Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Get in the ring: Context and contention around milk in Wisconsin

Here is more from El Dragón at Fair Food Fight, in a comment called "Get in the Ring, Baby" under a recent post called "Rosendale Dairy and the Green Bay of Manure." It gives a sense of the purpose of the site, in connection with a specific issue.

If you are interested in digging deeper to learn more about the sources of your food, Fair Food Fight is a great place to stake a bookmark. You get behind the press releases and newspaper stories to more context and contention about important issues affecting the quality and availability of food.

Fair Food Fight is sponsored by Equal Exchange, a fair trade food company (coffee, bananas, nuts, chocolates, teas) that has done an exemplary job of providing access-to-market for small, organic, sustainable farmers abroad who are otherwise shut out of the food system because of their size, who don't have access to credit that big comglomerate farms do, and who are creating a just and democratic food system.
My goal as a blogger is to take those same principles of Equal Exchange's and examine issues swirling around US domestic food and ag system. Why? Because small farmers in the US face the same issues that small coffee farmers face in, say, Nicaragua -- particularly in this rough economy. Particularly in the dairy industry. As I'm sure you know, many, many small US dairy farmers are not receiving a price for milk that even covers their cost of goods, and haven't been for over a year. That's beyond unsustainable. That's a nightmare.

What's the answer? Many in the industry think they need to get bigger and consolidate, drive prices down, and volume up. That's the Rosendale Dairy strategy. But I say that's how we got here in the first place. Consolidation edges out small, independent farmers, even in good economies -- and there we are, back to the access-to-market issue that many small coffee farmers have sadly faced.

I'm not saying all CAFOs and big operations are problematic. But the strategy of consolidation does have its drawbacks, particularly, that bigger CAFOs have dire consequences when they fail. As citizens, we owe it to our land and ourselves to ask lots of questions about CAFO expansion, because when big CAFOs do fail, as in Union-Go Dairy in Indiana, they create a host of environmental problems and stick taxpayers with the clean-up cost when they go out of business.

Small farms don't tend to create such problems. Especially small, sustainable farms.

Is Rosendale Dairy going to fail or become a massive polluter? I've laid out my case as to why the State of Wisconsin should have been very skeptical about issuing a permit. If you want an even deeper dig into the problems that Rosendale Dairy might pose to the local water system, read this article at La Vida Locavore. I also question Rosendale's financial viability, being built as it is during the midst of a giant milk glut.

So I'm not bashing farmers. I literally have my local dairy's number in my cell phone (Cedar Summit Organic Dairy) and I call when I need to learn something from the Minars about dairying, grazing, or organic production. The whole goal of Fair Food Fight is to hammer these issues out so that shoppers and consumers know what they're getting when they make choices at the grocery.

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