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Dairy Farming is Dying. After 40 Years, I’m Done.


Dairy Farming is Dying. After 40 Years, I’m Done.

Jim Goodman

After 40 years of dairy farming, I sold my herd of cows this summer. The herd had been in my family since 1904; I know all 45 cows by name. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take over our farm — who would? Dairy farming is little more than hard work and possible economic suicide.


and declining domestic demand for dairy products.

In my mind, that’s a good thing. I’ve been mostly vegan for about 1/2 of the 35 years I’ve been vegetarian. But when I ate dairy, I ate a lot of it. It’s the one food (just the cheese form) that I sometimes miss. However, cows just don’t make sense as a food processing system for the number of humans (way way too many unfortunately) that we have now.

As far as the demise of the family farm overall - I’m sad about that - it is well known that smaller farms are better for erosion control since there is just less land per person paying attention to it. I’d of course support any laws that reverse this trend of putting family farms out of business. As much as I’d love if it if the whole world minus a few strange outlier cases like Inuits became vegan, and though the number of vegans is growing, I doubt it is the main driver to loss of domestic dairy demand - it is probably the export market changes which have way more effect. In my perfect world though, all ranchers and dairy farmers would have to find different livelihoods.


If you are willing to put into the land just a little bit more than it needs–YOU ARE ARSOWME!!!


Thanks for your decades of work Jim. Sad to read your story, just another nugget of the massive economic / ecological dis-ease that roils the entire world.

We need deep system change. We need agriculture to be ecological agriculture, agro-ecology. We need many many MORE people involved in agriculture, ecological stewards working manageable pieces of land for soil health, ecological diversity, humane society and community, and food production. We need “regenerative organic agriculture,” we need permaculture, we need bees and butterflies and complex multi-crop farming systems.

The false “efficiencies” of colonizing capitalist corporate industrial agriculture “externalize” costs to the point of ecological dis-integration. Dis-integration, the entire ecology (of which humans are a part) becoming not an integrated whole but coming apart at the seams. Mass extinctions are underway and accelerating, and this BEFORE climate catastrophe truly kicks in. Agriculture, agro-chemicals, deforestation, industrial mono-cropping of GMO commodity crops, industrial production of meat and dairy (as referenced in Goodman’s article), habitat destruction, and global penetration of multiple classes of pesticides are actually the primary causes of the accelerating and cascading mass extinction that is underway. Not climate change, yet… but that is now rearing its head and contributing a growing share to the accelerating ecological dis-integration.

(Over half of all animal wildlife has vanished, just in my lifetime. If this were a dystopian fantasy novel, rather than our home planet, that would be recognized as a very bad sign. Lots of creatures and peoples would be mobilizing to face the ominous threat…)

We need deep system change, a massive paradigm shift away from industrial warfare and simplification and cost externalization and financial accounting, to humility and ecological stewardship and complexity and ecological and social accounting.

We needed this 55 years ago when Silent Spring was published. We needed this 50 years ago when the “environmental movement” was born. We need it today more than ever.

We can count on “the powers that be,” in thrall to the super-wealthy who have been spawned by the systems they created to serve themselves, to do nothing but obfuscate and lie to us about the “need” for more-of-the-same industrial warfare, colonizing, profiteering, high-tech “solutions” model that has literally led us to the brink of omnicide and civilizational collapse.

We need to get our minds and awareness and consciousness, and our work and our families and our communities, OUTSIDE of the rapidly advancing high-tech info-tainment bubbles in which we are propagandized by the “too big to fail” institutions that dominate our world and feed us lifetimes of PR that serve us up to them as “consumers.” “To Serve Man,” as the famous story goes.

Anyway, thanks again Jim for standing as best you can against this steam-roller model of mega-business, colonizing corporate agriculture. We need millions more like you. Blessings to you and your family.


Jim, I can’t imagine what you’re going through, I realize family farming is a lifestyle, not a job. Take comfort in the fact you were a good steward of the land you worked, and like you said stayed ahead of bankruptcy longer than most. There’s no question our system is upside-down and corporate farms are the only beneficiaries of our federal farm programs. You are correct about corporate influence on USDA, and organic certification they over-see, the program started out just, but it didn’t take long for the big boys to corrupt it. A lot of small time vegetable producers are refusing to certify or recertify, myself included. When they charge almost the same to certify a 5 ac. operation as 1000 ac., it’s just not worth it. I still use organic methods and always will, but many aren’t playing the USDA game anymore, for a tainted certification. Good luck in the future, and if you can afford it, take a break, I’m sure after 40 years, you and you’re wife could use it.


Reading this made me cry. I seldom cry. But I feel so sad for you and for your way of life and despise the corruption of our world, our lives. Good luck to you. May you find peace in knowing that you lived your life in a good way.


