farmers’ market management itself—a function largely invisible
to consumers—would make a big difference in making them more
competitive. Customers need not see the inner workings of
a farmers’ market. They are best done behind the scenes, so
the customer can focus on the food. However, it is unfortunate that
farmers, market sponsors, and local governments are often not more
mindful of what is required to run a farmers’ market well. Most
casual observers have the impression that farmers simply gather spontaneously
to sell. But in fact a lot of work goes into good farmers’ markets,
including site selection, producer recruitment, applications, rules,
farm visits, and publicity. The best farmers’ markets are managed
as closely as any business—and also with great love, the managerial
factor most customers seem to appreciate instinctively.
Unfortunately, most American farmers’ markets are run by
amateurs. I mean that literally. They don’t charge farmers
a fee that makes market management financially viable. They rely
instead on public subsidies, volunteer labor, and fundraising. Whether
farmers’ markets are run by for-profit, nonprofit, or government
agents, the operation of the market itself should be financially
viable. The sole subsidy should be the use of private and public
space for nominal or no rent. The many ancillary benefits of farmers’
markets, including urban revitalization and the cultural benefits
of bringing rural and urban people together, make that small contribution
of public squares and quiet streets a worthy public investment.
The best practice for farmers’ markets is independent, professional,
regional management. By professional, I mean paid; by independent,
that management decisions are made independently of farmers, consumers,
landlords, and local businesses. Regional means that one market
manager operates markets on several sites.
When I started London’s first farmers’ markets in 1999,
my strategy to make market management independent, professional,
and regional was deliberate. I understood the workings of farmers’
markets from three angles. As farmers, we relied on farmers’
markets for all our income. We had also started and organized farmers’
markets on public streets and city parking lots. As a cook, I had
shopped at many farmers’ markets. I knew what worked and what
didn’t for all three parties: farmers, market managers, and
Consider first the farmer’s perspective. Most of the farmers’
markets we relied on were haphazard efforts lacking professional
management. In the 1990s, my parents attended only one professionally
managed farmers’ market, in the Washington neighborhood Dupont
Circle. We paid 6 percent of sales to a nonprofit market manager,
FreshFarm Markets. If we take $4,000 on Sunday in peak season, the
fee is substantial, about $240. For this fee, management provides
intelligent producer recruitment, farm inspections, publicity, education,
and other services. Other farmers’ markets, by contrast, were
orphaned by benign neglect or outright indifference by city or civic
sponsors. These unmanaged or under-managed markets charged very
little—we paid a mere $5 to $15 each week—and sales
were lower. You get what you pay for. When I started the London
markets, I knew that my parents would prefer to pay 6 percent of
sales at every farmers’ market they attended if these markets
were professionally managed in a network by groups like FreshFarm.
Our farm is simply too dependent on markets to let this sales venue
languish for inattention 1.
You get what you pay for. . . my parents
would prefer to pay 6 percent of sales at every farmers’
market they attended if these markets were professionally
managed . . . Our farm is simply too dependent on markets
to let this sales venue languish for inattention.
Nor did we wish to manage farmers’ markets ourselves. Farmers’
markets managed by farmers have two downsides: first, self-management
requires farmers to spend valuable time on committees and paperwork
when they would rather be farming. The second objection is more
serious. Over time, markets run by farmers, or markets where management
is independent from farmers in name only, tend to favor farmers,
often in subtle ways, at the expense of customers. It is all but
inevitable that a producer bias creeps into decisions. Competition
tends to be stifled. Eventually, the quality and diversity of foods
offered to consumers suffers.
Now consider farmers’ markets from the perspective of market
management. Individual markets are money losers for organizers.
That is why most farmers’ markets rely on volunteers and grants.
Even a reasonable fee does not cover the expenses of running one
market. One has to spread the overhead costs across several sites.
At London Farmers’ Markets, the costs of running 10 weekly
markets come entirely from fees paid by farmers, who pay 6 to 8
percent of sales per market. Sales are reported on the honor system.
