Go back in history to the 1930s, where we can show that Delaware County produced more milk than any other county in the U.S. Fluid milk in cans was transported by trains to New York City. A large proportion of milk was made into butter right in Delaware County; much of the resulting skim milk was fed to hogs. Cattle, most of them Jerseys, grazed steep hillsides. During non-pasture season cattle were fed loose hay, from overhead mows and stacks. Most of the grain fed to dairy cows would be home-grown oats. After World War II a number of changes impacted the appearance and character of the county’s grazing countryside.
The spirit of old Delaware County was rekindled in 1997 with the creation of the first annual Meredith Dairy Fest. That weekend festival served for many years as a fundraiser for the Meridale Fire Department (Meridale is hamlet within Meredith Township). After building a fire station, the department members voted to continue the event to raise money for an ambulance and promote the dairy industry — and also because visitors enjoyed it. The Fest was visibly promoted in the Delaware and southern Otsego Counties by plywood “cows” positioned just off road shoulders. Sadly there was a five-year spell (2012-2016) when the Fest was not held.
But happily — during late May 2017 — these two-dimensional “cows” began re-appearing in these areas, thanks to organizers of a revived Meredith Dairy Fest. The first revived Fest took place the weekend of June 17-18, 2017. On both days this event in featured livestock, exhibitor displays, as well as children’s activities. According to Stephanie Parez, master coordinator for the Fest, the Fire Department did not organize the revived Fest, but community organizations, residents and companies stepped forward to support the revival.
The second annual revived Meredith Dairy Fest was held, at the same location, on June 9-10, 2018.
I paid particular attention to two exhibitors: the first was Wildflower Farm, a local operation with about a hundred beef cattle — plus an organic fertilizer business; their organic fertilizer that repels — and kills — Lyme disease ticks was a big hit with many guests. The second vendor that really drew my attention was Bovina Valley Farms. They offered cheese samples. I know that farm’s owner/operator Dan Finn. His small, very diverse farm is certified organic. His on-farm store offers beef, pork, and chicken, and cheese. The cheese bears the Cowbella label — and embodies the spirit of Delaware County dairying the way it used to be— as well as the spirit of the Dairy Fest revival.
On June 9, a highlight for yours truly was meeting the assemblyman who serves the district that includes Meredith Township, namely Brian D. Miller, NYS Assemblyman for the 101st District. Miller wanted to know what he could do to help local communities, and specifically, within that framework, how could he help the dairy industry. Fortunately, Miller has a dairy farm background, having lived and worked on one in Oneida County as a boy. So his empathy skills related to the difficult times now experienced by dairy farmers were well-honed. I told Brian that the biggest problem facing the dairy industry currently, in my opinion, was its failure to rein in overproduction. I told him that each one percent excess supply of milk results in two percent reduction in farm gate milk price; I qualified that statement, saying that it was an oversimplification, but he said he understood what I was saying. Brian gave me about a half hour of his time. I told him that one thing that the dairy consumer really wants is local dairy products… that local may be more important than organic is her/his mind. I promised to send him a copy of the milk carton label I brought back from Switzerland, a label which sings the praises of their local dairying.
A couple weeks after the Fest, I mailed the assemblyman the Swiss label, as well as a copy of the column I wrote last November dealing with Swiss agriculture. I told him that some of us would like to meet with him again in the near future. The last week of July his legislative aide, Karri Tibbitts, called me to make an appointment with myself and Miller in Delaware County for Aug. 31. I could invite whomever I felt would contribute to a forum that in effect would be a mini town hall meeting. So we met as planned at the Crossroads Diner in Delhi at noon. I invited John Janiszewski, owner of Wildflower Farm (also elected Meredith town councilman), plus Jim Ellis (Meredith Town Supervisor). Ms. Tibbitts took notes.
Here are some of the points we discussed: John stressed that the spirit of the local farmer needs to be harvested and advertised; also that the organic dairy industry is not doing as well as predicted. I pointed out that much of that problem is due to the fact that a lot of organic milk of questionable integrity is being imported from as far away as Texas and Colorado, undercutting prices paid to Northeast dairymen. Jim pointed out that there is an issue that schools do not offer 2 percent or whole milk and that contracts for schools need to be revisited to make sure they are using local milk; he said 1 percent and skim milk really doesn’t taste good to kids. Brian pointed out his own concern with milk identity issues, namely the illegitimacy of the terms “almond milk” and “soy milk”. We all agreed that products made in the New York City Watershed should be allowed to be sold to the Metro area and New York City School districts.
We closed the meeting, agreeing to reconvene with representatives from Delaware County SWCD, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Industrial Development Agency, Chamber of Commerce, New York State Ag and Markets, and the Watershed Ag Council. We will come together to discuss agriculture concerns. Assemblyman Miller promises to be present for that meeting.