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By DAVE GRAM, Associated Press
March 19, 2015
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont Rep. Teo Zagar says he prefers raw, unpasteurized milk, but will stop at his general store for the conventional stuff when the dirt road to his favorite farm is deep in snow or spring mud.
“There’s a little more terroir,” the Democrat from Barnard said of the milk he gets from Kiss the Cow Farm, using a wine enthusiast’s term for earthiness. “If the dandelions are blooming, the milk has a little yellow tint to it.”
Zagar is lead sponsor of a House bill that would made it easier for the state’s growing number of organic dairies to bring raw milk to market. Consumers now must go to the farm or have it delivered to them by the farmer. The bill would allow raw milk to be sold at farmers’ markets, through community-supported agriculture programs and, with some additional regulation, at retail.
The state Health Department doesn’t like the idea.
Expanding the sale of raw milk “really allows producers to bypass one of the most effective public health measures ever, one that is often called one of the triumphs of the 20th century, and that is pasteurization,” said Dr. Erica Berl, a state epidemiologist.
Raw milk’s popularity has been growing in recent years, as people become more educated about food and as the “foodie” movement gains ground with its adherents’ interest in traditional foods, said Andrea Stander, executive director of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont. Its sale is legal in some form in 26 states, she said.
Vermont opened the door to the current, limited sales of raw milk in 2009, and the bill’s backers say there have been no disease outbreaks since then. Raw milk producers testified they have unnecessary hurdles to pass that are not faced by conventional dairies, including the need to drive their milk to just two locations in the state for testing.
Aside from the expanded sales, the bill would allow less frequent testing of milk produced by raw milk dairies. But supporters say the real aim is to better balance the costs of doing business with profitability.
“It’s a balance between safety, which is No. 1, and economic opportunity,” Zagar said. “Farmers need to sell enough milk to make enough profits to keep the business viable.”
Stander said the bill is not expected to become law with less than two months left in this year’s legislative session. But if it can get through the House, the Senate can take it up when lawmakers reconvene next January.
By Peter Hirschfeld
Mar 19, 2015
Full Article & Audio
Lawmakers are considering a bill designed to expand the raw milk market in Vermont. But health experts and dairy industry stalwarts say the proposal could inflict serious damage on the state’s agriculture sector.
Among those voicing concerns is Mateo Kehler. And Kehler knows his audience.
Kehler, co-owner of Jasper Hill Farm, was about to testify before the House Committee on Agriculture Thursday morning. But first, he presented legislators a wood board loaded with thick wedges of artisanal cheese from his renowned cellars in Greensboro.
“Madame chair and honorable members of the committee, I really appreciate the opportunity to come share,” Kehler said as the legislators tucked in to the spread.
Kehler was in the Statehouse to testify in opposition to a bill that aims to expand the raw milk market, and also allow small raw milk farmers to sell cheeses and other value-added items made from their product.
It’s the latter provision that has Kehler and other artisan cheese makers concerned.
“And I just have to ask, given the scale and the scope and the trajectory of the Vermont cheese industry, whether it makes sense to undermine that for the sake of seven or eight tier two producers. From my perspective, it doesn’t make sense,” Kehler said.
Kehler is less concerned about the parts of the bill that would producers to sell raw milk at farmers markets and retail stores – places they’re prohibited from selling now. But that provision faces stiff opposition from other constituencies, including public health experts who view the consumption of unpasteurized milk as a disaster waiting to happen.
“Allowing the sale of raw milk to consumers really means allowing these consumers to bypass one of the most effective health measures ever implemented. In fact it’s often called one of the triumphs of the 20th century,” said Erica Berl public health epidemiologist at the Vermont Department of Health.
Raw milk producers however say the financial viability of their raw milk operations hinges on access to the kinds of high-traffic markets available at farmers markets and retail outlets.
They say the state has yet to see a confirmed raw-milk outbreak from a licensed producer since selling raw milk became legal five years ago. Goat farmer Frank Huard told lawmakers that stringent testing requirements imposed by the state mean it’ll stay that way.
Huard, who milks 10 goats on his family farm in Craftsbury, says testing costs money.
