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A monthly newsletter brought to you by Free Range Dairy Network
Volume 1, Issue 1
August 2015

Editor’s Comment

Welcome to Free Range Dairy Network’s first supporter newsletter. This will be a monthly newsletter with a mixture of Free Range Dairy news and interesting stories about food and farming.

First off I would like to say how great it was to launch the Free Range Dairy Pasture Promise event on the 1st of July. More about this in our lead story. We also celebrated Cow Appreciation Day, it’s more well known in America but we think this is one celebration we will be adopting each year.

At present everyday brings more stories about the continuing dairy crisis and seeing the protest on the news we hope that more and more of you will  support us in our work to preserve traditional and  other pasture based dairy farming.  We have launched our Pasture Promise to show the people making the food and farming decisions that we want more transparency in our food, so we can make an informed choice when it comes to buying our milk.

Each issue we will have a guest slot for an organisation we think will interest our supporters. This issue it’s the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) set up by a group of leading figures in the restaurant and sustainability sectors.

I hope you enjoy the issue and please get in touch at info@freerangedairy.org if you have any suggestions for articles or would like to share any information with us. Also check out our weekly blog posts.

Carol Lever

Co-Director
Free Range Dairy Network

 

In this Issue

1. Free Range Dairy Launch

2. Cow Appreciation Day

3. On The Farm

4. Sustainable Restaurant Association

5. Food Business

Plus lots of pictures of cows!

Free Range Dairy Pasture Promise Launches

 

It's been just over a month since we launched Free Range Dairy Pasture Promise label. We have Free Range Dairy available in Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire and we are currently working on getting milk into the London market. Our ambition is to have Free Range Dairy Pasture Promise label available in every region in the UK. We are not selling our own milk but are a Community Interest Company (CIC) set up to help pasture based dairy farmers get a fair price for their milk whilst giving cows the freedom to graze. You can support us and the farmers by making the Pasture Promise.

The current business model is facing a myriad of problems making it increasingly hard for dairy farmers to stay in business, the oversupply of milk being one of them. Farmers see increasing herd size and selling more milk as a way to make back some of the money lost to cheap milk prices. However apart from adding to the problem, it can also be a step towards an intensive system as the larger the size housing larger herds indoors is a way to  make it easier to manage. It also means that due to the setup of an intensive system it has to work to full capacity to make back the money invested in the farm. This means that cutting back on production is not an option and the oversupply continues.

We also have supermarkets locked in a price war over milk to try and lure shoppers away from discount stores. Although consumer shopping habits are changing its supermarkets that still sell the majority of milk in the UK, so their strategy is having a big impact on farmers. It has also turned dairy farming into a dog eat dog situation with farmers hoping they can hold out just a bit longer than another farmer as a way to save their business. What a horrible situation for farmers, to know that right now their success depends on another farmer's failure. The media has been full of stories of farmers going out of business after being on their farms for generations.

If we continue down this road what can we expect at the end? I think even more traditional pasture based dairy farmers going  out of business. Getting a large supply of milk from an intensive farm is less costly than visiting 10 smaller farms, so when it comes to saving money on logistics you can see where retailers will make the cut.

I think what we need to remember is buying cheap milk comes with conditions attached. You can continue to buy cheap milk but there is a good chance it will start to come predominantly from an intensive farm. Intensive farms will change the landscape of your countryside and can impact on pasture based dairy farmers, climate change, public health and biodiversity.  Suddenly that’s a big price to pay when your are gambling with the future of the dairy industry and your own health and wellbeing.

We believe there is another way and it’s the reason we set up Free Range Dairy Network. Please support us and make the Pasture Promise.
 

Cow Appreciation Day


For the first time but not the last, Free Range Dairy ran Cow Appreciation Day on July 14th. We wanted to take the opportunity to show people how great cows are and over the course of the day tweeted some fun facts and stories from our farmer members. 

These are some of my favourite facts about cows:
  1. Like humans, cows form close friendships and choose to spend much of their time with 2-4 preferred cow friends.
  2. Cows have almost total 360-degree panoramic vision.
  3. No two cows have the same set of spots!
  4. In 2009, a team of scientists found that cows share 80% of genes with humans.
  5. Cattle get excited when they solve problems. When faced with a challenge of finding out how to open a door to reach food, their heartbeat went up, their brainwaves showed excitement, and some even jumped into the air.
  6. Cattle are extremely curious and inquisitive animals and will investigate everything.
  7. After a group of dairy farmers noticed their new cows had different moos, language specialists determined that cows can have regional accents.

There's a lot more facts I could add to this list but what I wanted to show is how cows have intelligence, personalities and they enjoy being able to graze outside so we at Free Range Dairy believe they should have that freedom.
 
A film by co-director Neil Darwent of the cows coming out after spending their winter inside . It shows how happy they are to be outside and if you haven't seen it yet please take a look and share it with family and friends.   
 
It was great to see that others believe cows deserve a Cow Appreciation Day too and we were retweeted on the day by Countryfile, Deborah Meaden and Liz Earle to mention a few. 

We're thinking of starting a Pasture Promise Day to give everyone a chance to say what they think is great about milk from cows that graze, seeing cows in fields and a general big thumbs up for our pasture based dairy farmers. It would be great to hear your thoughts on this at info@freerangedairy.org.
 

