Forging Local Connections
by Ralph J Rice

Light pierces the dark corners of the warm barn as the lantern is hung in the alley to illuminate the morning milking. Cows stir and stretch, rising from their warm beds of straw. Each family member retrieves his or her small wooden stool and the next sound you hear is the sweet morning music of milk streams hitting stainless steel pails.

The frothy buckets, filled to the brim, are dumped into a strainer sitting on a milk can. Filled cans are placed into a water cooler, where fresh water cascades over the outsides of the cans, cooling the rich warm milk. This milk will make a trip by truck to the Middlefield Original Cheese Co-op in Middlefield, Ohio, where it will be processed into cheese the same day, and marketed under the North East Pastures grass-fed cheese label.

Milking completed, the cows are turned out to fresh pasture. To make the best nutrition available to growing plants, the pasture grasses and clovers grow in well-balanced soils fed all-natural fertilizers and amendments based on soil testing recommendations by Midwestern Bio-Ag (www.midwesternbioag.com), headquartered in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. This bovine salad bar becomes rich wholesome milk filled with vitamins A and E, omega-3, beta carotene, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), and all the other benefits of a grass-fed product.

Cows lay in deep grass, chewing their cuds, basking in the warm sunshine, and enjoying the sweet music of song birds flittering in the farm lane. Soon enough it will be time for the evening milking, but for now they rest contented while producing grass-fed milk.

The group of small dairies banded together as North East Pastures are proud of their lush farm pastures, healthy stock, and great tasting cheeses. Their natural grass-fed cheeses are the finest in the area, produced under the watchful eyes of local farmers and a local cheesemaker and his skilled crew of craftsmen.

All small farmers struggle to keep our farms profitable. We must learn to think like the North East Pastures farmers and strive to create new markets by being innovative. We must constantly ask ourselves: What can I do different? Who can I partner with? Where can I direct-market my farm products? How can I cut out the middlemen?

Imagine for just a minute that you could sell one tomato to every person in your town, or a half a pig to every family in your church. Most of us would be hard pressed to supply a demand such as that, but what if we could? Those folks are buying their produce and meat somewhere, why not from you and like minded local farmers?

Think it through. Start a local grower’s market in the bank parking lot on Saturdays. Advertise with flyers, signs, and plain old word of mouth. Encourage participation and competition among growers. Once you create a market, connections made during the growing season will follow you all year. Your customers who buy fresh in-season produce during summer will count on you for their Halloween pumpkin, Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham, lean ground meat, maple syrup, and honey all season long while they wait patiently for more produce in the upcoming growing season.

Each of us growers needs to make this kind of connection with our customers. They want to know about the farm or garden their food comes from. They want to see photos, or maybe even take a tour, of your farm. They want a local market that is truly a grower’s market, not a bunch of dealers undercutting local producers with imported goods.

You sweated over and nurtured your products. You hauled water, mixed feed, and mucked stalls to provide the freshest farm products available to your customers. Tell them about it—they want to know. Whether in the mid Ohio valley, where families are returning to their farms, or in your own backyard, connections are being forged between local farmers and local consumers. Make it happen for you.


Ralph Rice lives near Jefferson, Ohio, where he produces horse-powered farm products including naturally grown beef, pork, and lamb, pastured poultry, maple syrup, and honey on his farm Riceland Meadows. This article appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of Rural Heritage.

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26 April 2012 last revision