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Redefining the Farmer-Processor Relationship: The Story of Organic Cow

  • OLIVIA R. SAUCIER (a1), ROBERT L. PARSONS (a2) and SHOSHANAH INWOOD (a3)

Abstract

This article examines, from the viewpoint of a core group of Vermont milk producers, the period in the mid-1990s when organic dairy became mainstream. We look at the rise and subsequent takeover of one of the first organic milk-processing companies, The Organic Cow of Vermont, through the eyes of the farmers involved. In so doing, we provide needed perspective on the role of food producers working in industries subject to growth and consolidation. As producers of a commodity that grew out of the conventional system, organic dairy farmers faced unique choices that set them apart from other organic producers at that time. We demonstrate that the market for organic milk and dairy provided the opportunity for a new kind of farmer-processor relationship in which producers were supported through stable pay-prices and an intimate business relationship with processors. This article challenges the idea that the organic dairy industry was built by corporations trying to profit from booming consumer demand for organic foods and offers important contributions to debates surrounding the growth and conventionalization of organic food systems.

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• The authors interviewed 16 Organic Cow farmers in 2011 and 2012, both in person and by telephone.
• Peter and Bunny Flint (founders and owners of The Organic Cow of Vermont), March 10, 2012, in Chelsea, VT.
• Enid Wonnacott (executive director of NOFA-VT), April 11, 2012, in Richmond, VT.
• Bob and Deborah Messing (dairy buyers at Hunger Mountain Co-op), May 16, 2012, in Montpelier, VT.
• Lisa McCrory (dairy consultant), November 15, 2012, by telephone.
• Brent Beidler (Organic Valley farmer representative), December 11, 2012, by telephone.

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