By Carol Lever, Director of Free Range Dairy Network CIC

At Christmas, I always find myself looking back over the last 12 months, taking stock and preparing for the year ahead. It’s been a busy year for Free Range Dairy Network and we’re grateful to the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) for all their help in raising awareness of our movement.  They’ve been strong supporters of us since the early days and some of the best memories from 2016 have to be the Free Range Dairy farm events, which we ran in collaboration with the SRA.

It was great to take SRA members on a journey to the ‘grass roots’ of free range milk. To meet the cows and farmers badly in need of recognition for the contribution they make in delivering great milk for us all to enjoy. Farmers loved these events too, they told us how they’d got used to filling tankers and waving off the milk with no idea where it went. These farm events closed that gap as farmers saw first-hand how delighted chefs, baristas, restaurant owners and coffee roasters were to be on their farm. It’s given farmers the confidence to branch out and since then we have farmers running local milk deliveries, Stephenson’s Dairy making the first Pasture Promise free range dairy Lancashire cheese, Our Cow Molly in Sheffield making free range butter and the Hobbs family planning to start making butter and ice cream in the new year.

Cheap milk has completely devalued this great food product, ignoring the fact that at the end of the supply chain is a dairy farmer going broke. Cheap milk has contributed to over 4,000 dairy farmers going out of business in the last ten years. Thankfully, pioneers like Bobby Bawa at Foodspeed, Nitin Padwal from Petrichor at The Cavendish Hotel, Duncan Cruickshanks, formerly of Hospital Club and Star Bistro were just a few of the SRA members who bucked that trend. Instead of trying to drive the price down, they supported our initiative to keep cows in fields and pay farmers a fair price for their milk.  Bobby is a passionate supporter of the SRA and I was so pleased he was a finalist in this year’s SRA awards. We need more innovators like him if we want to increase sustainability across the board.

And 2017 promised to be an exciting time for Free Range Dairy Network. In its sustainability rating, the SRA will credit members who source free range milk. In January, we will be featured on Jamie & Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast, on Channel 4. We will also be holding our own coffee events in February to support the SRA’s coffee campaign, to coincide with the launch of free range, un-homogenised, whole milk. We know that by working closely with the SRA and its members, we can deliver a fair deal for farmers, cows and customers. We can’t wait to see the cows go out to grass again next spring and we hope that you might be there to join us!