We provide electricity for chilled foods at almost every market.
London Farmers’ Markets employs two fulltime staff and a parttime
manager at every market. The company does not rely on volunteers.
We found that we needed to run ten markets to break even. Consider
the following benefits of regional farmers’ market management
à la London Farmers’ Markets.
Benefits of Regional Farmers’ Market Management
Overhead is easily shared
in a regional farmers’ market network. The main office keeps
one database of current and potential producers, which simplifies
communication with and recruitment of producers. The office is
responsible for leases and other arrangements with landlords and
spreads all office expenses (phones, printers, etc) across every
Policy is uniform.
Management has one application and one set of rules.
markets have one brand and logo; all media and community contacts
for each market are kept in one database. One newsletter for consumers
covers all the markets.
Management is coordinated.
The office oversees the development of every market, according
to its needs, consumer demand, and producer availability.
a network of farmers’ markets also relied on individual,
corporate, or foundation donations for its operating expenses
(LFM does not), these fundraising efforts could be shared across
all the markets.
Farm Visits. A
farm attending more than one market need only be visited once.
of a regional network are motivated to find new market sites and
new farmers to raise profile and income for management. Thus more
communities and farmers are served by new farmers’ markets.
Managers of single-site farmers’ markets are less inclined
to expand to new sites or recruit new farmers.
Sales-based fees are an incentive
for the market manager to raise farm income at
the markets. Most markets charge a fee based on space. The only
incentive for market management is to add more producers. Farmers,
however, tend to fight new competition. But if the market manager
can raise sales for all producers, such turf battles don’t
This business-minded approach—or call it efficiency—need
not be the exclusive territory of commerce. It applies equally well
to farmers’ markets run by for-profit or non-profit organizations
or city, state, or federal government agencies 2.
Yet it has seldom been followed, perhaps because farmers’
market organizers have often seen local foods as a ‘movement,’
not a market. There are, of course, other aspects to good farmers’
market management, but they do not concern us here—partly
because they are the stuff of nerdy conversations among farmers’
market managers, but chiefly because professional, regional market
management itself tends to bring about those good habits.
Independent, professional, regional management of multiple markets
is the best way to begin to ensure stable management, good publicity,
sound funding, higher sales, and, ultimately, satisfied farmers,
consumers, and communities. With this change alone, the number of
farmers’ markets could increase by 50 percent and sales could
double. The potential for new farmers’ markets is considerable.
Consider a metropolitan area such as Washington, D.C., with a population
of 3 million. In the city of Washington itself, there are only five
farmers’ markets; it could support ten. Maryland supports
nearly 60 farmers’ markets, and most are neglected or poorly
managed. Virginia is similar. The population in suburban Washington
has grown much faster than new farmers’ markets. Greater Washington
could support twice as many markets, especially if they were properly
managed. The same is true in many American cities 3.
Beyond Farmers’ Markets
||Even if the number of farmers’ markets
were to increase by 50 percent . . . and sales were to double
. . . this would still represent only a tiny fraction (0.2 percent)
of the total amount Americans spend on food . . . To expand
the market for local foods, it is imperative to move beyond
Any business or industry would be pleased with doubling sales.
Yet, even if the number of farmers’ markets were to increase
by 50 percent to 4,650 markets, and sales were to double from $1
billion to $2 billion, this would still represent only a tiny fraction
(0.2 percent) of the total amount Americans spend on food—$900
billion. To expand the market for local foods, it is imperative
to move beyond farmers’ markets.
Here, I would like to note why I don’t use the favored term
in this field, ‘community food system’ or, sometimes,
‘community food security.’ People speak of creating
a community food system or improving community food security. I
admire the values implied by these terms. Community implies share
interest in a locale or region; security, a commitment to eradicate
‘food poverty’ (when nutrition is compromised by lack
of access to wholesome foods for any reason, including income);
system, an arrangement of interlocking parts, each dependent on
However useful these terms are—and many people I respect
use them—I favor the simpler and more capitalistic description
‘the market for local foods.’ Why? Because ultimately
our success in expanding the production, sale, and consumption of
local, ecological, and wholesome foods depends on commerce. We are
referring to producers who sell foods and consumers (individual
or institutional) who buy them. The goal is to increase the number
of producers and consumers, including the poor, who buy and sell
local food. If we focus on the sale as the basic transaction, we
keep this necessity firmly in mind: the market for local foods must
be financially viable or it will not survive.
