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01/12/2022

Former Stonyfield CEO Aims to Help Local Dairy Farmers

Gary Hirshberg founds Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
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Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership
The Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership was formed to solve the immediate crisis of the 135 Northeast dairy farms whose contracts will end by 2023, as well as to help family farms in general.

Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and former CEO of Londonderry, Vt.-based Stonyfield Organic and an organic activist since 1977, has now created a partnership that he describes as a first for the agriculture, retail and food industries. The Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership was formed to solve the immediate crisis of the 135 Northeast dairy farms that were notified earlier this year that their contracts will end by 2023, as well as providing a long-term permanent solution for the national crisis of disappearing family farms. 

According to the partnership, a collaboration of farmers, processors, activists, government agencies and consumers, 89 of the 135 affected farms were terminated by Horizon, a brand owned by Danone North America, with the other 46 terminated by Maple Hill Creamery. 

The movement encourages the participation of all stakeholders in the food system – consumers, farmers, large and small dairy processors, retailers, restaurants, school lunch programs, college cafeterias, government officials in efforts to support and safeguard the region’s organic family farmers and provide a stable long-term demand for them. All dairy purveyors, including grocers, restaurants, cafeterias and any outlets that sell dairy products can become licensed partners that have committed to carry partner brands and to increase their 2022 organic dairy purchases versus their 2021 sale. They will then be entitled to display the partnership logo at the point of sale as well as online to enable easy identification by consumers looking to purchase local products. 

For their part, shoppers are invited to sign a pledge on the partnership’s microsite to purchase one-fourth of their weekly dairy purchases from among 35 brands, ranging from large ones such as Organic Valley and Stonyfield to midsize and smaller brands that have committed to increase their purchases of northeast organic family farmers’ milk. A list will be available for download on the microsite. 

Brands can qualify as partners by meeting at least two of three criteria: ensuring 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, a region stretching from New York City to Bangor, Maine; ownership by organic family farmers in the region; and/or publicly demonstrating a commitment to increase their supply from the region’s at-risk organic family farms.

The partnership board boasts a diverse group of leaders and individuals, including, in addition to Hirshberg,  Peter Allison, Farm to Institution LLC (Vermont); Diane Bothfeld, Agency of Agriculture (Vermont); Leon and Abbie Corse, Vermont Organic Dairy Farmers; Claire Eaton, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry; Annie Watson, Maine Organic Milk Co. and dairy farmer; and Eric Ziehm, New York Organic Dairy Farmer. Advisors include Michael Brown, CROPP Cooperative (Maine); Rose Forrest, Sodexho sustainability director (Rhode Island); Ed Maltby, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association (Massachusetts); Peter Miller, Miller Family Farm (Vermont); Britt Lundgren, director of organic and sustainable agriculture at Stonyfield Organic; and Albert Straus, Straus Organic Creamery (California).

From 2012 to 2021, Vermont lost more than 390 individual dairy farms as food production has largely moved from small families to large agribusiness operations, according to the partnership, which also notes that organic farms promote sustainability, sequester more soil carbon, decrease harmful environmental impacts, and have been shown to be more profitable and produce healthier livestock and higher milk quality

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