At last week’s BBC Food & Farming Awards, food writer and radio presenter Shelia Dillon said something that I think encapsulates what Free Range Dairy is all about. She said “Our finalists represent something special – living proof that good food, tradition and taste are all worth fighting for and sharing knowledge about”.
I know there is real value in the seasonally grazed dairy herds that many farmers still operate in the UK today. But, this value has been overlooked and neglected in the ‘Pile it high, sell it cheap’ marketplace, through which much of our food is channelled today. I want Free Range Dairy to create a new kind of food movement, which brings farmers and consumers together, to restore the identity of our wonderful, nutritious milk, keep cows in fields and free farmers from the slavery of global commodity markets.
So, this is not about adding value to milk but, rather, realising the value that exists within it. For years, we have witnessed this rich, nutritional food being processed, packaged and branded to the point where it bears little resemblance to the natural product that comes from our cows – watering down a super food to nothing more than a commodity raw material. In the pursuit of ‘added value’ we have lost sight of how simple the recipe for milk really is and, with that, we have compromised the contribution milk and dairy make to a healthy diet, the life we afford our cows and the vitality of our rural economy.
If we all start to take ownership of our food, demand what is right for both the producer and the consumer, we can make a difference. If consumers start to ask for assurance that the milk and dairy they buy comes from cows that are free to graze in summer. If farmers engage with their local community and explain all that is good about their pasture-based herds. If chefs and food writers help us to explain that not all milk is the same. Then, we can ensure that everyone is able to make an informed choice about the milk and dairy products they buy.
So, the next steps are to set Free Range Dairy as a formal organisation, offer different tiers of membership (from friends and supporters to accredited producer status), begin identifying opportunities to link groups of dairy farmers with regional processors and attend agricultural shows and food festivals to spread the word. We will be emailing out a monthly newsletter to try and keep everyone abreast with developments.
Lots to do! So, please let us know if you have are able to help us inform more people about what Free Range Dairy is trying to achieve and let us have your thoughts on where we go next.