Full list: Milk News

Empowered Sustinance Blog: Why is Raw Milk So Special?

July 6, 2013
By Lauren
Full Post

What makes raw milk so special?

Perhaps you’ve heard me or other bloggers profess our love for raw milk. “What’s the big deal with raw milk? What makes it so special?” you may wonder. Well, when it comes to comparing raw milk and regular (a.k.a. pasteurized milk), they are two entirely different substances. Raw milk is a living food, full of digestion-enhancing enzymes. Pasteurized milk, on the other hand, is a dead food that is highly allergenic and difficult to tolerate.

Here are 6 reasons why raw milk beats pasteurized milk:

1. Enzymes

Heating wet foods above 118 degrees F destroys the naturally occurring, beneficial enzymes. As a living food, raw milk contains enzymes that assist in digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Fermenting the milk into yogurt further activates beneficial enzymes, rendering the product even more digestible.

In particular, raw milk contains the enzyme lactase which helps breakdown lactose. Additionally, an enzyme in the butterfat called lipase aids in fat digestion and assimilation of the fat-soluble vitamins.

Pasteurized milk is heated to 170 degrees and ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to 280 degrees. This prolongs the shelf-life of the milk at the cost of destroying the health-giving qualities of the milk. There are no live enzymes left in pasteurized milk… it is a dead food. As a result, the digestive system must furnish all the enzymes required to digest it. Often, if the diet consists of all cooked foods, the body’s enzymes stores are depleted and digestion is impaired.

2. Fat

The butterfat in raw milk separates to the top… just like butterfat should. The butterfat is primarily saturated–the most healthiest and most stable fat to consume (if you are still stuck in the utterly false mindset that saturated fat is bad for you, then get thee a copy of Nourishing Traditions immediately!). If the raw milk is from cows in pasture, this butterfat boasts anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.

The practice of homogenization further mutilates the chemical integrity of milk. The fat globules are pressurized so that they become small enough to be in suspension throughout the milk, without separating into cream. This makes the fat and cholesterol more susceptible to rancidity and destroys the colloidal structure of the milk.

3. Vitamins

The vitamins in raw milk are fully intact and bioavailable. If the cows are in pasture, the milk is significantly higher in the extremely beneficial vitamin K.

It’s another story for pasteurized milk, however. During pasteurization, more than 50% of vitamin C is lost. The primary cofactors, enzymes and proteins that assist in the absorption of folate, B12, B6, and iron are also destroyed with pasteurization (source). Further, one protein destroyed by pasteurization is beta lactoglobulin, which plays an important role in the absorption of vitamin A (source).

4. Digestibility

One survey revealed that 80% of people who were described as “lactose intolerant” by a healthcare practitioner can consume raw milk without a problem. Raw milk is heralded as a cure for asthma, thyroid disorders, constipation, allergies and more.

Pasteurization and homogenization makes milk allergenic and difficult to digest. In particular, pasteurization destroys the naturally-occuring lactase enzyme. This often leads to undigested milk sugar (lactose), which can can cause digestive distress. Further, the heat of pasteurization denatures and destroys some proteins. I think that one reason people find raw milk so much easier to digest is because the proteins are complete and bioavailable.

5. Allergies

Raw milk consumption has been correlated to lower rates of allergies. Although correlation doesn’t mean causation in that study, many folks who have switched to raw milk will tell you that it drastically reduced their seasonal allergies, hayfever and asthma. Pasteurized milk, though, is a very common allergen. It can actually precipitate food allergies, because pasteurization alters some of the milk proteins and makes it irritating to the gut.

6. Animal Health

Generally, raw milk is obtained from smaller-scale local farms. Chat with the milk producer and support the farmers who let the cows graze in pasture. Pastured, rather than grain and soy fed cows, boast drastically more nutrient-dense milk. Additionally, pastured cows and cattle restore the top soil and play a vital role in the ecosystem.

“Is raw milk safe?”

One common concern regards the safety of raw milk. “Is raw milk safe?” is the first question I’m asked when I explain that I happily drink raw milk. Any food can be contaminated with a dangerous bacteria or pathogen… that is the risk of eating anything. The “dangers” of raw milk are exceptionally exaggerated, however. For example, it is 10 times more likely to get sick from eating deli meat than consuming raw milk (on a per-serving basis!). Source.

