cows in field

Stonyfield Co-founder Announces New Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership to save Organic Family Farms in the Northeast

By Ed Maltby, NODPA Executive Director

The mission of NOFFP is to bring together key stakeholders (consumers, retailers, food service institutions, farmers, processors, government leaders and concerned activists) to take concrete actions to create more demand and market security to support and safeguard the region’s organic family farmers. In 2022, NOFFP hope to successfully increase regional demand enough to help the 135 at-risk organic family farms that have been dumped by Horizon and Maple Hill to secure new contracts.

The loss of contracts puts these farms, many of whom have been in business for generations, at serious risk of closure unless they find alternate outlets. Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Co-Founder and former long-time CEO, announced the launch of the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership, on January 12, 2022. “The Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership celebrates the fact that when it comes to supporting our region’s organic family farmers, it really does take a village,” said Hirshberg. “Everyone has a stake in the long-term financial health of these farms and farm families. The simple act of pledging to purchase one-quarter of dairy items from the brands, processors and consumers who support these family farmers, can help to ensure that these farms will remain healthy, vibrant, financially viable, and environmentally and climate-positive parts of the northeast region for generations to come.”

The intent behind the initiative is that the partnership invites consumers to pledge to purchase one-fourth of their weekly dairy purchases from brands committed to increasing their purchases from New England and Eastern New York organic family farms in 2022. Gary Hirshberg’s commitment to organic and to the northeast organic dairies is behind this initiative. His incredible amount of work and dedication has made possible the launch of this imaginative partnership so quickly. His drive and infectious personality has made this possible and this is a great step forward in building a better market for northeast organic milk.

How will it work?

The NOFFP is inviting three types of Partners to commit their support:

  1. Shopper Partners: Consumers can take immediate action to help make an actual difference. Shoppers are invited to sign a pledge to purchase one-fourth of their weekly dairy purchases from among 35 brands ranging from large ones like Organic Valley and Stonyfield to mid-sized and smaller brands like Butterworks, Maine Organic Milk Producers, Strafford Organic Creamery, and many others that have committed to invest in northeast organic dairy farmers by increasing their purchases of northeast organic milk.
  2. Brand Partners: Brands qualify as Partners by meeting at least two of three criteria:
    1. Ensure that at least 50% of the milk in the products they sell in the northeast come from organic family farms from the area hardest hit by the potential farm closures (from NYC to Bangor ME);
    2. Are owned by organic family farmers in the region and/or;
    3. Have publicly demonstrated a commitment to increase their supply from the region’s at-risk organic family farms.
  3. Retail Partners: NOFFP is inviting all dairy purveyors (grocers, restaurants, cafeterias and any outlets that sell dairy products) to also become licensed as Partners. Licensed Partners who have committed to carry Partner Brands and to increase their 2022 organic dairy purchases vs their 2021 sales, will be entitled to proudly display the new Partnership logo at the point of sale and also on-line to enable easy identification by consumers.

Retailers and other dairy purveyors who wish to be identified as partners and to show the NOFFP logo at the point-of-sale and in their digital media will need to sign a licensing agreement pledging to (a) carry some of the Partner Brands and (b) increase their 2022 sales of products that use northeast organic family farm milk vs. their 2021 sales. This will be self-certified by the participating brands from their shipping records to the retail outlets. The retail partners will self-certify that they only use the logo only on the partner brands. There will be no outside auditing at this time and the brands will self-certify that the milk used in their product comes from northeast organic dairies.

There have been some questions about why the Partnership prioritizes farms in northern and eastern New York (NY) state counties and not the whole state of New York? NOFFP has stated that the area they understand that has been hardest hit with the largest number of terminated farm contracts is northern NY, eastern NY, VT, NH and ME. NODPA and others recognize that there are also at-risk organic dairy farms located across all of NY, and the area from which the milk is sourced should be from the entire state of New York. This will give consumers and retailers more choices in supporting organic dairies and also provide much need infrastructure for when demand expands and more processing is needed. NOFFP’s answer to this is, “The best way to save ALL of our northeastern organic family farms is for consumers, retailers and other dairy purveyors across the northeast to pledge their support for the Partner Brands committed to increasing (not decreasing) their purchases of all these farms’ milk. Increasing the demand for organic milk in the defined region benefits everyone in the organic sector no matter where you are.” NODPA hopes that the initiative soon grows to incorporate the entire state of New York so that there are no false distinctions within the region and there is no differentiation between organic dairy farmers and processors in the northeast region.

The Partnership Board includes a diverse group of leaders and individuals committed to saving all at-risk organic family farms across the northeast. They include, in addition to Hirshberg, Peter Allison, Farm to Institution, LLC, (VT); Diane Bothfeld, Agency of Agriculture (VT); Leon and Abbie Corse, Vermont Organic Dairy Farmers; Claire Eaton, VT Agency of Agriculture; Annie Watson, Maine Organic Milk Company and Dairy Farmer (ME); and Eric Ziehm, New York Organic Dairy Farmer (NY). Advisors include Michael Brown, CROPP Cooperative (ME); Rose Forrest, Sodexho Sustainability Director (RI); Ed Maltby, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (MA); Peter Miller, Miller Family Farm (VT); Britt Lundgren, Stonyfield Organic (NH); and Albert Straus, Straus Organic Creamery (CA).

The number of CROPP Cooperative and Stonyfield people involved in the initiative and the fact that these two brands are the most widely available of the 35 brands promoted on the NOFFP website raises the question as to whether this is a marketing promotion by the two companies to take sales away from Horizon Organic. The NOFFP responds that there are 35 brands who have initially signed on as brand partners who will be recognized and promoted on their website and to local retailers. The partnership states that it is promoting all brands equally in the hope to strengthen all brands using organic milk sourced from the region. If there are any new regional brands that can guarantee that all of their product comes from regional organic dairy farms and is processed regionally, this initiative will be of great benefit in building sales in retail stores, as store brands or for manufacturing. The simple truth, as well, is that CROPP Cooperative and Stonyfield are the only buyers in the region that can take on large quantities of milk, and they need to be able to justify an actual or projected increase in sales to take on the farms dumped by Danone/Horizon Organic.

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