Those of you who have followed local food have probably also followed the story of MOO Milk. When Hood dropped the contracts of a number of Maine organic dairy farmers abruptly, something truly unique and wonderful happen. It was recognized in time how important these farms were to the fabric of our agriculture, our infrastructure, our economies, and our refrigerators. I can’t stress enough how rare and incredible that is.
What’s perhaps more incredible is that this peril was recognized and acted upon by a unbelievable partnership that spanned the breadth of private-public-civic enterprise, and invited the farmers themselves to the governance table.
Now, you could already be assuming a fairy tale story, and a happy ending. But as we know, and as any dairy farmer could tell you, this work is hard. And not just hard in a we-get-up-at-four-everyday-and-can-never-go-anywhere-without-cowsitters-and-we-tell-ourselves-we-love-the-smell-of-manure-in-the-morning-the-barn-and-the-house kind of way.
The bigger picture and harder truth is that this is not an eco-fairy tale. The dairy industry is one of the most entrenched and flawed food systems in our country, the economics of which are dictated by forces vast and problematic. The policies governing dairies are likewise based upon flawed premises, which means that the entire dairy industry is in a race to the bottom.
We here at Crown O’ Maine have felt the chills when we drive by the gas stations (Cumberland Farms, of all the ironies) and see the posters boasting that they sell their milk at the minimum price allowed by law. There is a conversation here about poverty, and about the underpinnings of that poverty. But this is what our generation of Mainers know about dairies.
However, if you were to ask our parents, or yours, what they know about dairies, you would hit a rich seam of cultural knowledge.
My mother and my uncles, for example, were brought home by the milkman the morning after a blizzard because they had taken it upon themselves, at a collective age of 4, to march out of the house in their jackets and hats with no boots. The milkman found them halfway up the block in barefeet with their sled, and towed them home to deposit them in my
hungover indisposed grandparents’ front room.
That is the generation who worked on dairies, honest work for living wages. That is the generation who remembers actually using those milk canisters that now decorate camps and country homes. That is a generation who already know what real milk tastes like.
MOO Milk is extraordinary because for many children it is now the first introduction to what milk should taste like. It is extraordinary because for many adults, it is an entry point to understanding the dairy industry. It is extraordinary because for these farmers, it is the frontline in one of the hardest battles to drag our food system out of the tar pit that threatens to swallow it.
Cecily Pingree and Jason Mann have created an award-winning documentary about the creation and journey of MOO Milk. In doing so, they have done us all a service. We, the eating public, are well served by learning more, and we are well served in seeing an unvarnished story, complete with difficulties, hurt feelings, and metaphorical unpretty angles. This is no fable where the ending is guaranteed; it is an real-live story, still happening now.
If you are in the Bangor-Brewer area tomorrow, you can attend a screening of the film. The Bangor Daily News recently wrote an article to spread the word, complete with a link at the bottom to buy tickets ahead. This film has sold out repeatedly all over the state, and has struck a chord in the hearts and minds of Mainers. For those of us who sometimes wonder what will reach people, what people will actually care about, I’d suggest that this might be an interesting room to be in.
Finally, drink some MOO Milk!