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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Student advocacy groups rally in Portland for Milk With Dignity protest

A group of students traveled to Portland, Me. on Monday, Nov. 8 to join a Milk with Dignity protest outside of the Hannaford headquarters.

Student organizations and environmental groups are working with the migrant farm worker advocacy group, Migrant Justice, to promote the Milk with Dignity program in Vermont and New England. Representatives from several campus advocacy groups convened on Oct. 28 with organizers from the Milk with Dignity movement to discuss collaboration and priorities.

A group of students also traveled to Portland, Me. on Monday, Nov. 8 to join a Milk with Dignity protest outside of the Hannaford headquarters, which has been a focal point for Milk with Dignity’s efforts in recent years. 

"Migrant Justice called on folks from all over the North East, with probably about 150 folks [at the protest],” said SGA Vice President and Sunrise Movement organizer Meg Farley ’24. “Lots of people drove in small groups and Migrant Justice also had two busses come in. It was completely farm-worker led, and three from our group carried a beautiful banner painted by Artists’ Rapid Response Team (ARRT) and helped the safety marshals with traffic control."

Sixteen Middlebury students attended the protest, mostly affiliated with the Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG) or Middlebury chapter of the Sunrise movement. Several of the students who went were participating in their first protest.

According to Farley, the protest started at the Hannaford’s in South Portland and later moved to a Hannaford-affiliated milk bottling plant. Farley said that accessibility and ensuring participants were aware of ride-share information ahead of going to Maine was a key priority for organizers.

Founded in Burlington, Vt., Milk with Dignity was established to create networks of communication between “farmworkers, farmers, buyers and consumers to secure dignified working conditions in dairy supply chains,” according to the group’s website. 

At the Oct. 28 meeting, representatives from student organizations such as the Environmental Sustainability Committee of the Student Government Association, the Sunrise Movement, (SNEG) and Juntos worked to synthesize their past efforts and plan for future action with Milk with Dignity on migrant justice and labor reform at local farms in Vermont. 

An in-person event with organizers from Migrant Justice on their Milk with Dignity tour around Vermont was canceled earlier in the week, but moved to a virtual event later in the week. 

“There seems to be a want and need for increased collaboration among clubs and organizations with similar goals and interests for Milk with Dignity at Middlebury,” Laura Rivera Martinez ’23, a representative from Juntos, said during the meeting.

The desire for increased pressure and coordination among these campus groups comes in the wake of the landmark energy agreement the college recently signed with Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury, VT. Allegations of wage theft and mistreatment of farm workers at Goodrich have sparked protest and activism in recent years, with tensions escalating in early 2020 at a protest that turned violent.

Poised to be one of the main energy providers for the college following massive investment into a new anaerobic digester, which will turn cow manure and food waste into renewable natural gas that will be used to keep the campus’s lights on and building’s warm, there have been many calls from student sustainability groups to reassess this energy-and-dairy partnership.

Leaders from these campus environmental groups hope to work together to mobilize the student body to advocate for better working conditions on local farms. 

“I work in support of Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Program because every human deserves rights, and I refuse to be knowingly complicit in human rights violations,” Farley said at the meeting. “Workers’ rights are human rights, and there are mass workers’ rights violations on dairy farms around the state.”

Migrant Justice helps set up support services for workers at dairy farms covered under the Milk with Dignity movement, which includes over 65 farms in Vermont and New York. Ben & Jerry’s signed on in 2017, extending those standards to all farms in their supply chain. The college has resisted commitments to Milk with Dignity, but support for the movement on campus even reached the SGA presidential platform in the spring. 

While it stands to be seen whether or not Middlebury can exert enough institutional pressure on Goodrich Farms to improve these conditions due to their central role in this energy partnership, student representatives say they remain hopeful that increased visibility for Milk with Dignity in local circles will help to improve the collective working conditions of farms in the greater Champlain Valley. 

Milk with Dignity committee chair Alexa Bryant ’24 looks forward to the organization’s future advocacy initiatives.

“It’s nice to finally have collaboration among these groups, and I look forward to our continued effort,” Bryant said. “It’s a group of really determined, ambitious people, and I think we can definitely achieve our common goal of getting Middlebury to sustainably source their energy and dairy in a way that respects human life.”

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