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July 25, 2012; Source: Chelsea Now

This idea may be a bit of an odd duck, but intriguing nonetheless. Chelsea Now reports that, in Upstate New York, where the economy has been affected by the closure of a number of prisons, a nonprofit called Milk Not Jails has launched a program that would link local dairy farmers to city stores and state legislators while creating an unusual alliance that is focused on replacing the locality’s dependence on the prison industry.

According to the last Agricultural Census, New York State is the third-largest milk producer and fourth-largest cheese producer in the U.S. and the drought that has affected other parts of the country may increase the country’s dependence on New York farms.

Essentially, Milk Not Jails is attempting to eliminate the middleman—a Dallas-based food distributor—by shipping Upstate dairy products directly to New York City grocers. According to this article’s paraphrasing of Milk Not Jails founder Lauren Melodia, the distributor, Dean Foods, has “been squeezing upstate farmers to the point where many are unloading their herds, declaring bankruptcy or selling land to developers.”

Melodia says, “Milk Not Jails is a milk marketing and distribution company where we connect Upstate farmers with urban consumers willing to pay what these farmers actually need to keep their business alive.” In exchange, she says, the farmers agree to sign on to their policy agenda, which includes a variety of issues that seem to be centered on criminal justice reform.

“The farmers agree that criminal justice policies shouldn’t be dictated by the economic needs of rural New York,” says Brendan Beck, an organizer with the group. “We’re hoping that the economic support that we give these farmers will give them the incentive to help us fight for criminal justice reform.” They will have a political battle on their hands, given an agenda that does not necessarily align with that of the prison guards’ union. –Ruth McCambridge