Gratitude Amidst Grief

Published on: 09:15AM Nov 26, 2009

It’s been nearly 400 years since the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, bringing with them cows and other farm animals, and the hope for a better life in the New World.  They didn’t find it.

Yes, in time, they and their descendants did create new colonies and eventually a new country.  But fully two-thirds of the initial boatload of those first Pilgrims died long before they could live to see that better life.  Many died before the first Thanksgiving, which was, if historical accounts are accurate, mostly a celebration for the few remaining settlers that they had actually lived a year in New England and didn’t face a quick demise.

So it is this year, for many dairy farmers.  Conditions of extreme deprivation aren’t what farmers have faced, of course, but the economic stresses have been nearly the equivalent of the Pilgrims' plight.  The disparity between the price for milk, and the cost of making it, has been greater this year than at any time in most farmers’ lives.  That may sound like an exaggeration, but the numbers bear it out. 

So what is there to be thankful for today?  Well, if you still own your farm, that’s one thing.  Some farms, not a huge number but a significant one, have gone under.  The fact that most are still standing is worth celebrating.  Also, the milk price is steadily rising, and will be stronger in December than at any time since the beginning of the year.  We’re steadily climbing out of the hole, with higher prices and higher ground in sight in 2010.

And as I talked about today during the Dairyline interview I did, we should not fail to give thanks for consumers.  Amidst the worst recession in a decade, and probably in seven decades, dairy consumption in 2009 is up.  Even with 10+% unemployment and billions of dollars in stock market and home equity lost, Americans actually increased their purchases of milk and cheese this year.  No business survives without having a market for the product it offers, and in 2009, that market was actually better.  Dairy products will be on the table for the many millions of Americans eating dinner today with their families.  Although today may be Turkey day, it's also a day for dairy products, just like yesterday, and tomorrow as well.

Because of the overall global recession that has hurt farmers and the general public alike, this is a more somber national holiday than many in the past.  But just as the Pilgrims noted the first time they broke bread together, the worst from this crisis is past.  And for that, we should be very thankful.