Holmes: You Have to Trust in Your Farmer

Originally Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2013 12:30 am


When you food shop — don’t be fooled by slick labels and fancy packaging. Even the USDA Organic labeling for consumers is a marketing program and certainly a healthy revenue stream for the U.S. Government — but doesn’t guarantee the food comes from family farms, premium quality or tastes good.


While organic growing practices are 110 percent beneficial and worth the investment for your health, the price you are willing to pay to eat organically labeled food you should also apply to buying premium quality local food. Get involved and meet your farmer.


Your food choices make a difference every time you eat beyond health and taste. My food rule is simple — visit a farm and get connected to what you eat by understanding how your food is made. You will look, feel and sleep better, have endless energy and always be satisfied by taste and nutrition so you don’t overeat. And the kids will love it!


Most milk is at least a week old before you ever even see it on a supermarket shelf. Hudson Valley Fresh milk arrives to schools — and your food market — within 36 hours of milking. This means better taste, nutrition and value than any USDA organic milk on the market.


Even Taconic Hills School District made the switch this year to Hudson Valley Fresh local milk for the school lunch program with funding from the FarmOn! Foundation. Working together the plan is to offer the same partnership in many schools in the Hudson Valley. As a result milk consumption is up and parents are also making the switch at home because the kids are talking “got local milk”!


When you buy Hudson Valley Fresh milk you reward yourself and the hard work of nine family farms who produce dairy products: whole milk, 2 percent, skim, fat free and chocolate milk as well as heavy cream, half & half, sour cream, yogurt and just in time for the holidays — old fashioned eggnog.


My personal favorite? Chocolate milk. It’s the perfect recovery drink, the real energy drink and your kids new favorite snack made with Pennsylvania Dutch cocoa and never any artificial ingredients.


In fact, drinking local milk is vital to your family’s health, the local community and economic development in the region. Buying Hudson Valley Fresh premium quality milk is not only a responsible food choice — it’s your community service!


People get hung up on packaging instead of quality when it comes to their food — they pledge loyalty to brands instead of investigating how it is made and who made it? In an industry where the cost of producing milk is much more than the pennies allocated from a commodity traded product to pay the farmers making it — your simple supermarket milk choice makes a huge difference.


The dairy industry was desperate for change and Dr. Sam Simon seized the opportunity to implement his vision ensuring that farmers are given a fair price for milk they produce. Not only because they win national awards year after year for premium quality milk made right in our backyard, but more importantly because they treat cows as well as people.


Founder of HVF, Simon was born on a family farm, retired from his successful 22-year career as an orthopedic surgeon and went back to his love of dairy farming.


Based on a handshake, he purchased the 150-acre Plankenhorn Farm in Pleasant Valley in 1995 from his patient, Lester Plankenhorn, the only surviving member of the family, whose father had bought the farm in 1922 after crossing the Hudson River via the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge in a cattle car to keep the cows calm. The farm name remains Plankenhorn out of respect for the previous owners. “Great farmers, outstanding cow people,” says Simon.


In 2003, Simon realized that receiving payment of around $16 per 100 lb weight (16 cents p/lb) for milk knowing it would cost $19 per 100 lb weight (19 cents p/lb) to produce that milk was impossible to do (even produced on a farm with no debt!) and survive as a business providing for a family and animals.


Simon told me, “There has to be a better way for quality production every day to earn a fair price. I was receiving awards for milk as was Jim Davenport at Tollgate Farm but the price paid for milk was still shy of what we deserved to be paid for premium milk as dairy farmers.”


Knowing his loss meant dairy farmers were losing their farms, Simon did something. He created a brand to sell premium quality milk based on worth not commodity trading price so the farmers covered their costs and earn a fair living wage. In 2006, the Hudson Valley Fresh dairy cooperative was formed and still today pays the farmers a set price so they can survive in business.


The HVF mission is, “To secure living wages for farmers and their families and ensure a fair price for our farmers’ goods to keep those farmers in business, which means preventing the loss of their 8,000 acres of open land to development.”


Simon told me, “Because milk pricing is commodity based, the price is determined on quantity of cheese sold — not how much milk is drunk or its quality — so it is a baseline for price. HVF when it first launched, uniquely made milk, not value-added products like yogurt or heavy cream that command premium pricing. I knew quality milk deserved to be paid at least the cost to produce.”


So Simon revolutionized the industry with his cooperative thinking and Hudson Valley farm partners and segregated milk by quality standards as a dairy cooperative — the only one of its kind in the nation that pays farmers premium prices for premium quality products.


A true entrepreneur, Simon explained, “Every farmer can tell a compelling story but we aren’t selling a story at HVF — we are selling quality milk.” Taste can sell itself and HVF is telling a story of economic success for people that work hard to feed us well and deserve to be paid fairly for premium milk that is recognized industry-wide as #1 and insists on transparency in its livestock and production practices.


The HVF Dairy Cooperative continues to grow with now nine family farms located in Columbia, Dutchess and Ulster counties producing milk that exceeds all standards for quality and nutrition: Bos-Haven Farm, Coon Brothers Farm, Walt’s Dairy, Tollgate Farm, Stormfield Swiss, Shenandoah Farm, Domino Farm, Triple Creek Dairy and Dutch Hallow Farm.


They are located within 20 miles of each other and process their milk collectively at Boice Brothers Dairy in Kingston, a family-run business since 1914. The milk is never ultra-pasteurized and never uses artificial growth hormones (rBST/rBGH).


Their award-winning Holstein and Jersey cows are happy, comfortable and fed a varied diet of lots and lots of hay and healthy grains grown on the farm where they live, which makes a big difference in milk production. For HVF heifers, this is the farmhouse rule: More comfort + less stress = better-tasting milk!


All milk is indeed not created equal. That’s the Hudson Valley Fresh tagline that guarantees freshness, nutrition and earns it the #1 quality dairy award year after year. That is “udderly good” for dozens of reasons. This holiday put the farmer on your gift list by buying local milk! And don’t forget the eggnog!


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