At Ben & Jerry’s, happiness is a mindset, a philosophy, and a way of life. It’s part of everything we do. That’s why we partner with dairy farms around the world to make sure that what goes in the pint is made with happiness too.
From happy cows to happy farmers to a happy planet, our Caring Dairy program has helped farmers around the world contribute to ice cream with consciousness through sustainable practices. Explore the path to learn the secrets of the sage farmer, and earn cow karma as a reward for your curiosity.Show Me the Way
You’ve heard the saying that “practice makes perfect?” Well we believe practice makes happiness – for farmers, cows, and the planet. The Caring Dairy program offers farmers in the U.S. and Europe a way to measure and improve 11 sustainability indicators on their farms. And since we know dairy farms are like our flavors – each one is unique – we help each farmer develop a unique action plan to improve his or her practices. In exchange for participating, Caring Dairy farmers get a little extra for their produce. It’s a simple as that.
Caring Dairy’s Eleven Indicators of Sustainability
Each year of the Caring Dairy program, our farmers are evaluated in 11 categories on a scale of 0-33. RED represents a score of 0 to 10, indicating a farm needs improvement in that area. YELLOW indicates a score of 11 to 21, indicating some areas could be improved, and GREEN represents a score of 22 to 33, indicating the farm has better understanding of the issue. Note: No stoplights were harmed in the making of our methodology.
Meet the Team of global farmers and experts who are bringing Caring Dairy to life – a group of do-gooders who are proud to do dairy good.
All the answers you seek will be revealed on the path to enlightenment. Follow the wisdom of our Dairy Wise Advisor to find your way. Travel around enough, and gain caring karma rewards.
The Sage Farmer Says: “As with soil, a fertile mind is essential for knowledge to grow.”
We know ice cream is the best stuff on earth. So it follows that we should use the best earth to help make it. Soil is a living ecosystem, and the foundation for a healthy farm. That’s why choosing what goes into a farm’s soil, and when, is so important on Caring Dairy farms. We encourage farmers to follow sustainable agricultural practices for healthy and fertile soil – because where happy plants grow, so do happy people.
We have to confess, some of our measurement tools consist of “insider farm knowledge,” but to break it down for you, soil health is all about the breakdown…of farm soil. For example, we take a look at:
We have improvement! The Caring Dairy farmers boosted their soil health over the course of the year. If you listen closely, you can hear the earthworms singing…
If at first you don’t succeed, plant, plant again. Get a sneak peek at how a handful of our farmers are improving their soil health by getting their hands dirty.
“We are renting an aerator this season for use on no-till corn land and grass ground.”
“The sage farmer knows that life should be in balance. For what is lost must be replaced, and the tub that is empty must be filled.”
At Ben & Jerry’s, we love bald guys. But when it comes to soil on a farm, bald is not so beautiful, and coverage is key. Soil loss on farms – overworking or overfarming the land - can reduce soil quality and contaminate waterways. Caring Dairy farmers stop soil loss in its (dirty) tracks, and work toward growing soil volume – and in the process hitting pay dirt - using improved agricultural practices.
This is Caring Dairy, exposed! Here’s how we make sure our farmers spread the good stuff around – and keep the farm covered.
Building soil is a good thing. The more healthy soil that stays on the fields will grow better crops to feed the farmer’s cows – that is what we want!
“We have stopped growing flowers commercially on the farm so that we aren’t ploughing the land as much. We’re also using new and different grassmixes to foster new grassland to grow.”
Our farmers know that saving soil is a tough job – but someone’s gotta do it. Hear how they make soil magic happen.
“The sage farmer knows when quality ingredients are underfoot, and quality ice cream is undertongue.”
What goes around comes around. That’s never been more true when it comes to the soil that fuels a dairy farm. That’s why our dairy farmers use super nutrients in their soil to grow super-nutritious feed for their cows. Which goes – er – through the cow, and – um – around and out to become super nutritious fertilizer to start the cycle again.
A nutritious meal for the earth includes a whole lot of cow patties. But feed it too many, and you’ve got a pile of well-intentioned crap on your hands. The key is a good balance, and a couple of other things:
Hooray! We’re rich with nutrients this year. In 2012, Caring Dairy farmers kept their ground well-fed and improved on their results over the course of the year.
“Purchased fieldrecon (i.e. fancy field computer software) to make better decisions with manure and nutrient management.”
What did the soil say to the farmer? Feeeeed me. There are lots of ways our Caring Dairy farmers are making their land more nutritious. Here’s just one sample:
Conefucius says: “Happiness comes in many forms – especially in the shape of an ice cream cone.”
