Full list: Agriculture in the News

Burlington Free Press: Vermont defends GMO labeling law

By Terri Hallenbeck
August 8, 2014
Full Article

Vermont has the right to require that genetically modified foods sold within the state be labeled, the state attorney general argued in papers filed Friday in federal court.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell defended Vermont’s new labeling law with a 51-page court filing. He asked the court to throw out a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, International Dairy Foods Association and the Snack Foods Association.

Sorrell also asked that several state officials, including Gov. Peter Shumlin, be removed from the lawsuit and contended that the National Association of Manufacturers should be tossed from the case because it had failed to allege harm.

Legislators passed and Shumlin signed the first-in-the-nation law this year knowing that food manufacturers were likely to sue. Sorrell has estimated it could cost the state up to $8 million to defend the law, with no guarantee the state will prevail. The law establishes a defense fund for the public to help pay legal bills.

Supporters of the labeling law argued that consumers want to know whether the food they buy contains genetically modified organisms. Genetic modification commonly is used for corn and soy to increase resistance to herbicides or enhance other traits in seeds.

The lawsuit, filed in June, argues that the law is misguided, exceeds the state’s authority and confuses consumers by suggesting that GMOs are unsafe with no evidence to support that. The lawsuit alleges the law violates food manufacturers’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to label a product in a way they find unnecessary and misleading while also prohibiting them from using the word “natural” on genetically modified foods.

Sorrell and a team of lawyers he has appointed to work on the case argued the state may make labeling restrictions to promote “informed decision-making on matters of public health and the environment.”

The state also argues that the law steers clear of violating interstate commerce, as the labeling adds no burden that outweighs the benefits.

Pointing to two court cases, Sorrell argues that federal courts have upheld New York City’s law requiring the posting of calories on menus and a federal law requiring country-of-origin labels on meat on the premise that the laws allow consumers to make more informed choices.

Vermont’s labeling law is slated to take effect in July 2016 pending the outcome of the lawsuit.


New York Times Op-Ed: Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers

NEW HAVEN — AT a farm-to-table dinner recently, I sat huddled in a corner with some other farmers, out of earshot of the foodies happily eating kale and freshly shucked oysters. We were comparing business models and profit margins, and it quickly became clear that all of us were working in the red.

The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat. Ninety-one percent of all farm households rely on multiple sources of income. Health care, paying for our kids’ college, preparing for retirement? Not happening. With the overwhelming majority of American farmers operating at a loss — the median farm income was negative $1,453 in 2012 — farmers can barely keep the chickens fed and the lights on.

Others of us rely almost entirely on Department of Agriculture or foundation grants, not retail sales, to generate farm income. And young farmers, unable to afford land, are increasingly forced into neo-feudal relationships, working the fields of wealthy landowners. Little wonder the median age for farmers and ranchers is now 56.

My experience proves the trend. To make ends meet as a farmer over the last decade, I’ve hustled wooden crafts to tourists on the streets of New York, driven lumber trucks, and worked part time for any nonprofit that could stomach the stink of mud on my boots. Laden with college debt and only intermittently able to afford health care, my partner and I have acquired a favorite pastime in our house: dreaming about having kids. It’s cheaper than the real thing.

But what about the thousands of high-priced community-supported agriculture programs and farmers’ markets that have sprouted up around the country? Nope. These new venues were promising when they proliferated over a decade ago, but now, with so many programs to choose from, there is increasing pressure for farmers to reduce prices in cities like my hometown, New Haven. And while weekend farmers’ markets remain precious community spaces, sales volumes are often too low to translate into living wages for your much-loved small-scale farmer.

Especially in urban areas, supporting your local farmer may actually mean buying produce from former hedge fund managers or tax lawyers who have quit the rat race to get some dirt under their fingernails. We call it hobby farming, where recreational “farms” are allowed to sell their products at the same farmers’ markets as commercial farms. It’s all about property taxes, not food production. As Forbes magazine suggested to its readers in its 2012 Investment Guide, now is the time to “farm like a billionaire,” because even a small amount of retail sales — as low as $500 a year in New Jersey — allows landowners to harvest more tax breaks than tomatoes.

On top of that, we’re now competing with nonprofit farms. Released from the yoke of profit, farms like Growing Power in Milwaukee and Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., are doing some of the most innovative work in the farming sector, but neither is subject to the iron heel of the free market. Growing Power alone received over $6.8 million in grants over the last five years, and its produce is now available in Walgreens stores. Stone Barns was started with a $30 million grant from David Rockefeller. How’s a young farmer to compete with that?

And then there are the chefs. Restaurants bait their menus with homages to local food, attracting flocks of customers willing to pay 30 bucks a plate. But running a restaurant is a low-margin, cutthroat business, and chefs have to pay the bills, too. To do so, chefs often use a rule of thumb: Keep food costs to 30 percent of the price of the meal. But organic farming is an even higher-risk, higher-cost venture, so capping the farmer’s take to a small sliver of the plate ensures that working the land remains a beggar’s game.

The food movement — led by celebrity chefs, advocacy journalists, students and NGOs — is missing, ironically, the perspective of the people doing the actual work of growing food. Their platform has been largely based on how to provide good, healthy food, while it has ignored the core economic inequities and contradictions embedded in our food system.

Unlike our current small-bore campaigns, previous food movements of the 1880s, 1930s and 1970s were led by highly organized farmers’ organizations — like the American Agricultural Movement, National Farmers Union and Colored Farmers’ National Alliance — trailblazing new paths for the economy.

