No Sanctuary, Fewer Farmhands: How Dairyland Suffers Under Trump Agenda

Photo by Darren Hauck

How Trump’s immigration policies are harming the dairy industry…

As one of the state’s largest industries and the core of its Cheesehead identity, dairy production is heavily dependent on immigrant workers.

Farmers say few if any U.S. citizens apply for these jobs. In addition, while farmers who grow seasonal crops such as blueberries can bring temporary workers into the country under the H-2A visa program, the dairy industry does not qualify because cows must be milked year-round.

Driscoll and some other farmers say the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown is making it harder to find workers. In Trump’s first 100 days, Immigration and Customs Enforcement made more than 40,000 arrests nationwide, about 35 percent higher than the same period last year. That has affected the Midwest region, including Wisconsin.

Read on at Reveal.

Dairy Group Sues Wisconsin Over Pollution Discharge Rules

Photo by Todd Bennett


On the fight over dairy regulations in Wisconsin…

Wisconsin environmental officials are over-regulating large livestock operations, imposing pollution requirements that are tougher than federal law and arbitrarily changing runoff standards without going through the rule-making process, a trade association says in a lawsuit.

The Dairy Business Association filed the lawsuit in Brown County on July 31. It alleges the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has changed requirements for concentrated animal feeding operations to treat runoff. The department last year stopped allowing farmers to move runoff through patches of vegetation to filter pollution without going through the administrative rule-making process, the lawsuit said.

Read on at U.S. News.

A Dairy Operation Reborn: From Cows to Cashews (and Other Nuts)

Via Elmhurst Milked


Changing consumer demand leads dairy company to move into nut milk space…

For more than 90 years, Elmhurst Dairy, based in Queens, was a New York mainstay. But when the business began to struggle due to the same factors that have buffeted the industry in general—decreased consumer demand being one biggie—82-year-old owner Henry Schwartz made the hard decision to close the plant’s doors last October.

But that wasn’t the end of Elmhurst Dairy. The company relaunched this year, but don’t bother looking for cow’s milk in any of their products—Elmhurst Dairy has shifted into the nut milk business with the launch of Elmhurst Milked, which includes almond, cashew, hazelnut, and walnut milks (and whose tagline is “All of the nuts, none of the nonsense”).

Read on at Modern Farmer.

Why Are Americans Drinking Less Cow’s Milk? Its Appeal Has Curdled

Via Andrew Unangst/Getty Images


A look at the decline in American milk consumption…

When’s the last time you had a glass of cow’s milk?

Americans are drinking a lot less milk than they used to. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the average person drinks 18 gallons a year. Back in the 1970s it was more like 30 gallons a year. We once hoisted a glass with dinner, soaked our breakfast cereal or dipped into the occasional milkshake. This habitual milk drinking was no accident.

It started in the 1800s, when Americans moved from farms to cities. “First, you had to have the rise of milk trains that would bring milk from the countryside. That milk was refrigerated with ice,” says Melanie DuPuis, a professor at Pace University and author of Nature’s Perfect Food: How Milk Became America’s Drink.

Before that, she says, milk was not a reliable source of nutrition for city dwellers. Nor was it all that safe. In the 1850s there was a major scandal in New York after thousands of babies died from drinking swill milk — the stuff that came from sickly cows, animals fed from the waste of city grain-alcohol distilleries.

Read on at The Salt.

Here’s Why Trump Is Having a Cow Over Canadian Milk

Via Andrew Harnik/AP; mihtiander/iStock
Via Andrew Harnik/AP; mihtiander/iStock


Why Trump is fighting with Canada over dairy farming…

Donald Trump hasn’t done much in his young presidency to delight high-powered Democratic lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). But last week, Trump did just that when he picked a fight with Canada’s dairy farmers, after receiving a letter urging him to do so from Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Trump’s beef with Canadian dairy played well with Republicans, too. At a speech in dairy-heavy Wisconsin last week (video here), Trump fulminated against our northern neighbor’s milk policy and vowed to organize what sounds like a dramatically awkward group phone call involving the state’s most prominent politicians: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “We’re going to get together and we’re going to call Canada, and we’re going to say, ‘What happened?'” he thundered. “And they might give us an answer, but we’re going to get the solution, not just the answer, okay?”

Read on at Mother Jones.