On Caring Dairy farms, we believe everything should live in harmony. That means a farm where wildlife and farm life benefit each other, creating an ecosystem where everyone has a home One of the ways farmers can ensure biodiversity is by “greening the edges” of their farms – allowing natural habitats and diverse species to flourish – au natural.
It’s a nature party and everyone’s invited! We encourage Caring Dairy farmers to do everything short of singing “Kumbaya” to keep diversity blossoming. In daily practice we look at things like:
While Biodiversity is not a common term, many farmers naturally understand the many benefits of things that crawl, buzz and grow. They also know that some are not as good, but it is a balance.
“We planted trees in ravines close to cow pastures to sustain the environment close to lake Champlain. The result was 3,500 trees planted and fenced across the farm.”
Improving biodiversity on a Caring Dairy farm can be as simple as planting a seed, as shown in this Vermont farmer’s improvement plan:
“The sage farmer finds a challenge in the smallest of weeds.”
Even something as small as a bug is important on a Caring Dairy farm. Because managing pests, like insects or weeds, with minimum risk to the environment is no small task. Our Caring Dairy farmers are asked to evaluate their pest management practices to make sure they are safe, healthy, and make sense for the farm’s bottom line. Then, they re-evaluate all over again, because we’re pest perfectionists.
Caring Dairy farmers keep the planet – and a plan - in mind using the following pest management techniques:
“We are now using fly predator wasps that will help to reduce fly populations as it prevents growth of fly eggs in manure piles.”
How do you keep a Caring Dairy farm fly-free? Here’s how one farmer raised the bar:
“The sage farmer knows that energy comes from within – and without – but mostly within.”
The concept of a green farm might seem a little silly – after all, most dairy farms are associated with lush hills of verdant grass. But “green” to our farmers is an effort that goes beyond plant life – to a happy planet consciousness. In the Caring Dairy program, we work with farmers to determine the best ways to use clean, renewable energy on their farms, from exploring bio, wind, and solar energy sources to harnessing the energy created in –ahem- natural gas from cows. But also, simple energy efficiency like better lights and efficient fans.
Can cows power the world? Probably not just yet, but our Caring Dairy farmers sure are trying.
Our Caring Dairy farms made progress this year, improving their energy and climate effects little by little.
“We have enough excess methane to run a second engine, and are taking steps to permit and install the second generator and engine.”
Conefucius asks: What runs but has no feet, makes a sound but has no mouth? A valuable commodity indeed.
Water is the greatest natural resource on our planet. Well, aside from ice cream, that is. That’s why our Caring Dairy farmers are paying attention to what’s in it, where it goes, and how much they use. Implementing sustainable practices on farms helps prevent runoff from unfiltered water, and contaminants and pollution from seeping into ground or surface water. In addition, Caring Dairy practices help farmers conserve water on their farms, a practice that affects the planet and the bottom line.
How do we keep water use in check on our farms? We have a select group of “water wizards” that are known for their way with a stream. Also, we look at these V.I.W. (Very Important Water) factors on our farms:
The weather is fickle, and farmers have to adjust to what is delivered by Mother Nature. Our goal is to always improve water quality, and never to degrade this important resource.
“To improve water management, we planted a buffer strip approximately 60 ft. wide along an existing ditch to prevent runoff/washouts”
Just what changes do our Caring Dairy farmers make when it comes to H20? Here’s a sample water management plan from a Caring Dairy farm.
The sage farmer says, “Don’t count your cones before they’re licked.”
In the Caring Dairy program, we focus just as much on taking care of farmers and their families as we do on producing happy cows, delicious milk, and sustainable environmental practices. Dairy farming is a value choice, a blend of quality of life with livelihood viability.
Wealth isn’t all measured in dollars and cents – or euros and euro cents. It’s also measured in the long-term cost of farming on the planet. In this case, we make sure our farmers can manage cash as well as cows by looking at the following factors:
While farmers aren’t getting rich, they do understand how to financially manage their farming business.
“This year, we met with a university and as a family to become educated about our options. We also researched grant options to hire a consultant and wrote a draft farm transfer plan.”
It's all about people - and the community as a whole
Caring Dairy begins – and ends – with people. That’s why we’re working to ensure that farmers and their employees pay as much attention to quality of life as we do to the quality of our ice cream. That means factoring in time off and work/life balance for those who work on farms, paying attention to working conditions, and getting involved in the local community. That kind of care tastes almost as good as our ice cream – almost.
With the farmers in our program working hard to make delicious dairy for us, we work hard to make sure they have time to enjoy it – and the other things that make life sweet. Here’s what we take a look at:
Farmers understand quality of life: they choose to farm! We want them to find a balance between farmwork and homelife.