“And I can’t incur that cost of doing business if I can’t sell product,” Huard said.
The bill also would allow very small raw milk operations to sell raw milk to sell to their neighbors without any testing requirements at all.
Stephanie Eiring, owner of Sunrise Farm in Enosburg Falls, says it’s the kind of provision that could help her raise the revenue needed to grow into the farm of her dreams.
“How am I going to get there? How am I going to pay for these cows, the semen, the shavings, the hay?” Eiring said. “You guys could make it easier for us. You definitely could provide this economic opportunity.”
The legislation would also allow raw milk producers to sell in community supported agriculture operations.
A state Senate committee working session on Thursday should signal whether the Maine Legislature will go along with Republican Gov. Paul R. LePage’s desire to limit raw milk producers who are exempted from state licensing and inspection requirements to “on farm only” sales.
LePage carved out his raw milk stance last session when he vetoed Legislative Document (LD) 1282, which would have exempted from licensing and inspection requirements any producer who sells less than 20 gallons of raw milk per day, whether the product is sold on the farm or at farmers markets. After the veto, LePage suggested the legislature return an “on farm only” version of the bill to his desk next time.
The next time is here for the Maine Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, which has two new raw milk bills up for consideration.
LD 229 is pretty much a repeat of the bill LePage vetoed last session. Any raw milk dairy, which produces less than 20 gallons of raw milk per day, would be exempted from both state licensing and inspection. LD 229 would again permit both “on farm only” and farmer’s market sales.
The second bill, LD 312, would exempt raw milk producers from licensing and inspection only if they are limited to “on farm sales” and agree not to advertise. It also requires raw milk producers participating under the bill’s constraints to take a dairy sanitation course and use labels that clearly state that the milk is not pasteurized.
In his veto message last session, LePage stated, “Such face-to-face on Farm transactions should be promoted. The ‘on Farm only’ approach would reduce risk to overall public health because consumers would know the farmer who produced the milk, see and inspect the farm and hold the producer accountable for foodborne illnesses that are associated with unpasteurized milk.”
LePage administration officials went public in favor of LD 312 last week at a Senate hearing on both bills.
Ronald Dyer, director of quality assurance and regulations at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said the administration opposes LD 229, the broader bill. He also made it clear that the state would retain the right to investigate any farm involved in an outbreak concerning an “unlicensed dairy product.”
The number of small dairy farms in Maine not selling milk for further processing has grown to 160 today, up from 13 just 20 years ago.
While LePage is clearly offering raw milk advocates a path to easing regulations, not all want to take it.
“There is no need for the superfluous intervention of a dairy inspector to assure that milk is the best and healthiest a farmer can provide,” said Betsy Garrold, who testified before the Senate committee last week on behalf of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
She said her group supports LD 229 and was “neither for or against” LD 312.
Amy Shollenberger has more than 15 years of grassroots organizing, policy, and political issue campaign experience, including work as a press secretary for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and as a senior policy analyst for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. As Rural Vermont’s executive director, she worked to help members successfully lobby for several bills. In 2010, she was the campaign manager for a gubernatorial primary candidate in Vermont. She currently serves multiple clients through her Action Circles firm, offering help with political strategy, organizational capacity building, and meeting facilitation. Amy is a member of the Vermont Consultants Network.
The Senate Ag Committee passed H.484 (the Agricultural Housekeeping Bill) on 4/30 with the amendments to the current raw milk law. Visit this page for the complete update. Thank you to all of the farmers and customers who have testified before the both the House and Senate Ag Committees on this issue. Also, thank you to those of you who have attended the hearings to show support and to the many activists who have called and left messages for members of the committee during the hearings over the past few weeks.
March 18, 2015
Cook County commissioners sided with the embattled Lake View Natural Dairy on Tuesday, approving a letter of support for the Grand Marais farmer who is refusing to allow state agricultural inspectors on the property.
The commissioners backed the Berglund family’s right to sell products from the farm, citing lines from the Minnesota constitution that protect the farm “from governmental intrusions, when [it] is privately associating with private men and women to sell and peddle the products of their farm at their farm location.”