Last year, Chris Kresser wrote a comprehensive and flawlessly executed article on the safety of raw milk. In response to the cherry-picked CDC press release that claimed “Majority of dairy-related disease outbreaks linked to raw milk,” Chris brought the risks of raw milk into perspective:

  • When it comes to food-borne illnesses, dairy products are at the bottom of the list of offenders. Dairy products only account for about 1.3% of foodborne illnesses each year.
  • The CDC’s report used an outdated, smaller estimate of raw milk drinkers, most likely in an effort to exaggerate the risks. The report also used the statistics of illnesses related to illegally-made raw milk queso fresco, which carries significantly more risk than fluid raw milk
  • During 2000 – 2007,  you had roughly 1 in 94,000 chance in getting sick from drinking raw milk. Does that sound risky to you? Let’s examine what this really means. Food poisoning means anything from a little diarrhea to a hospital visit. There is an average of 1.5 people per year getting hospitalized for raw milk consumption. That means the risk of hospitalization from drinking raw milk is 1 in 6 million.
  • Chris further threw things into perspective by explaining that we are 750 times more likely to die in a car crash than to be hospitalized for drinking raw milk!

“Where do I get raw milk? What if I can’t get it?”

Many states restrict the sale of raw milk in grocery stores. Other states allow herdshares or the sale of raw milk if it is labeled as pet foods. Even in the few states that completely outlaw raw milk sales, it is almost always possible to find raw milk on the “black market.” To find raw milk in your area, contact your local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter or the Real Milk website.

If you cannot find raw milk, the second best option is low temperature pasteurized and non-homogenized milk. Seek out sources of milk from pastured cows, since this will be higher in nutrients. Try to avoid Ultra High Temperature (UTH) pasteurized milk, a highly denatured product. Interestingly, the major Certified Organic dairies like Organic Valley use this type of processing.

Carroll County News: Raw milk now legal in Arkansas, but buyers assume risk

Thursday, July 18, 2013
By Kathryn Lucariello
Full Article

CARROLL COUNTY — As of Monday, July 15, it has become legal to purchase raw milk in Arkansas, but you won’t find it at the farmers’ market or grocery store. You can only get it directly from a farm.

The basics of the new law provide that Arkansas farms can sell up to 500 gallons of whole raw cow’s milk and up to 500 gallons of raw goat’s milk per month, directly to consumers for personal use and not for resale. It will still be illegal to sell it at farmers markets or retail outlets. Customers must go directly to the farm to purchase these raw milk products.

Food Safety News: Raw Milk Bill Brought Back in America’s Dairy State

By News Desk

Buoyed by the partial acquittal of Sauk County raw milk producer Vernon Hershberger, a Wisconsin state senator is going to try again to make it legal to sell unpasteurized milk and milk products in the Diary State.

West Bend Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman has dropped a bill into the Wisconsin Legislature that would allow limited sales of raw milk and raw milk products, which he claims are recommended by nutritionists and chiropractors for health benefits.

“Unfortunately, there is a law on the books where technically it’s still illegal to sell raw milk in the state of Wisconsin,” says Grothman. His bill would permit the sale of unpasteurized milk from farms registered with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The same farms would sell buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, ice cream, butter and cheese made with raw milk.

Grothman’s bill, which won’t go to a public hearing until Fall, would allow on the farm sales directly to consumers, but would continue to ban retail sales in stores or farmer’s markets.

A dairy farm that sells raw milk directly to consumers would risk losing their license. The Grothman bill sets up an exemption to that possibility by allowing those interested in selling raw milk to register with DATCP.

The Senator claims farms that register will be under the same requirements, as they would normally have for producing grade A milk regarding cleanliness, temperature, and other safety requirements.

The bill also sets up criteria for clean containers, proper labeling, a posted sign, and compliance with all state rules. As Wisconsin is the nation’s largest dairy state, Grothman will face strong opposition by the multi-billion dollar pasteurized milk industry, which claims raw milk’s frequent outbreaks gives their product a bad name.

Scott Walker, the current governor, has indicated he could sign a raw milk bill with sufficient safe guards in it. Unlike most state legislatures in the Midwest, the Wisconsin Legislature meets periodically throughout the year.