They went toe to toe with Big Ag: crashing shareholder meetings; building co-ops and political parties; and lobbying for price stabilization. In the late 1970s, for example, small-scale family farmers organized a series of protests under the slogan “Parity Not Charity,” demanding a moratorium on foreclosures, as well as the stabilization of crop prices to ensure that farmers could make a living wage. They mobilized thousands of fellow farmers to direct action, including the 1979 Tractorcade, where 900 tractors — some driven thousands of miles — descended on Washington to shut down the nation’s capital.

It’s not the food movement’s fault that we’ve been left behind. It has turned food into one of the defining issues of our generation. But now it’s time for farmers to shape our own agenda. We need to fight for loan forgiveness for college grads who pursue agriculture; programs to turn farmers from tenants into landowners; guaranteed affordable health care; and shifting subsidies from factory farms to family farms. We need to take the lead in shaping a new food economy by building our own production hubs and distribution systems. And we need to support workers up and down the supply chain who are fighting for better wages so that their families can afford to buy the food we grow.

But none of these demands will be met until we start our own organizations — as in generations past — and shape a vision of a new food economy that ensures that growing good food also means making a good living.


Bloomberg: Ben & Jerry’s Throws Fudge Brownie Into GMO Food Fight

By Matthew Boyle
Aug 1, 2014
Full Article

In early May, Unilever (UNA) Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman paid a visit to the headquarters of its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s in South Burlington, Vermont, meeting with about 100 employees to share his views on deforestation, farming, and food made with ingredients from genetically modified organisms.

That night, Polman had dinner and ice cream with Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim. Two days later, with Solheim at his side, Shumlin signed the nation’s first law requiring labeling of foods made with GMO ingredients.

Ben & Jerry’s support of the law — a swirl of savvy public relations, financial backing, and grass-roots activism — pits the ice cream maker against the world’s biggest food companies, including its own corporate parent. Unilever has openly opposed state efforts to legislate GMO labeling, throwing money into campaigns to defeat an initiative in California. But it has quietly allowed Ben & Jerry’s to assert itself as a vocal proponent of such laws, especially in Vermont.

At the GMO Battle Front

The GMO labeling battle is heating up nationwide, with more than a dozen states considering legislation, including Oregon, which has a ballot initiative in November. A month after the Vermont law was signed, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) — a food-industry trade group representing more than 300 companies, including Coca-Cola Co. (KO), Nestle SA (NESN), and Unilever — sued Governor Shumlin and other state officials to block the labeling requirements, which take effect in July 2016.

‘Traitor’ Brands

In response to the lawsuit, the Organic Consumers Association, a Minnesota-based advocacy group, has renewed an earlier boycott of the “traitor” brands, as it calls them, whose parent companies are GMA members. Ben & Jerry’s, along with Kellogg Co. (K)’s Kashi cereal and PepsiCo Inc. (PEP)’s Naked Juice, is on OCA’s list of traitors. So far that hasn’t hurt Ben & Jerry’s sales, which rose 6.2 percent to $594 million in the U.S. for the 52 weeks ended June 15, according to data tracker IRI.

Rather than downplay the conflict with its British-Dutch corporate owner, Ben & Jerry’s has basked in it, donating about $5,000 to the state’s legal defense fund and pledging on its website to fight what it calls the “powerful corporate interests” who oppose “honesty in food.” Unilever says state labeling laws are costly and complex, echoing food-industry lobbyists who call GMO labeling a fad that violates free speech.

“If it’s a fad, then why have over 60 countries around the world adopted it?” Solheim asked. “I don’t think it’s a fad that people want to know what’s in their food. If you believe in a consumer’s right to know, you have to promote that belief. You can’t not take a stand.”

Ben & Jerry’s has never shied away from speaking out on social issues, and Unilever, since acquiring the company in 2000, has not interfered. Since 1985, Ben & Jerry’s has donated a portion of its profits to community projects across the U.S. In 1996, the company sued the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois for the right to label its products as free of recombinant bovine growth hormone, which is given to cows to boost milk production. A condition of Unilever’s acquisition was that Ben & Jerry’s would have a separate board of directors not chosen by its owner.

‘Label It’

The maker of Chunky Monkey and Phish Food is not the only feel-good brand whose outspoken views might make its parent nervous. Organic beverage maker Honest Tea, owned by Coca-Cola, is, along with Ben & Jerry’s, a member of the “Just Label It” campaign, which advocates for mandatory GMO labeling nationwide. Honest Tea founder Seth Goldman, who declined to comment for this story, said in a 2012 blog post that “there are bound to be moments when our enterprise does not share all of the same ideas as our parent company. But there’s never been any pressure to compromise.”

‘Food Fight!’

Solheim, a Norwegian who joined Unilever in 1991 and became Ben & Jerry’s CEO in 2010, said Unilever respects the brand’s GMO labeling push, which included temporarily changing the name of one of its flavors to “Food Fight! Fudge Brownie.” He added, “Obviously, there have been some bumps in the road, but our relationship is very productive.”

One out of three consumers intentionally avoids genetically modified ingredients, up from 15 percent in 2007, according to the Hartman Group, a trend tracker. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has rejected calls to mandate GMO labeling but allows foodmakers to volunteer on packaging whether foods don’t contain GMOs. More than five dozen countries require such labels.

Avoiding GMOs isn’t easy. More than 80 percent of the soybeans and corn grown in the U.S. in 2013 came from genetically engineered crops, according to the Department of Agriculture. About 75 percent of the foods Americans eat contain GMOs in some form.


