How Tom Colicchio And Dan Barber Are Trying To Save The Dairy Industry

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.

But it's not just the loss of the Horizon Organic contracts that is causing concern among dairy farmers in the Northeast. The organic dairy company Maple Hill Creamery followed suit last year, severing contracts with 46 organic farms in New York, according to the Associated Press. Both companies are dropping the smaller operations in favor of moving towards sourcing the majority of their milk from larger organic dairy farms out west, whose massive operations enable them to sell the milk at a lower price. The New York Times explains that one of these "mega-organic dairy farms," Aurora Organic, has 27,000 cows split between four farms in Texas and Colorado — roughly the same amount of cows on 500 of the smaller Northeastern farms.

Without the resources to compete, many of these farms have little hope for the future and are worried they will be forced to close. But chefs Dan Barber and Tom Colicchio are on a mission to save them.

A new farm partnership (and the chefs that support it) is trying to rescue family farms

In response to the plight of these small dairy farms — many of which have existed for generations — a new partnership has been established in order to drive business to the farmers who have lost a major source of income after their contracts with Horizon Organic and Maple Hill Creamery were severed. That initiative is called the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership (NOFFP), and, according to its official website, the plan is to ask households to pledge to commit to buying at least ¼ of their dairy products from brands that purchase milk from these at-risk dairies. NOFFP's founder and chair is Gary Hirshberg, the co-founder and former CEO of another popular dairy brand, Stonyfield Farm, which has committed to increasing the amount of milk it purchases from these Northeastern farmers (via Associated Press).

And the initiative is receiving additional support from respected New York chefs Tom Colicchio and Dan Barber, according to a press release. Colicchio, the chef and owner of Craft restaurants who's noted for his role as judge on "Top Chef," and Barber, chef and owner of the farm-to-table Blue Hill restaurants, have pledged to purchase a full 50% of the dairy used at their four New York restaurants from these struggling farms.

The chefs hope that more restaurants will follow suit

NOFFP is seeking support for its initiative from both families who purchase dairy for home use as well as from larger businesses such as restaurants. According to the press release, if New Yorkers bought just one extra pint of milk worth of regionally produced organic dairy per week, this would equal the entire output of the 135 endangered farms.

Larger organizations are joining in, too, with the Food Co-op Association (NFCA), a group of more than 45 food co-ops and start-ups with a combined membership of more than 160,000 people across New England and New York State, announcing that it will be the first retail organization to join the NOFFP.

So far, Tom Colicchio and Dan Barber are the first chefs to sign on to NOFFP's initiative, but according to the statement, they hope more restaurants in the Northeast will follow, helping to save the nearby dairy farms that have serviced the industry for generations.