Unfortunately, we are up against a conventional food system that
relies substantially on hidden subsidies. Large-scale cereal and
soybean production and factory farming of beef, pork, chicken, milk,
and eggs are held afloat—and food is kept artificially cheap—in
many ways. One is public subsidies for cereal crops and soybeans,
which makes feeding grain and soy protein to grazing animals, who
would naturally eat grass, artificially cheap. Eighty percent of
the fertilizer- and pesticide-dependent American grain and soybean
crop is fed to livestock, which could be eating naturally abundant
grass instead. Agricultural research has also favored industrial
agriculture. The cooperative extension agents at land-grant universities
have until recently focused almost exclusively on industrial farming
methods, and seldom examined ecological and small-scale methods.
Organic farming methods and direct marketing were largely inventions
of farmers and consumers themselves, not the result of a government
study. Subsidies for highways and airlines lower the price of global
foods further. Cheap oil itself—used in petroleum-based fertilizers—is
won with billions in the direct and indirect costs of energy policy—and
From fertilizer to transportation, this industrial agriculture
gobbles up energy. According to Manning, in 1940, the average American
farm used one calorie in fossil fuels to raise food worth 2.3 calories.
By 1974 (the most recent figures available) the ratio was one to
one. That is before one counts the cost of processing the food or
getting it to consumers. These stark numbers show that this kind
of industrial farming is a net loss. Consider a more tangible example,
the one on your plate. A farmer uses 35 calories in fossil fuels
to produce just one calorie of feed-lot beef; 68 calories to produce
one calorie of pork. Subsidies for all this come to about $15 billion
per year. Two-thirds of that goes to corn and wheat alone. (Nutritionally,
this farm policy is a disaster. Most corn that isn’t fed to
beef becomes corn oil and high fructose corn syrup. Both are unhealthy
Businesses in the conventional food chain do not live and die by
the free market, despite the yeoman-farmer rhetoric of farmers and
politicians who support this monstrously wasteful and inefficient
Businesses in the conventional food chain
do not live and die by the free market . . . Yet we—we
who propose an alternative—must.
Yet we—we who propose an alternative—must. Does anyone
trying to build a ‘community food system’ with different
values (ecologically sound production of healthy foods) believe
that our side has the political or financial clout to win such colossal
benefits from the public purse? Our only hope is to make the alternative
market for local foods financially viable for producers, buyers,
and, if necessary, the middleman in between. (The middleman? Surely
anathema! We shall hear more abot the maligned middleman later.)
I hasten to add, however, that certain sound public investments,
worth fighting for, would support and expand the market for local
foods. We should lobby, for example, for school meals to be made
with nutritious local foods. Federal and academic research should
focus on sustainable methods of production for health-related and
environmental benefits. Cities should invest in public markets to
increase sales of regional foods from farmers and other producers,
such cheese makers.
A word about ‘food poverty.’ The term is British. Americans
tend to give it a positive gloss, ‘food security,’ but
I appreciate the reminder that we are talking about a lack, an unmet
need. Food poverty takes many forms and has many causes. Simple
food poverty is lack of means to buy adequate wholesome food. Food
poverty is also caused by lack of physical access to good food.
