On August 4th, 2020, the NOFA-VT mobile pizza oven traveled to the far northeast corner of the state to share our gratitude with a pizza lunch for the hardworking farm crew at Maxwell’s Neighborhood Farm in Newport. Run by 3rd generation farmer, Matt Maxwell, along with his family and employees, the farm milks 850 cows and ships their milk through Dairy Farmers of America, filling two tanker trucks daily. In addition to milking, building community plays an important role on this farm. Last summer, the farm hosted 1,000 attendees at a Breakfast on the Farm event, which aims to connect the Vermont public with dairy farmers. The farm also captures excess heat from their methane digester to heat an on-site greenhouse, growing vegetables for local schools and businesses.
Maxwell’s Neighborhood Farm employs eight migrant farmworkers and participates in the Milk with Dignity Program. This program, created by Migrant Justice, brings together farmworkers, consumers, farmer owners and corporate buyers with the principal goal of fostering a sustainable Northeast dairy industry that advances the human rights of farmworkers, supports the long-term interests of farm owners, and provides an ethical supply chain for retail food companies and consumers. Ben & Jerry’s was the first major corporation to join the program and require it’s suppliers to comply with the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct, which now covers 100% of the company’s dairy purchases. Within the program, farmer owners agree to provide adequate breaks, time off, paid sick days, humane and safe staffing and working conditions, and fair housing to their farmworkers. Participating farms are compensated with a price premium for the farm’s milk.
Maxwell’s Neighborhood Farm was one of the first farms in Vermont to enroll in the program when it began in the fall of 2017. The program has helped to build the farm’s reputation as a safe and equitable place to live and work. Since joining the program, the farm has maintained an 85% employee retention rate. Additionally, according to Matt Maxwell, the price premium for the farm’s milk has “allowed us to pay the people that do these very important jobs an acceptable wage.” This is important because ninety percent of the milking duties are completed by the farm’s migrant farmworkers, split between two crews of four people each working 10 hour shifts around the clock.
To date, the Milk with Dignity Program supports 250 farmworkers on nearly 70 dairy farms in Vermont and New York. These farmworkers have access to a 24/7 worker support line that is monitored by the 3rd party Milk with Dignity Standards Council. This same 3rd party also audits participating farms annually.
The vision, efforts and results of the Milk with Dignity Campaign and participation by farms like Maxwell’s Neighborhood Farm, show the vast possibilities of what a just, sustainable, and healed food system can look like. Onward!
To learn more about Migrant Justice and the Milk with Dignity Program visit: https://migrantjustice.net/