All the best Jim.


Canada implemented a system of Supply side management to protect its dairy farmers. This forced a quota on a dairy farm in return fro a guaranteed price. Dairy farmers could not oversupply as they could not sell the milk over and above the quota.

The US Government has been attacking this system for years along with Consumer groups AND US dairy farmers. It important to recognize the impact that over supply has on communties all over the world. The author mentions export markets in the old USSR drying up. Remember that when food exported abroad via over production in one jurisdiction , it puts farmers in those Countries out of business.

Now the root causes of this are not the small family farmers like Jim Goodman. His smaller model is the one we should be using. It is caused by the Corporate model being imposed on the food production system with those Corporations receiving subsidies and over producing to proft on economies of scale. When this occurs the banks pressure smaller farmers to “increase production” in order to remain in business and the farmer feels pressures to adopt more facets of the Corporate model.

The insidous Corporate state has invaded all aspects of our lives. It wreaks havoc on our environments and sparks wars the world over as it plunders the Earth in search of profits. It is cold and heartless, it is destructive and absent of any compassion for anything but money.

The US Government deems the Corporation a “person” and works to ensure that all other “persons” of Flesh and human blood become cold and heartless , destructive and lacking of any compassion for anything but money.


I feel bad for US dairy farmers. but competition is a bitch:


That’s because the best competitor seldom wins. Free market is an oxymoron, and there’s no such thing as a “level playing field.”

It is not as though the factory farm product were better, more efficiently or effectively produced, or even less expensive. The reason that it might appear so is that the costs of factory farming get distributed through the society rather than being all paid at the grocery store by the purchaser. All of the supposed gains involve externality:

  • The factory farm is far more dependent on fossil fuels, and the government expenditure to procure these and particularly to control them comes down in taxes and debt rather than the $2.99 that one sees on the side of that half-gallon. This is mostly not for transport of finished product, but for transport of other factory product to sustain cattle in bad conditions.
  • The climate change associated with that has its cost, though it is at this point difficult to assess per bottle.
  • The medical problems that come with a reduced-nutrient, moderately toxic product are also difficult to assess closely, but have to be considerable
  • The cost of the loss of viable land and topsoil, first to the feedlot itself, but also to the usually large and monocultural and toxin-based lots that raise grains as animal food has yet to be assessed
  • The costs of enforcement of improper regulations designed to hamper small growers is taken on by government and the population

In a sense, a burglar who enters my house also competes for the same resources. But that is not the picture that one usually gets.

As a bit more subtle point, some here will rejoice because a dairy site closes because it is not vegan. This involves a failure to understand a broader dynamic. My point is not that the smaller, kinder, healthier farm will only be replaced by product from a factory farm without anyone moving to a vegan diet, though that may be true. My point is that a vegan diet is not necessarily kinder or more ecologically viable.

The analyses that claim that it is are correct in most aspects, but they compare results using factory farms and monocultures. Results in polycultural settings are diametrically opposed in critical aspects. So, for instance, if we are factory farming grain-fed cattle for sale as meat, the ecological costs are high, and many many animal lives are lost. The slaughtered cattle are only the beginning. Few of the creatures that lived on or in the soil or flew overhead survive the change. In many cases, too, there are animal deaths all along down the watershed below the factory farm, resulting from pesticide, fungicide, herbicide, antibiotics, chemical imbalance, soil compression, the loss of suddenly uncovered topsoil, and so forth. Then, almost all of these processes are repeated once again on the site or sites where animal feed is grown as monocultural grain crops. And here, we should add that there will be expenses down the line due to loss of genetic diversity in the surrounding bio-region and to human food crops–over 90% of human-used varieties during the 20th century alone, though this is not only due to factory farming of animals, not by a long shot.

But this does not apply to the dairy that Jim Goodman describes here. He did something else. That is not to say that vegans do not do us all a favor by not purchasing from the above factory food lots. They do.

But vegans and the rest of us could do better yet. If one buys all vegan groceries from a grocery store in the Western world and particularly in the USA, one almost invariably buys almost exclusively monoculturally farmed produce. This means that a vegan shopping typically–I don’t want to imply “normally,” which may not be an option–will purchase from monocultural fields. Because that person does not eat meat, that person will purchase and consume considerably more produce coming from monocultural fields than does a person eating meat. Now, don’t get me wrong: this is still far less monocultural field than it takes to feed the cattle grains and then feed the meat to the people, with energy costs all along the way. But there remains another comparison to be made.

