‘Forgotten Farms’ will be remembered in NYC

Over 100 food-thinkers and influencers attend Forgotten Farms film premier in New York City, bring questions and perspectives

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Lorraine Lewandrowski (left) and Forgotten Farms film creator Sarah Gardner (second from right) take questions from attendees after the premier showing at Project Farm House in Manhattan on March 9. Photo CADE / Zachary Schulman

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 8, 2020

MANHATTAN, N.Y. — While new farmers are celebrated by food-thinkers and thought-influencers, there’s another farmer mostly left out of the local food celebration. Traditional dairy farmers are underestimated and seen as declining, when in fact, they remain the backbone of rural communities and are integral to a renewal of regional food systems — their farms have served urban neighbors in some cases for a century.

Yet these essential farms have been essentially forgotten by the food movement as they fight for survival…

On March 9, they were remembered and celebrated thoughtfully during a premier showing of the acclaimed Forgotten Farms film in New York City. A group of upstate dairy farmers hosted the occasion. The documentary shows the cultural divide between the new food movement and traditional farming. It can be streamed at http://www.forgottenfarms.org or by purchasing a DVD.

After months of work and years of time invested in building relationships with food-thinkers in the metropolitan area, Herkimer County, N.Y. dairy producer and attorney Lorraine Lewandrowski — working closely with the Center For Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (CADE) — secured a beautiful Manhattan venue at Project Farmhouse to show the documentary film.

Lewandrowski is @NYFarmer on Twitter with near 33,000 followers and has tweeted nearly a quarter of a million times over the past decade spanning everything from issues of the day to simple photos of a day on the farm.

Always looking for ways to connect dairy farmers with food-interested people, Lewandrowski and other dairy producers tag-teamed as hosts for the Forgotten Farms film premier in Manhattan on March 9 and had a booth at the International Restaurant Show at the Javits Center on March 10.

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Photo CADE / Zachary Schulman

For many of the 100 food-thinkers, food-writers, and food-influencers attending the film, it was their last congregating event before New York City began safe-at-home policies as the novel Coronavirus pandemic hit the region a few days after. In the throws of the pandemic’s impact on global and national food supply chains, the Forgotten Farms documentary brings a timely message — looking into the past and ahead at a vision for a future regional food system.

“This event was made possible by (CADE) in Oneonta, New York and event coordinator, Lauren Melodia of Brooklyn,” writes Lewandrowski in an email interview with Farmshine recently. “We had seating for 100 New York City food-thinkers, influencers, writers and students. In just over an hour, the film told the stories of Northeast dairy farmers. Actual dairy farmers, some of them ‘real unique characters,’ were the stars of this award winning film created by Sarah Gardner and David Simonds.”

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Sarah Gardner and David Simonds (Photo S.Bunting)

Gardner was also present to join Lewandrowski on a panel taking questions from attendees as they enjoyed the beautiful cinematography while learning about a few central themes: The challenges of farming, milk pricing, history of farm communities, abundant natural resources of the Northeast and the feeling in dairy farm communities that dairy farmers were forgotten by the popular urban food movement.

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Photo capture from Forgotten Farms preview trailer

“The event was also a ‘deep listening’ session for us as farmers while attendees expressed their ideas, asked questions of us and gave us information from their perspectives,” Lewandrowski reflects. She notes that for the group of New York farmers the opportunity to really hear what is on the minds of city food-thinkers is essential to bridge the gaps and communicate about the future of food systems and dairy farming.

All the more telling in the eight weeks of COVID-19 impact to the national and global food supply chain, were the regional themes of the Forgotten Farms film showing the wealth of resources tended by farmers within a short drive of New York City.

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Dr. Keith Ayoob tells the audience his concerns about public belief that imitations are ‘equivalent’ to dairy milk. Photo CADE / Zachary Schulman

“A young coffee bar owner asked what she should say to the increasing number of consumers who ask for oat ‘milk.’ A pediatric nutritionist, Dr. Keith Ayoob, told the audience his concerns about public belief that imitations are ‘equivalent’ to dairy milk,” Lewandrowski relates. “Dr. Ayoob brought copies of a letter he had written in the March 7, 2020 New York Daily News rebutting Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, who has called for ‘plant based’ milks and for dairy farmers to transition out of producing milk.”