On the farm


With recent cool temperatures it feels like the best of our summer has gone but, as we go through August, the grass continues to grow really well thanks to a mixture of sunshine and rain. Perhaps not the kind of summer everyone wanted but the cows aren’t complaining. Many have now been grazing in fields since early April, which means they have enjoyed around four months at grass already. Free Range Dairy farmers will hope this continues into the autumn and the cows can stay out until later October / early November before being housed for the winter months again.

Of course, the weather in the UK is notoriously unpredictable, whatever the time of year, which is why we have made provision for farmers to do what’s right for their cows in times of extreme weather. We don’t want to see cows huddled in muddy fields if there is flooding and neither do we want them to be exposed to temperatures that will cause heat stress. So, for this reason, we allow farmers to apply for a derogation to temporarily house their cows in such conditions. After, all the health and welfare of our cows is of the utmost importance all year round. But, right now, conditions are just right out in the fields, so let’s hope it stays that way for a few more months.
 

Sustainable Restaurant Association


We Brits now enjoy an incredible 8 billion meals which we haven’t had to cook every year – whether at the local gastropub for Sunday Roast, brunch at our favourite café or dinner at a Michelin Starred restaurant for a special occasion. Incredibly, Londoners now eat out as often as those dining addicts in New York.

We are in the midst of a food revolution and to complement our love of eating out we’ve developed a raging thirst knowledge – about where the food on our plate is from and how it was produced.

Shopping for food at home we can read the packages for reassurance and look for the certifications to help guide our decisions.  But what happens when you eat out. Whether free-range eggs are a must, you have a real bee in your bonnet about food waste, or want to see your waiter paid a decent wage, how do you know?
 
That’s where the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) comes in. Launched five years ago by restaurateurs, including Henry Dimbleby of Leon and Mark Sainsbury of Grain Store and the Zetter, the SRA was set up to help anyone who cared a fig about their food to make informed decisions – not check in their principles at the cloakroom.
 
There are now 4,500 places offering consumers a sustainable dining experience, from Cornwall to Shetland, including independent bistros, fish and chip shops, pubs, high street chains like Pizza Express and Carluccio’s and Michelin starred restaurants, as well as dozens of workplace canteens, university cafeterias and even Eurostar trains and Virgin Atlantic planes—there’s a huge menu of options to choose from.
 
The SRA assesses restaurants, cafés and caterers across their whole business operation, so that when you come to order your meal you know that it won’t be costing the earth. That means if you choose to eat somewhere sporting the SRA’s gold stars (One, Two or Three – known by many as the Michelin Stars of Sustainability) you know that they’re not just taking care of the ingredients they’re sourcing, but are also going the extra mile to ensure their footprint on the environment is kept to a minimum and their impact on the community is as positive as possible.

And it’s not all about hair shirts and having to sacrifice anything. Quite the opposite, sustainability is all about smart, innovative thinking, helping to make the food taste that little bit better.

As SRA President Raymond Blanc says: “What’s great is that sustainability is synonymous with good food – local and seasonal produce, high welfare meat, great customer service and so on. Diners can really enhance their experience and put their passion for good food into action by choosing sustainable restaurants.”

Next time you’re planning on eating out, check the SRA’s restaurant guide as you make your dining plans.
 

Food Movement

Living in London I've been lucky to be able to go along to a range of food events recently. Each one inspiring more and more confidence in the growing trend that people want something different from their food and how it's produced. People that understand cheap isn't always better and rather than give lip service to sustainability are prepared to pay a bit more and be responsible for their food choices.
 
Eventbrite has held some great workshops and events so far this summer. They are mostly free and attract great speakers willing to share their stories on how they became a successful food blogger or started a pop up restaurant or supper club. The Guardian is also running workshops called Guardian Masterclasses and at the one on Food Business I got the chance to hear from Lily Vanilli who has become a successful baker and food writer, Bash from Forza Wins and Missy from Rita's all talking with passion about how they started their food business . What really came through and was very encouraging is they have achieved success without compromising their beliefs.

Bash from Forza Wins which started as a pop up Italian supper club is committed to sourcing great British produce to make great Italian food and works closely with farmers to source his produce.  He's not alone, this is a food movement spreading out from London and other cities and catching the attention of like minded people who love great tasting food, are fed up with the usual restaurant and coffee shop chains and are aware of the footprint their shopping habits leave behind.

They have all been great events and shows that bucking the status quo is possible. Trying to secure more money for farmers in this environment might seem crazy but the alternative is worse. Milk is a stable for the majority of the British public, whether it's a splash of milk in a daily cuppa or the latte on your way to work. It should be a buoyant industry with a strong domestic market.

Instead more and farmers are leaving the business and the number of farmers in the UK has halved in ten years. Right now we need different, different is good as the status quo is killing our local milk market and pasture dairy farmers business.

If you are planning on starting a pop up restaurant, supper club or want to be able to buy Free Range Dairy Pasture Promise for your everyday use let us know and we will be in touch when we have a local market in your area at info@freerangedairy.org.

Come and find out about our farmers here and I hope you will make the Pasture Promise.

Best wishes,
Carol
 

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