Confraria do Leite dos Açores (Azorean Milk Brotherhood)
At the initiative of Benjamim Massa, the Confraria do Leite dos Açores (Azorean Milk Brotherhood) was jointly formed by the following institutions: Arrifes Village Council, Bom Pastor Agricultural Cooperative, UNILEITE and the São Miguel Association of Young Farmers.
The brotherhood was founded on June 28, 2011, with the purpose of promoting the production and consumption of milk as an essential product for the development of any human being. The brotherhood is a non-profit cultural association governed by its articles of association whose members are admitted under the terms of its internal organization.
The brotherhood’s ceremonial costume is inspired by those worn by the farmers of Arrifes, with the cape representing the way they shelter in the fields on rainy and cold days with a rainproof cloak. The result is a light brown poncho edged in green (color of the pastures) and a felt hat in the same color, similar to the one worn by farmers on ceremonial days.
The decorative insignia is a small can of milk, which has a certain ethnographic value and represents the first steps taken in the dairy sector in our Region. This is also the case of the button that fastens the cape, a small wooden stake used to nail down cattle in the pastures.
All of this aims to honor our people who work every day in the fields and all of those who are in some way connected to farming, as our village is an important pillar of this sector of the Azorean economy.
Cooperativa Agrícola do Bom Pastor (Good Shepherd Agricultural Cooperative)
Given how difficult selling milk was, Raúl Moreira Mendonça decided to found the Cooperativa Agrícola do Bom Pastor (Good Shepherd Agricultural Cooperative) in 1948 with the goal of processing dairy products. Six years later, the difficulty in marketing the products and the small quantities produced led him to create UNILEITE together with some other cooperatives. Over the years, the Cooperative reduced its active role in UNILEITE and only took part in General Assemblies. However, in 1974, it organized a milk strike and started determining the management guidelines of this organization.
In 1985, the Cooperative began marketing factors of production and two years later opened the warehouse that is still located next to UNILEITE. In 1991, UNILEITE faced a financial crisis and, as it could not pay its members, the management team decided to step down, forcing Bom Pastor to take over management. Gradually, both institutions grew until UNILEITE moved to its current facilities provided by Bom Pastor in 2000.
In 2003, Bom Pastor moved to its current facilities and continued the project of the previous management team, which aimed to boost the cooperative and not solely rely on traditional factors of production (fertilizers and feed). This led to the creation in 2005 of an agricultural depot that provides services (including self-service) and features a coffee shop and an auditorium.
Currently, the cooperative has 392 members with deliberative power out of a total of approximately 600 members. In 2007, its turnover exceeded 7 million euros in sales of factors of production and reached a total of 22 million euros considering the sale of milk to UNILEITE, with its members representing 66% of all milk processed by UNILEITE.
Associação Jovens Agricultores Micaelenses (Young Farmers Association of São Miguel)
We could say that the origins of the São Miguel Island Cattle Breeding Center date back to 1927, when the Zootechnical Post of the Agricultural Services of the then General Board of the Ponta Delgada District imported from the Carnation Milk Farms (USA) two heifers and a Holstein Frisian bull – Carnation Piebe Segis, Burton Avon Queen pontiac and Carnation Prospector Echo.
In the following year (1928), two Frisia heifers – Yunkje II and Biermas Jantje V. – were imported from the Netherlands. This was the initial nucleus of the herd of the Official Services. Other imports followed until 1970.
The main objective of this herd was to produce quality male breeders that would be loaned to individual farmers or placed in breeding stations in various points of São Miguel Island, considering the typical characteristics of dairy cattle farming in São Miguel.
During the early days, the herd would be at the old Zootechnical Post located in Rua Coronel Chaves, grazing at the adjacent Quinta de São Gonçalo, where the headquarters of the São Miguel Agricultural Development Services are currently located.
Given that the reduced size of the facilities limited what the Services could do and that they were in an increasingly urban area, the General Board of the District leased the Arribanas field in the mid-1950s and transferred all the bovine sector of the Zootechnical Post to that new location. This location was eventually acquired and became the current site of the Cattle Breeding Center, which opened in 1966.
The Cattle Breeding Center became the genetic support of the São Miguel dairy cattle. The herd was quickly uniformized and its productive potential has always been able to meet the challenges that it has faced.
With the advent and development of artificial insemination, a new chapter in the history of the Center started. In addition to its previous activities, it also began to act as a “filter” in the introduction of genetic material, studying the behavior of the lines introduced through that technology and selecting those that best meet the particularities of dairy cattle farming in São Miguel. In a region where we aim to make the most of the grass through direct grazing, it is not enough to increase the productive potential of cows given the island’s orography; it is essential to pay attention to other characteristics of the animals that allow them to attain that goal efficiently.
In 1979, responding to an increasing number of requests from farmers, the Artificial Insemination Center was created, and in recent years it has extended its action to other islands of the Azores.
The work of the Cattle Breeding Center and the Services that preceded it has led to the quality that exists today in the dairy sector of São Miguel. More than 1,200 breeders have passed through its facilities.
Under a temporary lease agreement, the Cattle Breeding Center started to be managed by the Associação Jovens Agricultores Micaelenses (Young Farmers Association of São Miguel) in October 1997 and increased the number of dairy cows from 35 to 75, aiming to provide heifers with a higher genetic quality to the local farmers.
Unileite (Union of Agricultural Dairy Cooperatives of São Miguel Island) was established in 1954 and incorporates all the cooperative values in its principles, as it was created by milk producers who try to increase the value of the milk they produce in a process of democratic management.
Unileite started processing milk at its first factory located in the city of Ponta Delgada and then relocated its operation to the largest milk-producing area of the Azores in Arribanas, Arrifes, in the year 2000. It employs over 200 people and receives over 180 million liters of natural milk from over 700 milk producers, transforming it into UHT milk for consumption, cheese, butter and cream. Its products come from a natural environment where cows are born and grow, remaining their whole life in the pastures outdoors and benefiting from the excellent grass that the Azorean climate provides throughout the year. It is headed by a Board of Directors, elected by the members for 4-year terms. Its mission is fulfilled each day, receiving all the milk from its producers, processing it and marketing it. This generates wealth that remains in the Azores, providing our people with their livelihood.
Unileite operates according to modern management standards, including an Integrated Management System based on food safety management certification standards (Food Safety System Certification 22000) and environmental management (ISO 14401).
The SNIRA (National Animal Information and Registration System) is based in Arrifes following negotiations with the Regional Secretary for Agriculture and Forestry, who embraced this project and the desire of the agricultural community.
This is a proximity service that sets the regulations for the identification, registration and circulation of animals of different species, which results in a saving of time and resources for producers and farmers, avoiding a number of trips to Ponta Delgada.
The availability of this service in Arrifes was made possible with the collaboration and partnership of the Cooperativa Agrícola do Bom Pastor (Good Shepherd Agricultural Cooperative), which provided the space and personnel.
Eco-Villages – Clean Villages Competition
From 2014 to 2020, the Arrifes Village Council was one of the winners of the “Eco-Villages – Clean Villages” competition. With this annual award, which consists of a certificate and a flag, the Regional Government aims to distinguish the efforts of the councils and the local populations in terms of cleaning and of waste removal and disposal in the public space of their territory.
As a symbolic gesture, the flag of the competition is hoisted every year.