Attendees asked the farmers if they knew which New York City officials are interested in regional food and who they should support politically.

Lewandrowski described these encounters:

One consumer asked how to respond to fellow environmentalists who disparage dairy milk while urging almond beverages as better for the environment.

A group of food studies students told how the film inspired them to question food “shockumentaries” they have seen in their programs and to seek trustworthy sources of information.

“Each of these questions and comments gave us ideas on other projects we as farmers can do during future trips into the City,” writes Lewandrowski.

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Photo capture from Forgotten Farms preview trailer

“A high point of our Project Farmhouse event was the support shown for the Cobleskill Dairy Judging team by attendees, most of whom have never touched a cow,” she notes. “Our announcement that the students from SUNY Cobleskill had placed first in the nation in junior college dairy judging was met with a big round of applause. We sold raffle tickets for a gift basket of New York food products to benefit these students, and the atendees gave generously to support the dairy students that they saw as their “home team.”

In speaking with guests after the film, Lewandrowski reports they were invited to do more showings in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Westchester County.

“We also met New York City food policy leaders and some of the people who have quietly worked behind the scenes as the ‘guardian angels’ of the farmers and NYC food security,” she writes. “It is the work of these unsung people that has built an extensive network of farmers markets in NYC and who are now connecting with more rural dairy farmers who sell into commodity networks.

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Photo CADE / Zachary Schulman

“Now is the time that the work of these people will be recognized and respected as city planners think about regional food in the years following the Coronavirus impact,” she adds. “Young urban supporters of farmers showed us the seaport area of southern Manhattan and invited us to return to host a NYC Dairy Festival. They urged that the public would love to see and sample cheeses, ice creams, and other products of our rich dairy region. How could such an event be accomplished?”

On the following day, Jacob Javits Center hosted the combined International Restaurant Show, the Natural Foods Show and the Coffee Festival. The dairy presence was very thin, while imitation “milks” had several booths, Lewandrowski reported. CADE organized a booth for dairy farmers where they proudly handed out fresh whole milk bottled by Clark Farm in Delhi, New York.

“Although the dairy and beef checkoffs were absent, we were happy to see booths from Belgioioso Cheese and Tillamook Creamery, both of whom drew enthusiastic cheese sampling,” Lewandrowski explains. “The Government of Quebec had multiple booths showcasing their dairy, cheeses, beef, bison and specialty lamb. Irish beef also had a presence, catering to specialty marketing in New York City.”

To be continued

Dairy market fluidity

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By Sherry Bunting, Milk Market Moos, Farmshine, February 2, 2018

Picking up from the previous dairy export ‘Jeckyll and Hyde’ discussion… Let’s look at what has happened to the fluid milk market in the U.S.

There is a difference between Class I utilization declining and actual packaged milk sales declines. For example, the 2017 year figures are not yet in, but for the last reported month of November, USDA reports that packaged conventional fluid milk sales for January through November 2017 are down 2.1% from year ago and organic fluid milk sales are off by 0.2%.

While consumers are drinking less dairy milk on a per capita basis, Class I — as a percentage of all milk sold — is declining faster because the processing of milk into other growing dairy product sectors is increasing.

Some of the increase in these product sales reflects domestic growth, but the kicker is that as exports increase as a percentage of total milk production, Class I utilization as a percentage of total raw milk sales is pushed lower — even if consumers drink more milk.

Let’s identify how the markets are changing and how to value them back to the raw milk producer rather than laying blame for over production that leaves the farmers in the position of “deserving the price they get.”

Supply management is not the answer, nor is it at this point really possible. It is a distraction. We need to be looking at the dairy trade in a way that both prepares farmers for the future and prepares the industry for dealing fairly with producers.

Case in point. How concerned has the National Dairy Council and the dairy industry  been about the fraudulent use of the word ‘milk’ on plant juice labels? NMPF’s efforts to right this wrong came only within the past two years — and 15 years after these sales of fake milk started eating into the fluid dairy milk sales.

