Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Memory Lane? Or History Repeating ...

During the Great Depression, farmers sold their livestock to the government for cents per pound. The government, then, took the animals out to field and shot them. The meat was left to rot.

I ran across this article today about desparate dairy farmers in California. Milk prices have plummeted over the past year or so. Or, maybe it's not so much that milk prices have fallen, but that feed costs have increased.

When we got our chickens in 2006, a bag of feed cost about $5. Today, it's $10 - for the same stuff. A year ago, it was $12. Rabbit feed has gone up, too. I imagine all feeds have increased.

We get our milk from a small, family-owned farm. We've met the family. There are three generations living there and taking care of the milk cows. The grandparents, who bought the farm back in the 1940s are, essentially, retired, but still do a share of the work. The son, who is now "in charge", has outside employment, because he doesn't make enough as a dairy farmer to make ends meet. His wife works full-time outside of the home, too.

I don't understand how someone who plays sports professionally or pretends to be someone or something else for a few months while the cameras roll or who sings a song or two can make millions of dollars, but the folks who feed us can barely make a living. It doesn't make sense to me.

The farmers in California are suffering and have reached that proverbial last straw. Some of them are contemplating dumping their milk. As one farmer said, he might as well, as he isn't making any money off it anyway.

Can you imagine a world without ice cream and cheese?

Or does a world without "A-Rod" and Gray's Anatomy seem more desolate?

At present, I buy all of our dairy products from local farmers, except the dry milk I keep just in case. I pay $3 per gallon for raw milk, and during the summer, I buy flavored milk from the Farmer's Market for $1.95 per quart, but I'm not like everyone else.

A gallon of milk already costs more than a gallon of gasoline, and I wonder, if we're forced to make the choice, which one will we choose to buy? How many of us will feel empowered enough to be making the conscious choice between one or the other? Or will our "choice" be dictated by other factors over which we feel we have no control (the need to eat vs the need to get to work)?

I can think of a few people who will choose not to have milk, or cheese, or butter or cream or yogurt.

It really is very much like the game my girls are playing over on the table right now. Stacking dominoes and watching them fall. The cost of producing milk is more than the price for selling it, and so the milk is dumped, which causes a spike in prices as supply can't keep up with demand, which lowers demand, which makes the price of milk fall again, which means that the people who produce the milk can't earn a living ... one domino falling causes the whole, fragile system to collapse.

And I think about the farm where we get our milk, and I wonder, how they are being affected, and how much longer they'll feel that providing us milk one little gallon at a time is worth it to them.

Then, I wonder if it's time to go to my neighbors and ask them if they would like to purchase a dairy cow share. They provide the grazing land, space for a paddock for the cow, purchase the feed, and pay for the annual "AI" (to keep the milk flowing), and I would tend the cow, milk the cow, and make cheese, butter and yogurt for us all.

Or maybe it's time to get those two goats I've been wanting ....


  1. It's terrible, I know. When it's convenient for me to get it (i.e., I don't have to make a special 25-minute trip in the car), I pay $6 per gallon for raw, organic, pasture-fed milk. And I'm happy to get it at that price. Occasionally I buy raw milk for half that price, which is sold strictly for "pet consumption," because the farm doesn't have a license to sell raw milk. Even at the higher price, this is cheaper than I would pay for store-bought organic milk from a reputable company. And the more I drink raw milk, the more addictive it becomes. I feel lucky to live in a state which still sort of allows raw milk sales. Many do not.

    I fear the day when the dairy farmers around here can no longer make ends meet on the prices they can get for their product. It really doesn't look good. Personally, I know I would willingly pay more for the wonderful raw milk I can get, when I can get it. Perhaps I should simply volunteer to do so. Thanks for doing your bit by buying and writing about this.

  2. Get the goats! We love our goats. And the milk is delicious. They are so loveable and sweet. Although at $3 a gallon for milk, you can't beat that! It is $6 here for raw milk. That is why we got goats.

  3. As a Lactating American the though of dumping that milk down the sewer---ohhhhh!!!! It makes me cringe.

    We personally don't consume a lot of liquid milk. For price and convenience, we're a powdered family.

    However, I'd be OK if they increased cheese prices. We're a big cheesey family. (Chunky's first sentence? "I like cheese.")

  4. Wow, $3 a gallon is a steal...it cost us $7.50 a gallon a year ago and we had to drive an hour away to pick it up...for the "pets"...and so have had to discontinue it because of the cost. I'm for anything we can do, though, to keep the small and pastured dairies in business...we NEED real food like pure milk. We're also with you about getting a cow or goats, but we can't have ANY animals other than cat/dog where we live according to the unbelievably brainwashed zoning department interpretations of the codes...arggghh. :)