Supermarkets, like banks, follow the money. That leaves food deserts
in poor neighborhoods. Food poverty can be simple malnutrition,
regardless of access to food or income. In the U.S. today, food
poverty may manifest itself as malnutrition alongside overconsumption
of poor quality foods. A critical example of this is the overconsumption
of refined sugar, refined grains, and refined vegetable oils such
as corn, safflower, and sunflower oil. Sugar is high-calorie but
provides no nutrients, and it depletes the body of B vitamins. Polyunsaturated
vegetable oils from grains and seeds provide an excess of omega-6
fatty acids. Combined with a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids,
too many omega-6 fatty acids lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart
disease. Obesity due to overconsumption itself is a form of food
The chronic, degenerative diseases of the last and the 21st century
are obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Good nutrition helps prevent
them. Often people ask how I expect the poor to be able to buy grassfed
beef, milk, chicken, and other healthy, sustainable foods. To be
blunt, I don’t. Not yet—not until we greatly expand
the scale of production of wholesome foods, especially nutrient-dense
foods high on the food chain, such as meat and dairy. (A benefit
of increasing production will be lower prices.) However, if I were
by some miracle charged with improving public health via nutrition,
getting a pastured chicken in every pot would be low on my list.
It would be much less expensive and more efficient to start with
a comprehensive prenatal and childhood nutrition program to encourage
breastfeeding, and radically reduce consumption of white flour,
sugar, trans fatty acids, and refined polyunsaturated vegetable
oils. This fantasy policy would also encourage consumption of omega-3
fatty acids, folic acid, and the antioxidant vitamins B6, B12, C,
and E to prevent heart disease.
Healthy meals would focus on simple, whole foods, rich in vitamins
and other nutrients: protein (yes, even factory chicken and beef),
liver, canned tuna and salmon, eggs, whole milk, butter, whole grains,
and plenty of fresh produce. If you followed nutritional advice
in the 1950s, you might recognize this prescription, made famous
in best-selling paperbacks by nutritionist Adelle Davis. This is
the food I grew up on. We didn’t spend a lot of money on food
then—it all went to land and farm equipment—but we ate
well on very little money following Adelle Davis. Only later did
we spend more money on local grassfed meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy.
The Local Foods Middleman
On several occasions I’ve given a talk on direct marketing
called Beyond Farmers’ Markets. Perhaps at first, the audience
of farmers, market organizers, and others in local agriculture wonders
why I would encourage them in particular to go beyond direct marketing.
Surely the point is more direct marketing, not less. Shouldn’t
all farmers earn the retail price, as the Plancks do? But the market
for local foods will never serve as many producers and consumers
as it could if direct marketing—cutting out the middleman—is
the only method of getting local foods to market. There are too
many producers who will never sell retail and too many buyers who
will not travel to farms and farmers’ markets to buy local
foods. They will, however, buy local foods in shops, supermarkets,
restaurants, and schools. The dreaded middleman is key to all of
these sales. His job is an honorable one, even in the market for
Direct marketing of local, ecological, and nutritious foods is
growing fast, but in absolute terms it is paltry. Direct marketing
means selling directly to the end consumer. Farmers’ markets
account for only $1 billion in sales per year. Other forms of direct
marketing (mostly unmeasured) include pick-your-own, agri-tourism
at country hotels, and farm shares, also called Community Supported
Agriculture 6. My liberal definition
of direct marketing includes restaurants when the farmer sells directly
to the chef, who is virtually the end consumer. In the chef’s
hands, the food is utterly transformed from raw ingredients into
what is regarded as a ‘dining experience.’ Even if we
add these sales to farmers’ markets’ $1 billion, direct
marketing will not challenge the conventional food chain. Grocery
stores and restaurants account for 80 percent of food sales. Very
little food at shops, supermarkets, and restaurants is local or
||There are too many producers who will never
sell retail and too many buyers who will not travel to farms
and farmers’ markets to buy local foods. They will, however,
buy local foods in shops, supermarkets, restaurants, and schools.
The dreaded middleman is key to all of these sales. His job
is an honorable one, even in the market for local foods.
Organic farming has been the big success story since federal standards
became law in 2002. Sales are growing fast. The U.S. organic market
is projected to reach a value of $30.7 billion by 2007, with annual
growth of 21 percent between 2002 and 2007. Yet organic farming—even
large-scale, ‘industrial organic’—is still small.