Wall Street Journal: New Studies Confirm: Raw Milk A Low-Risk Food

Liz Reitzig
June 11, 2013
Full Press Release

Washington DC, June 11, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Three quantitative microbial risk assessments (QMRAs) recently published in the Journal of Food Protection have demonstrated that unpasteurized milk is a low-risk food, contrary to previous, inappropriately-evidenced claims suggesting a high-risk profile. These scholarly papers, along with dozens of others, were reviewed on May 16, 2013 at the Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver, BC (Canada), during a special scientific Grand Rounds presentation entitled “Unpasteurized milk: myths and evidence.”

The reviewer, Nadine Ijaz, MSc, demonstrated how inappropriate evidence has long been mistakenly used to affirm the “myth” that raw milk is a high-risk food, as it was in the 1930s. Today, green leafy vegetables are the most frequent cause of food-borne illness in the United States. British Columbia CDC’s Medical Director of Environmental Health Services, Dr. Tom Kosatsky, who is also Scientific Director of Canada’s National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health,welcomed Ms. Ijaz’s invited presentation as “up-to-date” and “a very good example of knowledge synthesis and risk communication.”

Quantitative microbial risk assessment is considered the gold-standard in food safety evidence, a standard recommended by the United Nations body Codex Alimentarius, and affirmed as an important evidencing tool by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada. The scientific papers cited at the BC Centre for Disease Control presentation demonstrated a low risk of illness from unpasteurized milk consumption for each of the pathogens Campylobacter, Shiga-toxin inducing E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus aureus. This low risk profile applied to healthy adults as well as members of immunologically-susceptible groups: pregnant women, children and the elderly.

Given that these QMRAs appear to contradict a long-held scientific view that raw milk is a high-risk food, Ms. Ijaz noted (in line with United Nations standards) that it is important to confirm their accuracy using food-borne outbreak data . The accuracy of recent QMRA findings was scientifically demonstrated using a combination of peer-reviewed data and Ijaz’s own recent scholarly working paper, which analysed U.S. outbreak data for raw milk using accepted methodologies.

Peer-reviewed outbreak data confirming a negligible risk of illness from Listeria monocytogenes in raw milk was particularly notable, and demonstrates the inaccuracy of a high-risk designation given to raw milk in an older U.S. government risk assessment for Listeria. The forty-year worldwide absence of listeriosis cases from raw milk presented in a 2013 scholarly review, and affirmed in the QMRA results published in 2011, is attributed by European reviewers to the protective action of non-harmful bacteria found in raw milk.

“While it is clear that there remains some appreciable risk of food-borne illness from raw milk consumption, public health bodies should now update their policies and informational materials to reflect the most high-quality evidence, which characterizes this risk as low,” said Ijaz. “Raw milk producers should continue to use rigorous management practices to minimize any possible remaining risk.”

Ms. Ijaz used extensive high-quality evidence to further deconstruct various scientific myths from both raw milk advocates and detractors. As Ijaz pointed out, increasing evidence of raw farm milk’s unique health benefits to young children, as well as the possible detriments of industrial milk production practices, will need to be carefully considered in future risk analyses. She recommended an honest, evidence-informed dialogue on raw milk issues between producers, consumers, advocates, legislators and public health officials.

Bangor Daily News: Small-scale raw milk deregulation law passes House, Senate

June 7, 2013
By Mario Moretto
Full Article

AUGUSTA, Maine — The House of Representatives has given final approval to a bill that would deregulate the production and sale of raw milk and raw milk products, leaving only a routine Senate vote on the bill before it heads to the governor to be signed into law.

The Senate has already approved an earlier version of the bill, and was expected to vote again on that version — and a clerical amendment — Wednesday night or Thursday.

Unless it is vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, the bill will allow unlicensed farmers to sell up to 20 gallons of raw, or unpasteurized, milk per day, or process for sale the same amount of raw milk into cheese, butter, cream or kefir. Currently, it is illegal to sell raw milk without licensing, which requires state inspection and testing.

Efforts to gauge LePage’s intent were unsuccessful, but Heather Retberg, a Penobscot farmer, said she and several other proponents of the bill met with the governor in January.

“He expressed then that he wanted to do whatever he could to make the rules more friendly to farmers trying to feed their communities,” she said. “So we’re confident that he’s standing behind us.”