The move comes a week after Judge Michael Cuzzo denied a motion from the Department of Agriculture to hold David Berglund in contempt for not allowing inspectors on his farm. The state initially sought to have him fined $500 a day. Cuzzo stayed the department’s order for inspection until he could address the constitutional issues in the case, a ruling that will come in the next 90 days.
Lake View sells milk from its cows without processing it in sanitized containers, according to court records. Some of the milk is turned into cream and butter for customers. The Agriculture Department initially tried to visit the farm two years ago to discuss how Lake View could voluntarily comply with rules governing the manufacturing and sale of unpasteurized dairy products.
Regulators disagreed with Berglund’s assertion that he was constitutionally exempt — by the “No license required to peddle” clause — from a requirement that he have a license to sell goods from the farm. They argued that the farm was still subject to inspections and food-safety requirements and that it needed a dairy-producer permit.
“He’s a local farmer, the family’s been here for generations, and so we support economic development and people that are trying to make a living here,” said Heidi Doo-Kirk, who chairs the Cook County Board of Commissioners.
Like many others in town, Doo-Kirk and her family have gone to the farm to buy milk. Lake View even has an honor system, she said: customers can grab milk from a cooler, write their purchase on a sign-in sheet and leave money in a box.
Jonathan Falby has been toting a guitar with him since 8th grade when he thought he was going to become Jimi Hendrix (it’s never too late to become a rockstar). His guitar and music have taken him from Ireland, to Cuba, all over the North East kingdom. He has done brief stints in obscure local bluegrass bands, appearances at Raw Milk Theather, but most importantly he performs daily in his living room for his son Seamus. He has been known to bust out a fiddle tune in early spring for a herd of cows. He hopes for, and is working very hard at achieving, a nomination for Seven Days naked daisy man, and on the side is making some raw milk off of a couple family cows.
March 13, 2015 9:53 am
Hemp truly is a cash crop. The total retail value of hemp products sold in the U.S. last year has been tallied, and the multipurpose plant brought in a stunning $620 million, according to estimates from the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a non-profit trade association representing hemp companies, researchers and supporters.
The figure is based on sales of clothing, auto parts, building materials and various other products. Total retail sales of hemp foods and body care alone totaled approximately $200 million, according to the HIA.
Mary Jane’s non-intoxicating cousin had been stymied by a federal drug policy until last February when President Obama signed the Farm Bill which contained an amendment to legalize hemp production for research purposes. The bill also allowed states that already legalized the crop to cultivate hemp within the parameters of state agriculture departments and research institutions.
Currently, 21 states may grow hemp thanks to the Farm Bill, including California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. More states are moving to legalize industrial hemp farming as well.
“Eleven new states have passed legislation and new businesses are rapidly entering the market now that American farmers in a handful of states are finally beginning to grow the crop legally,” said Eric Steenstra, executive director of the HIA. “Challenges remain in the market and there is a need for Congress to pass legislation to allow farmers to grow hemp commercially in order for the market to continue its rapid growth.”
There’s also been increasing grassroots pressure on the Feds to allow hemp to be grown domestically on a commercial scale. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act was introduced in both the House and Senate earlier this year. If passed, it would remove all federal restrictions on the cultivation of industrial hemp, and remove its classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
The bill was introduced by Oregon Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Kentucky Republicans Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner decided last week to co-sponsor the bill, and said in a media release: “Industrial hemp is a safe substance with many practical commercial applications. Removing it from the Controlled Substances Act is a common sense move which would create jobs and get the government out of the way of farmers and our agricultural industry.”
The $620 million figure from was gleaned from natural and conventional retailers, excluding Whole Foods Market, Costco and certain other key establishments, who do not provide sales data, which means the true sales figure could be much higher by at least two and a half, the HIA said.
Hemp retail sales in the U.S. just keep growing. According to data collected by market research firm SPINS, combined U.S. hemp food and body care sales grew in the sampled stores by 21.2 percent or $14,020,239, over the previous year to a total of just more than $80,042,540. Sales in conventional retailers grew by 26.8 percent in 2014, while sales in natural retailers grew by 16.3 percent.
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