Recall that sales at Whole Foods were $3 billion in 2003—a
drop in the bucket compared with the $900 billion Americans spent
on food in 2002. At $13 billion per year, organic foods represent
just 1 to 2 percent of all food sales. Half of those sales go to
Clearly, we have work to do to expand the sale of local and ecological
foods. It may seem odd that I sometimes speak of moving beyond farmers’
markets to farmers and others who invented the methods of direct
marketing we celebrate. I do this precisely because they are the
very farmers, entrepreneurs, and local foods activists who will
expand the market for local foods by going beyond direct marketing.
They will develop the new organizations to serve the functions the
market for local foods lacks.
The New Local Foods Chain
This project is ambitious. To expand the market for local foods,
we need to duplicate every link in the conventional food chain,
including infrastructure, middlemen, processors, and related businesses.
Furthermore, if the term ‘market for local foods’ is
to have any meaning, this new, alternative food chain must reflect
what I call local foods values. These include:
- Food produced, processed, distributed, packaged, and sold using
efficient, humane, sustainable, and healthy methods
- Regional distinction, so the bioregion is evident in the food
- Seasonality, freshness, and quality, including wholesomeness
- A fair price to the producer or purveyor—that is, the
producer must be able to make a living.
- Food must not be artificially cheap.
The food chain is longer than it looks. It starts with the most
basic agricultural supplies such as amendments for soil fertility.
The solution preferred in the conventional food chain? Nitrogen
fertilizer made with cheap oil. Our method must be different. Composted
animal manure and yard waste (which fills 20 percent of American
landfills) and calcium from ground limestone are ecological soil
amendments. The next link in the food chain involves all methods
of production including farming, aquaculture, and the fishing, collecting,
or hunting of wild foods. The third major stage is slaughter and
processing, including livestock, fish, and game, and production
of value-added products such as cheese, jam, and wine. The next
link involves packaging, storage, transportation, distribution (including
middlemen) and sales. Sales include wholesale customers, institutional
clients such as schools, the military and other government agencies,
the catering and restaurant industry (including fast food), shops,
supermarkets, and of course, the darling of direct marketing, the
Let’s pause to consider one link in the food chain—agricultural
supplies—and how it might differ if it reflected local foods
values. Consider the most fundamental factor in agriculture: soil
fertility. The premise of sustainable agriculture is that only healthy
soil makes healthy plants; only healthy plants, in turn produce
healthy animals. Human nutrition, finally, depends on healthy plants
(tomatoes) and animals (beef). It is not necessary to turn to heroes
of sustainable agriculture such as Wendell Berry to find the expression
of this principle. It is right there in the preamble to the federal
organic standards. According to the National Organic Standards Board,
‘The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the
health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life,
plants, animals and people.’
On our uncertified organic vegetable farm, we follow the basic
premise of organic agriculture: Healthy plants begin with healthy
soil. We spread ground limestone to build soil fertility and strengthen
the root tips of our growing cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash. We
kept a milk cow and some chickens for family use, but we didn’t
have enough animal manure to meet our own soil fertility needs,
so we also hauled in horse manure from local stables. Not only do
humans require animal foods in the diet; sustainable agriculture
itself requires animals. The ideal modern farm using ecological
and traditional methods integrates plant and animal husbandry. This
closed, symbiotic system is, of course, utterly contrary to the
logic of industrial agriculture.
The ideal modern farm using ecological
and traditional methods integrates plant and animal husbandry.
This closed, symbiotic system is, of course, utterly contrary
to the logic of industrial agriculture.