The farmers would be allowed to sell their products from their homes or farm stands, or at farmers markets, but not for wholesale. The milk must be clearly labeled as not pasteurized, with contact information for the farmer and a statement that the product is exempt from licensing and inspection.

An amendment, originally proposed by the Department of Agriculture as a compromise and approved by both chambers, would require that the milk products be tested 10 times per year by “an accredited laboratory.” The amendment also directs the department to develop more specific rules for testing and penalties for failed tests.

Proponents of the bill have rallied around Dan Brown, a Blue Hill farmer who was sued by the state for selling unlicensed, unlabeled raw milk. Brown has become a cause celebre in the local food sovereignty movement, but lost his case recently in Hancock County Superior Court.

He said Wednesday that he’s happy the law has passed and that he hopes it will eventually clear the way for him to sell milk again. In the meantime, he’s not holding his breath.

“My understanding is it won’t really help me in my lawsuit because, in their opinion, when I was doing it, this law hadn’t been passed,” he said. Brown also said that even if the governor signs the bill into law, it could be months before the law takes effect.

Most non-emergency laws take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. So the change for raw milk dairies won’t hit the books until around September.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Franklin, said his bill recognizes the role played by small-scale farmers, and makes room for them within Maine’s regulatory environment. Proponents have said the requirements for dairy facilities — including an outbuilding with hot running water, concrete floors and sanitation and refrigeration equipment — price the smallest farmers out of the market.

“This helps the small producers,” Saviello said recently. “If they do grow, and they have to go get licensed [because they exceed the 20-gallon limit], then that’s great. But this lets them get started.”

But one effect of the bill’s passage into law is still unclear. Because the federal Food and Drug Administration considers unpasteurized dairy products a potential public health risk, some dairy farmers are concerned their insurance premiums will rise along with deregulation.

The risk, they say, is that if one bad batch of raw milk enters the market, it will sully the image of all milk produced in Maine.

Bangor Daily News: Blue Hill raw milk ruling deals blow to local food sovereignty movement

May 04, 2013
By Mario Moretto
Full Article

BLUE HILL, Maine — A Superior Court ruling against a Blue Hill farmer who has been selling unlabeled, unlicensed raw milk will have farmers in several Maine towns wondering about the future of local “food sovereignty” ordinances that seek to exempt them from state oversight.

Dan Brown, of Gravelwood Farm, lost a civil case on April 27, in which he was accused of violating three Maine laws: selling milk without a license, selling unpasteurized, or “raw,” milk without marking it as such and operating a food establishment without a license.

Since 2006, Brown has been selling raw milk from a farm stand located on his property. An 8- by 11-inch sign states that the milk is raw. Brown also sold his products at farmers markets after Blue Hill adopted its Local Food and Community Self Governance Ordinance in 2011.

Brown said his sales were legal under the ordinance, which exempts local food vendors from state licensure and inspection, provided they sell their products directly to consumers.

Eight other Maine towns — Appleton, Brooksville, Hope, Livermore, Penobscot, Plymouth, Sedgwick and Trenton — have also passed local food ordinances with the same or similar language.

In her order, Hancock Superior Court Justice Ann Murray ruled that Brown was not protected under the Blue Hill ordinance. It was a major boost for the argument from the Maine Department of Agriculture, who filed the lawsuit against Brown in 2011, that towns cannot simply opt out of state law.

The ruling could have an effect on the other towns with similar rules. If the state were to pursue civil action against other farmers operating without a license, their attempt to seek protection under local food rules would likely fail.

Brown sought shelter under the so-called Home Rule of the Maine Constitution, which permits a municipality to enact its own regulation when permitted to do so by the Legislature, so long as the regulation “is not denied expressly or by clear implication.”

While the Legislature has carved out an exception for small farmers who sell produce at farm stands and farmers markets, the state excluded milk products, making clear “the legislative intent that milk products be subject to stricter regulations than other products,” Murray wrote.

“It is axiomatic that a municipality may only add to the requirements of the statute, it may not take away from those requirements unless permitted to do so otherwise,” she wrote.

While the decision sets a clear precedent in Hancock County, home to five of the nine towns with local food rules, Lourie said the decision’s effect on other county courts would depend on how persuasive the presiding judge found Murray’s legal analysis.