Reuters: USDA leaning toward approval of Monsanto’s new GMO beans, cotton

By Carey Gillam
8/6/14
Full Article

Aug 6 (Reuters) – U.S. regulators on Tuesday said they are leaning toward approval of a new line of herbicide-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto Co even though they could increase problematic weed resistance for farmers.

Under the draft “environmental impact statement” (EIS) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the agency said its analysis shows the new genetically modified cotton and soybean plants should be approved.

St. Louis-based Monsanto, said the APHIS move was “a noteworthy sign of progress.”

Monsanto developed the new soybeans and cotton to resist a new herbicide that combines dicamba and glyphosate and which Monsanto is branding as Roundup Xtend. The “Roundup Ready Xtend crop system” is aimed at combating the millions of acres of weeds that have grown resistant to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup, which has been used extensively on the company’s biotech corn, soybeans and cotton.

APHIS also on Tuesday issued a final EIS for genetically altered corn and soybean plants developed by Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical. That EIS also states that the agency intends to approve the products. APHIS has already said in January that it was leaning toward approval for Dow’s products.

Dow has developed what it calls Enlist corn and soybeans that resist a new herbicide developed by Dow that includes both glyphosate and 2,4-D.

A final decision is expected after a 30-day public review period, the agency said.

Both Monsanto’s and Dow’s new cropping systems have seen regulatory decisions delayed by intense opposition from many consumer, environmental and farmer groups who say there are a host of concerns with both products.

The groups say using more herbicides on weeds will only increase weed resistance over the long term. And increased herbicide use also brings increased risks of health problems and environmental pollution, they say.

“We are outraged,” said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist with the Pesticide Action Network North America. “Despite all of this public outcry, what these decisions show is that USDA is much more interested in working with Dow and Monsanto and getting their products to market than in protecting the public.”

In its statement about Monsanto’s new products issued Tuesday, APHIS said farmers would see benefits, but acknowledged there also would likely be “an increased chance of the development of weeds resistant to dicamba.”

The draft EIS for Monsanto’s products will be available for a 45-day public review and comment period, APHIS said.

Alongside the USDA/APHIS regulatory process, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is concluding its concurrent review of the related herbicides.


Seven Days: A Longtime Dairyman Thinks Big — and Goes Small

Go big or get out: That’s the conventional wisdom that has been driving the dairy industry in recent decades. Plenty of Vermont farmers have chosen the second option. As commodity milk prices have yo-yoed between record highs and crushing lows, mid-size dairies in particular have felt the squeeze. In the last decade alone, the total number of Vermont dairy farms dropped from 1,433 to 993, according to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.

But not all of the surviving operations are large ones, milking thousands of cows. In fact, a growing percentage of Vermont’s remaining milk farms are small. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of dairy farms with fewer than 10 cows increased by more than 30 percent to 217, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture That’s almost one quarter of Vermont’s dairy farms. Small dairy herd numbers are on the rise nationally as well.

In Royalton, one longtime dairyman is singing the praises of this new model — the so-called “micro-dairy” — and supplying its practitioners with the equipment they need.

“At one point I had a farm with 250 head of cows, and I didn’t enjoy it,” said Steven Judge, who has been milking the animals for more than 50 years. Today, he keeps a tiny herd of four Jersey cows on his small, hilly Royalton farmstead.

Judge runs Bob-White Systems, a company that invented a small-scale pasteurizer designed for processing milk on farms. But the mini-pastuerizer comes with a hefty price tag: $70,000. So Judge is diversifying, brokering the purchase of bulk tanks, butter churns and other milking equipment specifically designed for micro-dairies.

The idea behind Bob-White is to put farmers in charge of their own destinies. That means being able to pasteurize — the process of heating milk to kill most of the possible pathogens, protect against disease and slow spoilage caused by microbial growth — on-site instead of shipping milk to a big processor, where it is combined with milk from other farms and eventually pasteurized and homogenized. Marketing its products directly to consumers allows a micro-dairy to command higher prices.

In July, Judge may have solved another problem for small dairy operations: His farm hosts the only private lab in Vermont certified by the Food and Drug Administration to test the safety and quality of raw milk being sold by farmers. Under Vermont law, farmers selling more than 87.5 gallons of raw milk each week must have their milk tested monthly. Prior to Bob-White’s recent FDA certification, that required driving samples to the state lab in Burlington.

Why the growing interest in small dairies?

“A lot of folks see it as part of a diversified business plan,” said Andrea Stander, the director of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont. Manure enriches soil. Byproducts from milk processing, like whey, can be used to feed pigs or fertilize cropland. It’s hard for Vermont to compete against California or the Midwest in commercial dairy production, said Stander, but the state excels in other ways.

“One of the things we do really well in Vermont is grow grass,” she said. “We have the climate for it, we have the history for it. A small-scale, grass-based dairy has real potential to be economically viable as part of a diversified farming system.”

When he started dreaming about designing his own small-scale pasteurizer, Judge applied some of the same thinking that guided an earlier enterprise with similar goals. In the early 1990s he founded Vermont Milk Producers and created the Vermont Family Farms brand of milk. The goal was to market milk under a Vermont label, and pay farmers more than they would otherwise earn in commercial production. He ultimately sold the label to a larger dairy co-op, St. Albans Cooperative Creamery. The St. Albans co-op passed the brand off to Hood, and eventually the label disappeared.

His new project puts dairy science back in the hands of farmers. Judge’s pasteurization device, called the LiLi (short for low imput, low impact) was initially plagued with problems. The first prototype — which Judge said he and his engineers tested extensively — couldn’t pass FDA approval. Consultant Amy Shollenberger stepped in to help Bob-White navigate the regulatory landscape, and said she quickly realized that the food-safety and production rules around dairy processing were designed with bigger operations in mind.