Industrial agriculture prefers to divide each stage of production
in ever tinier increments, from which the greatest possible efficiency
must be squeezed. When the temperature is turned up just another
fraction in the pork factories, the pigs gain weight a little bit
faster. On a diet including plastic pot scrubbers as a source of
fiber, dairy cattle can still gain weight—and pot scrubbers
are, presumably, cheaper than more wholesome sources of fiber, or
the animal science researchers would not bother to test them. Industrial
agriculture isolates the components—they are more than components,
they are living animals, but they are seen as merely factors of
production—in order to achieve maximum control, and to add
minimum input for maximum results, chiefly weight gain. An integrated
agriculture, by contrast, employs all the animals and plants in
harmony together. Grass farmers, for example, graze beef and dairy
cattle on rocky, hilly, or marshy pasture unfit for plowing. When
the farmers move the cattle to fresh pasture, they allow browsing
chickens and poultry to follow. The poultry rummage in cow pats
for protein-rich insects (poultry need lots of protein) and, along
the way, spread out the manure in the pasture, building soil fertility.
All the animals are well-fed—the grass eaters on grass, the
poultry on grass and bugs. The waste—animal manure—is
not a waste at all, but a resource. The farmer’s thrift has
made use of naturally abundant grass and untillable soil. With animal
manure he has even improved the soil, all while producing nutritious
beef, milk, poultry, and eggs. Local foods values create a virtuous
circle of health-related, environmental, and efficiency benefits.
Gaps in the New Local Foods Chain
Unfortunately, the market for local foods is missing most of the
components of the conventional food chain, from processing to distribution.
There are notable exceptions. The California company Niman Ranch,
for example, has greatly expanded the national production, distribution,
and sale of natural beef, lamb, and pork raised by 400 independent
farmers and ranchers. In 1971, Bill Niman was a rancher in Bolinas
who could not meet demand for the meat he was raising. He started
to work with other farmers to supply his customers, and in 1995,
he created Niman Ranch, Inc., to finish, slaughter, and market the
meat. With the Animal Welfare Institute, the company set high animal
husbandry standards including humane methods, natural feeds including
pasture, and allowing animals to mature naturally. Niman Ranch sells
fresh beef, lamb, and pork, and processed and cured meats such as
hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and lardo to shops and restaurants nationally
including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and the burrito chain
Chipotle. The brand is famous for quality. Niman Ranch was a ranch
in 1971 and it still is. The company itself raises beef cattle and
much of its pork, which makes good business sense 7.
‘We understand firsthand the challenges of raising livestock,’
says Niman. The company also owns the cattle during finishing, which
means it has a greater stake in healthy, happy animals and maintains
control over care, feeding, and handling in the crucial weeks before
slaughter. But as a business, the company is more middleman than
farmer, and that’s just what farmers and ranchers needed.
The market for local foods needs more farmers and entrepreneurs
like Bill Niman to create other missing components of the food chain.
How exactly they do it need not concern us too much. Some functions,
such as distribution, are best set up as businesses. Others, like
regional farmers’ market networks, commercial kitchens, or
slaughter facilities, could be run for-profit, as nonprofits, or
as public-private partnerships. A creamery could be publicly financed
and privately managed. Other functions are both social and logistical,
such as cooperative joint processing, marketing, and distribution
organized by producers 8. These
are a few concrete examples of missing components:
Inadequate slaughter facilities
for regional meat producers. Animals travel too
far from farm to slaughter. This is inefficient for farmers and
leads to poor-quality meat, because of the stress hormones that
build up on long journeys. Know-how is missing. Butchers are unwilling
or unable to produce cuts of meat or recipes farmers and consumers
demand. A knowledgeable butcher can discuss with a chef how every
cut can be used, which allows the chef to buy the whole animal
instead of only the common or best-selling cuts, such as tenderloin.
Chef and farmer benefit when the cuts are affordable and the farmer
sells a whole animal.
Inadequate storage, transportation,
and sales equipment to sell chilled foods—including
meat, fish, and dairy—conveniently and attractively. Most
farmers’ markets, for example, do not provide electricity.
Inadequate processing facilities
for fruit and vegetable producers to make juice,
preserves, sauces, salsas, and dried fruits to their own recipes.
