Blog | September 20, 2008

Clare Meets Farmers in the FarmYard

Blog post by Clare Leschin-Hoar: Karl Santos is a third generation dairy farmer in Westport, Massachusetts. In 2006, the farm he runs with his brothers, appropriately named Shy Brothers Farm, was in trouble. “It was borrow money to pay the bills or go out of business,” he says. “One of the biggest problems with farming is financing. The public doesn’t realize how tough it actually is for farmers.” Why? Because for those who regularly shop at large supermarket chains, rather than at their local farmer’s market, the true cost of the food is difficult to see. It’s hidden deep within the Farm Bill, next to corn and soybean subsidies.

Things were looking dire for Santos and his dairy farm, when he decided to take a risk. With the help of friend and business partner, Barbara Hanley, Santos launched a French-style, semi-soft, bloomy-rind cheese line called Hannabells. (They look like tiny little edible thimbles.) While Santos still sells some milk wholesale, the hope is demand for the cheese will continue to grow, eventually utilizing their entire milk production, and sustaining their farm for generations to come.

Sarah Kelley, executive director of SEMAP says Shy Brothers is one of her favorite success stories. But for too many farmers in her part of Massachusetts, the sheer development pressure on their land can make it hard for them to hang-on during tough times. Her booth in the FARMYARD village has a super-cool “Eat Your Zip Code” demonstration, which pulls up a list of farms near your home — where ever you live. “Most people have recognize one farm, but there are so many more near them,” she says. “There are a huge variety of family farms here in southern Massachusetts, and we want people to know about them.”

Joel Morton, hotline and Farmer Resource Network coordinator for Farm Aid says the majority of the nearly 900 calls they field a year come from farmers that are in need of financial assistance. In cases of emergency or dire need, Farm Aid is able to give money directly to farmers – but in most cases, the goal is to fund local agencies that work with farmers in their own communities. In this case, SEMAP is the local chapter of Food Routes, which is funded by Farm Aid. And SEMAP, in turn, has provided support for Shy Brothers Farm to successfully launch their line of delicious farmstead cheese – which is the kind of food-chain the folks here at Farm Aid had in mind.

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