As small dairy farms are vanishing, what is happening to our milk?
"Skip the milk produced by the big commercial dairy farms. Better yet, go vegan or vegetarian and support dairy and cattle farmers that switch to growing vegetables and fruit which are more healthy and ecological alternatives. Too much of...
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Losing the Family Farm
I don’t have to travel far to see the struggling world of milk. The “dairy industry” is my neighbors. In the early 1960s, Waterbury, Vermont (current population: 5,000), was home to about 40 dairy farms; today, only three remain. Statewide, the number of dairy farms has fallen from 11,000 to 1,100—a 90 percent drop—in the last 60 years. Nationally, more than 400,000 farms have been lost since the 1970s. As small farmers are going under, industrial farms have taken over: in 1998, the majority of milk came from farms with fewer than 200 cows. Today, most milk is produced on farms of over 500 cows, and one-fourth of our milk supply comes from industrial farms of over 2,000 cows.
George Woodard, 57, runs one of Waterbury’s three surviving dairy farms. In 1912, his grandfather Walter bought a 200-acre farm on the shoulder of Hunger Mountain. His father continued a small milking operation until 1961, when he sold his dairy herd. When George graduated from high school in the 1970s, he had no idea what to do besides acting, which he had always enjoyed. “My mom said, ‘You ever think of farming?’ I hadn’t. The idea of getting up at 5 a.m. didn’t appeal to me much,” he recalls.
Woodard went to California to launch an acting career, but the pull of the family farm remained strong. After three years, he returned, bought 10 heifer calves and began building his own dairy herd. By 1975, Woodard was shipping milk to Cabot Creamery, a Vermont dairy cooperative famous for Cabot Cheese.