While the recent news regarding Maine’s Own Organic Milk Co. (MOOMilk) has been about lack of cash and milk cartons, the real story of MOOMilk is about Maine families.
It’s because of these farm families that MOOMilk exists. It was started to help keep them in business, to keep their land open and productive. And to keep their operations profitable, so they can be passed on to yet another generation.
Beyond our milk producers you’ll find other families who are key to our operation. There’s the Schoppee family, who once ran a dairy in Machias and who now hauls our milk.
There’s the Knight family, owners of Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook where our milk is processed, the Bennett family, owners of Oakhurst Dairy in Portland, which is our major distributor, and the Cook family, operators of Crown of Maine Organic Coop, which supplies many of the natural food stores and buying clubs that offer our milk for sale.
Last week I traveled with Portland photographer Brian Fitzgerald to several farms as Fitzgerald was working on a portfolio to document the lives of these families. We also have a film crew that has been following our company for almost year.
The finished works will show the good times and the not-so-good times as we are experiencing as we build this company. Those in Maine government often talk about the “sense of place” that is Maine, and how our natural resource industries hold the state together. The work these artists are doing will clearly show that.
From the Bell Farm in Edmunds where cows graze right down to the ocean’s edge, to the Chase Farm in Mapleton tucked amid the rolling hills of central Aroostook, the cows will be cared for and the milk truck will run, whether it’s in 90-degree heat wave or in the midst of a hurricane.
At the beginning of this week it looked like lack of cash flow could shut down our processing. The fact that we couldn’t process and package milk, however, didn’t mean the cows would stop producing milk. So while we scrambled to find operational cash, our farmers scrambled to find alternative markets for their milk.
The Aroostook County farmers could have walked away from our company, but without them it would not have been feasible to run a truck down to Washington County and the Washington County farms would have been left out. It was heart-warming to see our Aroostook farmers band together and find a way to include the Washington County farms in their temporary solution.
Heartwarming, but not surprising, as Maine family farms have always stood together.
Additionally, the fiscal crisis we underwent at the beginning of this week brought a number of other Maine families to us, as well. The public understands that increased milk sales are the key to our survival. Not only have we seen an uptick in consumer sales, people are stepping up to help food banks make our organic milk available to families who otherwise could not afford to buy it.
So MOOMilk will be back processing on Sunday, with 2 percent and whole milk on the shelves all next week. And as soon as more skim and 1 percent cartons arrive, we will have that milk available, also.
We can do this because many Maine families and family businesses are working together to see that Maine agriculture remains viable and Maine people have access to wholesome, locally produced food.
To see some of Brian Fitzgerald’s MOOMilk photos, go to http://fitzgeraldphoto.photoshelter.com/gallery/MooMilk/G0000Nq2feFxf9FA
David Bright is secretary to the board of directors for Maine’s Own Organic Milk Co.