How do I get involved in the dairy crisis at the grassroots level?

May 2009

Dear Hilde,

Thanks to Farm Aid for all the great work you are doing to support dairy farmers. I signed the petition to Secretary Vilsack, but am wondering what else I can do personally to raise awareness in my community. I am not a dairy farmer, but care deeply about this issue. How do I get involved at the grassroots level?

Chris K.
Springfield, MO

Dear Chris,

Great question! We're glad you've noticed our many efforts to address the dairy crisis – and even happier to hear that you've taken part in the petition. For those who have yet to sign on, go to to do so - we have just a few more days to gather as many supporters as possible before we hand deliver the petition to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on June 18.

Realizing meaningful change in the dairy industry is going to take the sustained efforts of all stakeholders. Too often we leave the solutions to problems to the market or the government and we forget about our own powerful voices. By participating at the “grassroots” level, ordinary people can do extraordinary work to raise awareness and advocate for positive solutions, from the ground up. Real change happens when everyday citizens from all over the country speak out and tell their stories. Whether you are a dairy farmer or simply a milk drinker – you are an essential part of the solution.

Grassroots campaigns can be local to a small town or they can be about national issues, like the dairy crisis. The single commonality is that "grassroots" means the work of many toward a mutual goal. Change on this level is not accomplished through high budget campaigns or lobbying; instead many hardworking people distribute flyers, hold town meetings, go door to door to talk with their neighbors and call friends and family to educate interested parties. This work is not glossy. However, it does create widespread visibility and it is often quite compelling because the issues are close to home and the representatives are telling their story. The best solution is often found among the very people who are experiencing the symptoms of a public problem.

Much activity has been taking place at the grassroots level in recent months around the dairy crisis. There have been rallies from Colorado to Vermont (and internationally from France to Bangladesh), California dairy farmers and others are coordinating a two-day milk dump on May 31st and June 1st, and lively, music-filled benefits are being thrown to raise money and consciousness for the cause.

For almost twenty-four years, Farm Aid has been working with and funding groups organizing grassroots campaigns to inform people about the potential damages of industrial agriculture and the benefits of family farming. Our work is made possible by the continuing generosity of donors across the country and by the commitment of these hard-working organizations.

Farm Aid has teamed up with a number of our funded organizations including Center for Rural Affairs, Family Farm Defenders, and the National Family Farm Coalition to support the organizing efforts of dairy farmers on the ground. All of these groups will gather together with dairy farmers on Saturday, May 30th to rally for fair dairy prices. The event takes place at an auction barn in Manchester, IA, and will highlight a series of speakers, including Farm Aid's own Joel Morton, Hotline and Resource Network Coordinator. If you are within driving distance, we encourage you to stop by and bring a truck-full of friends. Participation is a core component of any grassroots effort, and dairy farmers need all the support they can get during these devastating times.

One of the best things about grassroots work is that anyone can get involved. Look around your own community. Are there opportunities to educate others and advocate for positive solutions to the dairy crisis? If so, chances are good that other people are thinking the same thing. So get out there, get involved! And please keep us informed. We want to hear about the extraordinary work you do now that you know some of the important opportunities for grassroots participation.

- Hilde

P.S. Much of this column was gleaned from a 2005 Farm Aid column on grassroots organizing (Thanks Laura!). To see the entire entry, click here.

Your thoughtful comments are encouraged, but all comments are held for moderation to protect against spam. Farm Aid does not censor or refuse comments for content unless they are spam or a personal attack.

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Anonymous @ 5/29/2009 11:46:51 AM 
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is also supporting our dairy farmers and family farms, the environment, etc. There is a rally on Saturday. Please check out the details at or call (515) 282-0484 for specifics. We're a powerful and successful organizing group. We would love to have you join us. Thank you for caring.

Alice Bryan
Anonymous @ 5/30/2009 7:30:20 AM 
So if we're not in Iowa, what can we do? I live in South Carolina, one of the poorest states in the union.
Anonymous @ 6/8/2009 8:38:48 AM 
Please join us by telephone.
Dairy Farmers Working Together announces their "Strength in Numbers Campaign". This is a National Dairy Conference Call that will take place on June 30, 2009 at 4PM EDT. To participate and make your voice count: register at 1-800-217-7379 (free).
How much easier is it than to dial a number? Every phone call that comes in is a step to showing the industry that this crisis needs to end and we are willing to take the lead. DFWT is hopeful that a record turnout will be the call to action the industry needs to stabilize milk pricing and ensure an equitable farm gate price for dairy farmers.
Anonymous @ 6/9/2009 7:03:05 PM 
Switch to grain or vegetable farming - its the way of the future. My family owns a farm and it is from that farm that we realized that we are our own crutch. If the government subsidizes what you do for a living, you know there is a problem. Humans are NOT baby cows, nor do we produce lactase in our stomaches after weening, that is why we are lactose intolerant and get sick from milk.

The best thing that Dairy farmers could do for themselves and the future of the human race is to stop farming breast milk from cows intended for calves, and giving it to adult humans. We are the only species EVER to do such a crazy thing and we are paying for our actions with epidemic amounts of cancer, breast cancer and osteoporosis.

Dump the dairy cows - we now farm grain (for human consumption) and vegetables and life is great!
Anonymous @ 6/14/2009 8:33:24 AM 
Is anyone aware of the crisis in the central valley of California? Farms are being lost/abandoned and many people are suffering all due to the EPA of the California Delta smelt. Our lakes and reseviors are at capacity but farmers can't get water. We provide 95% of all produce to the country. Paul Rodriguez (comedian/actor) organized a walk to bring attention but not sure if the nation is truly aware of the devastation this is causing. Anything FarmAid can do or get involved that will help? Seems most people, if you tweet, care more about other countries than they do the one they live in. Thank you for all the wonderful things you do for this country that feeds the world. Teri Mekhail
Anonymous @ 6/17/2009 9:57:14 AM 
i got an answer to the breast milk person grow up!
Anonymous @ 7/25/2009 3:30:12 PM 
I LOVE CHEESE and MILK and Yogurt and KEFIR...and I take only 'real' cream in my coffee.
I used to milk my own goats and my Jersey I am retired and have to buy milk. It will be a sad day when there are no more dairy farmers.
I can't imagine life without good wholesome milk.
Anonymous @ 10/26/2009 7:55:05 PM 
Is Neil Young going to come put as strongly against this President for letting things go to hell? Is Farm Aid aware of the Central Valley of California? Or is Neil's message still to just buy organic? Let's get on the Obama administration before it's too late!
Anonymous @ 11/5/2009 6:45:45 AM 
I've talked to several people here in New England and no one seems to know about the Centaal Valley California problem. The media isn't covering it. Fox did cover it but never did a follow up. I think this is a major and critical event.

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