Lourie said Murray could have ordered the town to strike the ordinance from the books, but since she didn’t, Blue Hill is under no obligation to backpedal on its assertion of a right to Home Rule. In the meantime, Brown hopes ultimately to win the case on appeal.

“Obviously this will have some effect, but to put it into perspective, this is not a final ruling,” Brown said. “Until the Superior Court makes a final ruling, I think there’s still some wiggle room.”

Jim Schatz, a selectman in Blue Hill who has supported the local food rules in town and at the State House, where several proposed laws would bolster local food sovereignty efforts, said he doesn’t anticipate conversations among selectmen about repealing the ordinance.

The ruling “shows the kind of work that needs to be done at the legislative level,” he said Friday.

Schatz stressed that selectmen are merely administrators. The ordinance was put forward by residents and approved at a Blue Hill town meeting. In towns such as Blue Hill, voters are the legislative body.

“It may be that the people interested in this ordinance come and ask for some refinement of it, but that’s not a process the selectmen would initiate,” he said. “We’re mere tools of the legislative body, which is a good place to be.”

There are bills being discussed at the committee level that would exempt local food ordinances from being pre-empted by state law, as well as a proposal to allow for direct-to-consumer sales without state oversight throughout Maine.

“We’re carefully monitoring the progress of those bills, because at this point it’s a policy question,” he said Friday.

Regardless, Lourie urged caution for farmers selling their products without licenses under the assumption their towns protect them from state law.

“The law can remain on the books, but it won’t be regarded as a defense [against civil lawsuits from the state],” he said. “Anyone who relies on it does so at their own risk. The town probably ought to repeal the ordinance because it leads people down the primrose path thinking they’re protected when they’re not.”

Brown is scheduled for a civil penalty hearing on May 16 in Hancock County Superior Court, where Murray will rule on what penalties will be levied for each of his three violations.

Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund: National Farmers Union Endorses Raw Milk

by Kimberly Hartke
April 10, 2013
Full podcast

Episode 8 of the Food Rights Hour podcast is about the National Farmers Union’s endorsement of raw milk. During this episode, host Kimberly Hartke talks about the National Farmers Union’s (NFU) decision to endorse this nutrient-dense beverage with guests David Gumpert, Mark McAfee, Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Richard R. Oswald, and Danielle Nierenberg.

What does NFU’s decision mean for the future of raw milk? What do two delegates for the NFU, Hannah Smith-Brubaker and Richard R. Oswald, have to say in response to NFU’s recent endorsement?  What is the American Farm Bureau’s take on raw milk? How did Mark McAfee help convince the NFU to endorse raw milk? Does the new food think tank, Food Tank, have a stance on raw versus pasteurized milk?

What Ceres Might Say: The Vermont Story: History of Farmer Cooperatives and how they have Impacted Vermont Agriculture

