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Community Supported Dairies – Using the CSA model for your milk business

By Tali Eichner – CSA Network UK Policy Manager

Trends in dairy through the last century have been driven by the need to increase efficiency and reduce labour.  Dairy farmers have been squeezed to the extent that milk prices often do not cover the cost of production, pushing the industry towards ever larger herds and breeding for higher yields and increased use of concentrates.  In the last decade, we have seen many in the industry working to reverse these trends, but the fact that milk is still treated as a low-cost commodity and contracts are unbalanced inhibits any transition to more agroecological and higher welfare practices.

The good news is that some have escaped the constraints of this system by dairy farming on a smaller scale and selling direct to consumers.  It allows farmers to create an identity for their milk and dairy products based on the values that drive their practices and create relationships with people in the community who also value those things and receive the full retail price. 

Proper Milk Image
Proper milk

Dairy is one of the very few foods (alongside eggs) that can be consistently produced every day throughout the year in the UK, making it very suitable for community supported agriculture (CSA) models with local direct supply.  Sharing the risks and rewards of farming with the consumer in CSA is also particularly beneficial to dairy enterprises, in which the risks from diseases such as TB breakdowns or problems with forage production can be severe.  For those starting out in dairy, a CSA model can enable farmers to raise funds before having products to sell. This enables business owners to invest in the necessary infrastructure, equipment and animals.

Like other CSA enterprises, community supported dairies can take different forms.  One example is Stroud Micro Dairy, a community-owned co-operative farming regeneratively.  Members sign up to a share for three months at a time to receive a weekly amount of the raw milk, yoghurt, kefir or oat milk they produce, which can be collected from the farm, along with other local produce or delivered locally.  This gives the farm a guaranteed income and the ability to foresee any changes in demand.  Stroud Micro Dairy also offer a supporters’ share, enabling customers to purchase any excess produce from the farm on an ad hoc basis.  Any excess milk is occasionally made into cheese.  Being a workers’ and members’ co-operative, staff and members also have a say in the organisation’s direction.  Dyfi Dairy in Machynlleth also offers three-month subscriptions for their Jersey cows’ milk, goats’ milk, yoghurt and cheeses.

Hill & Coombe

Customers of Hill & Coombe Dairy, who produce organic and pasture-fed raw milk from their herd of 15 jersey cows,  commit to a season of 9 months (the cows are dried off for three months during the Winter) and pay monthly.  Pre-ordered milk is collected from an ‘honesty fridge’ run in collaboration with local horticultural CSAs.  Excess milk is made into yoghurts for wholesale to local shops. 
A grass-roots organisation, Street Goat in Bristol, is a collective in which the community milks and manages several small goat herds.  Members contribute towards costs and volunteer for their share of the milk and/or meat.  The goats graze under-used plots of urban and peri-urban land, providing a helpful scrub management and maintenance service.  The project aims to enable the people of Bristol to participate in farming and develop a connection with their food.
A major challenge for new entrants looking to start a dairy farm is accessing land and the start-up capital required for setting up infrastructure, which can be prohibitive.  Community ownership can remove this barrier and support new farmers in establishing whilst developing connections with a community that will become a loyal customer base.  

Stroud Micro Dairy is one of 5 enterprises at Oakbrook Community Farm, which was purchased through Biodynamic Land Trust.  Tablehurst Farm and Plaw Hatch Farm, both incorporating biodynamic raw milk micro-dairies, are owned by a community cooperative of 700 shareholders with land purchased through a local charitable trust.  There are also landowners and farms seeking to host agroecological dairy enterprises that establish collaborative and supportive partnerships, which is how The Roaming Dairy at Kingsclere Estates came to being (see also the opportunities below).  New enterprises can also benefit from advanced funds for subscriptions in a CSA model.  

One of the main benefits of CSA for dairies is also the least tangible.   The relationship between the farm and the community generates goodwill and loyalty that can support both in weathering challenging times.  All stand to benefit from the transparency, feedback, shared values and encouragement that consumers re-connecting with how their dairy products are produced can bring.

Could CSA work for you?

If you would are thinking about starting a dairy CSA, please get in touch – we can offer support and would love to hear from you: /

You might also be interested in Food Ethics Council’s dairy project looking into how farmers and the industry can be supported in transitioning to ethical practices, and their upcoming presentations ‘How can we step off the dairy treadmill?’ on 5th January at Oxford Real Farming Conference and ‘No more small change. Is £3 a fair(er) price for a pint of milk?’ on 31st January in London. 

The Raw Milk Producers Association will be running a session, ‘Getting Started with Raw Milk’ at Oxford Real Farming Conference on 6th January. 
CSA Micro-Dairy Opportunities

Wicton Farm, a 200-acre organic farm in Herefordshire, is seeking someone to run an autonomous micro-dairy enterprise with 30 cows who keep their calves.  They have new dairy facilities and a milk processing room available with an existing person to help with relief milking and grow milk sales if needed. Some training can be given if requested. Contact Daniel and Claire:

A 60-acre organic farm in South Pembrokeshire is looking for someone to manage their 15 dairy shorthorn heifers.  There is already local community support and collaboration with other community projects.  The aim is to start small and build as infrastructure would need development.  Contact Ginny:

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