Monday, January 31, 2011

VT Migrant Dairy Workers: Living in the Shadows

January 25-27th: Barre Farm Show and VLS Food/Law Conference

This past week at work, things were slightly slower in the State House, which gave me opportunity to go to the Barre Farm Show and to a Conference at the law school. It is nice to head out in the community, representing Rural VT, and to listen to folks with a new ear. There is so much to learn, and so much to learn before your can learn the next thing that sometimes I think my head will explode. But I think it is all headed in the right direction. I have been having beers with politicos, hearing State House gossip (none of which I will share) and having lovely potlucks! So, life in Montpelier is going swimmingly, as is work at Rural Vermont. Here are my notes from some of the more interesting parts of last week. This week, I hope to get my network on even more. I have many lunches, etc., planned (scheming for summer internships) and we are hoping to get the local foods bill out to Pollina ASAP. HURRAY!

Barre Farm Show: Dairy Update

The Agency of Agriculture reported on the state of dairy in Vermont this past week at the Barre farm show. Much of the House Committee on Agriculture was in attendance.
Here are some notes on dairy in VT right now:
-We are hovering around 1,000 dairy farms. This is a number we do not want to drop much further
-The number of organic dairy farms has dropped slighting from 204 in ’09 to 196 last year.
-26 off-farm dairy producers, and 39 on farm dairy producers with licenses in 2010

Milk Pricing:
-Butter is up, cheese has gone up
-Grain, if bought locally keeps the cost of milk down
-Vermonters are getting more and more into the grain business. It is profitable and the market is strong. Later, in a conversation with NOFAVT, we discussed how the state should be giving more help to dairy farmers so they don’t have to resort to growing grain.

A Climate of Stress:
-Last year a hotline was established by the Ag Agency for dairy farmers to call. They received almost 700 phone calls. High debt levels, the Dean Foods Case, cost of production and other stressors contributed to many family/ martial issues as well as personal mental health problems. The program is looking for funding in order to operate this year.

Also on Thursday and Friday, I attended a conference at Vermont Law School: “Pollinate and Cultivate, Seeding the Future of our Food.” The conference featured panels on a variety of food/law topics. Of particular interest was the panel on migrant farm workers in Vermont.

Since 2005, diary arms with over 100 cows employ about 5,300 migrant workers.
98% Mexican
-As dairy farmers are not seasonal workers, there is no VISA program to allow these folks to be here. Meanwhile, as they need medical attention, or help from law enforcement, they are forced to forgo those items so as not to risk jail or deportation.
-Many workers are forced to stay in their barn dwellings, with curtains drawn all day and remain virtually invisible to the community
-As immigration does not fall under the jurisdiction of local law enforcement, there is movement to instate bias-free policing in Vermont towns. This would allow these folks to come into the community without hassle from local officials or “concerned” citizens. To find out how to implement bias-free policing in your town visit: or It seems to me that this policy is applicable in any township within our nation, not just ones with migrant workers. That being said, show me an area in America without immigrants…

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