Vaughn Chase was milking his cows Monday afternoon, listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio, when he heard his name resonate through the barn. The cows may have been the only witnesses to the shocked look on the Aroostook County farmer’s face when he heard the Voice of the Right accuse him of scheming to pervert capitalism.
There is more to the story than the conservative commentator would have listeners believe.
David Bright, who helped organize the new Maine’s Own Organic Milk Co., or MOOMilk, explains how a Mapleton dairy farmer became the poster child for “creeping socialism.” The story begins when H.P. Hood wanted to sell organic milk. It signed up 10 dairy farms in Aroostook, Washington, Kennebec and Penobscot counties. When Hood found organic dairy farms closer to its New York state plant, Bright said, it dropped the Maine farms.
The Maine Farm Bureau and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association went to the state Department of Agriculture for help. The department awarded them $6,500 to explore a solution. Their plan was to create an L3C corporation, which allows “limited profit,” Bright explained, as long as there is a charitable or social purpose in the company’s mission.
In this case, the purpose was to preserve farmland. “The only way you’re going to preserve farmland is to keep farming profitable,” Bright said.
The legislation creating the L3C tax designation allows private foundations and investors to make grants or donations to the “low profit” businesses. If the L3C business is successful, it can repay the grants and donations. MOOMilk has secured $52,500 in private grants and $275,000 in private investment. And the 10 farms have invested $315,000 in equipment, Bright said.
The L3C idea incited Limbaugh’s wrath: “So this is social engineering in the private sector,” he said on his show Monday. “We’re going to now reward businesses that do not make a profit if someone approves of their social mission … This is designed to pervert capitalism.”
Or it may help save Maine family farms. “We seriously believe in profits,” Bright said, and wondered why conservatives, who like private sector efforts to solve problems, wouldn’t like the mechanism.
MOOMilk is very much a Maine product, processed at Smiling Hill Farm Dairy in Westbrook, distributed by Oakhurst Dairy, trucked to stores by Schoppee Dairy of Holden and sold in 120 Maine stores. In its first week, 4,273 half-gallons were sold. The goal is to sell 3,000 to 5,000 gallons a week, Bright said.
And the best news is the farmers are getting $24 per hundredweight of milk, double what they would earn producing a nonorganic product.
Even Limbaugh couldn’t sour that outcome.