A year and a half after Aaron Bell lost his contract to sell milk to H.P. Hood LLC from his 45 cow dairy operation in Edmunds, Maine, he found himself leaving a voicemail with his lease agent.
“Hey Nina, it’s Aaron, and I was just trying to catch with you regarding our lease payment, which is currently late… again… as of yesterday I believe. But like I said, I have that plan, as soon as we sell these turkeys we’re going to be paying a large portion of that – maybe even half a year at a time. So, I’m really sorry about that, but things are just extremely tight around here.”
It’s a scene – shown in the world premiere of documentary, Betting the Farm, at the SilverDocs film festival in Silver Spring, Md. on Friday – that has played out thousands of times across the U.S. over the past four decades. Since 1970, the number of dairy farms has dropped by more than half a million.
Caught between ballooning feed costs, an uncertain economy, political gamesmanship and milk processors that increasingly value the efficiency of sourcing from a few large-scale producers, dairy farmers have become a dwindling lot.When Bell was dropped by Hood in 2009, along with nine other Maine dairy farmers, they decided to form a collective and try to market their product directly to consumers.