December 20th, 2012
Full Article
The farmer cooperative movement has a long and varied history in Vermont. Over the years farmer cooperatives have come and gone, influenced by the need for better pricing through joint marketing, collective buying of supplies, changing demographics, and challenges brought about by the ever changing market environment. At the state, regional, and national levels, the politics behind this cooperative movement has always been significant.  This blog reviews, very briefly, the history of the farmer cooperative movement, and its status in Vermont today. An entire book could be written on this rich history.
Why the European Model was Appealing to U.S. Agriculture and Rural America:
It is said that the model for the cooperative movement in the United States came primarily from Europe, and the heritage that many of the original settlers brought with them.  Often cited is the Rochdele Cooperative (weavers) and the resulting Rochdele cooperative principles, the primarily ones being “member owned, member controlled, and for member benefit.”  These principles, and the development of U.S. cooperatives are rooted in the upheavals that characterized the Industrial Revolution in England during 1750-1850 (see Univ. Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, Cooperatives in the U.S.). Accordingly it is stated that dairy cooperatives were among the first type of agricultural cooperatives organized in the U.S. with the first creamery being built in Goshen, Connecticut in 1810 (see Cropp and Graf, History and Role of Dairy Cooperatives).
In the United States a very extensive infrastructure has been developed at the federal level around the cooperative model for farmers and rural America.  Under the American and U.S. Commission of 1913 (see Senate Doc. No 214, Parts I, II, III, 63rd Congress) several U.S and Canadian representatives made an extensive trip throughout all of Europe in the spring and summer of 1913 to investigate the cooperative structure for rural credit. The Federal Loan Act of 1916 resulted, creating the Federal Land Bank (part of the Federal Farm Credit System) for farm mortgage lending. Other federal laws were also enacted.  These included the Clayton Act of 1914, and the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922 (giving limited anti-trust immunity to farmer marketing and bargaining cooperatives).  The Cooperative Marketing Act of 1926 created a division within USDA to promote cooperatives. The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929 was created to deal with the supply and demand imbalance that existed in the United States at that time. It was seen as a way to increase farmer prices during the depression period.  It did this by creating a Federal Farm Board, which saw cooperative marketing as being essential to bring about economic relief to agriculture.  One quote from that time stated “at the present time nearly everyone from President Coolidge down is talking of Co-operative marketing as a cure for the ills which American agriculture faces.” (See: Fourteenth Biennial Report of the Vermont Commissioner of Agriculture, 1926-1928.)  Other laws soon followed to further aid rural America and cooperative development.  Some of these such as the Rural Electric Administration and the Rural Telephone Act are easily recognized. Both helped to bring electricity and communications to rural parts of the United States that were not well served by privately owned utilities, and thus encouraged further development in these regions.  Others, such as the Farm Loan Act of 1933, created a structure, through the Farm Credit System, to provide immediate short-term credit to farmers and a process for lending to farmer cooperatives (Bank for Cooperatives were established in the twelve Farm Credit Districts in the United States).
Support and Advocacy Structure:
Besides the infrastructure created through federal laws, a strong trade organization structure still exists that embraces the cooperative model as a way to transact business.  For example, the dairy cooperatives across the United States organized the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) in 1916. Diary cooperatives are said to be among the first type of agricultural cooperatives organized in the U.S. (see Cropp and Graff, History and Role of Dairy Cooperatives)).  The National Grange and the Farm Bureau Federation have been strong advocates for farmer cooperatives from the beginning of these two organizations.  The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and the National Cooperative Business Association are likewise strong advocates for their member cooperatives, as is the National Rural Electric and National Rural Telephone Association, and the National Farm Credit Council, and the National Credit Union Association. In the Northeast region, Cornell University has established a Cooperative Enterprise Program; there still exists the Northeast Cooperative Council that grew out of the N.Y. State Council of Farmer Cooperatives that was organized in 1940. The dairy cooperatives have the Council of Northeast Farmer Cooperatives that primarily represents its members on national dairy policy issues. In Vermont the Green Mountain Dairy Cooperative Federation represents the dairy cooperatives on legislative issues within the state.  This list is not meant to be exclusive as there are other support organizations at the national and regional levels such as state and regional cooperative councils that also support the cooperative model.
Brief History of the Farmer Cooperative Model in Vermont:
