Last week, Carolyn, Glenda and I headed to Madison, Wisconsin, to stand alongside struggling dairy farmers at the June 25th US Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice workshop on competition in the dairy industry. The workshop was the third in a series of five joint workshops examining antitrust abuses in agriculture as related to the consolidation and concentration that has come to typify our food system.
When Jen Nelson, from Farm Aid-funded group Wisconsin Rural Sustainability Network, asked if anyone would be willing to don the handmade (by a puppeteer!) cow suits she had in her car, my arm shot up into the air. I love costumes and I figured I’d take one for the team and go “bovine” despite the sweltering Wisconsin summer heat.
As farmers, advocates, industry reps, consumers, reporters, and government officials filed into Union Hall on the University of Wisconsin campus, I suited up. Security was all over me – and confined my “antics” to an empty deck on the lake, just outside of the building. I did a little dancing and waving of my arms to capture some attention, since hardly a soul was glancing my way. I barely got a smile out of some people. But, that wasn’t so much the point.
The point, rather, was to generate some press on the very serious issues facing America’s dairy farmers today, like this story here.
By lunchtime, when the deck where I was restricted suddenly became the place to eat and get some fresh air after a very intense morning of farmer testimony and panels, the cow suits began to work their magic. John Peck, of Farm Aid funded-group Family Farm Defenders, and Jen Nelson joined my “herd,” and together we paraded around with signs calling for justice (“Stop Milking Farmers!”). People were now smiling, students were stopping by to learn more, tourists were taking photos, but most importantly the press was eating it up!
“What are you doing here today?” and “What message are you trying to get across?” they’d ask… Music to any farm advocate’s ears!
Our message: America’s family dairy farmers are in crisis. They need a fair price for their milk and a living wage. The dairy system in this country is broken. Too few players control the market, which means the market lacks competition and in turn there are few or no options for farmers and consumers alike. The pricing system lacks transparency and is extremely prone to price manipulation and collusion. We need prompt enforcement of anti-trust regulations. And if we don’t act soon, we risk much more than just losing access to safe, local milk. It’s a matter of food security, of safeguarding productive farmland, of preserving America’s social fabric and keeping local and regional economic networks intact.
You can help! Tell Attorney General Eric Holder to move forward and take action to put a stop to abusive corporate practices and protect family farmers. With thousands more dairy farmers at risk of going out of business this year alone, there is no excuse for any more delays.