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Locals speak out on plight of six local dairy farms

Kathy Daley - Reporter/Photographer
Posted 5/31/18

The news that six western Sullivan County farms will lose their contracts with a milk processor as of June 30 has touched a nerve with many people.

The farms under siege are the Dan Peters Farm …

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Locals speak out on plight of six local dairy farms


The news that six western Sullivan County farms will lose their contracts with a milk processor as of June 30 has touched a nerve with many people.

The farms under siege are the Dan Peters Farm in North Branch, Kays' Farm in Callicoon, two Diehl farms in Callicoon, Weissman Farm in Callicoon Center and Myers Century Farm in Jeffersonville. Within a month, they will be without income and some will have to consider selling their cows, they have said.

“There has been huge interest” in the farmers' plight after a May 25 story appeared on these pages, said Dawn Erlwein of the Myers farm.

Concerned friends and others have been stopping at the farms to offer their support.

Jerry Davitt of Youngsville, friend of both the Erlweins and Robert and Linda Kays, showed up at both farms over this past weekend.

“I feel so bad for the farmers,” said Davitt, who grew up on a farm and later enjoyed a long career teaching fifth and sixth grade science at the Jeff-Youngsville School.

“This affects everybody,” said Davitt, also a former basketball and baseball coach. “Somehow we have to find somebody to take the farmers' milk. As a community, we have to push politicians to take action and we need to back the farmers all the way.”

Other locals were glad to weigh in with perspective and suggestions.

North Branch-based dressmaker Peg Geisel said she has gotten to know local farmers by repairing their work coats and jeans. Often, farmers pay her with a crate of apples or a bushel of vegetables instead of cash.

“They are giving me their handiwork, and I give them mine,” said Geisel. “That's more important than money.

“These are people who work hard, and, with everything they have to know, farmers have to be scientists, carpenters, mechanics, veterinarians, accountants,” said Geisel. “And there's a deep respect there for a higher power because they have to depend on something they have no control over.”

Jim Hughson of J. Hughson Excavating and Jeff Sanitation sounded off on the role that Walmart plays in the farmers' dilemma. One hundred farms in eight states are in desperate straits due to the multinational retail corporation's decision to terminate their milk contracts and open its own $165 million milk processing facility. While Sullivan County farms were not directly affected, the nationwide surplus of milk worsened with the Walmart move, affecting the fate of the six farms.

“Walmart always puts out the little guys,” said Hughson, shaking his head, “and last year, Walmart made $40 billion in profit.”

Tim Corcoran of Samba Cafe and Inn in Jeffersonville said he would offer his restaurant as a meeting place for brainstorming ideas for the farmers' short-term and long-term needs.

Corcoran pointed to New York State's Start-Up program that offers huge grants to new businesses that partner with SUNY colleges. A new plant that processes the farmers' milk into butter, cream and buttermilk would be one idea, he said.

Meanwhile, the six farm families met last week in the office of Jeff Bank Vice President Tanya Hahn in order to brainstorm. Invited for his expertise and ideas was dairy farmer Bob Franklin of Bethel Creamery in Swan Lake, whose 40 cows offer the only kosher organic milk on the market.

At the farm, Franklin also processes his cows' milk into yogurt and plans to begin making cheese. He does not sell in local stores so as to avoid competing with farmers like Tim and Mary Tonjes of Callicoon. Rather, his customers hail from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Rockland County and Orange County.

“These six farms cannot go out of business,” said Franklin. He noted that in his 40 years in Sullivan County, he has enjoyed the assistance in ideas and manpower of every other farmer here.

“This is a farming community that transcends culture, race, religion,” Franklin said. “It is such a binding community.”

Hahn agreed. She and her husband Andy and their son Mike operate Hilly Acres Farm in Jeffersonville, where they specialize in beef and pork.

“All of us in agriculture have to stick together,” Hahn said. “When one factor is in trouble, others have to come and support them.”

First step is that the six farms “work diligently to find another milk contractor,” which they are doing, she said.

Then they can concentrate on long-term solutions, such as their own milk processing plant. Cornell Cooperative Extension is heading an effort to seek viable options for the farmers.

“And citizens can get the word out to politicians who don't want to address a broken system,” Hahn said. “What is happening here is happening to farmers throughout our country.”

Following are phone numbers for the offices of U.S. and state officials: U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, 202-224-6542; U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, 202-224-4451; U.S. Representative John Faso, 202-225-5614; State Senator John Bonacic, 845-344-3311; State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, 845-794-5807.


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