“They had to figure out how to work within the rules at this tiny little scale,” said Shollenberger.

Cornwall businessman Bruce Hiland, who has known Judge for years, said Judge faced an uphill battle when it came to bringing the LiLi to market.

“Steve has done a remarkable job of fighting his way through the established order to come up with, in this case, a really imaginative, creative, effective device that will help small family farms,” said Hiland.

By offering “gentler” pasteurization than some larger-scale equipment, Judge claims the LiLi better preserves the taste of fresh milk. “The flavor of milk is every bit as complex as wine, but it’s been forgotten and ignored,” said Judge.

But getting the LiLi onto farms has been tough, given the price tag. The model that eventually earned that stamp of approval required significant, costly engineering changes — including a larger pump and heat exchanger, more expensive valves and programmable computer controls.

“It exists to enforce regulations, not to encourage innovation,” Judge said of the Food and Drug Administration in an email. “I don’t blame the FDA, I just found the lack of an established and predictable review process to be extremely frustrating and expensive.”

Bob-White has sold exactly one of the LiLi machines, to Back to the Future Farm in Westtown, NY. Farmers Lee and Rose Hubbert and Mike O’Dell bottle whole and chocolate milk from a herd of 50 Jersey and Holstein cows. They sell milk under their own label locally and plan to expand to New York City markets later this month.

Rose Hubbert said the farmers investigated other pasteurization systems and found the LiLi operated much faster. That’s crucial for processing the 300 gallons a day they milk from their herd. “I think it’s going to pay off in no time at all, to be honest with you,” said Hubbert. “We’re selling a lot more milk than we had ever dreamed of.”

The LiLi’s rocky and expensive start prompted Judge to explore other revenue streams for Bob-White Systems. That’s why he began selling dairy equipment specifically for small producers. On a recent afternoon at his modest Royalton office, he pointed out milk pails, cream separators and cleaning supplies.

Judge also began importing small-scale bulk tanks — the stainless steel vats into which fresh milk is pumped and stored. At the time, he said, the smallest tanks available in the U.S. had a capacity of 600 gallons. Working first with a facility in Slovenia, then with one in Greece, he began selling bulk tanks with capacities between 15 and 90 gallons.

“Everybody thought I was crazy to try to sell these little bulk tanks,” said Judge, noting it was the same reaction he got when he decided to build a milking barn for four cows. He estimates Bob-White Systems has sold roughly 250 tanks, ranging in cost from roughly $2,400 to $4,400, to micro-dairies around the country.

One of Judge’s customers is Lindsay Harris, a dairy farmer in Tunbridge. Harris and her husband, Evan Reiss, cut their teeth as raw milk farmers at the Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg, where at the time they were the state’s largest raw milk dairy. Harris said the proximity to a major urban center made the business economically viable, but she and her family wanted to live in a more rural setting.

They sold the business last year, and moved to Tunbridge to start Mountain Home Farm. Harris said she knew a raw milk business wouldn’t sustain the family in the more remote location, so she and Reiss began making cultured butter, ricotta cheese and other lightly processed dairy products from eight cows. They bought a butter churn from Bob-White Systems.

“It was the only one I could find anywhere in the country, and here I’m 12 miles from his shop,” she said.

She noted that Judge has made the micro-dairy industry a lot more accessible since the time she and Reiss started the Family Cow 10 years ago. At that time, they couldn’t find a small bulk tank anywhere in the United States, and had to import one — for roughly $5,000 — from Europe.

Harris’ choice to remain small was a complicated one. On one hand, she said, it’s incredibly difficult to make a micro-dairy work financially. Even something as simple as buying a small supply of labels for her milk products is difficult; suppliers are used to dealing in truckloads, she said, not boutique quantities.

But she likes having total control over her herd and her product, and having a hand in every step of production.

“I think it takes a pretty special situation to make it profitable, to make it work,” she said — and Mountain Home Farm isn’t yet at that point. Harris and Reiss are exploring other ways to derive income from their farm, including sustainable forestry.

“You aren’t going to send your kids to college and vacation in Europe on a micro-dairy,” Judge agreed. “It’s a supplemental income.”

For now, Judge is still mulling over the problem of the LiLi and trying to design a pasteurizer that costs less and will still earn FDA approval. All a pasteurizer needs to do, he pointed out, is heat milk to 161 degrees Fahrenheit and hold it at that temperature for 15 seconds.

“Why should a machine that is capable of doing that cost more than a new BMW?” he asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”


Seven Days: Is Selling Raw Milk Viable in Rural Vermont?

On a sunny Saturday in mid-July, a would-be customer approaches a farmstand at the Barre Farmers Market. He pauses and peruses the table spread with jars of honey and pamphlets about another product: raw milk. “Is this a co-op or something?” he asks, looking up, milk pamphlet in hand. “I think I wanna get into raw milk.”

Susan and Ryan Hayes, owners of the Farm of Milk and Honey in Washington, stand with coolers at their feet holding jars of unprocessed milk, kept just above freezing in ice-water baths. These are not for sale.

But the Hayeses are on-site taking advantage of a new law that went into effect on July 1; it permits farmers trafficking in raw, straight-from-the-cow milk to deliver their product to farmers markets for customer pickup. Previously, Tier II producers of raw milk (those hoping to sell more than 87.5 gallons per week) had to sell straight from the farm or deliver directly to customers’ homes.

Before he can purchase any milk, Susan tells the man, he must visit the farm, according to state law. If he can make the trip this week, she explains, she can bring milk to next Saturday’s market for him. Or he can just buy it on the farm.

