A Shelburne dairy farm that a few weeks ago was teetering on the financial edge has gotten a reprieve thanks to crowd sourcing that has pulled in more than $32,000 since mid-February.
The Guillemette farm’s 300 or so Holsteins now should have enough to eat until springtime brings a fresh crop of grass to their pastures.
For 71 years, the Guillemette family has run a dairy farm at the corner of Pond Road and Vermont Route 116. Weather conditions in 2018 left the farm short on hay and corn to stockpile for winter feed, which led to the appeal.
The campaign went live on Feb. 17 with a goal of $30,000 to cover the cost of corn and hay silage to keep the dairy cows fed through winter. From near and far, 439 donors have kicked in with contributions ranging from $5 to $1,000. Coupled with a “cow cudda” Calcutta-style fundraiser in March, the total as of Wednesday stood at $32,466.
“It’s been very humbling and overwhelming to see everyone’s kindness and generosity,” said farmer Bernie Guillemette on Wednesday. He spoke to
Shelburne News from the hospital where he was being treated for an eye injury he suffered on Tuesday.
The campaign was set up by his daughter Jessica Guillemette. Bernie along with his son Kyle runs the farm. Jessica told the story in the good-natured but serious voice of “spokes cow” No. 582, referring to the animal’s numbered ear tag.
“We absolutely love it here where Bernie, Kyle, and their family take such good care of us. We are moved, handled, milked and fed with the upmost respect,” No. 582 said.
“There was a stranger in our barn the other day… we could overhear them talking about our value, with the milk prices as poor as they are,” the story explains. “They also were talking about BEEF…yeah BEEF. That would mean myself and my friends would be faced with a career change from happy cows to Happy Meals. That idea deeply saddens us and our owners as we are all family. They would do anything for us and that’s why we have started this go fund me.”
The campaign points out dairy’s role in Vermont’s heritage and how many people know a farmer or may have worked on a farm themselves to appreciate how much work it takes to operate a farm.
The spokes cow’s story explains that feed would cost approximately $200 per day through the end of May: “We have the wheels to get the meals, we just need help raising money to purchase it.”
Now with funds coming in, Guillemette has been making those purchases and filling his storage containers over the past few weeks.
The Guillemette’s struggle is not unique. With milk prices paid to farmers hovering at levels comparable to 1984, Vermont dairy farms are in steady decline.
According to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, Vermont in 2010 had 1,015 working dairy farms. That figure has dropped each year with 725 in operation in 2018. As of the end of March, the state counts just 697 dairy farms.
In the online appeal, the Guillemettes acknowledge the trend: “This truly saddens our family to see so many go. We are a third-generation farm and hope to continue for many more generations.”
As this local struggle plays out, the state just this week convened a dairy farming summit to address ways to stabilize dairy farming. Vermont Agriculture Commissioner Anson Tebbetts said it will take the state, Congress, consumers and farmers working together to solve “this mammoth problem with international roots.”
Tebbetts said farmers are “trapped in an antiquated federal dairy pricing system” that the summit couldn’t affect. The focus instead was to examine ways farmers could make their businesses more resilient and responsive to markets including looking at ways to diversify, improve production, and collaborate.
And while donating to a local farmer certainly is a help, Tebbetts pointed out that consumers can make a difference at the grocery store.
“As we shift to a new economic paradigm for dairy, all Vermonters can help by buying locally made dairy products or stopping by their farm to say you support the work they do,” Tebetts said. “You can help by buying Vermont products that your neighbor produced.”
The GoFundMe fundraiser is online at gofundme.com/dairy-farm-in-need-of-feed.