Good news for Southern Vermont dairy farm

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(Host) Last June, VPR reported on a Vermont farm near the Massachusetts border that wanted to sell organic milk. The problem was that the farmers couldn’t find an organic milk hauler willing to travel far into southern Vermont to collect the milk. But things have taken a turn for the family and their dairy herd. VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) It’s not quite light on a snowy morning at the Franklin Farm in Guilford. In the milkhouse things are humming along. The girls — the Franklins’ herd of Holstein-jersey cross breeds and New Zealand Freisians — await their turns patiently.

David and MaryEllen Franklin are the epitome of happy farmers. Sometime later today the Organic Valley Milk truck will stop here for a pickup.

(Mary Ellen Franklin) “I think that it’s going to be a great thing for the Franklin Farm. We’re going to reap the benefits of having managed our land organically for as long as we have.”

(Keese) The Franklins started moving toward sustainable organic farming almost a decade ago. They stopped growing corn, which requires expensive pesticides and fertilizers, not to mention rented fields.

They reduced the size of their herd, and moved away from high maintenance breeds toward cows that thrive on forage. Grasses grow naturally on their hill farm with little more than manure.

(David Franklin) “We don’t produce as much milk per cow as a typical dairy farmer, but the price for organic milk is considerably higher.”

(Keese) David Franklin says going organic’ was a choice that made sense for his farm — if only they could get someone to buy their milk at the organic price.

Mary Ellen Franklin had been talking for a year with the Organic Valley Coop. The Wisconsin-based farmer-owned cooperative includes 64 Vermont milk producers, but its southernmost pickup in the state was many miles north. It didn’t make economic sense to travel so far out of the way for one farm.

So the Franklins started talking to other farmers. They persuaded several neighbors to begin the three-year transition to organic. They were only months away from being certified, but they were prepared to wait… until…

(M. Franklin) “A call came in from the main office saying that they had figured out the trucking and when we were finished our three months, which was December sixth, that they’d be here to pick us up.”

(Miller) “The demand for organic milk from our coop is so high right now we saw it was worth the economics for a little more expensive trucking route.”

(Keese) Peter Miller works for Organic Valley. He says several factors were behind the coop’s decision. An organic cheese producer in Westminster decided to get into the organic milk business. Miller also says demand for organic milk has outpaced the coop’s projections.

(Miller) “They thought it was going to be about a 20% growth, and halfway through the year it turned out to be close to 30% for our company.”

(Keese) Standing near her barn looking at her new Organic Valley sign, Mary Ellen Franklin says it isn’t all about the money, or even the locked-in price the coop provides.

(M. Franklin) “It’s just managing this whole farm organically that feels so good. You know, the farm’s doing really well, the animals are doing well. We don’t have exposure to things that we really don’t need exposure to in our lives — fertilizers and different chemicals that you might use if you were growing things that needed them or you thought you needed them.”

(Keese) She says the growing demand for organic food could even open up opportunities for new people interested in going into farming. The coop is still looking for members in Southern Vermont.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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