Massachusetts has lost another dairy farm.
If you read last week’s Sunday Sun, a story by Jack Minch detailed the struggles by the Rossbach family of Townsend to keep their family dairy farm going.
I know these folks, and let me assure you that they are competent, hard-working men that didn’t give up because they were quitters.
The industry has changed and as the family points out, the economic model of a small New England farm can’t compete anymore by selling their product at wholesale prices to large processors.
The demands of what is fast becoming an industrial food supply force farms to grow to sizes not possible in New England. Most of the milk sold in this market comes in from New York and other areas where large industrial farms have as many as 5,000 cows.
The same food industry that also forced some farms to try artificial growth hormones to produce more for less, but consumers wisely put an end to that by demanding to know what the consequences were.
And sadly, that is exactly what is happening these days to folks that try to make a living on New England farms. They are pushed to produce more for less and just don’t have the land base to do it. So unless farms can find a way to market directly to consumers and keep more of the food dollar for themselves, they are likely headed in the same direction as the Rossbachs.
The future of New England agriculture is in marketing fresh, local food products directly to consumers.
Farm stores, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) are the future, driven by consumers demanding fresh, local products.
Real local that is “drive-by fresh.”
I was asked to speak at the launch of the Massachusetts new “Commonwealth Quality” brand kicked off in Boston last week, a move that is designed to help identify local farm products to consumers in search of food that doesn’t come from the industrial farms and is grown locally here in Massachusetts.
Say what you want about government, but we in Massachusetts have a Department of Agriculture that gets it. Scott Soares, our commissioner, has been out in front on the issue of finding solutions to the economic struggles of farmers.
Sometime soon, you will be able to identify Massachusetts produced food products by the commonwealth quality brand.
Speaking of people that get it when it comes to farms: I visited my daughter in New Jersey last weekend and along the way found myself in the town of Warwick, N.Y., in a massive traffic jam caused by something called the Apple Fest.
Literally thousands of people came to this town to enjoy this event, which appeared to be much larger than the Lowell Folk Festival.
Clearly the fruit-growing farm community in that area got sick of selling their products to large supermarkets and getting paid next to nothing for it, so they created their own value-added event.
It was an impressive event that brought thousands consumers out to the farms in the area.
Clearly, the future of farms both here in Dracut and in the rest of New England is consumer-driven, and to all of the folks that enjoy the amenities provided by having farms in their community, their survival is in your hands.
Warren Shaw is a former Dracut selectman who hosts a popular Saturday morning radio show on WCAP-AM from 6 to 10.