Milk, it does the community good

According to the Maine Milk Commission, milk prices are almost double what they were five years ago. In December 2002, the price of a gallon of whole milk at Hannaford or Shaw’s supermarkets was $2.59. Now it’s $4.69. Here in the Lakes Region, the price per gallon approaches $5 at some stores.

The significant price increase, especially over the past six months, has left many scratching their heads while forking over their money at the check-out counter. Milk, in its many forms, is a staple food product, and people have to have it. So, with the price of it and other staples like heating oil and gasoline on the rise, what’s a family to do? One option is to cut consumption. And that’s what they are doing, according to a comment in a front-page story by Oakhurst Dairy owner Stan Bennett. But is that what they should be doing? Preferably not.

It’ll be interesting to see if this new price is too high and reduces consumption over the long haul. Set milk prices too low, like they were five to seven years ago, and the supply shrinks because producers can’t make a living and are forced into selling their farms. Set the price too high and demand decreases because consumers can’t afford to buy the product. The key is finding the right price, and it remains to be seen whether $5 per gallon is the right balance.

While the economic theory behind the setting of milk prices will be interesting to watch play out, one thing is certain – the higher price of milk is helping local farmers. Local farmers aren’t getting rich, but they are seeing better income, and able to better sustain their way of life.

And when farmers benefit, we benefit.

The higher return for their investment means farmers will be less likely to sell the family farm for the immediate profits that housing and commercial development promise, which should please those who loathe strip malls. Beyond appearances, local farms benefit the greater good because that’s where we get our food. In an age where fuel costs might put a damper on our habit of consuming foods grown out west, local farms may come in handy in the very near future. Plus, the more local food we can consume, the better our health. Because of recent food scares and more awareness when it comes to a lack of nutritional benefits from highly processed food, locally grown food seems to be gaining favor among health-conscious consumers. And having such farms in the Lakes Region, which are able to provide us such meat and vegetables, is an indispensable resource.

So, while we join in the collective moan each time we reach into the dairy case at the local supermarket, it might help to remember that our extra dollars not only help local farmers remain viable in the present but are an investment in our future.

-John Balentine, editor

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