I do not mean a comparison to organic agriculture per se, though that is significant as well. Organic agriculture after the Rodale models of a few decades back is far less toxic, less destructive of land and of its residents. However, it is far from perfect. I should point out that organic farms are very individual and that individual farms have been very impressive in avoiding particularly problems. But to generalize, even organic farming can damage soils and destroy habitat through plowing and often through monocultural practices–including that of paring “pest” animals away from their produce–a practice that is probably inevitable, but involves an imperfect integration of a farm ecology. Here the vegan does still use more field and destroy more habitat for direct use than an omnivore, but still uses and destroys less field altogether than does the omnivore because one must include the area used for the animals’ feed.

However, it is possible and desirable to raise animals in conjunction with vegetables and seed and root crops, all on the same land. Fields can grow under tree crops, trees can bear vines, livestock and fowl can graze through, all in imitation of ecosystems that get richer every year without human care.

In such a system, the livestock do not require extra land to graze, nor extra food brought in. They fertilize the land and graze or browse down the load of fuel that causes hot fires. Habitat will be altered, surely, by human use, but may be enriched rather than damaged.

In this sort of system, a human who eats modestly from animal as well as plant product survives on a smaller amount of land and with less stress to the larger ecosystem, which means less damage to its non-domestic residents. Humans can also in such cases live on and regenerate more damaged land in a wider range of climates and topographies. All of this is just because humans can make little use of the cellulose plant tissue that makes up most of trees and grasses, whereas more dedicated vegetarian animals and fungi can.

This sometimes allows for people to farm smaller lots near urban areas in regenerative ways, often with some members of a household working in town to cover dollar costs and thereby ward off the interference from government and banks and to avail residents of services from a larger society.

Those interested might check into a larger ecosystemic abundance. I found the following helpful:

  • Bill Mollison: Any, but particularly Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual.
  • Toby Hemenway Gaia’s Garden. This is an easy-entry book focused on residential gardening
  • Masonobu Fukuoka: Any, but particularly The One-Straw Revolution.
  • The work of Ernst Gotsch, who refers to his practice as syntropic agriculture
  • Emilia Hazelip: There are films on You-Tube in English. To my knowledge, the writing collected is only in Italian: Agricultura synergica.

There are really quite a few others these days. There are excellent sectors of organic gardening that are moribund and have just managed to survive. But altogether, we have adapted, and the new forms are expanding.


Thanks Bardamu. Excellent, excellent brief outline of the kind of agriculture we need, if we are to stop degrading the ecology of the Earth. Time is beyond short, we are past our due date, but all effort must be made to transition as swiftly as possible to give the ecology, and the humans, some chance. Starting with, whatever piece of land each of us has access to. Practice, practice, practice.


My thanks and hearty congratulations to Jim Goodman. It is a sad story the day that one sells one’s cattle; I do not mean to deny that. But what I read here are forty springs of a hearty pioneer, an exploration of methodology that held against stiff odds, and the preservation of old knowledge and traditions that have in many places been lost.

I took 32 of Goodman’s successful springs just to get on the land, a little chip of desert hillside. We need those forty springs to bring the ideas and methods to a new group of people. I thank Jim Goodman and others for the traces of wisdom that I might glean from theirs.

We adapt. I will release my hold one day not so distant. But collectively, we remain. And we grow.

Jim Goodman’s story is in large part one of struggle against the financial engines that bind people and land. His cattle were held not only to support the farmers who tended them, not only to support the people who provided products and services for the farmer in trade, but also to feed a rentier system that held and holds the good land for ransom, that thwarts and cripples its use.

For now, we lack the mutual trust and the experience to jettison this system entirely. But if we can trust some people to some degree, we can work against the systemic abuses while we work with the system.

Those who live in or at the edge of a township or metropolis can garden their “defensible space”–their yards, balconies, and the trellis area provided by their walls. In the cases of post-automobile surburbs like those of Los Angeles or Dallas, that can provide a lot of food.

Using mostly perennial plants reduces the labor per output. That means that people can have gardens and work more or less at other jobs that can defray the cost of the land. Fresh herbs and eggs and vegetables and an expanding community culture become parts of a bonus of sorts, one that can ease retirement woes and liberate some from wage slavery (there are too many examples to make a representative list. go to google video or somewhere and search “urban garden”).

We bleed ourselves into the financial system by the sorts of agreements we generally make over the succession of land. To purchase land or a home in cash from a stranger, individuals mostly take out a loan. With just a bit of variation, that generally means a 30-year mortgage, during which something approaching the entire price of the home usually goes to the lender in the form of interest. At some point, the individual or his or her surviving relatives sell the home to someone else, who pays something like the entire value of the property to a lender once again, even if no improvements have been made to the property. If a property is rented, renter after renter purchases it for the landlord by paying off the lords of finance. The authentic value, the productive work, the true service is held ransom to a false economy of ciphers.

But there are legal constructs in most any society to avoid this–naturally enough: otherwise, the wealthy would tend to be held to account for them almost like the rest of us.