“Huh,” he says, unconvinced. “I don’t know if I’ll be back next week.”

Susan offers to deliver the milk to his house, once he completes the requisite visit.

“My problem,” he says, “is that I’m in and out all the time.” The man adds that he’s trying to eat a diet suited to the local environment. And in Vermont, the environment is very much about dairy.

As Susan wraps up the conversation, Ryan chats with another potential buyer, again explaining the state-mandated appointment during which consumers can judge the safety of the milk for themselves. “If all products were sold that way,” the woman tells Ryan, “I’d never buy anything.”

Despite these difficulties, the Hayeses say they’re “choosing to celebrate the new legislation” allowing them market access. “We’ll take whatever we can get,” Susan says.

The Farm of Milk and Honey is one of just four Tier II producers in the state. According to Andrea Stander, director of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont, a handful of other dairies are working toward Tier II certification now that they’re allowed farmers market presence. Stander says the market-delivery law is a step in the right direction: “It’s putting raw milk out into the marketplace in a more regular way,” she says. “More people have the opportunity to know that raw milk is out there. It’s not easy [to get],” she adds, “but it is available.”

A few days later, I meet Ryan Hayes in his barn. He’s readying to milk the first of his three cows.

He cleans each of her teats with a sterile solution before attaching a suction milker and can. “Our milk only travels eight inches [from cow to cooler],” he says, rather than through tubing and into a holding tank, as at a conventional dairy. This procedure, Ryan says, minimizes contamination potential. After each milking, he cleans the milker with a scrub brush and resanitizes everything.

“We’ve been told that our milk is some of the cleanest around,” Ryan says, readying the next cow. The cow drops a well-timed cow-patty, splattering Ryan and everything else in range. “Some raw-milk farmers prefer to milk by hand,” he says, scooping poo into the gutter. “But that’s why we don’t. It happens.”

A neighboring farmer saunters into a the barn. He’s come up the hill to borrow the hay elevator, which is upstairs in the loft. “What, you’ve got three cows you’re milking now?” he asks.

“Yep,” Ryan replies, kneeling to wipe the cow’s udder with a clean rag. He dunks her teat in a sterile solution, then wipes her down again. A month ago, he explains, he bought two new Jerseys from a farm up north.

“Getting big,” the neighbor says, watching Ryan with a dubious look. He wanders back out to the barnyard.

At conventional dairies, Ryan says, the extra cleaning he’s doing is unnecessary. “The difference between conventional milking and raw milk is that they’ll just put the milker on [right after a cow poops]. Because if you’re going to pasteurize it anyway…” But the cow he’s milking, a little Jersey named Papillon (nicknamed “Papi”), is short, so her udder hangs low to the ground — definitely in the splatter zone. “Some probably got on the teat,” Ryan says.

After milking each cow, Ryan takes the can to the milk room and empties it into glass jars, then drops them into an ice-water bath to cool.

Milk stowed away, he walks to the field and cordons off an area for the day’s grazing. The cows eat an all-grass diet, and the Hayeses rotate them through various pastures to keep the grass healthy and strong, which in turn keeps the cows healthy and strong. “That’s the foundation for clean milk: healthy animals,” Ryan says.

The Hayeses are new to full-time farming; they lived until recently in Williston, while Ryan worked in Burlington as a graphic designer. He also apprenticed for a year at the Family Cow Farmstand — Vermont’s first state-certified raw milk dairy, which has been operating in Hinesburg since 2008. When bringing a cow home proved more difficult than expected, the couple wondered if they could apply the Family Cow model outside Chittenden County. They leased a farm in Washington.

At the Family Cow — where Kalyn Campbell says her 10 milking cows serve about 300 regular customers — business is profitable largely because the customers live nearby in Chittenden County. Campbell can deliver 60 percent of her milk with comparative ease, though she says her success also depends on farmstand sales.

The farmstand is not far from the main road. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and operates on an honor system: Customers swing by, grab milk, meat, eggs and vegetables, and leave cash in the box. Campbell says she stocks more than just milk to make the stand a destination, “so people can come in and buy everything they need.” In effect, she’s bringing the grocery store to the farm, since she can’t sell her milk in stores.

Campbell acknowledges that the Family Cow’s success is rare in Vermont. When she bought the business in 2013, another farmer had been building the brand — and its loyal clientele — for more than five years. “I bought this business for quite a bit of money for that customer base,” she says.

Lindsay Harris, who founded the Family Cow in 2008, moved to Tunbridge about a year ago. When she left Chittenden County, she says, she abandoned the idea of selling unprocessed milk, knowing it would be too difficult to reach customers in a rural area. Instead, Harris says, she refocused her business on making butter, bottled buttermilk and fresh ricotta cheese; she pasteurizes her milk on-farm in small batches. (For more details of Harris’ micro-pasteurization practice, see Kathryn Flagg’s story in Local Matters, this issue.)

“For years we tried to figure out how to make raw milk work in a different location,” Harris says. “But we wanted to live in a more rural area. Any place that was good for the raw-milk business was near a larger population center.”

The Hayeses struggle, high on a hill, miles from the nearest paved road.

On a recent afternoon, Susan Hayes is driving her delivery truck. To deliver $72 worth of product, she makes a 75-mile loop. It takes several hours and about half a tank of gas, which she estimates rings up at about $30.

Susan pulls up to a house in a quiet neighborhood near Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier and stops the engine. She pulls three jars of cold milk from ice-laden coolers and heads for the front door. No one home.

