The Real Organic Project is one of several groups responding to the adulteration of the government organic label.  They recently highlighted a delightful couple, Caitline Frame and Andy Smith of Milkhouse Dairy Farm and Creamery in Monmouth, Maine who saved their farm through freedom.

             The back story, and one that you're reading more about (USA Today carried a big story just last week about dairy farmers going out of business in Wisconsin) is the plight of America's dairy farmers.  This is not just conventional folks; it's the organic ones too.  Of course, much of the organic milk is produced by 5,000-15,000  cow confinement dairies in the desert in direct defiance of organic requirements.  But like all government regulations, enforcement becomes subjective if you're big enough and can stack watchdogs agencies with industry lackeys. 

             When Milkhouse Dairy received their termination notice from Horizon Organic, along with several other organic dairies in Maine, this entrepreneurial couple buckled down and created an alternative market for their milk.  Because Maine allows raw milk and encourages direct farm sales, the regulations are not as onerous as many states and this created wiggle room for this small 35-cow grass-based Jersey dairy to move their milk another way.

             Organic Valley, which is considered the most farmer-friendly of the organic milk brands, walks in lock-step with the others in denying their supplying farmers the freedom to divert any milk to other markets or uses.  A farmer who wants to sell a few gallons of milk to neighbors can't under the purchasing contract.  This is not a government regulation; it's a stipulation of the supply contract.

             The result is that farmers who face termination cannot gradually shift their milk from wholesale to retail.  They can't gently change direction.  It's a catastrophic shift, and most farmers can't shift fast enough or local market conditions are not as lenient as those in Maine.

             Perhaps it is good to revisit the words of newly freed slave Frederick Douglass, as recorded in The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass published in 1882: 

 To understand the emotion which swelled my heart as I clasped this money, realizing that I had no master who could take it from me--that it was mine--that my hands were my own, and could earn more of the precious coin . . . . I was not only a freeman but a free-working man, and no master Hugh stood ready at the end of the week to seize my hard earnings.

             Even though I've read that statement many times, I still find the words captivating in my soul.  That corporations, even organic ones, have tied the hands of their farmers begs for justice and freedom.  And that our government denies me the freedom to sell the work of my hands is a modern slavery as abhorrent as that of colonial America.  These are strong words, but strongmen who use safety, security, oversight and protection as justification to deny something as intimately life-affirming as the work of my hands deserves nothing less than strong words.

 Are you making the shift away from industrial faux-organic?