July 8, 2009

Tracking the Meltdown: Sweating the Small Stuff [updated]

The big economic news is all over the place—lately the truly dire unemployment figures which have administration officials suddenly hemming and hawing instead of bragging about “green shoots.”

But the unfolding depression is making its mark in a thousand pinpricks of pain as well. A newspaper that will flesh this point out a bit just rose to the top of one of the piles here at Casa FotM. It’s an issue from last month of The Millbrook Independent—a six page weekly whose masthead proclaims “Serving Millbrook and Stanfordville and the Greater Millbrook Region” in Dutchess County, New York.

Along with coverage of wetlands regulations and high school math scores were two articles that illuminated unexpected aspects of the crunch.

One, on the front page, plugged a new “state of the art” storage facility opening in a former bowling alley in Mabbetsville. It struck me as perhaps an unfortunate business to be starting in this climate, but the owner had a quote which led me to reconsider: “With the huge advent of home offices, people now need to store what was once in that room.”

And damned if the NYC exurbs aren’t fuller than ever of folks freelancing after losing their jobs. And one woman of my acquaintance is working most of the week at home on the computer for the big name financial firm she used to commute to every day.

The other story in The Millbrook Independent, on page 5, celebrated a local dairy cow, judged the #2 Holstein in the US. The owner, Stephen Van Tassell, explained that this ranking had permitted him to keep the farm’s finances above water by the sale of Sheray’s embryos. Otherwise things didn’t look so good with bulk milk selling for $11.70 a hundredweight “about as low as it’s been in the past, but our costs are higher, around $19 cwt, so the damage is greater.”

Even more significant, this little seven paragraph piece includes striking evidence of neoliberalism’s effects on US agriculture, combined with the impact of the contraction of global trade since the credit crisis broke:

What happened to getting milk prices pegged to regional production costs?

"It’s gone exactly the other way,” Stephen explained. “Now our prices are based on national and international supply and demand. Last year, we [the American dairy industry] exported about 15 percent of our US production. This year we are down to two or three percent. China seems to be importing less."


A whole other angle on this from my sweetie, Dody. She points out in Cornwall, CT, the nearby small town where she lives, there are now three small dairies which pasture their cows year round and bottle their own milk—two selling raw milk and one pasteurized but not homogenized—and all three are doing well. One guy I know with a largely Jersey herd mentioned that demand for his milk was so great that that he was 20 gallons short on a store order last week.

This may be one of the positive effects of the crisis—accelerating the trend of people turning to healthier, locally-produced foods, including stuff they raise themselves, and in doing so, making smaller scale, environmentally sound agriculture economically feasible again

1 comment:

Prairiefyre said...

Would love to get my hands on some of that unpasteurized or raw milk!

People are also going back to gardening. Next year, we hope to have chickens.