Six colleges and universities signed up, including Harvard and the University of Vermont, which contribute 10 cents for every single-serving container of milk sold. Boston Medical Center, Ski Vermont, some Ben & Jerry's scoop shops and others also contribute to the program, while others, such as Roche Brothers and Hannaford supermarkets, have displayed signs about the importance of local dairy farms to local economies, tourism and in providing land for recreation.
"It's really from whole cloth. This didn't exist. There isn't really an example of this kind of program for dairy at least," said Diane Bothfeld, deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, which worked with the New England Family Dairy Farms Cooperative and the New England Dairy Promotion Board to launch the program.
In Wisconsin, another top dairy state, Family Farm Defenders sells fair trade cheese for about $6 a pound, guaranteeing that the farmers who provide the milk get paid $3 for every pound sold. The farmers set the price to cover the cost of production plus a living wage.
The group sells $30,000 to $50,000 worth of cheese each year, providing about 30 farms with an estimated $500 to $1,000 a year, executive director John Peck said. The challenge is expanding the sales, he said.
In Vermont, where farming is tied to tourism, residents want to help farmers, said Marie Audet, who with her husband owns Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport. Their farm was one of the first in the state to produce electricity from methane gas from cow manure.
Green Mountain Power customers who want to support such renewable energy projects pay a premium on their electricity bills, with the money going to help dairy farmers buy generators that run on methane.