WMUR: "Organic dairy farms in Northeast [benefit from] $1.2 million grant"

February 1, 2024


More than $1 million is coming to revitalize dairy farms in the Northeast as part of an effort to boost an industry that took a major economic hit several years ago.

Hy-Gait Dairy Farm in Newport has been in the organic business for 10 years. They have felt the economic crunch in recent years, but remain steadfast on the benefits of their organic products..."

Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership Announces $1.2 Million in Funding to Strengthen Organic Dairy Sector

January 26, 2024

Concord, NH – January 26, 2024 – The Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership (NOFFP) has been awarded a $640,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and will use an additional $639,000 in matching funds from business, non-profits, and other sponsors for a groundbreaking initiative aimed at revitalizing the Northeast organic dairy sector.

The USDA grant, titled "Northeast Organic Dairy Market Development: Strengthening Consumer and Institutional Demand for Local Organic Dairy Products," will support the NOFFP's efforts to address the economic challenges faced by small and mid-sized family farms in the region.

The matching funds from partners including Stonyfield Farm, CROPP/Organic Valley, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association, and other sponsors, aims to address the critical challenges faced by the organic dairy sector in the Northeast.

The NOFFP was established in response to the 2021 contract terminations that left over 150 farms in New York, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont in distress. Led by Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Co-Founder, and fiscally managed by the Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association, the NOFFP brings together consumers, dairy processors, retailers, and institutions in a unique partnership to increase awareness and demand for products created with Northeast-produced organic milk.

The work funded by the grant will focus on increasing the participation of retailers and institutions promoting local organic dairy, improving market opportunities for small and medium processors, educating young consumers about the benefits of organic dairy, and introducing new products to meet institutional demand. Small and mid-sized farmer processors, large buyers of organic milk, family farmers, and consumers are among the intended beneficiaries.

“The Northeast Organic Dairy Market Development project is poised to boost consumer and institutional demand for local organic dairy products in the Northeast,” says Hirshberg. “With a strategic focus on retail partnerships, product innovation, and marketing campaigns, our work will benefit over 280 organic family farms and 20 small and medium processors, contributing to the sustainable development of the Northeast organic dairy sector.”

The grant-funded project will focus on three key goals over a three-year period:

  • Increase Grocery Retail Partners: Expand the NOFFP Retail Partner Program to attract and onboard food co-ops, independent grocers, and large-chain supermarkets committed to promoting and selling organic dairy from the Northeast. This includes creating enhanced marketing materials, increased staff support, and establishing a food co-op peer group for sharing best merchandising practices.
  • Develop a Marketing Campaign: Hire brand and marketing consultants to create new strategies across consumer, retail, student, and food service audiences. This includes POS marketing, social media, influencer engagement, program pitches for supermarkets and institutions, and targeted messaging for retailers and consumers throughout the Northeast.
  • Facilitate Product Innovation for Bulk Organic Dairy: Collaborate with regional farm-to-institution partners to increase the number of colleges, K-12s, and hospitals buying Northeast organic milk. Strengthen relationships between buyers, distributors, and processors to introduce bulk formats for organic yogurt, cheese, and fluid milk in response to institutional buyer demands.

Sub-awardees in the project include the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), the Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association (MOFGA), and the Neighboring Food Coop Association (NFCA).

"This USDA grant to strengthen consumer and institutional demand for local organic dairy products will have a big impact on the entire Northeast region as we work to create new markets and opportunities for organic dairy farms,” says Olga Moriarty, NOFFP Executive Director. “Organic dairy is a critical part of the Northeast farming economy, and we hope to build on our success by partnering with more colleges, schools, and retail locations to source local organic milk."

The organic dairy sector in the Northeast has been grappling with substantial challenges, exacerbated by consecutive crises. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 disrupted markets, and in 2022, contract terminations further compounded the struggles. Vermont witnessed the closure of 62 organic dairies between January 2020 and August 2023. Contributing factors include competition with larger farms in the Midwest and Southwest, benefiting from lower production costs, and challenges in the Western region due to severe drought conditions caused by climate change.

Economic pressures, including inflation, the Ukraine war affecting the world's organic feed supply, trade disputes in India, increased transportation costs, labor shortages, and extreme weather events like the 2022 drought and 2023 flooding, have pushed the cost of producing Northeast organic milk to a breaking point. Losing additional farms poses severe economic repercussions for rural communities, potential loss of vital ecosystem services, and increased reliance on products from distant farms, leading to longer and more complex supply chains.

Maine Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Amanda Beal explains: "We recognize that key priorities for the Northeast dairy economy include market expansion and product innovation that unlocks new sourcing opportunities. This project will help broaden existing channels and create new outlets for dairy products, specifically institutional markets that have historically been challenging to penetrate."

