On July 25th, MFT closed on the purchase of the former Coastal Blueberries Service building…
After Danone/Horizon Organic’s recent decision to end contracts with 89 farms across the Northeast, including 14 farms in Maine, many Mainers are asking themselves how they can better support Maine dairy farmers. While organizations like MFT, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF), MOFGA, the Maine Dairy Industry Association (MDIA) and others are working to support the farms affected, here are some ways that every dairy lover can support Maine’s dairy farms by buying Maine milk.
1. Look for Maine milk and local dairy products at farmers markets, farm stands, and at your grocery store.
The simplest way to support Maine’s dairy farmers is buying their product directly from them. Some farmers sell their milk at farm stands on their farm, while you can find others at farmers markets across the state. Many local grocery stores in Maine also offer milk sourced directly from local farms. Even some store-brand milk is from Maine. In grocery stores, look for a code on the top of the jug or carton that starts with 23, signifying that the milk is from Maine (for example, the code 23-31 marks milk from Smiling Hill Farm Dairy). For more information on how to identify Maine milk, check out this blog post from Real Maine.
2. Look for CSAs that offer local dairy.
In addition to on-farm sales, some dairy farms distribute their milk through CSAs. This can be done either through their own CSA, or through partnerships with farms that sell other products. You can often sign up for CSAs online or inquire directly with the farm in question. Like farmers markets and farm stands, CSAs often also offer the opportunity to interact directly with farmers. This face-to-face connection allows you to build a relationship with your local agricultural community.
3. Look beyond Maine milk to value-added dairy products, like cheese and yogurt.
Many dairy farmers supplement their income from selling fluid milk by producing other products like cheese, butter, ice cream and yogurt. Maine is lucky to have a number of amazing creameries producing all types of cheeses and other delicious products (here’s a map from the Maine Cheese Guild). Consider replacing some of the dairy products you buy this winter with local alternatives, like cheeses or yogurts made from Maine milk.
4. Buy from larger brands who buy from Maine’s dairy farmers.
Many of Maine’s dairy farms do not sell directly to consumers but instead to larger brands like Stonyfield and Organic Valley. There are also large cheese and yogurt companies that buy Maine milk to use in their processed dairy products. Selling all of their milk to one buyer means that the farmers can focus primarily on farming. This system can be a good set-up for farmers who aren’t equipped to market and sell directly to consumers.
While it may be counterintuitive, you actually are supporting small and medium scale dairies when you buy from some large brands. It’s always a good idea to research the milk company that you’re considering buying from. That way, you can learn where their milk comes from and whether you support their practices.