The Return of the Milkman

Via Eater
Via Eater

The Meadowbrook Farms Dairy milk truck has arrived, and the insulated box — emblazoned with red script and an image of a Holstein cow — sits on Mahoney’s porch awaiting the milk delivery. Sunbeams reflect off the box and the heavy wire bottle carrier the milk man holds, creating a glare across the porch. The milk man takes the empty glass bottles away and replaces them with full versions, processed and bottled 20 miles away in Clarksville, NY.

It’s just another day in Modern America.

Read on at Eater.

New Study Finds Potential Health Benefits of Consuming Organic Meats and Milk

Via Food Tank
Via Food Tank

A recent study funded by the European Commission and the Sheepdrove Trust, a British charity which supports organic farming research, found that organic meat and milk have a 50 percent higher omega-3 fatty acid composition than conventional products. Omega-3 fats can help lower the risk of heart disease. The study analyzed 196 papers concerning organic and conventional milk and 67 papers which analyzed organic versus nonorganic meats.

Dive in at Food Tank.

This Exists: OKCupid for French Cows


With both beef and dairy farming on the decline in France—in 2012, beef production fell by 5.5 percent as compared to the year before, and between 2000 and 2010, over one third of dairy farms closed—it has become more difficult for farmers to find local, suitable mates for their heifers. But thanks to the wonders of the internet, it’s not just veganstattoo lovers, and gamersthat have their own dedicated dating sites; now French bulls and cows have one, too.

Last October, during France’s annual Farming Summit, a group of cow breeding associations debuted trouverlebontaureau.com, or “find the right bull” in English. The homepage’s fairly clean (er, primitive) layout greets you with thumbnails of muscular, studly bulls with names like Hilius, Erobos, and Fenrir, all standing stolidly in French fields of varying degrees of verdancy and hilliness.

Read the rest on Munchies.

American Artisan Cheese: Can a Grassroots Movement Maintain its Integrity?

By Jessica Sennett

The current American artisan cheese renaissance that emerged from the Back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s is changing the face of commercially available cheese in the United States. Artisan, a term that refers to a person or company that makes high quality or distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand, has come to be seen as an alternative to the industrial model of cheese making, a process that prioritizes technological innovation and mass production over taste quality and environmental and social reform. Artisan cheese, however, is not seen as a commodity and a staple item in an American diet, but more as an art, cherished, and enjoyed like a vintage bottle of wine.

If the artisan cheese community in America wants to align itself with a mission of community food empowerment, they can look to the principles of “food sovereignty”, a term coined by the La Via Campesina movement in 1996.[1] Food sovereignty finds solidarity through a radical stance against the “neoliberal” framework. Neoliberalism is a political economic philosophy that supports open markets and economic liberalization while also employing industrial agriculture concepts into its framework.[2] Artisan cheese production can easily coexist within the neoliberal agenda. Recent state and national food sovereignty campaigns are effective in igniting a discussion of the role of the small dairy farmer in American society and how they can be active participants in providing an alternative to existing cheese agribusiness. Food sovereignty supports the small, pastoral cheese maker who has been oppressed by the given system, viewing artisan cheese as a right, not a privilege.

Processing methods of artisan cheese are circumstantial, depending on the scale of production and the aesthetic of the producer. The marketability of artisan cheese lies in the image of the romantic farmstead cheese producer and his rustic dairy lifestyle in Europe.[3] Yet for a large majority of American artisan cheese producers, the driving incentive is financial rather than cultural, ecological, or community oriented concerns. With the fluctuating prices of fluid milk, the American artisan cheese industry has often been developed by the need to supplement income in the face of a market that caters to agribusiness scales of production. Small-scale cheese makers often find pressure from the current economic framework to expand their business in order to make a profit.[4]

The artisan cheese market caters to an elite consumer in order to cover the unsubsidized costs of a smaller scale farming operation. Due to governmental pressure, the artisan cheese maker who may have an intention for environmental and social reform, often gives into the “one size fits all requirements designed for large industrial farmers.”[5] Although ethically and environmentally responsible American cheese businesses do exist, the sustainability of their production methods are in constant contention with the deregulation processes of the cheese industry itself.