We need to extend the season for local foods in cold climates
Inadequate wholesale markets
for regional produce to serve larger growers and institutional
buyers such as shops, restaurants, and schools. Such a market
is under review by New York State, and it appears there is substantial
demand from farmers and from buyers.
Lack of creameries for bottling
fluid milk and cream and for making fresh dairy
products such as yogurt, crème fraîche, and sour
cream. This is closely linked to the inability of small dairy
farmers to break free of the co-op system that sells milk to distributors,
food processors such as Kraft, and retailers. Increasingly, the
co-ops do not represent the interests of dairy farmers. A major
obstacle to earning more money per gallon of milk is the farmer’s
inability to leave the co-op system to bottle or process and then
market his milk. Yet technology makes small-scale processing possible.
In New York, experts designed a small cheese-making unit costing
about $65,000. It can move from farm to farm.
A Future for Local Dairy Farms
To illustrate how we could develop the market for local foods,
consider creameries. In New York, dairy is critically important
to agriculture—much hilly land upstate is good for little
but grazing—and the need for independent processing facilities
is urgent. This problem is political as much as logistical, in that
rural development policy has not favored local foods values. Cornell
University estimates that over the next 15 years, New York will
lose 6,000 independent dairies with fewer than 200 cows. By 2020,
those dairies will be replaced with 100 feed-lot dairies averaging
1,400 cows. As these 6,000 farms go under, milk production will
remain constant. According to Thomas Lyson, director of the Community,
Food, and Agriculture Program at Cornell, ‘This policy sets
the stage for the collapse of small farm dairying in New York.’
Furthermore, Lyson points out that consolidation is not necessarily
efficient, as its proponents often claim. To stay afloat, the same
large dairies rely on tens of millions in subsidies, usually related
to the environmental cleanup costs from manure lagoons. In New York
City, meanwhile, there is huge demand for fresh local dairy foods.
Imagine what a healthy New York dairy industry could look like.
Those 6,000 small dairies could send raw milk to 100 creameries
and 100 artisanal cheese makers. The creameries and cheese makers
could be independent businesses or cooperatively owned by dairy
farmers. They would make bottled milk, cream, butter, crème
fraîche, sour cream, ice cream, yogurt, and cheese. The creameries
and cheese makers would sell to shops, chefs, schools, and individuals
at public markets for regional foods in New York State and especially
New York City. They could market and deliver products themselves
or hire a distributor. The food chain would look like this:
markets, chefs, shops & schools
This is not direct marketing, of course. Each arrow represents
a transaction—a middleman. Of course, a dairy farmer could
also bottle her own milk or make her own cheese and sell directly
to consumers, and some do. In Ancramdale, New York, the family-owned
Ronnybrook Farm and Dairy produces milk without pesticides or artificial
hormones. In the summer, the cows eat grass. Thousands of New Yorkers
buy Ronnybrook’s unhomogenized milk, cream, butter, yogurt,
crème fraîche, and ice cream. But demand for fresh
dairy is huge. New York State, and especially New York City, could
drink the milk of many Ronnybrook dairies. Moreover, not all dairy
farmers want to bottle milk and sell it retail, and still fewer
Only a generation ago, thousands of dairy cows grazed the green
rolling hills of the Catskill Mountains. In 1955, Delaware County
ranked tenth in the nation for milk production on more than 2,000
farms. In 1987, there were fewer than 400 farms in the county. Reminders
of the thriving dairy industry are everywhere. Peeling wooden signs
for ice-cream stands long abandoned dot the country roads. If Cornell’s
own bleak statistics come true, the local dairy industry will soon
be lost forever. Already economically depressed, the Catskills will
take another hit, even as New Yorkers clamor for fresh, local milk.
The alternative is to create a new local foods chain. The result
will be more farms, a healthier environment, cleaner water for New
Yorkers who drink from the reservoirs in the region, more independent
rural businesses, more rural jobs, and regionally distinct tourist
attractions. The most important benefit, of course, will be more
fresh local milk and butter in New York City kitchens.
Bring on the middleman, before it’s too late.