Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Artisan Cheesemakers and the New Economy

Cheddaring at Beecher's Handmade Cheese, Seattle, WA
We were struck by an October 23 column in the New York Times by Thomas L. Friedman. He addressed changes needed if the United States is to prosper in the new economy. He cited Harvard economist Lawrence Katz's observation that today everyone needs to think of himself as an artisan. Participants in the new economy must bring some special personal quality to their jobs, whether it is developing i-phone "apps," providing haircuts or medical care, or working in a retail shop. Simply functioning as cogs in machines that deliver routine products or services will not bring about prosperity, either for individuals or for our society.

Of course this rang true in light of our research for The Summer of a Thousand Cheeses, and in what we have heard since the book was published. Time after time cheesemakers related stories that, although details and circumstances varied, conveyed the basic message that traditional dairy farms cannot be kept afloat if they sell only milk. Too many large corporate farms are producing too much low cost milk for smaller dairies to be economically sustainable. For some, however, adding value to milk by turning it into cheese and adding still more value by artfully producing uniquely pleasing products is proving one way to keep their farms going.

We had thought cheesemakers are unique, but upon reflection we are not surprised and certainly not disappointed to realize that we and our fellow citizens are seeking, expecting, and demanding quality in many other aspects our lives.

A St. Lawrence County, NY Dairy Farm in 2010

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