When Robin Fitch called our 1-800-FARM-AID hotline in June, her story was sadly familiar. As a small-scale dairy farmer in Herkimer County, New York, Robin’s family was struggling to keep their farm in business. With a large drop in milk prices, their farm income had plummeted by nearly half, while their costs continued to rise.
With dairy prices at an all-time low, I often hear from dairy farmers looking for resources. I connect them to local organizations and people who can help them work through their best options to stay on the land. It was a good sign that Robin was already connected to her local organization, New York FarmNet. She was working with one of their financial counselors to try to save the farm.
But Robin was also looking beyond her farm to the bigger picture—Robin knew that activism is needed to make concrete policy changes for dairy farmers across the country. That’s why she reached out to Farm Aid.
Robin understood that the current pricing system, which is heavily manipulated by major dairy corporations at the expense of farmers, left her with limited options. As an activist with National Family Farm Coalition, Robin had been active at the state level. She’d written and called her state officials, but was frustrated by their lack of response. She wanted to connect directly with people in power. Farm Aid helped make that happen.
With the Farm Aid 2016 concert taking place outside of Washington, DC, we connected Robin and other farmers to policymakers who have the power to make changes to help independent family farmers. Two months after our first call, a Farmer Leadership grant made it possible for Robin to go to DC for a meeting about the dairy crisis between farmers and the US Department of Agriculture. Our Farmer Leadership grants cover travel costs to enable farmers like Robin to be at the table for farm policy discussions. We believe it’s essential that farmers are heard!
Robin was one of six dairy farmers who met with senior administrators, sharing her family’s story and presenting her ideas for policy that puts family farmers—not corporations—first. Instead of hearing from industry lobbyists, the officials heard directly from farmers and had a productive conversation about how existing programs could be changed to better meet the needs of small-scale dairy farmers. I was so grateful to Robin for putting forth the real challenges family farmers face.
Robin and I talk regularly to update each other on this policy work—it’s a long road. Things remain challenging on Robin’s farm, and it’s unclear what will happen with it. But regardless of what the future holds, Robin will keep speaking up for herself and other family farmers. Farm Aid is proud to be her partner because family farmers know best what we need to do to fix our food system. We know we can’t have good food without family farmers, and we can’t grow a better food system without family farmer voices in the conversation.