Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dairy Farmer Letters for Change

HildeOne of the most effective ways for everyday citizens to advocate for positive change is through sharing their personal stories and experiences with policymakers. As part of our ongoing work on the dairy crisis, Farm Aid has reached out to struggling farmers across the country, encouraging them to take a few minutes to reflect on how the dramatic crash in dairy prices has affected their farms, families, and communities. Individual letters to key legislators and USDA administrators put an important face to the crisis and reiterate the serious need for immediate and strong action. Not to mention that some of the best solutions to public problems come from those they hit the hardest.

Below are excerpts from two letters we've received from farmers who were willing to share their story. If you'd like to participate in Farm Aid's dairy letter campaign to Secretary Vilsack, click here for a PDF with some basic tips on writing an effective letter. We'd be more than happy to pass the letter on to Washington, DC for you – all you have to do is ask.

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

I am writing to urge you to institute an emergency floor price for raw milk. If something is not done soon, more and more family farms are going to be lost forever. The situation for most family farms is desperate. My husband and I live in Pennsylvania on a small family farm. It will soon be a Century Farm. But I am sure if the milk price continues the way it is, we are not going to be living on this farm. It would break my husband's heart to have to sell this farm he has lived on all his life. We can't even pay our bills with the price we are getting for our milk. My husband had sold two of his guns (and plans to sell more). I have sold an antique milk bottle I have had for years. I have been selling things off my walls and shelves to pay the bills. These are antiques that should have gone to our girls some day. How much are we expected to sacrifice for our way of life?

Please help the many dairy farmers who are hanging on to their farms and their way of life by a hair!

Diane H.

Dear Senator Winner:

My husband, Brian (third generation farmer) and I lease and operate a small dairy farm in Steuben County from his parents, which has been in the family since 1947. Our dream is to own the farm and keep it in the family for another generation to be handed down to our children. But with the current situation of extremely low milk prices, this is becoming harder every day.

The costs of operating the farm and what we are being paid are not balancing out. Recently, our most current milk check average $.90/gallon when in a store you pay anywhere from $3.89-$4.39/gallon. See the problem. It is not fair that we, the hard-working farmers, have to not only pay for our costs to operate, we also have to pay the cost to ship raw milk to the processing plants, pay for advertising, component values, fuel surcharges, coop dues and a CWT [Cooperatives Working Together] program.

We are all feeling the devastating effects of these low milk prices (farmers, feed mills, utility companies, lending institutions, agriculture supply distributors, vets, rural governments and the list goes on). I truly feel if something is not done soon, there will be more unemployment, farms/homes/land for sale, bank foreclosures, tax sales, animal cruelty cases, uninsured sick and malnourished children and elderly, and again this list goes on. Is this truly what our government wants?

Lisa R.
New York

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Loco for Local Dairy

HildeI admit it: I am crazy for local milk. I love buying glass bottles from the farm stand down the road and drinking straight from the rim. I usually forget to return the bottles until the collection under my sink has become altogether unruly, but the ritual of buying and returning bottles has only strengthened my commitment to supporting local dairy farmers (plus the bottles make terrific vases!).

But supporting local dairy doesn't have to mean glass bottles from farm stands. Most grocery stores carry local or regional brands of milk, yogurt from nearby creameries, and cheeses from artisans in the area. The trick is to read a bit of the fine print and to buy the most wholesome, minimally processed products from as close to home as you can find. Doing so ensures a nutrient-rich boost to your body; it also means more of your food dollar is paying for products made from real, farm-fresh milk, not the milk substitutes or well-traveled imports that keep creeping onto our shelves.

Not sold? Here are five more reasons why you, too, should go "loco" for local dairy:
  1. Food quality – Local dairy is sold fresher (and tastier), with no need for preservatives or extensive processing for long-distance transport or to extend its life on the shelf.
  2. Community food security – If the ongoing dairy crisis continues much longer, we risk having entire states devoid of a single dairy farm. A stable network of local dairy farms is essential for communities to provide residents with access to safe, healthful food.
  3. Preservation of farmland and agricultural traditions – Local dairies dot the landscapes of many regions, and are a productive and beneficial way to preserve farmland, local modes of production and processing, and even unique locally adapted dairy breeds.
  4. Local jobs and economies – Supporting local dairies benefits local businesses used for farm inputs and services as well as those involved in processing and distribution, keeping more money circulating around the community.
  5. Dairy farmers rock! – If the dairy farmers in your area are anything like the dairy farmers here in New England, then they're some of the most good-hearted, hard-working, ingenious people you'll ever have the pleasure to meet. These folks give 110% every day to produce good food for our tables. When family farmers thrive, the very best of America thrives. What better reason is there than that to get out there and support your local dairy farmers today!
To help others locate fresh, family-farmed dairy in your area, leave a comment below about your favorite local dairy brands. The Eat Well Guide is also a great source for tracking down family-farmed options close to home.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rallying for Dairy Farmers

AnnaThe Farm Aid office has been in overdrive as we prepare to send Joel to Iowa for the Rally on Dairy Prices this weekend.

