How a yogurt boom can mean fewer prisons in New York State


Fage yogurt’s main production plant is in Johnstown, New York. Picture by nsdis via Fiickr.

The latest bellwether of New York State’s growing dairy industry is the Greek yogurt market.  The New York Times reported last week that sales of the product are way up and “New York’s dairy farmers are among the biggest beneficiaries of the public’s love affair with Greek yogurt.”

The Greek yogurt trend will mean at least 300 jobs at the New York State production plants of companies Fage, Chobani, and Alpina and the benefits will multiply.

Patrick Hooker, a representative of the Empire State Development Corporation, a state agency, told the Times that yogurt making creates a cascade of jobs.  To produce yogurt, farmers have to grow crops, “which are fed to cows, and cows need to be milked, and milk needs to be trucked and processed and cultured and made into yogurt and then trucked again and sent to consumers,” Mr. Hooker said.

Unlike dairy production, prisons have limited multiplier effects for rural towns.  Most jobs for prison construction come from out-of-state companies that move workers from job to job and many prison workers commute to their jobs from nearby suburbs and cities where they live and spend money.

The Empire State Development Corporation has earmarked $100 million to “help [rural] communities end their reliance on incarceration.”  Milk Not Jails hopes that Mr. Hooker’s comments to the Times mean that his employer, the Development Corporation, will spend a significant portion of that money to foster New York’s dairy industry.

For too long, New York’s rural economies have relied on prisons for jobs and revenue.  This recent yogurt trend shows that the Upstate region’s capacity is great, and does not need incarceration to help it excel.  There are four prisons within 20 miles of Alpina Yogurt’s under-construction factory in Batavia, New York.  That factory is capable of absorbing jobs lost through prison closures.

Milk Not Jails is continuing its work supporting a just and sustainable Upstate economy that provides healthy food, not jail cells, to eaters around the State.

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