Londonderry, New Hampshire-based Stonyfield Organic, an organic yogurt maker, says it plans to help save at-risk Northeast organic family farms by inviting a number of them into their direct supply program during the coming months.
The move comes after over 89 regional family farmers recently received notice that their contracts will be terminated by Horizon, owned by Danone North America – leaving them with no outlets for their milk.
The decline in the number of small family farmers is not a new story, as the United States, and especially the Northeast, has seen drastic reductions in the number of both farms and acreage over the last decade. From 2012 to 2021, Vermont has lost more than 390 individual dairy farms as food production has largely been ceded away from small families and into large, agri-business operations.
“This is not something new for us. Supporting organic family farms has been at the heart of our DNA since the day Stonyfield started as an organic farming school in Wilton, New Hampshire back in 1983,” said Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chief organic optimist.
The company is still headquartered in New Hampshire, and makes most of its yogurt at its Londonderry facility.
“From our founding, we’ve always been dedicated to improving the health of people and our planet, and particularly to ensuring that family farmers are fully honored and supported. Over the decades, it has become clear that the very best way that we and our consumers can support Northeast family dairy farms is by helping them convert to organic production,” Hirshberg said.
“The potential loss of 89 organic family farms would be a devastating loss for our region and our environment. When we heard about the contract terminations, we knew we had to step up and help as many farms as we possibly could, beginning with our initial commitment to take a group of these farms into our program. It’s a challenging time for the organic dairy market to absorb more farms, but we can’t just stand by and watch these farms in our own backyard go out of business,” he added.
Hirshberg said Stonyfield will bring on the farms it can and has launched an internal task force of senior company leaders to work alongside various state departments of agriculture, nonprofit organizations, retailers and institutional food customers to find ways to keep more of these farms alive and in business.
“We are incredibly disheartened to see real people and families losing their livelihoods and believe responsible companies need to do everything they can to be a part of the solution right now. We invite everyone – brands, consumers, retailers and food service customers and anyone who has an interest to join the conversation with us,” said Esteve Torrens, CEO at Stonyfield. “We won’t stop until every stone has been turned and every possibility has been explored.”
At its core, Stonyfield supports more than 200 small, organic family farms in the Northeast through its milk supplier relationship with Organic Valley, and its Direct Supply Program in the region. It also provides technical assistance funding and mentorship to farms it contracts directly from. In addition, it was a founding member of OpenTEAM, a farmer-driven, interoperable suite of tools that provide farmers around the world with the best possible knowledge to improve soil health.
Stonyfield hopes to share more news over the coming months and encourages consumers to vote with their purchase dollars, researching the brands they buy their groceries from and supporting those that support and strengthen organic family farms.
Stonyfield, a Certified B-Corp., is also making a difference by helping to protect and preserve the next generation of farmers and families through programs like its Direct Milk Supply and Wolfe’s Neck Organic Training Program as well as #PlayFree, a nationwide, multi-year initiative to help keep families free from toxic persistent pesticides in outdoor spaces across the country.