These vary from place to place. But, to generalize, they involve forming land trusts–corporations and contracts that enable land to be used by various parties and not to pass out of ownership when a generation of owners dies. One can allow another owner or owners to buy into the trust, and the land need not pass out of ownership or out of cultivation.

As a cumulative effect, an old man can thereby plant an olive tree and reasonably hope that the grandchildren of his grandchildren may sit in its shade and enjoy its fruit. And he may hope for all the better if he plants grapevines and roses and a garden beneath and grazes animals between wooded rows, as was the custom for so long around the Mediterranean under coltura promiscua, right up into the days of Mussolini.

And it is not like such a place might not be livable for some friend, relative, or associate who might prefer to work in a nearby town, for whatever consideration might appear mutually reasonable.


Excellent point and I grew up on a “mixed farm” We had a huge vegetable garden , we raised Chicken pork and beef. We used the woods for berries and so on. None of the animals were in “feed lots” they all roamed in pastures. Pasture land was rotated from Pasture to grains and where we used to raise grains was rotated to pasture.

There were a number of woods in the middle of our fields of 10 or 15 acres, seemingly small but deer and birds used these as sanctuary and the cattle to ge out of the heat in summer. There were small sloughs that we farmed hay off from the fringes in the early summer that ducks, geese and all manner of wild birds and animals used. These were teeming with frogs, snakes, all matter of insects. We even used Wild bees for honey.

Now my Dad and Uncles that farmed this way were pressured by banks to put more land under Cultivation. They were told to sell off the cattle, push down those small bushes. drain the sloughs and put more land into cultivation to grow grains. They resisted that as did the “old Guard” of farmers that had started farming in the 30’s ,40’s and 50’s.

They absolutely abhorred feedlots and the way poultry beef and pork raised today. They had no use for what was called “corner to corner” farming where every piece of land was used to raise crops and generate profits.

From an environmental perspective, this way of farming is sound. If one goes to one of those properly run mixed farms and compares it to a farm raising just vegetables the former has FAR more in the way of bio-diversity and life.


I grew up in WI and remember the small family farms. I’ve also been vegetarian or vegan for most of my adult life. I recognize the value of those lovely organic farm systems where animal partners are valued and cared for and loved as is the natural world itself.

It broke my heart to read your piece. Not just for you and your family but for our battered and abused world that seems to be in thrall by a gang of mobsters that care little for the sacred nature of this magical mystery tour that we are engaged in.

Keep the faith my brother in whatever way you can.


Mr. Goodman,

In the late 50’s my two great uncles whose farm was not even a minute up the road from my house, had maybe two dozen dairy cows. I also shared the attachment to the cows as we saw them nearly every day. We too, knew each by their names.

My uncles got too old to keep the farm going in the later 70’s and sold all their animals including horses and chickens.

By the early 80’s their land was being sold to developers and houses and apartments grew up.

In April of this year, my wife and I moved to South Central Pennsylvania where Dairy Farming is alive and well. Not large corporate farms, smaller family farms. Falling prices are also the issue here.

I don’t really know what else to say to you sir, other than, you gave your best effort for 40 years and for that, you must know how proud your family, friends, and community was of you for all that you did all of those years.

Farmers, are the hardest working folks that I know.

I am proud of you for sharing your life’s work with all of us.


You could grow beautiful fields of green Hemp ,no pesticides required ,fast growing ( a few months ) .

It makes great healthy milk and has 50 000 other uses…one door closing could lead to new beginnings .
Magical blessings


dairy farming and specially organic farming is a must for the future of our children and grandchildren. In Europe specially in Austria fortunately it is a rapidly growing business. And we hope that the US with their inhuman laws won’t be able to destroy this - by the way Austria is not only the country of Sound of Music, Mozart, etc but also organic farming:


I’d add Edible Forest Gardens … “Edible Forest Gardens.com is dedicated to offering inspiring and practical information on the vision, ecology, design, and stewardship of perennial polycultures of multipurpose plants in small-scale settings”

Dave Jacke has a few books available and also supplies designerworksheets/checklists to download


Thanks for the links, Goat. I did enjoy Edible Forest Gardens. Jacke has a lot of good things, especially for people in moist temperate areas.


I agree- the demise of the family way of living and hard work is sad and is becoming more common- but let’s face it- eating animals and drinking milk that is intended for their babies not ours does not make sense. I have been vegetarian and vegan for a couple of years longer than you. Good for you!!! I would love to see more gardens and small farms that grow vegetables and herbs. There is a soy cheese but I do not care for it. Selling an animal and separating it from ethical reasoning is not a good practice. BTW- did you know that Dump pushes meat and also wanted to make private gardening illegal? Yep, bring on the garden monitors people!