Farm Aid has teamed up with dairy farmers and a variety of local and regional organizations to hold a rally at the Manchester Livestock Exchange in Manchester, Iowa on Saturday, May 30th.

In the past year, dairy farmers have seen the price they are paid for their milk drop upwards of 50% percent, the largest single drop since the Great Depression, according to the National Family Farm Coalition. Prices are so low, dairy farmers are being paid about half of what it costs them to produce milk, forcing thousands out of business and off their land.

The rally will call attention to this crisis and present solutions that keep family dairy farmers in business, bringing us a safe, local and regional milk supply. Click here for more information (and here's a PDF version of a poster you can print out).

Do you live in or around Iowa? Round up a herd of friends and head over to show your support for dairy farmers and learn from a great group of speakers.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dark Days for a Dairy Farmer & Dairy Rally in Manchester, IA on May 30!

JenFarm Aid has had the pleasure of getting to know Joel Greeno, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, over a number of years but over the past few months we've gotten to know him and his story quite well through his work on the National Family Farm Coalition's dairy subcommittee. Joel's energy and commitment is amazing and we wanted to share a bit more about him and the hard work he's doing, on his farm and for the sake of all dairy farmers.

I spoke with Joel on Tuesday and despite being up well after midnight finishing chores the night before, he was right back at it again before dawn, milking his herd of 48 cows. During his morning chores, Joel prepared his remarks for both a morning radio interview and a teleconference call he was to take part in that afternoon to let the media know how the price of milk is affecting dairy farmers. Later in the day, Joel would appear live on another radio show. In between he planned to call a few senators to get an update on the status of legislation that could help farmers. In addition to his advocacy work, he had to get a field of corn planted and do the afternoon milking. But before he could plant his corn, Joel was waiting to hear whether the organic fertilizer he uses was in stock (he's been waiting for days). His corn couldn't wait another day so if it wasn't in stock, he was going to have to drive 80 miles out of his way to get it. It doesn't seem like a normal person could get all this accomplished in one day. But Joel would.

Joel told me about the stress he was under, calling it "more stress than a person should bear." In order to plant his corn, he had sold 11 heifers only to find out the check he received had bounced. And the milk payment from his co-op that was supposed to arrive Monday did not arrive. Which meant, as Joel put it, "you've got the bills at the mailbox, ready to go, but you can't send them because you're waiting on that milk check." Nonetheless, Joel was upbeat and when I told him that his energy level and positive attitude was an inspiration he shrugged it off saying, "I've been at it for 12 years now... We keep fighting the fight... We keep going. Because as I like to say, knowledge is power but only if you use it."

Joel is one of the thousands of dairy farmers fighting to stay in the business, despite milk prices that are less than half the cost of producing milk!

Joel will join other dairy farmers to stage a rally for fair pricing on Saturday, May 30, in Manchester, Iowa. We'll bring you more information about the rally next week, but click on the image to the right to see it (or click here for a PDF version).

To join Farm Aid in urging Secretary Vilsack to act immediately to keep dairy farmers on the land, producing good local and regional milk, click here.

To learn what your help means to Joel, see his note below. And, if you would like to make a gift to Farm Aid to support our work with Joel and other farmers to find a solution to the dairy crisis, please click here.

I didn't become a dairy farmer because I thought it would be easy. It's hard work, with a lot of early mornings and a lot of heavy lifting -- but it's work I love, and I'm thankful for it every day. If it were up to me, I'd never do anything else.

But there's a crisis facing American dairy farmers that threatens to drive me and 20,000 other farmers out of business in the next few months.

On average, dairy farmers are currently being paid less than half of what it costs us to produce our milk. Many farmers like me face the prospect of losing our land, our herds and our livelihoods -- and communities across the country will lose high-quality, locally-produced dairy.

Farm Aid is here to help, and for a lot of us, they're the last folks we have left to count on. Will you make a gift to Farm Aid today so they can keep on standing up for farmers like me?

I've milked cows now most of my life. I began on my parents' farm when I was 10 years old. In 1993, my parents' 30th wedding anniversary present was a sheriff auction on the courthouse steps where their farm was sold. I had to move my cows to an abandoned USDA/FSA farm I had purchased a few years before. In just a few days we had to install a milking system, bulk tank, and water stations before I could milk.