“We have recently given two acres of our corn field to the town of Fairfield and the elementary school that contained the mound system for the school. The agriculture rights are now theirs.”
Q: What do you call a dairy farmer who gives back to his community? A: An udder success.
We’ve always believed in giving back to our community – whether it’s ice cream, happiness, or items from our lost and found. That’s why we encourage our Caring Dairy farmers to step up and take on a starring role in their community. Employing local people, sourcing local goods and services, and providing space for recreation is rewarding for farmers, the community, and the local economy – a win/win/win situation with delicious rewards.
You might be surprised at the effect just one dairy farm can have on the community surrounding it. We don’t even mind if they milk it a little. Here’s how we measure the amount of care our Caring Dairy farmers are delivering:
Hold steady, people! The cycle of good vibes between Caring Dairy farmers and their communities has remained strong this year. This calls for an ice cream party.
Conefucius says: “A smiling cow is worth a thousand moos.”
Quality ice cream comes from quality ingredients. And quality ingredients come from cows that are comfortable, healthy, and happy. On our dairy farms, cow comfort is a way of life. From encouraging use of new milking technology to ensuring cows have room to roam, eat, and sleep, our Caring Dairy farmers make happy cows the key to a happy farm.
We owe our business to our Caring Dairy farms’ hardest working members – the beautiful, bountiful, benevolent bovines that produce the quality dairy that goes into every pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Here’s how we put their happiness first:
We couldn’t be more pleased with the love and attention our farmers have heaped on their dairy cows this year. Two scoops to a multi-point improvement.
“We have a place to make sure cows see a hoof trimmer as soon as possible without being forgotten, and a book to write down any treatments so we know if something isn't helping then we can try a new medicine or call the vet. We have also started using more sawdust in the stalls and wrapping swollen hocks with ointment.”
“We have installed two automatic cow brushes to promote cow cleanliness and comfort and in turn enhance milk production.”
“Set up protocols in writing (English & Spanish) to address milking procedures, cow handling, medicine use, withdrawal times, and standards of practice for basic farm tasks.”
Did you know? It takes 12 pounds of whole milk to make one gallon of ice cream.
Did you know? Since 1993, our US Caring Dairy farmers have pledged to supply us with dairy from cows that have not been treated with the genetically-engineered hormone, rBGH.
Did you know? Cows have a climber’s paradox. A cow can climb up the stairs, but cannot climb down, because her knees cannot bend properly.
Did you know? Milk contains 4 necessary minerals: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc.
Did you know? Cows have a social circle. They form large herds and, like people, will bond with some herd members while avoiding others.
Did you know? Yes, “moo” means something. Moo-ing and facial expressions are how cows communicate.
Did you know? Cows are soooo original. No two cows have exactly the same pattern of black spots.
96% of supplies are purchased locally
Every dollar a farmer spends is multiplied 2 times in the local economy
Did you know? Until the 1850’s, nearly every family had its own cow.
Did you know? Where should we put the cello, again? Studies have shown that classical music helps cows produce more milk.
Number of farmers participating in Cow Compass
Date collection for youngstock rearing began in 2012
In the Caring Dairy program, we believe our dairy cows should live long and prosper. That’s why we’ve purposefully created tools to help check cows for illnesses like mastitis, lameness, and milk fever, keeping them as happy and healthy as possible.
One particular tool that comes in handy is what we call The “Happy Cow Compass” – seven areas of cow care where there is room for improvement. It is a program that Dutch farmers do in conjunction with their local vet.
In Europe, our farmers are increasingly using the Cow Compass from year to year, which makes us – and their cows – very happy indeed.
In order to continue to improve on-farm care of young cows, in 2012 we began to score youngstock rearing.
The Caring Dairy results for 2012 are based on data from farmers in the St. Albans Cooperative in Vermont, where 88 farms participated in the Caring Dairy program. Results from Phase 1 represent farms participating in their first year of Caring Dairy. Results from Phase 2 represent farms participating in their second year of Caring Dairy. The overall results represent data from 2010 and 2011 production years.
We learned that the areas for us to help our farmers focus on are Social and Human Capital and Pest Management. The silver lining? Using these results, we can develop specialized workshops, collect best practices, and offer incentives to help our farmers make progress, little by little, scoop by scoop.
The highest scoring sections in 2012 were Animal Husbandry and Impact on Local Economy, indicators that also had the best scores in 2011. Our interpretation? Our farmers are good financial managers, and are generous to their cows and their community, year after year.