Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Vermont Solution - Part One - Second Draft

Did you know that in 1947 Vermont had more than 11,000 dairy farms? Do you know that today, 2009, Vermont has 1,046 dairy farms; for those that love the percentages, that's a 90% drop in the number of dairy farms. Someone tell me, again, what exactly we have been doing to help Vermont farmers?

If you believe Bernie Sanders the biggest evil to dairy farmers is the big milk processors, like Dean Foods. If you believe the media dairy farmers just got a hard fought break thanks to our politicians when the Department of Ag agreed to raise the price they pay for cheese and milk. Throw in the fact that Sanders himself, not a week ago said, "To argue that the USDA sets milk prices for farmers would be analogous to arguing that because the federal government establishes a minimum wage for workers, The Department of Laobr determines all wages in America." And what you have is a perfect example of the true nature of the problem we face. A politician blaming another company and saying the government has nothing to do with the price farmers get paid, while the government, thanks to more politicians make a big deal of raising the price they pay for milk and cheese that supposedly, according to the original politician has nothing to do with the price farmers get paid. In the immortal words of Austin Powers "Ohh no, I've gone cross-eyed".

So here's the reality: 11,200 farms in 1947, 1046 farms today, 90% fewer farms. What exactly is it that "we" are doing to "help" the dairy farmer in Vermont? And judging by these stats, why is it a "crisis" now; what about the other 60 years in which we lost 10,000 farms?

What's worse is that it is not my job (although it is my responsibility) to research and check up on this information. I don't get paid to do the extra work and yet I managed after about a day or two of digging a little deeper to find this information and much more on the Vermont dairy industry. Do the politicians know? Well the beauty of it, for me, is that it really doesn't matter if they know anymore. The results, the truth that shines through on a daily basis is enough for me to indict them as either ignorant, criminal or morally bereft. I no longer need to question their motives and to ask why and to try and fix them, I simply look at the reality and I mark them off as a detriment to the type of life I want to live and a hinderance to what I believe is best about myself, my state and my country and people in general.

We don't know if there are too many dairy farmers, and we obviously don't know what the solution to the problem is, except that politicians act like they do by simply stating the solution is to "make" the prices higher or more stable with no regard for reality, which is prices are not higher and maybe milk production isn't a stable business. As an added bonus we now have Bernie Sanders threatening anti-trust suits against Dean Foods like somehow it's Dean Foods who is to blame for the problems and like somehow punishing success is a good model to build a strong society on. And it gets worse because people, yes people, everyday Americans and Vermonters are eating it up; Punish, Punish, Punish they chant, their eyes pinwheeling with the rage at their own impotence. Why really look at the problem? Why really try to solve it? Why acknowledge that no matter what has been done to, for and by those seeking to "help" Vermont dairy farmers the result has been disaster and instead of stopping to check ourselves we simply and arrogantly, like children push and rail against what our emotions tell us is wrong. Well the problem is that most times when we form action based on our emotional responses we end up with results that often have the opposite effect of the intended action, 90% fewer dairy farms in Vermont since 1947 despite all the "help".

When I ponder over these things it becomes more clear to me that some wish for things and others do things. And that those that wish generally don't have the ability of those that do. Bernie Sanders and Peter Welch wish that Vermont dairy farmers could make more money but they have no understanding of what it might take to accomplish that wish. Instead, because they have no understanding of what it takes to be a successful dairy farmer and cannot offer positive contribution to that end, they do what they know, punish success, steal money and convince people that this is the American and Vermont way.

Not me. No more. It took me 39 years to finally say enough. And damn! do I have a big hill to climb. We have become so entrenched in this system of mediocrity and blame, and the dairy "crises" is a perfect example, that we have generations now that don't understand that competition leads to learning, knowledge, wisdom and strength and that competition is responsible for every human advancement ever achieved. So many simply don't get the relationship between the power of the individual and a successful society. Not one item that we enjoy today has ever come from anything other than an individual human mind. When will we refuse these politicians and their banter and treason to human dignity and spirit? When do we stop chasing after the distractions, is it truly too hard to look honestly at ourselves, our society and the results we have created today? Dairy farmers in crises! Hah! The only crises we have today is a crises of courage among men. Free the farmer! Free the farmer, I say, I have more faith in his ability to figure it out than some morally deficient politician or banker or lobbyist and I will be there to spend my money on the milk that farmer produces.

This is where The Vermont Solution comes in because the dairy debacle in Vermont is simply a microcosm of how "our government" is handling every other situation and unfortunately how most Americans are reacting as well, still half-asleep. What is The Vermont Solution: We don't need more "help", we can do it ourselves.

Vermont is small enough and most are still resourceful enough that we could quickly see our shortcomings and easily take steps to remedy or rebuild, in a Vermont-centric way. The beauty of doing it ourselves would come from the direct benefit of recognition and customization for and by Vermonters as well as an ownership that would take care of most of the obvious deficiencies that are sure to arise. Once people acknowledge that there is no system available that will cure all problems they can then begin to take steps within their community to come up with the best solution based on the direct needs and desires of their communities and themselves. A result of this combined effort will surely be a deep and local understanding of a solution, it's strengths and weaknesses and more importantly an acceptance as a community solution, open to reform and improvement just as it was open to creation.

