We began preparations with dessert. Weeks before our wedding reception, Edge and I churned raw milk into ice cream crank by crank in an old-fashioned ice cream maker. We could have bought it — after all, there are delicious Vermont-made ice creams — but we chose to sit in the evenings on the back porch with coffee-infused cream, ice, and rock salt, and take turns cranking.
Like everything else in our lives we did it for connection, but also because if we wanted to have seven gallons of raw milk (as opposed to pasteurized milk) ice cream, we had to make it ourselves. In 2011, the year we got married, we lived on a grass-based dairy and livestock farm, and had an ample supply of raw milk available to us. In fact, we had first come to this farm seeking raw milk, and after a series of dinners with the farmers were invited to set up a yurt and learn how a small organic dairy farm works.
I didn’t grow up drinking raw milk; it was pasteurized skim for my family, and the watery, near tasteless liquid never excited my taste buds much. It wasn’t until after college when I began working on a small farm in Northfield with dairy goats that I discovered that people drank raw milk. Once I drank my way into the raw milk crowd, I found a large subset of Vermonters who see raw milk as a symbol for the values of traditional small-scale farming.
Aside from the health benefits of raw milk — it’s more easily digestible for some and has a higher vitamin content than pasteurized milk — the process of producing it requires close attention to cleanliness and animal health, and it practically demands a sustainable method of farming that takes care of animals, land and people.
Farmers that sell raw milk typically raise their herds on grass and allow them to follow natural patterns through rotational grazing. Raw milk also tends to be sold in a closer radius than pasteurized milk, creating a customer base who knows its farmers and cows or goats. For many, choosing to drink raw milk is choosing to be part of a community that values healthy animals, healthy and diverse pastures, clean water, clean farms, and farmers who respect the relationship between environmental resources, animals and people. To me, drinking raw milk is not just a personal health choice, but a statement on what kind of community I want to live in.
It was early August when we began making batches of ice cream for our reception at the end of the month. By that time, we had spent enough early mornings in the cement pit of the milking parlor for the romance of dairy farming to wear off, though our time moving the cows on pasture continued to offer a rhythmic peace to our days. We knew by then that if we were to have cows on our own farm, the number would be closer to 1 rather than 50. Still, the time spent with a herd of over 50 cows on a grass-based farm taught me that dairy farming is much more than milking. To witness the herd instincts of cows is to be brought back to the intuitive rhythms of animals, and being in their presence sparks the same unspoken connection between people and land.
When we finally scooped that ice cream into bowls, it was perfect. The thick creaminess of it coated our mouths unlike any other ice cream I’d eaten before, and I smothered the accompanying fudge brownies with scoops of vanilla and coffee.
Now, four years later, we have our own farm but no cows. Instead, we buy raw milk from Rogers Farmstead in Berlin, and I’ve learned that you don’t have to be the one milking to have a connection to the cows. I’m happy to acknowledge that my strength is growing vegetables, and that the Rogers’ know how to produce delicious, creamy milk, perfect for ice cream.
With enough support, a new raw milk bill, H.426, is set to make raw milk easier for farmers to sell and customers to buy. The current law and proposed bill include health and cleanliness standards and regular testing, though the Vermont Department of Health opposes the bill in favor of pasteurization. Raw milk producers often allow customers to view their milking facilities and practices, which creates greater transparency and accountability, while encouraging relationships between farmers and customers, in my experience. For more information on the proposed bill, visit ruralvermont.org, which advocates for the bill, or you can read the bill at http://bit.ly/1y1tzjA. You can let the House Agriculture Committee know whether you support H.426 by calling or emailing the Statehouse.