“This is always the sketchy part,” she says, wandering into the carport. “I have no idea if this is the right house.” Ryan usually handles delivery, and it’s Susan’s first time at this residence. She passes into a breezeway, then through a mudroom. A third door opens into the kitchen where, spying three empty jars on the counter, she heaves a sigh of relief.

“Phew! Here I am leaving raw milk in someone’s fridge, and I don’t even know whose house it is,” Susan says.

She opens the fridge, which is plastered with photos and magnets, places the milk on a rack, takes the empties from the counter and leaves. Back in the truck, Susan says, “Delivering milk is romantic and charming, and I love interacting with the customers, but they don’t need to see us every week … It’s just so inefficient.”

So why do it?

The Hayeses say they’re following the law to the letter as an experiment. “Until we try it this way,” Ryan says, “we won’t know if it’s viable.” Susan says she hopes that playing by the rules now — even if it means losing money — will give them a leg up when the raw milk issue comes up again in the legislature.

“Then we can say, ‘Look, we did it just the way you told us to do it,'” and be able to offer real suggestions on improving the process, Susan explains.

Meanwhile, Susan keeps her day job as an educational consultant in Williston and commutes three or four days a week. Ryan stays home and works the farm with their 4-year-old son.

Harris admires their fortitude. “I applaud the Hayeses,” she says. “They are pretty ambitious. All that delivery is crazy. It’s so labor-intensive. Unless you’re delivering to somewhere in Burlington, it just doesn’t make sense; the burdens really add up.”

“This is not profitable,” Ryan concedes. “That’s the crummy part.” But, he adds, “I’d say the benefits far outweigh the downfalls.”


VPR: Cautiously, Hemp Crops Take Root In Vt.

Industrial hemp can be used to make edible oil, fabric, paper, rope, even a form of concrete and a plastic composite used in car doors. Like any other crop, you have to have seeds, soil and water to grow it. Hemp farmers have plenty of soil and water but getting seeds has been a little more complicated. A homesteader in Panton who registered as a hemp grower told VPR he didn’t plant this year because his efforts to get seeds from Canada, where hemp farming has been legal for 16 years, did not pan out.

Robb Kidd, formerly with Rural Vermont, says some people interested in hemp farming have found seeds in the wild. “I have heard some Vermonters have harvested feral hemp here in Vermont,” says Kidd. “There’s been patches of feral hemp growing for the last 40 years. Some people have harvested those seeds to grow.”

The three hemp plots our reporter visited were all started with seed sold by Europeans and shipped here illegally, including the hemp seeds that Netaka White managed to get France. “This is our humble hemp patch,” says White, gesturing to the area outside his home in Salisbury where he planted 1.5 ounces of seed. “It measures about eight by eight [feet].  I don’t even know what percentage of an acre that is.”

White expects to get 12 or more pounds of seed when he harvests his hemp crop in late September and he’ll use that to grow even more hemp next year. Most of the Vermont hemp farmers seem resigned that this first crop will go towards establishing a seed supply.

White is co-owner of a company called Full Sun that presses seed into oil.  He doesn’t expect to start pressing Vermont-grown hemp seeds until the fall of 2016 at a production facility Full Sun plans to open in Addison County.

A VPR survey of the dozen Vermonters registered with the Agency of Agriculture to grow hemp found that at least five of them have decided not to grow this year. (The agency says it has no idea how many are actually growing.) For some of the would-be hemp farmers the anxiety over the legality of hemp was the reason. One Vermont farmer who registered with the state told VPR he planted hemp seeds and then tore the young plants from the soil, worried that a bust would affect his girlfriend’s high-profile PR job.

A farmer in Springfield who registered was afraid the hemp seeds sold online might have a THC content that exceeds Vermont’s maximum of 0.3 percent. THC is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana responsible for the high. Another farmer who registered told us that a lot of industrial hemp has a THC level of one percent, which is not enough to get you high but is enough to violate Vermont’s law, so he decided not to plant this year. The Agency of Agriculture says it has no plans at the moment to test for THC content.

Will Allen, a longtime hemp advocate in Thetford, decided not to plant out of fear that the feds might confiscate his Cedar Circle Farm. He investigated the possibility of leasing land to grow hemp on, but that didn’t pan out.

The anxiety over where the federal government’s stand on hemp farming has caused the University of Vermont to hold off planting hemp this year for research purposes. UVM agronomist Heather Darby says once the legal cloud hanging over hemp farming is resolved, a research plot of an acre or smaller could be planted at the UVM Extension farm in Alburgh as early as next spring. Tris Coffin, the U.S. Attorney for Vermont, declined to comment on the record about his stance on hemp farming in the state but observers say Coffin’s office has made heroin and opiate cases a much higher priority than marijuana prosecutions.

On an 80-acre homestead in the Northeast Kingdom, a young couple raises pigs, chickens and all of their own vegetables. They planted a 25 square-foot patch of hemp in their garden. They, too, asked that we not use their names. The homesteaders live fairly close to the Quebec border. “I wouldn’t call myself a pioneer of anything,” the farmer says. “It’s part of our environment. Part of our growing systems, living systems is growing hemp. And I have the opportunity to do it, so I’m going to do it.” This homesteader and his wife spend winter months away from Vermont rigging traditional sailing ships, which means they know quite a bit about rope. “One of the reasons why hemp is such a great rope-making material is that it can grow 12 feet tall,” he says, “and then you have 12-foot long pieces of fiber, which make really strong rope.”  Last winter the couple went to Sweden and made rope from hemp using equipment and a process developed in the nineteenth century. They hope to make rope one day out of Vermont-grown hemp fiber.  “We want to re-learn how to grow it for fiber and we want to re-learn how to make it into rope so that that tradition isn’t lost,” she says. “Whether we’ll ever be able to make a living making hemp rope? I mean, probably not. Who knows?” But he says it’s worth it to keep the skills alive. “And when the world’s ready for it, we want still have that knowledge available.

