A Tale of Two Dairies–How to End the Crisis on Our Farms












I'm doing all I can.

I'm doing all I can.




Stars pierced the clear, cold predawn sky last January 19 when Dean Pierson, a 59-year-old dairy farmer from the hamlet of Copake, N. Y., headed out of the house to milk the 51 cows on Hi-Low Farm, as he did every morning, and as his father, a Swedish immigrant, had done before him. Neighbors say that Pierson was a taciturn man whose limited leisure time was spent in solitary outdoor pursuits like hunting and fishing. But he was always willing to help a neighbor. Pierson, they said, was “a good farmer,” high praise in rural Columbia County, a region of rolling fields, woodlots, and small towns about 115 miles north of Manhattan. Although he was married with four children, Pierson worked the farm alone, which meant that he had to toil virtually every waking hour. Even so, with milk selling for far below the cost to produce it, no matter how hard he worked, Pierson kept falling further behind. That morning, he intended to end the problem.

            After finishing the milking chores and making sure the cows were fed and settled in their stalls, Pierson picked up a small-caliber rifle . . .


. . . Continue reading the full article as it appeared in Gastronomica.

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  1. Marina Hench says:

    A big factor that was not mentioned in this article (perhaps rightly because it is its own bag-of-worms) – is the role of the Federal Clean Water Act in putting small dairy farms out of business. This federal law, which was passed in I think 1972, allows for citizen enforcement (law suits) of the Act. It has likely played the greatest role in my home state of Washington in eliminating small and mid-sized diaries. The only farms who can afford to both fend of Clean Water litigation and make the tremendous infrastructure changes demanded by it to meet the environmental standards are mega-farms, who typically have thousands of heads of cattle packed into squalid and inhumane conditions. The Clean Water Act has, in my mind, undoubtedly played a role in shifting profits and the balance of power to large, industrial dairies.

  2. Jacqueline says:

    Heartbreaking, Barry. This disparity between price the consumer pays and the price that the farmers get reminds me of the Alaska salmon fishermen. Buying direct is one way around it with the salmon but what about with dairy?

    The incentives seem to be in the wrong places, even if we agreed they were initiated with good intentions, it seems clear that the current system is broken. I think of the money and manpower wasted on marketing the glut of dairy (e.g. more cheese on the delivery pizza, double on top! stuff the crust!) why not let that end of the market take care of itself and spend that money by paying farmers a more fair price?

    Thanks for bringing this up. I hope the response will gain in momentum and maybe follow suit of your tomato workers’ expose.

    Good work, sir.

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