Vermont is an example of a state that has developed a variety of artisan cheese businesses started by urban and rural professionals who integrate environmental and social values into their economic models. Consider Bardwell Farm located in West Pawlet, VT has helped to revive and preserve the surrounding dairy community and ecology. Situated on hundreds of acres of conservationist land, this cheese farm employs rotational goat grazing practices that aid in the regeneration of soil. Consider Bardwell Farm is able to preserve the dynamic and complex ecology of their natural feed, while harvesting their grasses for a neighboring cow dairy. They also use this cow milk in their cheese production, elevating the local dairy business. This model enhances the quality of life of the animals, the producers, and the town of West Pawlet through new employment opportunities. But in order to sustain this model economically, distribution of the high quality cheese must travel to Manhattan and surrounding New England, maintaining an average price point of $22 a pound.

During the past year, numerous Maine towns have passed a Food Freedom ordinance promoting the direct, non-commercial sales of raw (non-heat treated) milk, cheese, and other formally unlicensed food products.[6] The Food Freedom ordinance act has been directly associated with the developing US food sovereignty movement which attempts to direct policy and production through grassroots efforts for low-income and marginalized communities.  The Maine reform challenges the state and federal policies that support agribusiness while oppressing small-scale farming through exorbitant, unsubsidized licensing fees. One of the main challenges the reformers face is the lack of government recognition of the differences in costs for equipment and licensing depending on the scale of each individual farm. The small Maine farmer accuses the government of being “scale inappropriate.”[7]

Maine’s Food Freedom ordinance objective is to empower the consumers to make their own culturally appropriate decisions: “It shall be unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights recognized by this Ordinance. Patrons purchasing food for home consumption may enter into private agreements with those producers or processors of local foods to waive any liability for the consumption of that food. Producers or processors of local foods shall be exempt from licensure and inspection requirements for that food as long as those agreements are in effect.”[8]

Existing, legalized, raw milk producers feel threatened by this ordinance, accusing the food sovereignty movement of neglecting public health and producer responsibility, arguing “that what supporters of local food sovereignty want isn’t more choice for consumers and a better market for local products; it’s anarchy.”[9]

This conflict highlights a power dynamic between start-up small food businesses and established, legally recognized companies. By liberating Maine communities from State regulations, marginalized and low income communities are not necessarily given more access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods. Aditionally, the farmer-to-consumer relationship is not necessarily promoting an inclusive policy. Market based initiatives such as this one should be just one piece of the picture of building a framework of US food sovereignty. However, if dominant, the local movement can be just as oppressive as its industrial counterpart.

Slow Food USA, a private membership, international food organization, is one of the leading groups attempting to preserve the integrity of American raw milk cheese production.[10] The Slow Food Presidia program was created in order to preserve “agricultural biodiversity and gastronomic traditions” throughout the world.[11] Despite Slow Food’s attempts to be the counter movement to global fast food, their US Presidia mission statement does not necessarily work within the food sovereignty framework. Their theory is that “if unique, traditional and endangered food products can have an economic impact, they can be saved from extinction.”[12]  With this philosophy in mind, Slow Food builds local projects to help develop an economic infrastructure for small, more traditionally inclined production methods. Slow Food focuses on the commoditizing of the product as a means of empowerment, but neglects to fully address the personal, historical, and socioeconomic factors that go into making artisan food.

The so-called “elitist” nature of Slow Food lies in the fact that by making certain types of foods “collectibles” with a higher value than their industrial counterparts, the organization is creating a global standard for high quality, thus isolating artisan producers that do not work within those standards. Slow Food is still using the methods of conventional agriculture, placing international marketability as the main economic incentive to gain support and grow as an artisan producer.

If Slow Food approved cheese is seen solely as artifact, carefully chosen by Slow Food judges who agree on what tastes “good, clean, and fair,” then the organization cannot place food sovereignty as an ideological objective.  The organization will continue to place market-based initiatives first, using the tactics of neoliberalism in order to elevate only particular producers who comply with specific Slow Food practices. Additionally, by placing higher economic and social value on raw cheeses available in specialty markets, typically only middle to upper classes can afford to partake in the organization’s food culture.

Paul Kindstedt, one of the leading Vermont academic writers on cheese, questions the burgeoning American artisan cheese development as a long lasting, movement. “Cultural changes certainly can drive changes in the food system, but in the end economic realities are inescapable and the question remains:  Who will pay for change?”[13] Artisan cheese making continues to be dominated by class structure and economic and cultural accessibility. A larger restructuring of the cheese making industry is necessary in order to recognize the oppressive nature of the given system for all parties involved.

In order to push artisan cheese making closer to a food sovereignty agenda, research must be done in marginalized, low-income communities as to what types of cheese are culturally desirable for both production and consumption. By recognizing pre-existing social and cultural inequalities within the US cheese system, Americans can deepen their understanding of how cheese fits into their diets and their lives.

