From Dream to Reality: Milk with Dignity Breaks Ground on over 70 Dairy Farms in Vermont and New York

“Milk with Dignity has been the dream of farmworkers in Vermont for many years. It’s a path forward for us to have our voices recognized and to have our rights and dignity recognized,” proclaimed Vermont farmworker spokesperson Enrique Balcazar at a jubilant press conference last week announcing the progress of this new worker-driven social responsibility program.  

After years of negotiations culminated in an agreement between Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry’s last October, all farmers in Ben & Jerry’s Northeast dairy supply chain are now required to join the Milk with Dignity (MD) Program. But what does this mean on the ground for workers, farmers and consumers?

The MD Program is proving to be exactly what workers predicted--a win-win-win for farmworkers, farmers, and consumers.  

As Vermont Public Radio’s recent coverage of the MD Program success story captures:

“Times are tough on dairy farms around the country, with milk prices declining for the fourth year in a row. But 72 farms that supply Ben & Jerry’s earn a little more by agreeing to follow labor and housing standards.”

Balcazar explains the logic, “dairy workers designed a program that not only protects our own rights and gives us a permanent and protected voice at the table but also enlists the resources of dairy buyers like Ben & Jerry’s to pay participating farmers a better price for milk to recognize and support their commitment to uphold workers’ rights.”

As the MD Program rolls out, farmworkers and farmers have begun to access its unique problem-solving approach, which ensures that worker’s rights are protected. Strict enforcement against retaliation and protection from firing without “just cause” ensures more open communication and dialogue.  Adonai, a worker on a Milk with Dignity farm explains his experience:

“Now we can sit down with the boss and have a dialog, we have the right to speak up when something’s not right.  The owners are much more attentive than before. We have a new refrigerator and new stove, they patched up the holes in the floor, and we have a couch now. Before we just sat on wooden benches.  The boss already was conscientious and open-minded, but I don’t think he would have made these improvements if it weren’t for Milk with Dignity. The program’s been great for us, and I think it’s been good for the bosses, too.  We’re all benefiting."

Ben & Jerry’s is seeing the benefits as well.  As a company spokesperson explained at a joint news conference last week:

“[I]t behooved us to join this program as our vision for the future for dairy in Vermont is that all of our dairy comes from farms which support thriving livelihoods for farmworkers and farmers.”

The story of Milk with Dignity’s successful implementation has become national news!  Check out this radio piece produced by Vermont Public Radio, this article by the Associated Press that was picked up by papers around the country -- from the LA Times to the Washington Post -- and this regional TV spot. Please share these articles and help us spread the good news: farmworkers, farmers, and consumers all have something to celebrate and build upon this summer, thanks to Vermont dairy worker’s Milk with Dignity Program.

Ultimately, credit for the design, implementation, and success of the Milk with Dignity Program goes to Vermont dairy workers, who are now beginning to harvest the fruits of their labor.

For more information, check out the new MD Program page at the Migrant Justice website.