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The Elusive Butter and Cream

04.26.11

Butter. It’s an important ingredient in my house, and I’ve long wondered why no small local producer made it. But I’ve now found it, and now know why it’s not done.

Strangely, I discovered it in a board meeting – Sharon Johnson sitting in on a recent Alberta Farmers’ Market Association meeting, mentioned that she had dairy cows and sold butter and cream at the Salisbury Farmers’ Market [Thursdays, Sherwood Park]. My jaw probably dropped. I promised her I’d see her at her next market day.

The why? Turns out big-dairy isn’t fond of small producers. They’ve tried to shut down Johnson Family Farm‘s dairy production before. I’m going to avoid the details as I don’t want to misrepresent them in a situation like this, but the crux of it is the law allows them to produce X amount of dairy legally, much to big-dairy’s chagrin. The problem for other producers doing the same is it’s a choice to play with fire. Legal fire where you’re out monied – and where it’s not so much about being right as who’s got deeper pockets. Not a new story in agriculture.

I’m so grateful there are folks willing to stand up in this kind of situation and fulfill their right to produce good food. Both their butter and cream are lovely, and I, for one, will be a loyal customer.

15 Responses

  1. Yes, Butter.
    Where’s the good butter. I often asked that when roaming markets. Now I know.
    Strange really, that conglomerates would not let smaller producers work away. I doubt that their market share would ever exceed 2% of overall dairy market.

  2. yyc says:

    TCH – 2% is still a lot to a soulless corporation who’s greedy profit driven motives see that as a danger to their overall bottom line. Sad, but true,

    Kev – thanks for highlighting an issue i know a lot of people have been wondering about. I’ve been dying for local butter and high fat cream – do you know if they either CSA, or have Edmonton deliveries? Or do i have to make that drive on Thursday? :)

  3. Dulcie says:

    Wow, I had no idea! Thanks for the post. I have been enjoying the dairy (whole milk, heavy cream and butter) available from the Good Food Box, but I love to have options.

  4. Emily says:

    After battling it out with my cream separator all week, I’m thinking; I know why there is not more farm fresh butter available. How much are they charging for cream and butter? I would like to make all of our own butter. I have a hard time getting all the buttermilk out. I need to start using the mixer and not my hands or wood paddles.

  5. Thea says:

    I recently wrote to Alberta Milk, telling them I want nothing more to do with them, as much as possible (I had found my way onto their mail out list because I am a dietitian by vocation. I told them that I dont believe they support small producers, and that milk in Alberta (from the supermarkets) is insipid. I did say that I recognise the role of regulation, but I believe that it can be done better. I’m going to give you a few excerpts from the 2 page reply I got from Mike Southwood, the General Manager: (i’ll hold back on my rebuttals, tempting though it is to rant!)
    “Clarify misconceptions you have about dairy farming in our province”
    “the average dairy farm has 130 cows”
    “Many are currently transitioning to bring their adult children into the operation to ensure their business stays in the family in the future”
    Achievements cited:
    “development of Organic milk production” (2 sites for processing: edmonton and vital greens)
    “Sylvan Star cheese”
    “Mother Dairy, ethnic south asian cheeses”
    “Latin foods in edmonton”
    “Tiras Dairy in Camrose” -

    Quota system: “to suggest that the quota system prevents smaller scale farms from being unsuccessful is not true. “as well your reference to industrail farms is confusing. Our members have family farms of a variety of sizes”

    About Slow Food “We believe there are dairy products produced in alberta that fit the mantra of good, clean and fair” “Within our system all producers recieve the same price for the components of milk they produce” —– that is equitable, how? Wheres the incentive to exlore and create a better farms?

    He then goes on to warn me against accessing raw milk. “the invesigations of the Regulatory Services Department continue to show that the milk from these operations would not meet the Slow Food Movements requirement of good and clean. (Oh really, Mr Southwood? Would you also care to mention the 2008 study that showed that 54% of main-stream cow herds carry bovine tuberculosis which is a cause of Chrons disease in humans?)

    If anyone wants to see the whole letter, I can email a scan.

    So – kevin – I’m glad to see that I can finally get butter & cream at a farmers market – it’s been the main gap in farmers market offerings. But why no milk???? I’ll have to go visit.
    And if someone would like to comment more about quotas, that would be great. I’ve heard about quotas from more than a couple small farmers, and farming families, and I havnt heard much to convince me that its a system in favour of anything but big farming business. All the stories have been pretty emotional, actually,a nd involve references to big $$$. Kevin, maybe you could put together a peice that is more arms-length?