Despite a dominant Northern and Western European narrative, thousands of cheeses are made in disenfranchised, marginalized communities all over the world, including the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and remote Asia. From early 8000 BC onward, these communities have seen their handmade cheese products as essential for survival.[14] Yet in a postindustrial American society, how relevant is this history to the current American diet?

The American Cheese Society (ACS) has been instrumental in updating popular cultural understanding about artisan cheese; “it is produced primarily by hand, in small batches, with particular attention paid to the tradition of the cheese maker’s art, and thus using as little mechanization as possible in the production of the cheese.”[15] American artisan cheese is then seen as something “civilized,” a “renaissance” inspired by “pioneers” rather than “peasants.”[16] Heather Paxson-cheese anthropologist and recent author of The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America-argues that the artisan cheese market may be neglecting the variety of homestead (home scale) and factory (medium scale) production that has been in existence since the beginning of American history.[17] ACS has been able to connect artisan cheese makers to upscale markets and distributors, but does not necessarily provide a larger scope of American cheese history from both pre-industrial and post-industrial eras.

By introducing a responsibly made cheese movement to communities who see its consumption and production as an essential component to a full, healthy life, artisan cheese can be seen as active player in the larger grassroots food movement. The food sovereignty framework gives local, state, and national US agrifood initiatives the potential to stay connected to a global ambition of food system transformation.[18] Collaboration between government, non-profit, and for profit models is necessary in order to maintain a democratic platform.

Small, medium, and large-scale members of dairy and cheese farming have that same potential: to identify under similar democratic principles in the attempt to gain more autonomy and sustainability within their practices.

Jessica Sennett is a freelance cheese educator and food project builder. She is using The New School to create a program combining food writing, the arts, and community development.  To learn more about her cheese making ventures, you can visit:cheeseinthecity.wordpress.com

[1] 5 Nye ́ le ́ni Declaration on Food Sovereignty, 27 February 2007, Nye ́ le ́ni Village, Se ́ lingue ́, Mali.

[2] Holt-Gimenez, Eric. “Food Security, Food Justice, or Food Sovereignty?  Crises, Food Movements, and Regime Change.” Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability.  Eds. Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2011. 309-330. Print.

[3] Paxson, Heather.  Cheese Cultures: Transforming American Tastes and Traditions.

[4] Paxson, Heather. “Economies of Sentiment.”  The Life of Cheese.  Crafting Food and Value in America.  Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2013.  80. Print.

[5] Paxson, Heather. “Economies of Sentiment.”  The Life of Cheese.  Crafting Food and Value in America.  Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2013.  80. Print.

[6] Dodrill, Tara. “Maine Town Declares Food Sovereignty.” Off the Grid News. April 10 2013. Web.

[7] Moretto, Mario.  “Maine Farmers Speak Out Against Local Food Sovereignty Movement.” Bangor Daily News.  Bangor, ME. 21 April 2013.

[8] Dodrill, Tara. “Maine Town Declares Food Sovereignty.” Off the Grid News.10 April 2013. Web.

[9] Moretto, Mario.  “Maine Farmers Speak Out Against Local Food Sovereignty Movement.” Bangor Daily News.  Bangor, ME. 21 April 2013.

[10] “US Presida: Raw Milk Cheese.” Slow Food USA. Web

[11] “Slow Food Presidia.” Slow Food USA. Web

[12] “Slow Food Presidia.” Slow Food USA. Web

[13] Kindstedt, Paul S.  Cheese and CultureA History of Cheese and Its Place in Western Civilization.  White River, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012. 225. Print.

[14] Kindstedt, Paul S.  Cheese and CultureA History of Cheese and Its Place in Western Civilization.  White River, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012. 7. Print.

[15] “Cheese Glossary.” American Cheese Society Online.  American Cheese Society. Web. 2011

[16] Paxson, Heather. “Cheese Cultures: Transforming American Tastes and Traditions.” Gastronomica. Berkeley, California, 2010. 39. Print.

[17] Paxson, Heather. “Cheese Cultures: Transforming American Tastes and Traditions.” Gastronomica. Berkeley, California, 2010. 39. Print.

[18] Fairbairn, M. (2012). Framing transformation: the counter-hegemonic potential of food sovereignty in the US context. Agriculture and Human Values. 230