How serious have they been about the milk that our children drink in school? It is interesting that GENYOUth was “founded in 2010 as a partnership between the National Football League and National Dairy Council, convening leaders in a movement to empower America’s youth to create a healthier future.”

One example given at the GENYOUth website recognizes U.S. Dairy Export Council CEO Tom Vilsack for his accomplishments for dairy farmers while serving as Secretary of Agriculture under President Obama. In his current role, Vilsack’s salary is paid by DAIRY FARMERS via the mandatory promotion checkoff.

Specifically a December GENYOUth gala recognized Vilsack for having “legislated to improve the health of America’s kids. Under Sec. Vilsack, USDA partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative alongside GENYOUth to improve the health of America’s children. Sec. Vilsack helped pass and implement the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to help combat child hunger and obesity by making the most significant improvements to U.S. school meals in 30 years.”

school lunchThat is certainly a mouthful, considering that something else occurred in 2010-11. This was the very same year that schools were forced to offer only 1% or fat-free white milk and flavored milk could only be offered as fat-free!

Unfortunately, this did not improve school lunch meal nutrition, and it has cost dairy farmers plenty in lost milk sales.

In fact, Bob Gray for the Northeast Association of Farm Cooperatives stated recently — during a panel of dairy producers and policy folks at a Congressional viewing of the New England documentary Forgotten Farms I attended in Washington D.C. earlier this month — stated the impact of the school milk issue on milk sales, surpluses and pricing.

ForgottenFarms2web.jpg“For the last six years, we have not been able to sell even 1% (fat) milk in the schools,” said Gray about being forced to sell fat-free. “We have lost 288 million pounds of milk in half-pints that were not consumed by schoolchildren because of this move, alone.”

But maybe this is the point.

If fluid milk consumption erodes as a percentage of milk production, the cost of milk to processors becomes less for the many other products that need to be more competitive globally.

Technology is driving some of these trends. New opportunities and new knowledge are improving efficiencies throughout the supply chain. But marketing direction often leaves more questions than answers when it comes to spending money dairy farmers are forced to pay for it.

Meanwhile, as Dr. David Kohl, Virginia Tech professor emeritus, pointed out as a speaker last week in Lancaster County, Pa., the advances in technology are driving production from an efficiency standpoint. What these advances do for agriculture is to help less productive farms improve yields. “Technology improves the bottom end and that creates surplus, said Kohl. “And that is why we need export markets.”

To my thinking, exports are to be keenly pursued, but pursued with a strategy that does not ignore the market profile of dairy sales here at home, especially when the highest valued product classification under federal price regulation for dairy — fluid milk — is being treated like the Cinderella sister with odds against her, while her sisters get ready for the Prince’s ball.

There are plenty of great innovations in dairy products and distribution — including export markets — that deserve our attention. However, while Cinderella is ignored in plain clothes in the increasingly cluttered dairy case full of fake substitutes, she deserves an invitation to the ball. And a glass slipper or two sure wouldn’t hurt.

Whole milk up, fat-free way down

USDA’s January estimated fluid milk sales report indicates that whole milk sales for the first 11 months of 2017 were up by 2.5% over year ago and November, alone was up 3.5%. Meanwhile lowfat and fat-free losses drove the entire category lower as nearly 12% less fat-free milk was sold compared with year ago, 6.7% less 1% and 2.8% less 2% milk. Similar patterns were revealed among organic milk drinkers with fat-free down almost 20% Jan. through Nov. while whole milk was up 6.2%.

Author’s Note: Re-inventing this Ag Moos blog for the times….  Milk Market Moos is a column I’ve been writing in Farmshine since 2003. Find some of it here, at Ag Moos, along with other dairy and beef market related stories, agriculture news, and, in between, the stories and images of the inspirational people of agriculture… but you can get it first, and you can get it all, in Farmshine Newspaper, just $15/year. Farmshine is a weekly newspaper published in Brownstown, Pennsylvania — now in its 39th year of publishing all-dairy, all-the-time.