Dairy Day at the New York State Fair celebrates some of the benefits the industry brings to the economy. It also brought out some of the problems facing the industry.
Fairgoers were lined up to get milk at the dairy bar, view the butter sculpture, maybe have an ice cream sundae or yogurt...and check out champion cows. Dairy Day is a time to honor the biggest chunk of our agriculture economy. Bill Maricle of Ash Mar farms is enjoying the yogurt boon.
"It's promising if we can keep the interest up from the people, I'm hoping it's just not a fad."
But he also notes he has to work elsewhere to make ends meet...partly due to what he calls failed promises on milk prices
"I mean if we could get the prices up of our milk it would make it a whole lot better for everybody. Paying higher prices for everything, but getting the same prices for the milk that we got 25, 30 years ago."
A group outside the fair was looking for more respect for dairy farm workers, often immigrant labor. Workers Center of Central New York organizer Rebecca Fuentes, though a translator, shared the conditions relayed by one upstate laborer.
"In our jobs there are many unsafe conditions. we're assigned jobs where we have to handle chemicals but are not give the appropriate equipment or training. We have to work with dangerous machinery that's in bad condition."
Fuentes says that's coupled with poor living conditions and 12-hour days for an estimated 2600 undocumented workers. Union officials joining the protest say access to fair labor laws...and organizing...could help. Dairy pumps almost $9 billion dollars into the state economy...the workers say they harvest that bounty...but don't get much of it.