Save the World, Drink Milk from Small Farms
Here at Hunter College, we students have been working on saving the world. Our most recent project involves saving the world by way of fixing the problems with milk production. Below is an entry in a brand-spankin’-new blog that we made (entitled “Udder Madness”), which will show you how you can help fix the problems with the dairy industry. Then we’ll find another victim, like the problems with corn production, which should be a piece of cake (no pun intended).
If you have a blog of your own and you care about saving the world, please help us get “plugged-in” with other, similar efforts, by spreading the word and laying it on thick.
Entry from the new blog:
Russ wrote in an earlier blog:
“Ron’s advice to consumers is to know your farmer. That’s our advice, too. Are smaller farms better, in terms of human, animal, and environmental health? We certainly think that it’s easier for a smaller farm to use better practices, but larger farms aren’t necessarily an evil. But unless you know your farmer, you have no way of knowing what kind of farm you’re supporting.”
This is the central message of our campaign – know where your milk comes from. Another important message that comes with this, then, is be willing to pay more for your milk. This does not just mean buy the milk that has the highest price tag. It means be willing to take a few extra steps to try to find out where your milk comes from. Doing a little research, asking questions, and contributing to the cause of campaigns like this one are the kinds of ways of paying more that we have in mind.
When you start to think about where your milk comes from you may develop a better understanding of the costs to society, animals, and the environment that aren’t sufficiently captured in market prices. This is a central theme to our outreach (see our multi-media outreach materials on the blog). These unquantifiable costs provide wiggle room in terms of farm production styles and it is really up to the farm in most cases to determine which and how much of these costs they will incur. The incentive to be neglectful with these other costs surely is there—it’s cheaper, in terms of time, money, and effort—you name it, so it’s up to the rest of us to do a little quality assurance.
It’s costly to follow sound farming practices. For example, why pay more for a larger plot of land when you can squeeze hundreds or thousands of cows uncomfortably on a smaller plot? The product will still be the same (all else being equal) and can be sold for the same price as the milk from another farm that opted for the larger plot size-to-cow ratio. With more cows huddled closer together, it becomes easier to produce more and therefore make more profit (all else being equal). Cow well-being is just one example of an unquantifiable cost. With a little thought you could come up with many more, anything from employee stress to cutting corners with environmental stewardship – pick your favorite unquantifiable cost and run with it.
Without being checked, these “other” costs have the potential to continue to get worse and impose indirect costs to you, society, and the environment, etc. This is because in a competitive market environment, farmers always need to increase profit. One way to do this is to increase capital and become more efficient (e.g., more land, cows, labor, machinery, etc.). The problem is that when there is more, say, cows to manage and machinery to operate, it becomes increasingly difficult (therefore costly) to continue with sound practices. For example, as mentioned in an earlier blog, the managers at Ronnybrook Farm know the names of all of their cows, presumably translating into more consideration for each. If they tacked on an extra hundred cows then they would have to develop a more costly system for keeping track, maybe even causing them to scrap that aspect of their practice.
Similar to the wiggle room for which suite of unquantifiable costs to opt for, farmers have the option to decide how to develop their operations to increase profit and remain in business. The mega farms in California that operate thousands of cows might opt to simply buy more cows and pack them in or go into contract with processing companies that are aligning themselves with popular marketing schemes (such as the organic market). Other farms might be a little more creative, especially if profit is not their only motivating factor. This is the case for Ronnybrook Farm. To remain competitive, they decided to invest in machinery that would allow them to bottle their milk onsite, making it possible for them to sell directly to the public. This was an attempt to increase profit, but it has also served to undermine the very problem that we’ve identified in our campaign – there is no way for us to know the source of most of the milk we buy. By investing in a means to sell directly to the public, Ronnybrook has made it possible for consumers to see how their milk is made and can therefore keep track of any indirect costs that they don’t want to support.
We don’t expect people to drive from NYC up to Ronnybrook Farm every time they run out of milk. Although commendable, that would incur undue costs of its own – e.g., adding to the unemployment count. Traveling upstate for a gallon of milk would not even solve the problem. The fact is that no individual can fix the problems with milk farming. This is something that needs to be done on a collective level, to limit the collective costs that neglectful practices incur. All we are asking is that people think about where their milk comes from and think twice before they reach for a gallon of milk in the local food market. It is hoped that this thought will lead to other actions, such as contributing to campaign efforts to help reveal the sources of the milk we buy.