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Vermont Guardian

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Putting value back into Vermont

Posted December 1, 2006

The launch of the Vermont Milk Company, in years to come, we hope will be seen as an instance when the state’s farmers took a small part of the value they add back from the global marketplace and put it back to work for Vermonters.

As Chantale Nadeau pointed out to the Guardian, farmers getting a good price for their milk isn’t some quaint notion to prop up an industry that can’t make it on its own.

It’s a simple equation: The more they can get paid for their milk, the more they end up paying out to the local economy through the equipment and goods they purchase and the people they employ.

On top of that, for Nadeau’s Holland farm alone, it means 600 acres of farmland — that open countryside that tourism officials like to tout as part of Vermont’s charm and beauty to travelers — remains not only pastoral, but productive.

The Vermont Milk Company is a farmer-owned company that promises to pay no less than $15 per hundredweight of milk. It also pays for all milk shipping costs, which can cost farmers as little as 50 cents to as much as $1 per hundredweight.

How does that compare with the market? Nadeau’s milk check on Nov. 10 from the St. Albans Cooperative was about $13 per hundredweight, which was up from about $11 six weeks ago. I don’t think any of us can say that we saw the price of milk, cheese, or ice cream at the supermarket drop in price in September.

Aside from the impact on farmers’ wallets, the Vermont Milk Company is helping farmers regain some of the ground they’ve lost in recent years with the major consolidation in the food industry in New England.

The company allows farmers to not be swallowed up by the regional commodities market for fluid milk, and helps them to put some of the cash flow back in to Vermont and not to regional middlemen in Massachusetts or Connecticut.

The company is also filling a niche thanks to the state’s new truth in labeling law, one that requires companies who claim to be making their food products in Vermont to actually do so.

Maplebrook Farms of Bennington, which makes handmade mozzarella, said that thanks to buying the curds from the Vermont Milk Company it has already changed its labels to read “Made in Vermont.” It also added the caveat that its product goes directly toward helping family farms.

This is an important development, too, and points to the wisdom of the Vermont labeling law and why it is needed in today’s food market.

Along with Maplebrooks Farm, Vermont Smoke & Cure is now in major supermarkets because it is a bona fide in-state product, unlike some of its major competitors, which are based here, but source their product from the Midwest.

This is not to say that Vermont companies that have outgrown their Vermont roots should be penalized in ways that are detrimental to their business. But, fair is fair. You can’t say a product is “Vermont made” when there might only be a business office left in the state, or a post office box, and all of it is sourced from outside the state, and perhaps even produced there, rather than in Vermont.

As the old saying goes, “Just ’cause the cat had kittens in the oven, don’t make ’em muffins.”

To be sure, the Vermont Milk Company is starting small, but the demand for what they do is high. They continue to get calls from potential customers, as well as farmers who want to get not only what is described as a better price for their milk, but a fair one.

Currently, the Vermont Milk Company is taking milk from only four farms. The hope is to boost that to five or seven farms within the next few months.

The company is currently making cheddar cheese curds, ricotta cheese, and curd for the hand-stretched mozzarella. It is also working on its own brand of yogurt to hit retail shelves after the first of the year.

Keep a lookout, and be sure that when you look for the Vermont label, the Vermont Milk Company is a name you can trust to truly be of Vermont.

And, you’ll know that you’ll be putting your money where your mouth is if you truly believe in buying “Vermont first.”