  6. Greg says:

    Yep, it’s all part of the same fight, to slam the brakes on Big. The best thing is a small-scale (their definition of small, aka big enough) producer who has enough customers, and who then helps others get started likewise.

    Resist, insist and persist. It’s all so precarious right now and needs positive, widespread support like crazy. But also savour and celebrate those “alternatives” when you find them!

  7. I think I will adopt Greg’s mantra as my own. Resist, insist and persist! Thea – I would love a scanned copy of that letter. Bravo to you for writing it. I would love to do the same. Kevin, wonderful find. Thank you for sharing this. I crave this kind of find. WIsh the location was more accessible or on a Saturday.
    :)
    Valerie

  8. As usual, the manager misses the point…and perhaps we do too. The big business is Alberta Milk itself! He takes so much pride in the fact that his members are small(ish) family farms. By the way 130 milking cows is NOT SMALL. The organization itself creates the “drone family factory farm” where you are nothing more than a franchisee to the corporate mother. No choices on marketing your product as your own. No ability to produce niche products such as raw milk and cream. No opportunity to connect with the customer directly.

    This is the same thing that is currently causing the pending collapse of the hog industry. Alberta Milk controls the amount of milk you can produce based on how much financing you can afford then it gives you one choice to sell your milk for the one price that is dictated. Willing to bet it works out great for Alberta Milk coffers and the paychecks of management! As usual, it doesn’t work out so well for the consumer.

  9. Karlynn says:

    Oh, local butter and higher fat cream? Wonderful. I can do without the milk, for various reasons, the main one being I truly don’t think cow milk is healthy for mass human drinking consumption, but butter and higher fat cream for baking? Yup. Mmm. I was just shaking my fist at the sky the other day cursing the lack of higher fat creams available, WHAT fantastic timing.

  10. Isabelle says:

    When I first moved here I wondered the same thing – good to know why. I found out about Johnson’s family farm a while back when they were at one of the Churchill Square Christmas markets, and I agree their butter is delicious! If my husband could eat more dairy I’d buy it all the time!

  11. Addie says:

    Very interesting that big dairy is trying to shut down local competition. How come local cheese (Smokey Valley, Sylvan for e.g.) manage to start up more easily?

    Thanks for the spotlight on local cream/butter. Will try it out next time

  12. Johnson Family Farm says:

    Thanks for all the kind words of encouragement. We would love to speak to you all unfortunately we have to do it in person. Due to the sensitivity of the issues. We attend only the Salisbury market on Thursday 4:30 – 8 pm. It’s a lovely short drive from Edmonton, we drive 2.5 hrs to get to market.

  13. mkyeg says:

    This has little or nothing to do with the “soulless corporations” that yyc mentioned, or “big dairy” and everything to do with the national supply management system developed 40 years ago. It exists mainly to provide support to Ontario and Quebec producers, but its quota system has the effect of entrenching existing producers, limiting supply for new manufacturers (just try getting a fat quota to start ice cream production), and limiting both exports and imports, which restricts consumer choice. On the upside, it provides price certainty and stability for producers, and guarantees them a market, and through centralized processing it’s achieved public health benefits and quality control (at the expense of diverse product). Personally, I’d like to see more space carved out for niche producers, because if the supply management system was blown up I think most Canadian producers would go out of business, and cheaper imported milk and fat would come to dominate the market.

  14. yyc says:

    “Centralized processing” has very little to do with “public health benefits and quality control” that mkyeg mentions… and my comment about soulless corporations has nothing to do with profit-driven, publicly traded companies – i lump Dairy Boards and other monopolistic exercises in the same category.

  15. Jeanette says:

    Just stumbled on your blog through a article from Alberta Milk against Johnson’s farm. We are dairy farmers of about 90 cows and I just wish, wish, wish we could dairy without the quota system! They are a corporate monopoly! We are stuck in the boat of having bought a million dollars worth of quota which will take our life time to pay off and we are bombarded with rules rules and more rules and the farmer just has to swallow all of it or he is out of business. I would love to be able to market our own milk, eggs, chicken etc without all the quota costs and make an honest living. We try to raise our animals without any antibiotics, etc, but don’t want to go certified organic because of all the cost of certification and again government coming in and sticking their nose in all, and I mean ALL of our private business, whereas we have no problem being honest to our consumers!

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