A hemp industry trade group estimates that last year Americans spent more than a half billion dollars on hemp foods, cosmetics and other products. And here’s another way hemp farming can possibly benefit Vermont agriculture: after the seeds are pressed for the oil, the left over seed meal can be used as animal feed. Netaka White of the Full Sun oil seed company says that in addition to pressing hemp seed oil, he plans to sell seed meal to Vermont famers. “We’re at the beginning in Vermont of a whole new industry that hasn’t existed in this state for 60 to 70 years,” says White. “Most people who are putting seeds in the ground are realistic in what it’s going to take to kickstart this new agricultural sector.”

In addition to Vermont, hemp crops have been planted in Kentucky and Colorado this year.


Kentucky.com: UK hemp crop growing well without fertilizer, pesticide

By Janet Patton
July 30, 2014
Full Article

Hemp’s comeback in Kentucky is going strong, tall and green.

A patch of hemp seeded at the University of Kentucky’s Spindletop research farm in Lexington in late May has grown to more than 6 feet in some places and is still going, with neither fertilizer nor pesticides.

“It’s doing just fine so far,” said Dave Williams, a UK agronomist who, with Rich Mundell, is in charge of the test plots.

“We’ve had enough rain to keep it growing and enough heat to make it grow,” Williams said.

The first legal hemp planted in Central Kentucky appears to be off to a good start despite being planted later than originally hoped.

The seeds, imported from Italy, were seized by U.S. Customs officials in Louisville because the Kentucky Department of Agriculture did not have an import permit. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer sued the federal government to have them released.

The DEA agreed to expedite permits for the state and agreed that private growers also can be permitted by the department to grow cannabis sativa, which is almost identical to marijuana but with minuscule amounts of high-inducing chemicals.

The federal suit will be dismissed soon, said Holly VonLuehrte, Comer’s chief of staff.

Further shipments have come in without difficulty, and now about 15 Kentucky farmers have planted test plots for the department, she said.

Williams said his hemp, which includes a larger plot with 13 strains, all thought to be fiber varieties, will be harvested in late September or early October.

The variety in the test plot that has become the poster child for Kentucky hemp is called red petiole and will be evaluated for how much fiber it yields.

This planting is just a first step for what many farmers across the state hope will become a lucrative crop.

The KDA anticipates having at least 30 farmers growing hemp next year, VonLuehrte said.

Williams plans to plant much more as well.

“We’d like to test more varieties than what were available this year,” he said. “There are lots of different fertility regimes we’d like to look at, planting densities we’d like to look at. Lots of research yet to do.”

Other Kentucky universities also planted hemp this year — the first time it has been legally planted in the United States in decades. Murray State got seeds in the ground first, in mid-May.

The same varieties at Spindletop also have been planted at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond and at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Data from all the locations will be compared with the Fayette County trials.

Next comes finding a processor and a buyer. Some processors have expressed interest, Williams said.

Decades ago, when hemp was a major crop in Kentucky, it was grown primarily for fiber, as it is today in Europe. But Canada’s hemp industry is built on seed, mainly processed for oil.

Williams and Mundell hope next year to grow some varieties for seed rather than fiber.

“This is just a baby step in the research that needs to be conducted before we can make great recommendations to farmers in Kentucky,” Williams said. “This is just the first step in the right direction.”

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/07/30/3358896/uk-hemp-crop-growing-well-without.html?sp=/99/322/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy

VT Digger: Private donations boost GMO legal defense kitty to $160,000

John Herrick
Jul. 28 2014
Full Article

Vermont has raised more than $160,000 in private donations to help defend what would be the nation’s first GMO labeling law.

While the majority of these private donations have come from individuals, national advocacy groups are also lending their support. And last week, two consumer advocacy groups filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Vermont to defend the law in court.

Vermont’s law requires food manufacturers and retailers to label certain products containing genetically modified ingredients starting in 2016. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other national trade groups are suing Vermont, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

State officials estimate spending as much as $8 million to defend the law. The state is accepting donations to a special fund at foodfightfundvt.org.

The liberal advocacy group, MoveOn.org, made the largest single donation of $52,000 earlier this month, nearly doubling the amount of money in the fund at the time. The group is lobbying other states to pass GMO labeling legislation.

Two Minnesota philanthropists added $50,000 on July 17. The trustees with the private foundation Ceres Trust, Kent Whealy and Judith Kern, have a history of pushing for GMO labeling policies in Hawaii and California.

The foundation supports “organic research initiatives,” including “programs to eliminate pesticide exposure and GMO contamination,” according to its website. It describes genetic engineering as the “most difficult food safety, environmental and health challenges of the 21st century.” The foundation says it supports the Center for Food Safety, a national consumer advocacy group seeking to help Vermont defend its law in court.

Among the state’s other top donors are some that are represented by the trade groups suing the state.

The New Hampshire organic dairy products manufacturer Stonyfield Farm donated $5,000, the state’s third-largest donation. Stonyfield Farm is a member of the International Dairy Foods Association, which is among the trade groups suing the state over its labeling law.

Ben & Jerry’s in June announced it would rename its fudge brownie flavor for the month of July and donate $1 for every scoop of “Food Fight Fudge Brownie” sold at its locations in Burlington and Waterbury into the fund.

Among the other top donors are the Vermont Community Foundation, which has donated $2,000, and Toronto’s natural foods grocery co-op, the Big Carrot, which donated $1,000. Gov. Peter Shumlin also donated $100.

