Dispatches from the Past: Selling better butter…it’s all been done before!‏

(Editor’s Note: This went out on April 10, 2014, originally.  -Leah)

“If corn is king in this country, then the cow is certainly Queen.”

-Agriculture of Maine: Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture

O'Meara's cows in New Sweden.

O’Meara’s cows in New Sweden.

Good Morning!

It was just over a century ago that Maine became engaged in the trade of butter to Boston and points as far as Philadelphia and even Chicago. The Board of Agriculture in those days published an annual report which is chock full of interesting history of Maine’s agricultural glory – and a fair amount of deserved critique as well.

Unlike many ag publications, the Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture (phew!) doesn’t simply promote ‘modernize, mechanize, or bust’. It is rather thoughtful to the limited means of Maine farmers and how they could best maximize the return to their farms through the production of quality goods. This was a day and age where the term ‘improving efficiency’ was synonymous with better care for livestock and soils rather than a code word for taking shortcuts to save money. The whole point of improving efficiency was to improve the health of the systems supporting the production of food, thereby growing yields with fewer purchased inputs.

Quality on the farm was reflected in quality once the products had departed from the farm. And the deal closer of the system was that quality, especially in butter, paid. More than double the price. The poorer quality the butter, the farther from home it was shipped, into larger and larger markets.

The reason stemmed from surprisingly simple logic, according to one observer:

“Let me suggest to you that a large proportion of the poor butter that finds its way into NY or Boston markets comes from individual farmers who swap butter for calico at the crossroads…and the store-keeper doesn’t dare tell Mrs. Jones that her butter is not as good as Mrs. Johnson’s.” Annual Report…1895.

When the food is local, what is the benefit to selling poor quality? Hopefully, no benefit at all.

These old reports are full of technical advice for farmers, but also quality considerations for the rest of the food movement to consider.

Enjoy reading them (you can get the ebook online for free)… and get your orders turned in as you scroll through the pages.


About crownofmainecoop

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