I grew up on the former Meadow Gold Dairy on the North Shore, where my father was the dairy manager. I walked by Lani Moo everyday on my way home from school, and my first summer job was repainting the white fences that fronted the dairy. In those days, the 1980s, there were dozens of dairy farms and Hawaii was self-sufficient in milk production
Later, my family moved back to the Big Island and started our own ranch on former sugar-cane land in Ka’u. We are proud to say that we produce beef for our local markets. As a state we have begun to realize that being dependent upon imports for 85-90 percent of the food we eat makes us vulnerable and unbalanced as a society.
Support for local agriculture has provided me with the opportunity to provide food for my community and to contribute to sustainability. Without the support of the community I could not do what I do, small as it is. I am lucky in that I have a strong, supportive relationship with my local processor and distributor, Hawaii Beef Producers.
Hawaii’s milk producers are not so lucky. Their processor and distributor, Meadow Gold, a subsidiary of Dean Foods based in Dallas, has recently threatened to stop buying local milk from the last two remaining dairy farms in Hawaii if it does not get the changes to state law on milk prices that it wants.
This forced the BOA to choose between destroying the last two remaining dairy farms, or gutting the milk price laws that were put into place decades ago to protect dairy farmers from the milk processors.
If we let middle-men prey on farmers we are complicit in destroying local agriculture.
Unfortunately this is only the latest example of how the business practices of Meadow Gold and Dean Foods, who hold a monopoly on milk processing in the state, have led to the decline of our local dairy farms. Meadow Gold and Dean Foods demonstrate how to destroy local agriculture:
Firstly, they pit farmers against each other in a downward price spiral. This is the single most effective way to destroy small farmers. Meadow Gold and Dean Foods made agreements to purchase milk with one dairy farmer that will force the price of milk paid to both farmers downward.
They also threaten farmers with lack of access to processing. Farmers, processors, and consumers are in a symbiotic relationship. But processors can control their farmers by refusing access to processing, thereby destroying the producers.
Lastly, they make farmers do the dirty work for them. Instead of acting in an open and transparent way, as befits a responsible member of the business community, Meadow Gold and Dean Foods has concealed its role in forcing lower prices. Then it threatened to destroy the industry because it did not get what it wanted.
Dairy farmers must pay to feed and care for their dairy cows every single day and being unable to sell their milk for even a few days can bankrupt them. They are being forced to choose between gradual extinction by receiving less money for their milk or sudden extinction when Meadow Gold refuses to buy their milk.
If we do not support our two remaining dairy farmers we will lose them, and we will lose access to fresh local milk for our children. Fresh local milk has not lost much of its nutritional value, as is the case with imported milk due to ultra-pasteurization, double pasteurization and shipping. If we let middle-men prey on farmers we are complicit in destroying local agriculture.