Those were dark days.

I now milk 48 cows and rotational graze my 160 acre farm in Kendall, Wisconsin, with my wife Laura and daughter Abby. Again we face dark days. It's just sad to know that even if you give 110% effort, at the end of the day you will not have earned enough money to pay the bills.

The milk pricing system needs to be changed, and Farm Aid and I need your help to do it.
Since the dairy crisis started, my friends at Farm Aid have told me that calls to their Farmer Resource Network hotline have shot way up. They're getting flooded with calls from family farmers desperate for some help. And Farm Aid is there -- connecting farmers to the resources they need to find a loan, save some of their herd or get in touch with those in the community that can lend a hand.

Plain and simple, a lot of us farmers are in a desperate situation. That's why I wanted to make sure you heard my story, so you'd know how much your support of Farm Aid matters.

Please, give whatever you can today and help support family farmers with your donation to Farm Aid. When you do, you'll be helping make sure there's a place for people like me, the family farmers who face the early mornings and do the heavy lifting so that you and your family can have good, healthy, locally-produced food.

Thank you for your support -- it makes all the difference in the world to us.


Joel Greeno
Wisconsin dairy farmer

Monday, May 18, 2009

Willie Nelson and Farm Aid Warn Low Milk Prices for Farmers Threaten Local and Regional Economies

MattToday Farm Aid sent out a press release that details the state of the crisis that dairy farmers face and explains some of the root causes. Read below for an excerpt and click here to read the full release.

Willie Nelson and Farm Aid Warn Low Milk Prices for Farmers Threaten Local and Regional Economies
Farm Aid petition calls on Secretary Vilsack to set fair price for dairy farmers

SOMERVILLE, MA — The drastic drop in milk prices paid to farmers over the past year has led to an unprecedented crisis for dairy farmers who, on average, are being paid less than half the cost of production. Low prices and high production costs threaten to push nearly one-third of dairy farmers off their land over the next couple of months, strengthening corporate control of the dairy industry and severely impacting the health of local and regional economies nationwide.

Farm Aid has organized a petition to call on Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to take action by setting a floor price for milk that reflects the cost of production, protecting the livelihoods of dairy farmers and consumer access to fresh, local dairy products. Farm Aid will personally deliver the petition to Secretary Vilsack on June 2.

"Setting a fair price for milk won't fix all the problems that led to the current crisis, but it may be the only way to keep thousands of dairy farmers on their farms this year," said Farm Aid board member Willie Nelson. "Unless Secretary Vilsack takes immediate action, huge areas of the United States may be left without any local dairy farms at all."

Dairy farmers have been hit with a catastrophic combination of factors beyond their control. Farmers are struggling to pay bills from record high feed and fuel costs; adequate credit is increasingly impossible to come by; and the price of milk paid to farmers by processors collapsed a record 30 percent in January alone, and is currently down 50 percent since July 2008. In the meantime, the top dairy processors have recently announced 2009 first quarter earnings that are up from the same period last year. The top processor, Dean Foods, reported their first quarter earnings are more than double that of last year thanks in part to the plunging price Dean pays to its milk producers.

When you're done reading, be sure to encourage Secretary Vilsack to set a fair price for milk and to ensure a local and regional milk supply, by visiting

Thursday, May 07, 2009

USDA announces $50 million in organic transition grants

HildeMany organic advocates might describe their fight for increased federal attention to organic production as an uphill battle. Yet, on Tuesday organic advocates received a standing “O”vation, so to speak, from USDA – or at least a big announcement regarding a great deal of money soon to be available for organic transition. Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan shared the exciting news during a semi-annual meeting of the National Organic Standards Board – a 15-member board appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to assist USDA in developing standards and implementing the organic program.

Administered through USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Natural Resource Conservation Service plans to provide $50 million in 2009 to help farmers and ranchers wanting to transition to organic production as well as certified organic farmers wanting to implement further conservation practices.

According to the Organic Farming Research Foundation, a Farm Aid funded-group and partner organization that played a central role in advocating for organic transition funds, "the USDA funding is historic. It signals federal recognition of the tremendous contributions organic agriculture makes to the health of our environment. Better water quality, enhanced bio-diversity, protection of bees and other pollinators, and increased carbon storage in our soil are all benefits of organic production."

But, don't sit there and celebrate for too long. We've got to spread the news, and fast! Beginning May 11, 2009, farmers and ranchers will have just eighteen short days to apply for the funds. Those interested in the opportunity will need to visit their local Conservation District Country offices to apply. (To find your local office, click here). In the meantime, please make sure to get the word out about this extraordinary opportunity – one of the greatest policy successes to date for organic agriculture!

