Why do things have to be so difficult??

So Long East Coast Organic Milk

Just Us! is incredibly disappointed that East Coast Organic Milk has been unable to make a successful business. If policy-makers and marketing boards could have been more supportive it may have actually worked. You can listen to ECO Milk dairy producer, Frazer Hunter of Knoydart Farms, speak to these issues here (http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/Local+Shows/Maritimes/ID/2446288971/)

This is a huge loss for Nova Scotia. ECO milk was an opportunity to be proud and supportive of local farm families committed to environmentally responsible practices, in striking contrast to the conventional milk industry heavily reliant on genetically modified feed crops, chemical fertilizers, herbicide use, and monocropping.  Just Us! was an investor and supporter of the NS organic milk project since it’s very conception and was one of its biggest customers since it started production in 2012. Being able to offer organic milk in our food and drinks was a great source of pride for us.

For us, organic certification offers a minimum standard of environmental stewardship, which is monitored by an independent third party. Organic certification has always been a requirement for our core products. Similarly, third-party certification of Fair Trade standards are measureable and independently monitored. With these certifications, our consumers are not only relying on our word but that of an independent certifying body. This lends credibility to what we do and ensures all links in the chain are held accountable. Yes, there are valid criticisms of this model but its intention is clear: transparency and trust for the customer who is trying to make value-based decisions in a complicated marketplace. With the loss of ECO milk, we have had to make some decisions concerning our milk supply and we want to share why we will be happily partnering with Fox Hill Farm (http://www.foxhillcheesehouse.com) for our milk needs. We sometimes wish decisions like this were cut and dry and simply followed a set of rules, but in this co-op we are committed to critical thought in all our decisions. It is critical that we can ensure our customers that our milk supply for our cafés and kitchen is sourced as ethically as possible moving into the future. From our perspective their existed several possible choices:

  1. Return to local, conventional  milk (Farmers’ owned by Quebec Multinational AgroPur)
  2. Source a certified organic product processed from Ontario or Quebec producers via multinational corporations like Agropur (Natrel), or Saputo (Neilson) or Yoplait/General Mills (Liberte).
  3. Source a certified organic product via a small-scale, independently-operated certified organic dairies such as Organic Meadow or Harmony in Ontario.
  4. Source a conventional product from a local, independently-owned dairy that processes locally-produced milk such as Fox Hill Cheesehouse in Port Williams.

We are making what we feel is the best choice in light of our co-op’s values, which we presume resonate with the customers who choose to buy our products. Here is the reasoning behind our choice:

Locally Owned Dairies               

This may be news to some, but there are no longer any independently owned cow milk dairies in Nova Scotia except for Fox Hill Cheesehouse in Port Williams. Farmers and Cook’s is now owned by multinational AgroPur, a massive 4000 member co-op in Quebec. Scotsburn and Baxter are owned by Saputo, a huge multinational corporation in Montreal. The milk produced by these companies is still contributed to by local farmers, and we are thankful for that, but it is frightening to see independently-owned businesses being swallowed up by massive organizations.

At Just Us! we value Atlantic Canadian independence and are proud of it. As with our partners in the Global South, we value food security and food sovereignty. We want to see our rural communities thrive, but also want to ensure we retain as many of our dairy dollars as we can here, in our Atlantic Canadian economy, which doesn’t happen when dairies are owned by companies in Quebec. This is complicated for us because we still want to support our local farmers, but our values point to supporting an independently-owned dairy.

Certified Organic Milk

For some reason, Nova Scotia certified organic milk is not protected by legislation and dairy marketing boards in the same way NS conventional milk is. Perhaps you might ask your local MLA why. We would sure love to know. For example AgroPur may own Farmers dairy now but they still have to source Nova Scotia milk for this product. In the case of certified organic milk like ECO Milk however, they have no obligation to do so. As a result they chose to support their own organic brand, Natrel, instead. In the same way Saputo brings us Neilson, and Yoplait/General Mills brings us Liberte products which are all made from Quebecois milk.

Now, Organic Meadows and Harmony are actually independently-owned—which is a pleasant breath of fresh air—but their products are made from out-of-province milk as well (Ontario). We could truck ecologically responsible milk from Ontario but that challenges our view that we need to build capacity here, in Nova Scotia, with the money we spend.

Fox Hill is independent, very locally-owned, currently uses only their own herd’s milk, and produces a quality milk product rich in mineral content and not compromised by homogenization. Although it is not a certified organic milk supply, after consultation with Fox Hill Farm we have determined the following:

  1. During pasture season, 85-90% of the herd’s diet comes from pasture.
  2. Fox Hill’s herd contains 20 Jerseys at this point and will continue to breed Jersey genetics into their herd. Jerseys are known to be very good grazers, unlike the modern day “milk-factories” we call Holsteins, and produce a rich milk without the need of additional fats in their diet
  3. During the winter and wet months, the herd relies on hay, corn silage, high moisture grain, and some soy meal for their diets.
  4. In the summer/pasture months, the herd receives 10-15% of their diet from corn silage, high moisture grains, and some soy meal.
  5. Upon request by Just Us!, Fox Hill has decided to convert all their feed production to non-GMO seeds starting this growing season (2014). This will mean a 100% GMO-free herd diet by the fall of 2014.
  6. No palm oil is used in the herd’s diet to increase fat production. This is a typical practice with conventional dairy farmers.
  7. Fox Hill Farm is 95% self-sustaining. That is, only 5% of the resources they need to run the operation come from outside of their farm.
  8. 5.5% of the milk solids in Fox Hill’s milk are solids other than fat and protein i.e., trace minerals that we don’t necessarily get through conventional milk.

As stated above, upon our request, Fox Hill has decided to convert all their feed production to non-GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds starting this growing season (2014). This will mean a 100% GMO-free herd diet by the fall of 2014. They will be obtaining documentation to verify this from their suppliers and we feel this is a glowing example of local business working together to compromise and benefit one another as a result. We look forward to the results and hope you do as well.