Saving A Neighbor’s Farm

Every day as I walk my dogs, I pass Ron’s farm. My husband and I have brainstormed with him about how he can save his farm. It’s nothing Ron has done wrong. His cows are healthy and contented. He’s careful to move them from pasture to pasture for the best grazing. His calves drink milk, not milk replacer. He devotes all day, every day, to tending his land and his animals. But it’s nearly impossible to stay in business as a small scale dairy farmer these days.

That’s because there’s a dairy crisis. Prices paid to farmers are less than they were in the 1970’s. Ron’s dairy sells milk destined for cheese and butter. He earns less than $11 a hundredweight (per 12 gallons) although on average it costs him more to tend the cows producing that hundredweight. Someone is making a profit, but not the people milking cows.

Many are selling off their herds and leaving the farm. Ron is determined to stay on the 70 acres that have been in his family for 62 years. Although he doesn’t have the resources to fix up his house or outbuildings, that doesn’t matter to him. He’s just looking for ways to keep his cows. One solution is to raise this year’s calves to start a herd of grassfed cattle.

But it’ll take nearly a year and a half before the first steer is ready for market. Ron will need funds to fence some more pastures, to replace lost dairy income, and to keep tending to his contented cattle. We know what it’s like to raise these gentle creatures. We can’t imagine our neighbor losing his herd to today’s cruel economic realities.

In fact, Ron’s situation has just gotten worse. He was informed that the local creamery (wholesale milk buyer) in our area that buys from small producers, the one that has purchased his milk for years, is cutting his farm out as of April 30th. They’re concentrating their efforts on larger farms. That means Ron’s income completely halts in a few weeks. He works 10 hour days, yet when the money stops coming in there’s no unemployment compensation.

So I’ve set up a campaign on GoFundMe to help Ron. Every dollar will help him keep the cows on his farm. Please check out the link and share it! http://www.gofundme.com/2d969c

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of "Free Range Learning," a handbook of natural learning and "Tending," a poetry collection. She lives on Bit of Earth Farm where she's a barely useful farm wench. Although she has deadlines to meet she often wanders from the computer to preach hope, snort with laughter, cook subversively, ponder life’s deeper meaning, talk to chickens and cows, sing to bees, hide in books, walk dogs, concoct tinctures, watch foreign films, and make messy art. Blog: lauragraceweldon.com/blog-2/ FB: facebook.com/FreeRangeLearningCommunity FB: facebook.com/SubversiveCooking FB: facebook.com/laura.euphoria Twitter: @earnestdrollery
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6 Responses to Saving A Neighbor’s Farm

  1. S. Dees says:

    Hopefully, the farmer knows about all these resources
    http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=GRANTS_LOANS
    and can make full use of them.

    Seems like they could make more for the milk with a CSA, and also do a school tours for money (a local farm here does that).
    http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

    • Thanks for the input. One thing I’ve learned from 15 years on our tiny farm is that I’ll never have a fraction of the knowledge that lifetime farmers like Ron have. He may not have a computer but he keeps up, reading various farm journals and talking to other farmers. He’s seen many farms ruined by loans and says he’s “cash only.” I have to respect him on that. He’s managed to weather the miseries that have caused 11,630 farms to be lost last year alone. I’ve tried to look into all sorts of resources, from USDA to Farm Aid to local organizations. Beyond loans, most of what’s available are workshops and long-range plans. No grants, no internships, no real world help right now for someone who has fed this country for years.

      The CSA idea is a good one, but it’s illegal in Ohio to sell raw milk directly to consumers. Ron’s is a Grade B dairy, so his also isn’t approved for sale as fluid milk, just for use in making cheese, butter, etc. The school tours are also a good idea, but I’m guessing Ron doesn’t have the funds for the extra liability insurance that would be needed.

      I’m not giving up. I can’t bear to think of the alternatives.

  2. sarah says:

    This makes me really sad considering how the drought in New Zealand is driving up the price of our dairy products around the world – because people are buying from us rather than from their local producers. Why do they need NZ dairy in the northern hemisphere? Sure, it’s great for our economy, but I’m convinced this world would be a better and happier place if we looked after our local communities.

  3. Oh this is sad news, Laura. It breaks my heart to read stories like this. I do hope a solution can be found.

  4. What about a virtual CSA shipping milk to members in states that would allow it? What about finding cheesemakers who are likewise farther afield, but might join in investing alongside their distributors anin a coalition
    d retail outlets?

    • I’m still looking for cheesemaking companies, so far no luck.

      I’ve never heard of a virtual CSA. I would think a dairy with packaging capabilities, especially aseptic cartons, might be able to make a go of it (if Ohio permitted) although shipping costs would be high. Ron doesn’t have the funds to enter into such a pricey venture.

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