The first cooperative market statute or state law was passed in Michigan in 1865 (see Univ. WI Zeuli and Cropp), and other states soon followed. The twenty-Sixth Annual Report of the then Vermont State Board of Agriculture in 1906 (before the establishment of the State Department of Agriculture) states that “unity of action ought or should be the watchword all along the line of farmers today.  Is it not possible for farmers of Vermont to unite to such an extent as to establish a market under their own supervision and in their own New England markets? The State Grange and State Farm Bureau were strong advocates behind the farmer cooperatives, as were Commissioners of Agriculture during this early period. “ For example, E.S. Brigham, Vermont Commissioner of Agriculture in 1914, stated in Sixth Annual Report of Agriculture for that year that “…it is good business for the state to assist in the formation of producer associations of permanent character, and to assist the associations in finding a market which will pay the highest price for good produced. The first step should be the enactment of a law similar to laws of Massachusetts, New York, and Wisconsin defining how cooperatives shall be organized.”  In 1915, the Vermont legislature enacted a law authorizing cooperative market association of farmers. Numerous local cooperative creameries (many towns had one or more) were formed in Vermont from 1915-1923. Cooperatives around other non-dairy products were created as well, such as the Vermont Maple Products Co-Operative Exchange, and the Shoreham Apple Cooperative. As cities reached out further for their milk and other farm-produced products, farmers joined together to leverage higher pricing for their products.
There has been an attempt over a long period of time to build better cooperation among farmer cooperatives.  Cooperative organizations that existed in the past to provide joint marketing for price enhancement and market stabilization included the New England Milk Producers Association in 1922, Vermont Cooperative Creameries from 1920-1924. The New England Governors and many dairy leaders in the past worked to establish New England Dairies Inc. in 1932 as a way to eliminate destructive competition that deprived milk producers in the region of their “rightful share of the profit.”  The Boston Chamber of Commerce, in a study of the New England Dairy Industry during this time, recommended joint cooperative marketing as a way to assure better farmer prices.  Some of these challenges for the Vermont dairy industry have been discussed in past Whatceresmightsay blog postings (see May and August of 2012).
Cooperation among farmer cooperatives has often remained a challenge.  Commissioner of Agriculture E. H. Jones stated (see Thirteenth Biennial Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture, 1924-26) “…Vermont producers must cooperate in delivering products of high quality if we expect to receive good prices.”  He went on to say, a few years later (see Nineteenth Biennial Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture, 1937-38) “with eighty percent of dairy products exported from the state, the most important issue at stake is a system of marketing that is both equitable and workable.  This is a matter which has confronted Vermont dairymen for two or more decades and is still far from being settled.” (At that time there were twenty-two cooperative creameries in Vermont operating fifty-three plants).
Today’s Vermont Dairy Farmer Cooperatives and the Challenges Ahead:  Cooperatives have been an essential part of the marketing of milk and further processed dairy products in Vermont and the region for many years.  Consolidation has continued within the cooperative community at the state, regional, and national levels as the number of dairy farms have continued to decline.  Examples include the formation of Dairy Farmers of America and its affiliated DMS (dairy marketing services, and its relationship with St. Albans Cooperative), the acquisition of Cabot by AgriMark Cooperative in the 1990’s, and the growth of the organic dairy cooperative, Organic Valley.  Serving both large and small producers continues to be a challenge for the remaining cooperatives (treating members equally or equitably based upon size and milk volume), as does the need for additional capital beyond what is available from member equity.
There have been many studies and reports on agricultural cooperatives throughout the years. Some of the more recent studies have dealt with those cooperatives that still exist today.  (See USDA Cooperative Information Report 60).   For example, these and other reports state “consolidation of firms at the processing, wholesale, and retail levels of the U.S. food marketing system continues unabated and the market influence and bargaining strength of even the largest cooperatives are limited as a consequence.”  Other studies have reached similar conclusions relative to the challenges.  “The ability of cooperatives to access sufficient capital for their operations is of course, one of the most discussed issues among co-op leaders and researchers.  As agriculture becomes more industrialized, the need for capital at the processing and marketing levels increases.  The question by case studies is whether cooperatives are able to access sufficient capital from their members to be able to compete in these markets.”(See Centre for the Study of Cooperatives Report).
Vermont and regional cooperatives are not immune to these and other challenges.  Cooperatives continue to provide an essential role in marketing their member-owner’s milk (all size farms in all locations, and 86 percent of all milk marketed to plants and dealers in U.S. was by cooperatives in 2002). Nevertheless, securing milk while providing member benefits as envisioned by cooperative principals, especially in a more deregulated marketing structure, continues to be a major challenge.  Other forces are in play as well.  The larger producers who supply the majority of the milk, may seek other outlets to include longer term contracts with processors, bypassing their cooperative all together thus reducing the pricing advantage of the cooperatives. Larger producers may also feel that they are unfairly subsidizing the transportation costs of the smaller producers.  Some smaller producers may elect to further diversify into value added.  This has been a growth sector in Vermont with eighty-six plants now processing less than five hundred pounds of milk per day.  Cooperatives, however, continue to provide an important marketing and balancing function in the market that cannot be easily over looked or ignored.
Much is expected from dairy cooperatives today, as in the past, but shielding dairy farmers from pricing risks in a more deregulated market is not easily achieved as has been noted by many studies.  The trends are not new, especially in a more deregulated market, and as milk production has been moving westward for many years, and the Northeast continues to be a milk deficit area.  Cooperatives continue to be challenged to demonstrate to ALL their members that the benefits of cooperatives membership and thus producer returns, outweighs alternative marketing structures or strategies and financial returns to the members themselves.