Laura Ginsburg, Dairy Development and Innovation Lead at Dairy Business Innovation Center (DBIC) adds, “The clear and evident need for organic products in institutional markets will be supported through this work. As markets grow for more organic dairy, the region’s farmers will benefit, thus creating a positive cycle of investment and production.”

"Organic dairy farms in Maine and the Northeast face intensifying challenges daily. Increasing the market share for Northeast organic dairy products by growing institutional market channels would greatly impact the demand for our products and, in turn, allow our farms to improve sustainability,” says dairy farmer Annie Watson of Sheepscot Valley Farm and the Maine Organic Milk Company. “An added educational component for consumers will, undoubtedly, contribute to the demand for our proven climate-friendly practices. Our dairies are the backbone of our rural communities, and our small organic family farms are a major contributor to our agricultural economy, representing one-third of the total dairy farms remaining in Maine.

Farm Progress: "Organic milk goes farm to school"

December 20, 2023

“Seeing a little kid fill up their cup with fresh, wholesome milk, provided by someone who is master of their craft, that feels so good,” says Harley Sterling, director of nutrition services for the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union. “It’s as wholesome as you can get. That’s really what this program is about.”

He’s talking about a pilot program that is serving up fresh, organic white and chocolate milk from Miller Farm in Vernon, Vt., to district school students. Instead of students getting a pint of white or chocolate milk to go with their lunch, schools have installed milk dispensers where students get a cup and fill up on milk as they please. The dispensers are filled with plastic bags of milk provided by Miller Farm...

The Commons: "Pilot program offers Windham Northeast students organic milk from Miller Farm"

September 27, 2023

WESTMINSTER — The opening of the 2023–24 school year brought great "moos" for hundreds of Vermont elementary and high school students in the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union: new organic milk dispensers in their cafeterias that will not only introduce them to the benefits and great taste of fresh organic milk, but also help the regional economy by providing milk sourced from a local certified organic dairy farm...

Progressive Grocer: "Hannaford 1st Major Supermarket to Join Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership"

September 21, 2023

Ahold Delhaize-owned Hannaford Supermarkets has become the first major supermarket chain to join an effort to support organic dairy farms facing challenges in New England and New York. The Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership came together in 2021 when cancellations of major supply contracts, impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and other economic factors created unprecedented pressure on organic dairy farms across the region...

WCAX: "Local Schools Bring Local Dairy to their Cafeterias"

September 20, 2023

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Windham Northeast Supervisory Union is partnering with a local dairy farm to provide organic milk to students in four schools. Pete Miller, or “Farmer Pete” as the students say, provides the milk in a dispenser. “It’s important to me that everybody, all the way from kids on, know where their food comes from,” said Miller. It’s part of a partnership between the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership, The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Miller, and WNESU to bring organic, local dairy to schools...


WCAX: "UVM Welcomes Back Cheese and Dairy Fest"

February 21, 2023

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - UVM dining officials say it was no struggle getting college kids to come get free treats, but they add it was a learning opportunity, too. With the help of the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership, Sodexo -- who handles food services at UVM -- has committed to increased use of local organic dairy and the event was a chance to connect students with the farmers and producers who make the products students eat every day...


VT Public: "Northeast organic dairy farmers are in crisis. More people buying local could help"

November 29, 2022

Organic dairy farmers are in crisis. Costs are way up for fuel, feed and fertilizer. And without matching increases in the pay price for milk, advocates, officials and farmers themselves are worried they might leave the industry altogether. A lot of those same people are trying to crack this problem, including one organization that wants to use consumer power to get more local organic dairy on supermarket shelves. Vermont Public’s Mary Williams Engisch spoke with digital producer Elodie Reed, who covers the dairy industry...

Progressive Grocer: "How 1 Company is Trying to Save Family Dairy Farms"

September 6, 2022

How acute is the plight of dairy farmers in the Northeast?  The situation was enough for Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and former CEO of Londonderry, N.H.-based Stonyfield Farm Inc., to return to the trenches. Hirshberg, whose fun title has been “chief organic optimist,” wanted to ensure that the glass of milk is indeed half full for the remaining dairy farmers in his part of the world...

WCAX TV: "Sodexo commits to increase organic dairy purchases from our region to support farms"

August 31, 2022

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A major supplier of food to large dining halls in our region just made a commitment to help save organic dairy farms in the area. It was Stonyfield Organic that worked to create the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership when Horizon Organic made its exit from the Northeast as a way to keep organic milk here in our regional food ecosystem. Now, enter Sodexo, which serves 37 colleges and universities in the Northeast region, including schools like UVM. The supplier has committed to incrementally doubling or tripling its purchasing of Northeast brands that come from area organic dairies...

