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Pay more for milk? Initiative aims to support family farms

Keep Local Farms, a program supporting New England dairy farms, asks consumers to pay extra for milk in order to boost local family businesses, similar to fair trade practices for coffee and chocolate.

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In this 2009 photo, milk is displayed with a Keep Local Farms sign in Burlington, Vt. The Keep Local Farms program urges colleges, universities and other institutions in New England to charge a little more for their milk, with the proceeds going to dairy farmers in the region.

University of Vermont/AP

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Consumers will pay a little more for coffee and chocolate to ensure the farmers who produce those foods get a fair wage, so why not ask them to pay more for milk?

That is the notion behind a program designed to raise money for struggling New England dairy farms while educating consumers about those family businesses. Keep Local Farms urges colleges, universities and other institutions in New England to charge a little more for milk, with the extra money going to farmers in the region.

It is among a number of nongovernment programs being set up to try to preserve small, family-operated farms as consolidation continues in the dairy industry. While Vermont is best known for its milk and cheese products, dairy farms stretch across New England. But two-thirds have closed in the past 30 years because low milk prices have made it hard for farmers to cover their feed, fuel and labor costs.

Some supporters are trying to help save the rest by borrowing a page from the fair trade movement. Consumers who buy products labeled as fair trade pay a little bit more to provide workers with decent wages and sound environmental practices. Coffee and chocolate are among the most common fair trade items.

Keep Local Farms— set up in 2009, a year of record low milk prices paid to farmers — figured the same idea could work in the dairy industry

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