Vermont has hired a Washington, D.C., law firm to help defend the law. Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber was awarded a $1.465 million contract this month.

The private donations to date equal about 9 percent of that contract.

Sarah Clark, deputy commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management, said even with minimal marketing of the GMO fund, “we’ve really seen a significant increase in the last few weeks.”

The state’s response to the lawsuit is due Aug. 8.


Valley Advocate: Seeds of Rebellion

Vermont becomes a hotbed of resistance to high-tech agribiz.
7/2/14

It was the “Bring it on” law—a law that came out of the Vermont Legislature with a built-in weapon against an expected challenge.

Vermont’s GMO labeling law, passed this spring, required that most foods and seeds offered for sale in the state be labeled if they contained genetically manipulated elements. It also provided for a legal defense fund, the Vermont Food Fight Fund, in case the state were sued by the food industry and large agricultural firms engaged in the sale of genetically engineered seeds.

Attorneys general in some states might have been reluctant to see a law passed that would so obviously be a red flag to a well-capitalized industry, but Vermont’s attorney general Bill Sorrell was nothing daunted. “Our office did go before the legislature and testify that we expected a legal challenge, and laid out the possible risks that the law would face,” Assistant Attorney General Megan Shafritz, who heads up Sorrell’s civil litigation department, told the Advocate. “But our office is absolutely prepared to defend this law against all challenges, and we’re not afraid to do that. I think the Legislature was responsible and carrying out what they felt our citizens wanted.”

To no one’s surprise, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (of which Monsanto is a member), the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the Association of Manufacturers have now filed suit to overturn the Vermont law. The named defendants include Sorrell, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Department of Health commissioner Harry Chen, and James Reardon, commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management.

Connecticut and Maine also have GMO labeling laws, and another is pending in Massachusetts; no litigation cannon has been aimed at those states. But Vermont’s law is different. The laws passed or pending in the other New England states require that several other contiguous states pass similar laws before those now passed would go into effect, and that the population of all those states total 20 million. Vermont’s law has no external trigger; it would go into effect in 2016 independently of the passage or failure of any other GMO labeling law in any other state. Because it has no trigger, Vermont’s law is the first of its kind in the country.

However, Vermont’s law would add to the number of states necessary to trigger the implementation of laws in other states, such as Massachusetts. For the industry, the moment is strategic: a GMO law is being mulled in New York, and if it passed, that would add another state contiguous with Connecticut and Massachusetts—and with a population of 19 million—to the critical mass of Northeastern states with GMO labeling laws. Even before it filed suit against Vermont, the food industry was pushing a law in Congress that would prohibit mandatory GMO labeling and nullify state GMO labeling laws.

It makes sense that Vermont would be a leader of the resistance to agricultural monopolies. The tradition of small farming runs deep in this state, which has more direct farm-to-consumer sales per capita—more farm stands, farmers’ markets and CSA (comunity-supported agriculture) farms—than any state in the country. Organic sales also constitute a larger percentage of farm sales here than in any other state.

In Vermont, the preferences of many consumers as well as farmers are for food grown in a transparent, decentralized way that favors stakeholders rather than shareholders. Many Vermonters “have been around a long time and understand how difficult it is to make a living as a farmer and what difference that connection to the consumer makes—that understanding of how people farm their produce and their products,” said Sabine Rhyne, community relations manager for the Brattleboro Food Coop.

So far, most of the arguments pro and con about GMO labeling have centered around food safety, but another issue underlies the controversy about GMO foods and the labeling of them: the issue of plant patenting and monoculture. GMO foods and GMO seeds are products whose DNA is their creators’ property; consumers who purchase them are buying into a system that has drastically restricted the variety of plant material available for use as food and/or medicine. Today 10 multinational companies own 73 percent of the world’s commercial seeds. So much seed material is corporate property, according to seed farmer Tom Stearns of Wolcott, Vt., that “the major contemporary challenge that organic and public seed breeders face is a critical shortage of varieties that haven’t been patented.”

This spring, High Mowing became one of only two companies in the country (the other is Wild Garden Seed of Philomath, Ore.) to sell seeds produced by the new Open Source Seed Initiative, a venture created by University of Wisconsin researcher Irwin Goldman. The OSSI was formed to counteract the concentration of seeds in the hands of a few companies. So far it has created a “protected commons” of 37 seed varieties that are released on condition that no property rights can be attached to them or to plants bred from them.

In the long run, the role of companies like High Mowing may be decisive in the conflict between high-tech corporate agriculture and farming based on natural systems. Goldman’s dream is that the Open Source Seed Initiative will grow into an agricultural movement that will someday produce “open-source” foods—foods that would be labeled as such when they appear for sale in grocery stores.

As Vermont prepares to square off with the food industry in court, Ben and Jerry’s is skimming a part of the proceeds from its recently renamed Food Fight Fudge Brownie ice cream to donate to the legal defense fund; the Organic Consumers Association is harvesting money for the fund; and the state has mounted an attractive website (http://www.foodfightfundvt.org) to lure donations. Meanwhile, the Open Source Seed Initiative is fighting the same battle on another front.

“The Open Source Seed Initiative is the first definitive step towards reclaiming our access to plant genetic material, which has largely been privatized by the same corporations that develop GMOs,” says Stearns. “GMO agriculture is already losing ground as consumers begin speaking out against GMOs and in favor of labeling, but we also need a positive alternative. Unpatented organic and open source seeds are our most powerful tools for rebuilding a healthy, sustainable food supply.”•