LONDONDERRY, N.H.–Last fall, 89 organic family farms across Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and eastern New York received the sudden news that Horizon, a brand owned by Danone North America, was terminating their purchase contracts, effective in early 2023. Subsequently Maple Hill Creamery announced the cancellation of contracts for an additional 46 farms. This news put these farms, many of whom have been in business for generations, at serious risk of closure unless they find alternate outlets. Today, Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Co-Founder and former long-time CEO, is announcing the launch of the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership, a first-of-its kind partnership, created to solve the crisis of disappearing family farms.
The Partnership, a collaboration of farmers, processors, activists and government agencies, is inviting consumers to sign a pledge, linked here, to purchase one-fourth of their weekly dairy purchases from 35 brands, listed here. These brands have committed to increase their purchases of northeast organic family farmers’ milk and thus increase demand and market stability to help save the 135 at-risk farms and so that all of the region’s organic family farms can be more secure. Simply put, the Partnership aims to empower consumers to help save these farms and make a lasting impact on organic family farmers’ livelihoods.
The Partnership is also inviting grocers, restaurants, cafeterias and any outlets that sell dairy products to also become licensed as Partners. Licensed Partners who have signed affidavits to grow their organic purchases will be entitled to proudly display the Partnership Logo at the Point of Sale and also online to enable easy identification by consumers.
The Partnership Board includes a diverse group of leaders and individuals committed to saving all at-risk organic family farms across the northeast. They include, in addition to Hirshberg, Peter Allison, Farm to Institution, LLC, (VT); Diane Bothfeld, Agency of Agriculture (VT); Leon and Abbie Corse, Vermont Organic Dairy Farmers; Claire Eaton, ME Dept of Agriculture; Annie Watson, Maine Organic Milk Company and Dairy Farmer (ME); and Eric Ziehm, New York Organic Dairy Farmer (NY). Advisors include Michael Brown, CROPP Cooperative (ME); Rose Forrest, Sodexo Sustainability Coordinator (RI); Ed Maltby, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Assn (MA); Peter Miller, Miller Family Farm (VT), Britt Lundgren, Stonyfield Organic (NH), and Albert Straus, Straus Organic Creamery (CA).
The Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership encourages all stakeholders in the food system – consumers, large and small dairy processors, retailers, restaurants, school lunch programs, college cafeterias and the region’s hard-working organic family farmer – to support and safeguard the region’s organic family farmers and provide a stable long-term demand for them so that family farmers are never made vulnerable again.
“The Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership celebrates the fact that when it comes to supporting our region’s organic family farmers, it really does take a village,” said Hirshberg. “Everyone has a stake in the long-term financial health of these farms and farm families. The simple act of pledging to purchase one-quarter of dairy items from the brands, processors and farms who support these family farmers, can help to ensure that these farms will remain healthy, vibrant, financially viable, and environmentally and climate-positive parts of the northeast region for generations to come.”
The decline in the number of small family farmers is unfortunately not a new story, as the United States, and especially the northeast, has seen drastic reductions in the number of both farms and acreage over the last decade. From 2012 to 2021 alone, Vermont has lost over 390 individual dairy farms as food production has largely been ceded away from small families, and into large, agri-business operations, through no fault of their own. However, organic family farmers are important contributors to a healthy environment and thriving rural life and are important players in the region’s food system. Organic farms promote sustainability, sequester more soil carbon, decrease harmful environmental impacts, and have been shown to be more profitable and produce healthier livestock and higher milk quality.