Pelleh Farms: Rare bright spot in local dairy

Sullivan County farmer Bob Franklin has been making headlines lately -- for expanding his dairy operation at a time when many dairy farmers are in dire straits. (And for getting a visit from Congressman Maurice Hinchey, seen above admiring one of Franklin's calves.) At Pelleh Farms in Swan Lake, things are looking up, says the Times Herald-Record:

Bob Franklin has spent 20 years building a farm that cuts out middlemen, whether they be wholesale milk buyers, chicken processors or utility companies.

In that time, he has turned 66 acres of vacant land in Swan Lake into Pelleh Farms. The now-135-acre farm employs 32 people to process, package and ship milk and chickens. The farm also burns wood to heat water for pasteurization.

"If we cut out that middleman "» we create more jobs and the price is better for us," said Franklin, who also leases 170 acres to other farmers.

His do-it-yourself attitude has brought Pelleh, which means "wonderful" in Hebrew, higher prices than if it just sold raw milk or live chickens to other processors.

The River Reporter also wrote about Pelleh Farms, which is being touted by Hinchey as an example of how farms can thrive in an economic climate that's tough on agricultural producers:

At a time when dairy farms are closing down at a record pace, Bob Franklin, who owns Pelleh Farm on Happy Avenue in the Town of Bethel, is expanding his dairy operation. He recently installed a small bottling plant and now sells up to 500 gallons of organic, kosher milk every week. He sells to grocery stores in the region, and to the people who stop by the farm to get their supply. He’s aiming to sell about 1,200 bottles per week, and to expand into other products, such as yogurt and cheese.

Not every dairy farmer can do what Franklin does, but it's a smart move. In the world of dairy, middlemen have an especially tight hold on the market, and a few powerful players control most of the industry. Last December, dairy middleman Dean Foods, one of the nation's largest milk processors, agreed to pay $30 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit brought on behalf of Northeastern dairy farmers. But the case is not yet settled, and the attorney general of Vermont (an important dairy state) is seeking to have the court papers unsealed so the public can see the terms of the settlement.

More on dairy woes: Green State Fair, a local blog dedicated to connecting eaters and farmers, has a great overview of why dairy farmers are in crisis, and a look at the byzantine federal system that governs milk pricing. (Blogger Ulla Kjarval and I carpooled to Batavia together last year, where we did live coverage of a hearing held by the Department of Justice about antitrust issues in dairy.)

While Franklin may be able to get more for his milk by processing and marketing it himself, he's taken on some monumental tasks: building an on-farm pasteurization and bottling plant, marketing milk to consumers and retailers, and trucking products down to New York City. It's a lot of work for a small farm, but it's great to hear a local dairy success story amid the doom and gloom.

Photo from Congressman Maurice Hinchey's Flickr album.