Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Key

Our table is set, Vermont. We have all that we need. This milk "crises" is just what the doctor ordered. There were 35,000 dairy farms in Vermont in the middle 1800s, there were more than 11,000 in 1947, today there are just over 1,000 dairy farms left.

In a world of complicated problems and simple answers what does this data tell us?

It tells us that the Vermont dairy farmer has been slowly going out of business for the past 170 years despite all the methods, assistance, hard work, pride and well wishing.

It tells us that if our goal has been to aid or help the Vermont dairy farmer, we have been unsuccessful.

It tells us that the system is not working.

It's time to have a discussion, Vermont wide (and nation wide if people outside Vermont want to watch), about drastically transforming how Vermont dairy farmers do business. In fact I suggest allowing only people who have a selfish interest to be involved with the discussion; dairy farmers, processors, consumers.

Why is this discussion so important? Because the Vermont dairy "crisis" is a microcosm of what is happening in the world. You have all the players represented: Big corporations, small business, politicians, government, consumers and our own identity as a people and a state. It's like the all-star team of our American Crisis right here in our own backyard.

If the people of Vermont can come together to envision and promote a solution to the dairy "crisis" I assure you we will have figured out much more. But how? What is the process of bringing an entire state together to discuss the issue? It seems to me that the first step would be getting the farmers involved. It really comes down to the farmers before anyone else. They are the ones on the front lines, they are the ones that have the most to lose initially, although I think we all stand to lose considerably if we can't figure this out. So the first step is the farmers.

The second step is not boxing ourselves in. In order to truly have an open discussion we must not judge beyond the data that we already have. I argue that if the politicians want a seat at the table they get they get the kids table, judging by the evidence of the last 60 years and the resulting 90% drop in the number of farms. But perhaps not, perhaps there is a place for government at the adult table, there certainly is a place for justice and justice is applied through laws of government. Beyond that, however, I suggest, as many before me, to gather those that have not only an understanding of the systems of farming and preparing food for sale but those also that have a distinct and powerful desire to be a part of a system that promotes healthy life and food.

What I am distressed but not surprised to see is the traditional response. The patented response as if there is only one possible response. This response, this government response sounds so shrill and contrived now, after hearing it again and again - "We must act, this minute, to avoid certain catastrophe", ohh's that working out for us and the 90% fewer farms?

It's not going to be easy and there does seem to be a "crisis" on our hands but I would argue more that there is a cancer that has been eating away at the foundations of our farms for much more than a few months or years, this cancer, as the evidence suggests has consumed more than 90% of Vermont's dairy farms in the last 60 years. We do have a catastrophe on our hands and it will only get worse until we realize it's true nature and come together to fight it. If we Vermonters can find a better solution to the dairy crises of 2009 we will also find a better solution for the way we live with each other. This opportunity is nothing short of "The Key";

The table is set, right here in our back yard, who wants to eat?

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