Last week the North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture and the North Carolina Farm Bureau teamed up to announce an initiative to save the stateâ€™s dairy industry. The program, Dairy Advantage, comes in the form of a 28-page report on options and strategies for small dairies to compete in the modern milk marketplace. Search the entire document and you know how many times the word â€œorganicâ€ comes up? Zero.
Thatâ€™s right, zero. There are at least seven dairies in NC that have been certified organic in the last year, all of them small conventional family dairies that converted to organic with the help of the Organic Valley Family of Farms and the CROPP Cooperative. Here are seven success stories, living proof that organic milk can be produced in our region, and that our dairy farms can take advantage of the growing market for this healthy, wholesome milk. These dairies are role models for other family farms, especially in the mountains and foothills of the Carolinas where farm and herd sizes naturally tend to the optimal size for organic operations.
And yet the Dept. of Ag. and the Farm Bureau donâ€™t even mention organic dairying as an alternative for saving our dwindling supply of family dairies. Not to mention raw milk options, which are verboten under the stateâ€™s antiquated public health dogma.
Why the disconnect? Itâ€™s tempting to assume a conspiracy, and yet itâ€™s really more likely that the reason is somewhat less sinister, if no less disturbing. The agriculture establishment in the Carolinas is just not used to thinking in terms of sustainability. The (mostly) men and women who run that establishment have been trained in a conventional system, based on conventional agribusiness wisdom, for a generation. That wisdom predicts that only a food system modeled on industrial processes can survive. Theyâ€™re not used to thinking about an agriculture that isnâ€™t dependent on massive subsidies, synthetic controls, concentration and monoculture.
When I met Larry Wooten, President of the NC Farm Bureau Federation, for the first time, he said to me that he wasnâ€™t opposed to organics: â€œConsumers should have a choice,â€ he said. The leap that hasnâ€™t been made in the Carolinasâ€™ ag establishment is that farmers should have a choice, too; that thereâ€™s hope for sustaining, and renewing, our dwindling supply of farmers and farmland in the new sustainable ag paradigm.
Thatâ€™s why CFSA is dedicated to being a Voice for Sustainable Ag, and we are putting more of our resources into the effort. When policy-makers hear the stories of sustainable ag success in our communities first-hand, when they learn about the income that local food systems can provide Carolina farmers, they want to get involved. Thereâ€™s no stigma attached to organics anymoreâ€”the market ($17 billion in the US) and the consumer participation (52% of Americans bought organic food last year) and the buzz (â€œlocavoreâ€ wasÂ Oxford’s â€œwords of the yearâ€ in 2007, http://blog.oup.com/2007/11/locavore/) are impossible to ignore. So thatâ€™s why CFSA and its members are working on policy at the local level, to help more officials and opinion-shapers understand how to bring the benefits of sustainable local food systems to their communities.
Our website redesign, this blog, and even the new online food guide are all ultimately geared toward bringing more consumers, farmers and business into the sustainable food movement, and activating them to press for change. So spread the word about this site and CFSA, and help our collective voice grow louder.
To learn more about NCDAâ€™s â€œDairy Advantageâ€ plan, visit http://www.agr.state.nc.us/markets/commodit/dairy/dairy_advantage.pdf.
For an interesting exchange on the prices paid to organic milk producers, check out this recent series of posts over at Grist, http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/3/10/6475/66460
For the latest update on Monsantoâ€™s efforts to upend the market for hormone-free milk, see http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/news/ng.asp?n=84227&m=1FNU326&c=mdxcfimlghpcovs. (This is actually a case of sinister motives!)
And if you are interested in the raw milk issue in North Carolina, keep tuned to these pages for an announcement of a bill to overrule NCDAâ€™s requirement that raw milk sold for pet food be dyed gray.