Update: Good news on the Feingold-Gillibrand Amendment!

JenAs Hilde reported on Tuesday, Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Kay Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced an amendment to the Helping Families Save their Homes Act of 2009 to provide foreclosure protection to family farmers. While the final amendment was not as strong as we would have hoped (guaranteeing that any banks accepting bailout funds be required to restructure farm loans in the same way they are being required to restructure home loans), the final amendment that was passed in the Senate on Tuesday is a step in the right direction.

The Feingold-Gillibrand Amendment requires the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to promptly examine whether lenders that have taken bailout funds should help farmers and ranchers restructure their loans. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), chair of the Banking Committee, also committed to help bring the USDA and Treasury together to talk with farmers and farm groups about their concern.

As Feingold said, this is "an important step toward raising the profile of farmers and ranchers facing foreclosure in these tough economic times… If the government is going to help lending institutions with bailouts, those institutions should be doing what they can to help keep all Americans in their homes and this amendment and meeting are important steps in making sure this includes farmers and ranchers."

As always, we'll keep you up to date and let you know what you can do to take action!

Here is the press release from Senator Feingold’s office.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Act Now! Urge your Senator to back the Feingold-Gillibrand Amendment

In February, we asked you to urge your representatives in Congress to include family farmers in federal economic recovery efforts. In March, Farm Aid joined forces with more than 50 other farm, rural and housing organizations, asking Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to ensure that banks accepting federal bailout funds be required to work with farmers to avoid unnecessary foreclosures. Now, we need you to follow-up on these efforts by contacting your Senator once again and urging them to support the Feingold-Gillibrand Amendment.

Today, the US Senate will resume their consideration of the Helping Families Save their Homes Act of 2009. The Act is intended to help struggling Americans restructure their home mortgages. Because family farmers are often required to place their home as security against their farm loan, many do not have home mortgages and will not be extended the same protection as other troubled homeowners under this Act.

The Feingold-Gillibrand Amendment requires banks receiving Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds to offer farm loan restructuring to farms facing foreclosure so long as the restructured loan would be worth as much or more than the bank would receive by following through with foreclosure. These are the same conditions afforded to family farmers with farm loans supported by the USDA Farm Service Agency; and, extending these protections to privately-held farm loans is a reasonable requirement of any bank receiving taxpayer money.

Such a measure will have a widespread impact on family farmers across the country without additional funds from the federal government or costing the banks another dime. According to Food and Water Watch, “the fifteen largest TARP recipients that each received more than $1 billion made more than 92,000 small farm loans in 2007 – amounting to more than 40 percent of the loans nationwide and about a third of the loan dollars.”

Forty percent of farm loans! That’s certainly no small chunk of change and represents the livelihoods of tens of thousands of family farmers. Please act today to protect family farmers from the loss of not only their land, but the very roofs above their heads.

Friday, May 01, 2009

HOMEGROWN Shepherdess Cornelia is giving away two tickets to Bonnaroo – show us “In Food We Trust”

CorneliaIf you're looking for a fun time this June, Bonnaroo is it! We'll be there talking to folks about living HOMEGROWN, sharing skills and getting our hands dirty - join us!

Here are the details on how you can WIN TWO TICKETS TO BONNAROO:

In a series of six (6) photos or fewer, show us:

How are you eating differently these days and how are you connecting to the sources of your food? For example: Are you growing some of your own food? What are you growing and how? Do you know your farmer? What does he/she look like?

Those photos will be judged on content, composition and creativity, but also on how you show us: how does knowing the sources of your food feel?

WIN: Winners will receive two four-day passes to The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival 2009, happening June 11-14, 2009. All expenses to get to Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN are your own and not the responsibility of HOMEGROWN or FARM AID.

HOW TO ENTER: Join the "In Food We Trust" group at Flickr, then upload your photos - be sure to tag them “HOMEGROWNdotorg” and “Bonnaroo2009”. Contestants may only enter the contest once (one set of six photos), so choose your photos carefully. You may, in 100 words or fewer, help describe your photos and reasons for choosing them.

CONTEST DEADLINE: Thursday May 14th 2009 at 11:59pm ET
WINNERS ANNOUNCED: Monday May 18th 2009

Judges include:
Dale Dougherty, Editor and Publisher, Make Media
Cornelia Hoskin, HOMEGROWN Shepherdess
Adriana Martinez, Anarchy In The Garden
Gayla Trail of YouGrowGirl
Nick Zammuto of the band The Books