VTDigger: "Partnership makes headway with expanding local organic milk market"

August 30, 2022

Butterworks Farm, a family-owned small dairy farm and creamery in Westfield, expects to increase its weekly sales to area colleges and universities roughly ten-fold this fall, thanks to a growing regional partnership between organic dairy farmers, processors and retailers. Sodexo — a global food management company that serves institutions across the country  — announced this month it will double and, for some accounts, triple its purchases of organic dairy brands that support New England’s family-owned organic farms...


Goop: "How to Support Family-Run Organic Dairy Farms in an Uncertain Future"

August 10, 2022

Small, organic family farms are built on connection to the land, participation in their communities, and commitment to the well-being of their animals and surrounding wildlife habitats. They also rely on business from food brands to package and sell their food...

Dairy Reporter: "‘Save Gen F’: Stonyfield Organic wants to help secure the future for family dairy farmers"

July 12, 2022

US dairy business Stonyfield Organic wants to support the next generation of organic family farmers through a new initiative, ‘Save Gen F’. DairyReporter caught up with Jason Johnson, Farmer Relationship Manager, to learn more about this effort...

Modern Farmer: "Can the Northeast’s Organic Dairy Farms Be Saved?"

April 4, 2022

More than 100 organic dairy farms abruptly lost their contracts last year. Six months later, they’re cautiously moving forward...

Organic Insider: "USDA Finally Passes Long-Overdue Origin of Livestock Rule, Small Organic Dairies are Still at Risk"

March 30, 2022

Last fall, we told you about the 89 small organic dairy farmers in the Northeast whose contracts were abruptly cut by Danone — and the subsequent 46 organic dairy farmers who were cut by Maple Hill Creamery. When the USDA was pressured by politicians and the industry to intervene and help save them, the primary message to the agency was — finalize the damn Origin of Livestock rule, a rule that governs how organic dairy operates and something that the organic industry has been fighting for since 2005...

Brattleboro Reformer: " Putney Food Co-op first retailer to join regional initiative in support of local organic dairy brands and farms"

March 17, 2022

PUTNEY — Putney Food Co-op is the first retailer to officially join the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership’s efforts to support local organic dairy brands and organic dairy farms. The partnership, launched earlier this year through the efforts of Stonyfield Organic co-founder Gary Hirshberg, hopes to encourage consumers to increase their weekly purchases of organic dairy brands with the goal of providing area dairy farms with the demand they need to remain financially viable...

Tasting Table: "How Tom Colicchio And Dan Barber Are Trying To Save The Dairy Industry"

March 17, 2022

If you buy milk in the U.S., you're likely familiar with the brand Horizon Organic, a certified organic producer of milk, cheese, and other dairy products. As explained by the New York Times, since its founding in 1991, the company has sourced its milk from a variety of small dairy producers, many located in the Northeastern United States. But what you might not know is that Horizon Organic became embroiled in a scandal starting last summer, when it announced it would be terminating contracts with 89 of these small-scale milk producers...

Yahoo Finance: "Stonyfield Co-Founder Launches Partnership to Help Organic Dairy Farms"

January 16, 2022

When Gary Hirshberg heard two major food corporations would pull their contracts with 135 small organic dairy farms in the Northeast, he knew something needed to be done. As co-founder of Stonyfield Organics, he always came to rely on small, family-run organic dairy farms. He knew the move would put many farms at risk of closing if they couldn't find alternative markets...

Channel 3 News Early Morning: "Partnership Launches"

January 14, 2022

AP News: "Consumers Asked to Support Northeast Organic Dairy Industry"

January 14, 2022

Northeast organic dairy companies are trying to recruit consumers to help strengthen the industry after news that 135 farms in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and New York will lose their milk contracts. An initiative announced Wednesday by Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of organic yogurt maker and dairy company Stonyfield, encourages consumers to sign a pledge to buy a quarter of their weekly dairy purchases from 35 brands...

Vermont Biz Magazine: "Partnership Launched to Save Organic Family Farms in the Northeast"

January 12, 2022

Partnership Invites Consumers to Pledge to Purchase One-Fourth of Weekly Dairy Purchases from Brands Committed to Increasing their Purchases from New England and Eastern NY Organic Family Farms in 2022. Photos courtesy Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership...



The Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership is an educational project affiliated with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, a 501(c)3 Charitable Non-Profit Organization. Our efforts to educate and build a region-wide commitment to helping to keep the northeast’s organic family farmers financially supported and viable depends completely on the generosity of our donors. All donations are tax deductible. Please donate whatever you can by clicking the button below.