But not so fast. My next piece on The Vermont Solution is going to detail some of what will be necessary of Vermonters if this is to be a true solution. What many I don't think realize is that "doing it ourselves" is going to require much more than we have been used to giving. But fret not because we are in for some painful times no matter what and the beauty of The Vermont Solution is that it will allow us to make our pain temporary and it will give us wisdom which will lead to strength as opposed to the "other" way which will continue to cement our pain, make it permanent, allow it to grow and worse, much worse, make us dependent on it. You choose.


Mojo said...

We need the system (yes, even here in VT!) to create a balance between supply and demand for milk.

It is there to keep the producer prices high enough so that they will keep making milk but low enough so that they don't make too much and create a surplus.

Without this system, larger milkers can just simply push out anyone they want and then in turn demand even higher prices when they are just jockeying with the other big boys in the game.

Surely, you aren't for killing the little guys for big business to take over and over price things are you?!

Milk, for those without children, is a pretty essential thing that could really hurt a lot of people if it were to become a big ticket item in the grocery store.

damon said...

Ahh there you are Mojo...
Here's the thing...look at the results of the system we have now. The funny (sick) thing now is that neither the big dairy farmer nor the small dairy farmer is controlling anything, in fact, like with health, it's the middle man that's in charge. Dean Foods is not a milker, they are a processor and judging by what you read it is a combination of they and the Feds that are controlling the market price. Not that it's ok to have big farmers press out the little farmers and I understand that is where a pricing system originated but look at all the education and awareness that we have all gotten lately, the importance of buying local (with certain things). What better place, than here in Vermont, to test a true local solution. There is power in small today, power because of the internet and the ease of communication.
Why not remove all pricing systems and allow VT farms to compete in the New England regions on their own. People are beginning to become more and more aware of both the negatives and positives of buying local vs buying national or international. The beauty of this is not that one is better than another but that people have a choice...it's vital there is a choice and it's vital there is innovation. These farmers now are at the whim of the processor and the Fed which stifles both innovation and competition and you cannot deny that the results of the current system have led to the decrease in farms, which is exactly the opposite of what they were supposed to do.

Sally said...

I like it baby.....

Mojo said...

Buying local is all well and good on paper. But out here in wha I liek to call the "real world" where people have kids and a budget and a mortgage and etc. etc. etc. not all of us can afford to buy local when non-local is cheaper.

If Vt competed on thei rown against the system, I would wager a bet that half our farms or more would be out of business inside a year.

The farmers got a system they wanted and now want a new system becaus ethe system they asked for isn't making them enough money but they want a new system that ensures them both more money and more security? I wish I had that kind of pull in my own job where I could demand job security and high pay no matter what was going on in the world around me.

Sometimes people outisde a system are exactly what is needed to run a system.

damon said...

I can't get around the fact that whether it's the farmers, the politicians, big business, lobbyists, whomever...anyone that has been "Helping" the farmers...the result has been a loss of more than 10,000 farms in 60 years.

It's not working. The way it is now is not working. We are not saving farms, as the politicians and others so like to say.

So soon enough, if the trend continues, we won't have to worry about a local option for milk because there won't be any.

I don't want to live in a world where I can no longer choose to purchase locally if I want. Unfortunately I think we have all be party to the line that cheaper is really cheaper, when in truth we don't fully understand the "real world" cost of buying milk that is shipped to Texas, Reprocessed and the shipped back to Vermont. The "real world" you talk about Mojo doesn't reflect the true price and that's the problem.

I say lets do it on our own before we lose the option to and all we are left with is "cheap" items from out of state. Why not allow the farmers to be innovators and find ways to make it work. After all if the guy that's milking the cow can't find a way to make it work chances are that the dude in Texas at the desk or Washington in front of the microphone are not going to be able to do it.

And the last thing...inre: "Killing the little guys"...the little guys are killed and just about dead. 10,000 farms Gone. in 60 years. If we don't give them a chance to breathe on their own, they won't get up again.

Mojo said...

It's great that you can afford to pay for anythign you want, but some of us need cheap things to get by.

I don't care if my milk comes from Mars if it is 20 cents a gallon cheaper.

Buying local is just a way of trying to show pride in your home state or country. I can't always afford pride, I've got kids to feed and keep healthy.

damon said...

It might be "pride" to you. To me it means the only way that we will be able to truly get more affordable goods. You say you don't care as long as it's "20 cents cheaper" but have you taken the time to examine what the true cost of that .20 is? Like all the subsidies that go from the taxpayer, you and me, to the farmers to grow the grain to feed the cows to produce the milk? You may be paying .20 less in the store but you are paying way, way more in other areas.

The beauty about local has nothing to do with pride. It has to do with common sense and understanding that if you are buying your food from your neighborhood you have a complete understanding of the cost because it's being produced and sold near you. There are no middle men, no transportation, no subsidies and if you have a question about the quality you can go see for yourself.

There is no doubt that food is more expensive locally but the good thing is that it's too expensive which means if we can make some positive changes the price could come down. But the best thing about producing and buying food locally is that it will reflect a more honest cost of the food. It will be a clearer reflection of the true cost.