Like many traditional industries, dairy farming in Vermont hasn’t been immune to market swings and perpetual uncertainty. Franklin County, which abuts the Canadian border, has approximately 400 dairy farms, making it the largest dairy county in the state.
“In their struggle to survive, these farmers simply milk more cows (as many as a thousand), requiring a 24/7 operation and additional personnel,” said Kim Erno, anELCA pastor and director of F.A.R.M. (Franklin Alliance for Rural Ministries).
As a consequence, the farmers rely on a large number of migrant workers. Mexicans with small farms can’t compete with the price of corn that is sold below their production costs by large foreign agribusinesses. So they migrate to feed their families. Their struggle to survive within a global economy has brought Vermont dairy farmers and Mexican corn farmers together.
“Living in isolation and [with] language barriers created a situation of vulnerability in which these migrant farmworkers had to depend on others,” Erno said. They need others to purchase groceries, send money home to their families, and transport them to and from doctor or dental appointments. They also lack social activities with fellow migrants, which is important for workers separated by distance from each other and from families back home.
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