2021-06-28-GARDNEROPEDPIC

Whether you’re a milk lover or an oat-beverage aficionado, June is National Dairy Month — a time to be thankful for our dairy farmers.

Dairy farms are the backbone of agriculture in the Berkshires: They manage most of the farmland, produce the most local food, support hundreds of jobs and spin-off economic activity, and contribute millions to the local economy.

A typical 150-cow dairy can have a regional economic impact of $2 million. So, if you love to see the round bales dotting the fields and smell freshly cut hay on a summer day, if you like butter on your toast and whey protein in your energy bar, then you’re already appreciating our dairy farms.

When you buy New England dairy products, you can support one of the most progressive businesses in the world. Eight of Berkshire County’s 12 commercial dairies are members of the Agri-Mark Cabot Dairy Co-op. Dairy farmers formed some of the first cooperatives in the U.S. in the 1800s, realizing they would all do better by collaborating instead of competing. Co-ops are businesses that are operated, owned and democratically governed by the members; profits go back to the farmer-owners. Cabot co-op formed in 1919 and has 800 member farms in New England and New York State; it’s best known for its award-winning cheddar cheese, but it produces a full array of dairy products.

As a Certified B Corporation, the co-op had to achieve a high bar to prove that it “balances purpose and profit” to use “business as a force for good.” B-Corporation are sometimes called “compassionate capitalism,” because certification requires companies to meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency in governance and accountability.

For Cabot, that means working with farmers to ensure eco-friendly land management, animal welfare, reducing the carbon footprint of their operations, minimizing waste and maximizing energy efficiency, promoting solar and wind power, good labor practices, benefits and a healthy workplace, addressing racial inequality, and promoting anaerobic digestion for manure management and power generation. The electricity that powers the Agri-Mark processing plant in West Springfield is supplied by the manure biodigester at a member farm in Hadley: Cabot butter is 100 percent cow power.

You may not know a local commercial dairy farmer because they aren’t at the farmers market, but their products are everywhere — in the supermarkets, mini marts and ice cream stands.

Buying dairy products supports farmers and their co-ops and you can feel good about helping a locally owned, democratically run company that uses business as a force for positive societal change.

Sarah Gardner is a documentary film producer, Berkshire Grown board member and chair of the Williamstown Agricultural Commission. She teaches environmental studies at Williams College.