar for what they’re worth.
Not to mention the money, time and effort to maintain their Grade A certification. Countless hours and, again, thousands of dollars to meet their standards, pass inspections, and produce clean, safe milk to be processed into a milk product for store shelves – nothing resembling the fresh, REAL milk that was originally shipped from their farm.
The farmer considers all of this.
And we would have made the same, painful and tearful decision they did.
All those investments would have been wasted to go down to a dozen cows, milking just for the herd share. Herd shares don’t require Grade-A certification, expensive organic paperwork and multitudes of equipment to feed hundreds or thousands of cows. The co-ops requires those things.
Herd share members require clean, fresh, safe milk from their local farmer. And they love supporting those farmers.
And once a co-op contract is lost, it is lost forever.
Most organic co-ops have 3-5 year waiting lists for farmers to join.
And so, we are supportive in our friends’ prayerful decision to end their herd share in pursuit of keeping their Horizon Organic contract, even though they have devoted hours of time and energy to making unprocessed, fresh milk accessible to families all over Michigan.
They have developed and maintained positive relationships with MDARD, in spite of some sticky disputes over raw milk in the state.
We happily welcome many families who have been with this farm for well over a decade to our farm – talk about loyal customers!
We can’t express how much of an inspiration this farm was to us when we started our own small farm 7 years ago on 10 small acres.
And how their friendship bolstered us to expand to 35 acres of production last year. And how supportive they were of our operation MOOving home to our 80 acre farm, where our family is just minutes away and where our roots were pulling us back to.
And we will forever be grateful to them for paving the way for smaller farms like us to flourish.