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Rhody Fresh milk available at Whole Foods

Fans of Rhody Fresh milk can now get their dairy fix at both Whole Foods locations in Providence.

The chain, which sells only organic and natural foods, has in the past refused to stock Rhody Fresh milk. The five farmers who comprise the Rhode Island Dairy Farmers Cooperative could not guarantee that the milk did not contain traces of recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST, an artificial protein some dairy farmers inject into their cows to stimulate milk production. Whole Foods began stocking the product in late February.

"We have the highest quality standards," said Jewel Gregson, a marketing team leader at Whole Foods' University Heights location.

Rhody Fresh Executive Director Jim Hines said none of the farmers ever injected their cows with rBST. But when they sent their milk to Guida's processing plant in New Britain, Conn., their product mixed with the milk of other Rhode Island farmers - and they couldn't confirm whether those farmers used rBST.

"It was basically a labeling issue," Hines said. The farmers have not changed how they produce their milk, but earlier this year, Hines and the members of the cooperative worked with local farmers whose silos they shared to help them achieve rBST-free certification.

Hines said rBST is more often used on large milk factories than on small dairy farms like those in Rhode Island.

"It's not good for the cows - it kind of stretches them out," Hines said.

He said no studies have shown whether rBST affects the nutritional quality of milk or has negative health effects on humans.

"Eventually we convinced (the other Rhode Island farmers) of the importance of having this on our label," Hines said. He said being able to make this claim makes a huge difference in terms of marketing the product.

Whole Foods has recently come under fire from consumers who say it has strayed from its promise to provide locally produced food - such as Rhody Fresh milk - but Hines said, "Once we changed our label, Whole Foods welcomed us with open arms."

Hines first met with a representative from Whole Foods at the Rhode Island Local Food Forum, a gathering for farmers and food retailers hosted by the nonprofit organization Farm Fresh Rhode Island, on Feb. 13 hosted in Andrews Dining Hall. Farm Fresh R.I. aims to bring products from Rhode Island farms to Rhode Island consumers.

"The whole point of this event was to make connections," said Noah Fulmer '05, Executive Director of Farm Fresh R.I. Fulmer and Louella Hill '04, co-founder of Farm Fresh R.I., have been working to make the connection between Rhody Fresh and Whole Foods for several years.

Hines said he was simply glad to bring Rhody Fresh milk to a wider market.

"More people will realize how important Rhody Fresh is to the community, to keeping Rhode Island farms economically viable," he said.


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