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Milk Money

Cash, Cows, and the Death of the American Dairy Farm

Kardashian, Kirk

Publication Year: 2012

The failing economics of the traditional small dairy farm, the rise of the factory mega-farm with its resultant pollution and disease, and the uncertain future of milk There’s something un-American and illogical about a market system where the price of a product bears no relation to the cost of its inputs. Yet we have lived with such a scheme in the dairy industry for decades: retail milk prices have stayed the same, while milk prices paid to farmers have plummeted. The dairy business is at the heart of the culture and economy of Vermont, just as it is of many other states. That fact meant little to Kirk Kardashian until he started taking his daughter to daycare at a dairy farm a few miles from his Vermont home—a farm owned by the same family for generations, but whose owners were now struggling to make ends meet. Suddenly, the abstractions of economics and commodities markets were replaced by the flesh and blood of a farm family whom he greeted every day. In the tradition of Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, Kardashian asks whether it is right that family farmers in America should toil so hard, produce a food so wholesome and so popular, and still lose money. This gripping investigation uncovers the hidden forces behind dairy farm consolidation, and explains why milk—a staple commodity subject to both government oversight and industry collusion—has proven so tricky to stabilize. Meanwhile, every year we continue to lose scores of small dairy farms. With passion, wit, and humor, Milk Money shows where we are now, how we got here, and where we might be going.

Published by: University of New Hampshire Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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p. v-v

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pp. vii-xi

Vermont’s early agricultural history was dominated by the farming of sheep, for the mills of New England required wool for spinning and weaving. But by the middle of the nineteenth century, sheep and wool production was on the decline, and Vermont’s fertile valleys and pasture-rich hills made the state an ideal ...

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pp. xiii-xv

I wrote this book because of an irksome incongruity. In the spring of 2009 I was driving my daughter eight miles every morning to daycare, and on the way I would listen to Morning Edition and the local news on Vermont Public Radio. Almost every day, it seemed, there was one story or another on the

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1. Down and Out on the Farm

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pp. 1-28

He never thought it would come to this. “Are you Robert Simpson?” asked deputy sheriff Carrie McCool. “Yes.” “Did you bounce two checks to Feed Commodities, Mr. Simpson?” “Yes.” “Put your hands behind your back, sir. I need to ...

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2. The First Dairy Farmers

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pp. 29-38

A young woman in Bavaria is digging in the dirt. It is a cool, cloudy day in the fall of 2010. Around her stretches the lush, rolling farmland of southeastern Germany: freshly cut hay fields dotted with white plastic hay bales. She takes a break, looks up, and notes the serenity in the air. Big, yellow earth-moving excavators ...

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3. The Control of American Milk

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pp. 39-68

In 1769, Philip Ranney’s great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather, Benjamin Ranney, cleared a few rocky acres from a plot of rolling hillside in the southern Vermont hamlet of Westminster West. This makes Philip, a lanky, loquacious thirty-one-year-old with reddish blond hair, the seventh generation ...

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4. Milk Gone Wild

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pp. 69-102

The American dairy industry is a sprawling, $150 billion per year business, with reams of statistics, charts, and graphs plotting every data point imaginable. Out of that noise, two signals rise to the surface: milk price and supply. They are closely related, of course, but treated very differently. Think of the ...

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5. The Environment [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 103-129

Tom Frantz is surrounded by milk, but you won’t find any in his refrigerator. “I’ve been suing and fighting this industry,” he says. “I’m not about to support it.” A retired high school math teacher, Frantz is tall and laid-back, with frizzy gray hair, a mustache, and tinted square glasses. He lives ...

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6. The Workers

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pp. 131-158

Early one morning in the spring of 2009, Jose Obeth Santiz Cruz awoke and dressed for the biggest adventure of his life. A fresh-faced nineteen-year-old with boyish Mayan features, he was born in San Isidro, a small town of lush hills in southwestern Mexico in the state of Chiapas, just a few miles from the Pacific coast. For a long time, the people of San Isidro grew and sold coffee ...

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7. The Animals

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pp. 159-184

If you’re like most Americans, there’s a space in your brain reserved for the image of a dairy farm. You might not realize it, but there’s a battle raging for control of that space. In one corner is the animal rights movement, which wants you to picture pain and cruelty when you think of a dairy farm. In the other ...

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8. Monopoly Money

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pp. 185-208

On a sunny day in mid-September 2009, during the depths of the dairy crisis of that year, hundreds of dairy farmers streamed into the city gymnasium in St. Albans, Vermont, to see a show. They came, young and old, weathered and ruddy, and sat down in folding chairs lined up on the polyurethaned ...

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9. Grass-Fed, Free-Range, Streamline Baby

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pp. 209-230

Nobody knows when the last small dairy farm will milk its last cow; when the kinetics of consolidation and ruthless efficiency will defeat the inertia of tradition and community; when the worship of the Cheap will finally overtake our allegiance to the Good. Given the rate of farm loss in states like ...

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pp. 231-232

I first uttered my idea for this book to my friend Tom Zoellner on a quiet evening on the Dartmouth quad. An author himself, he paid no mind to the fact that I’d never before written a book. Instead he talked me through it, gave me encouragement and technical advice, ...


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pp. 233-237


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pp. 239-242


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pp. 243-253

E-ISBN-13: 9781611683400
E-ISBN-10: 1611683408
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611680270
Print-ISBN-10: 1611680271

Page Count: 278
Illustrations: 10 illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Dairying -- Economic aspects -- United States.
  • Dairy farmers -- United States.
  • Dairy farming -- Economic aspects -- United States.
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