The June 14th, 2011 whatceresmightsay blog addressed many of these challenges.  As stated in that posting, markets and consumer needs are constantly changing. “In a future driven by technology, cooperatives face many challenges to include the need for more research and development, more aggressive product development and marketing, new manufacturing processing and technology, and equity financing to fuel these changes.”  While Vermont dairy cooperatives are critical in the marketing and balancing of milk, they too lack the necessary capital for research and development of new products and their marketing. Entities such as O-AT-KA dairy cooperative in New York are often looked at as examples of the type of facility and the type of research and development in new products that should be coming from Vermont, with its brand recognition.  Some suggest that the current marketing approach by Vermont based dairy cooperatives may possibly lead to more fracturing of the milk supply within the dairy industry in the state as producers seek other outlets or alternatives to include direct long term contracts with processors, more on the farm value added production, and further movement to organic production.  Others may elect to discontinue operation due to costs and market volatility. To overcome these ever present challenges, many have suggested that the cooperatives need aggressive strategies that address an equitable balance between member and cooperative financial needs, as well as new forms of equity capital that does not take away from the farmer member control (these forms of equity ownership are now possible under new farm cooperative laws in many states). An extensive review of the literature and other studies and reports available, and cited in the reference section of this blog, raise many questions around the future role of dairy cooperatives in Vermont and the Northeast region, particularity around member financial benefits longer-term.  Cooperative members and others are asking many of the following questions today.
* Do the Cooperatives have a strategic plan or vision for the longer-term profitability of the cooperative that financially benefits their member owners? What is the strategic plan that addresses these issues in the next 5-10 years?
* How does the cooperative model, going forward, best benefit all sized producers in light of changing consumer demographics, changing consumption patterns and product demand as well as the impact of more open markets internationally?
* If dairy trade were opened between the U.S. and Canada, how would this impact dairy production and manufacturing in Vermont and the region?
* Do the cooperatives have sufficient capital to do the research, development, and marketing around value added products that can best financially benefit member owners going forward, and how does strategic partnerships with others work to the financial benefit of member owners?   If not what plans do they each have to secure such capital?
* What new initiatives are warranted to best assist in establishing and maintaining a viable dairy industry in Vermont going forward and are these advocated and supported by the dairy cooperatives?
*  Are the dairy cooperatives capable of reacting to market and other economic changes and reinventing their business strategies for financial success that benefits both their members and the cooperative?  What are these strategies?
* How does the continued consolidation within the dairy industry nationally, regionally, and within the State impact the current cooperative processing and marketing structure in Vermont and the region and how do these changes hinder or help, financially, their farmer members in the state and region?
*How can the cooperatives help their members as well as potentially new farmers to grow the region out of being a milk deficit area?
*  What role if any does or can the Land Grant System and Vermont Technical College provide in supporting dairy farmers and their cooperatives relative to new product research as well as related work around dairy farm and cooperative economic viability?
* What are other sources of equity besides member capital that a cooperative might access to achieve longer-term economic viability; and are these being considered?
Note: it has been stated in the USDA Report Agricultural Cooperatives in the 21st Century “perhaps the most important challenge facing cooperatives is accumulating equity capital.  Without sufficient equity, cooperatives cannot meet the external challenges they face or continue to grow and offer services members and consumers need.”
* Are there joint ventures and other forms of business structures that should be considered by cooperatives going forward in order to financially benefit their member owners in the future? (O-AT-KA model, for example).
The Vermont dairy sector is an essential part of our farm economy and, by references, its working landscape.  While there is no silver bullet, there are some encouraging signs to include the fact that many consumers today are interested in knowing where their food comes from and how it is grown, hence the interest in local and regional food systems.  An example of this is the growth that has occurred in farmstead cheese production over the last few years.
The Vermont farm leaders of the past recognized these challenges and concluded in the late 1800’s that the future was not in competing with the West, but in developing those products for the growing markets of the East…. but it would take continued study and work…and today other sources of capital.  The solutions are not ultimately in Washington, D.C. or in competition with the West.  It will continue to take bold and visionary leadership to address these issues going forward.  The majority of dairy farms in Vermont are dependent upon their cooperatives for supply chain management and the cooperatives on their members for product. New and invigorated approaches are needed around the cooperative Rockdele principles, as the landscape is full of those industries to include farmer cooperatives that ignored or failed to embrace change or to reinvent themselves as viable business entities. One international study addresses these challenges (see Cooperative Conversions, Failures and Restructuring).
“As agriculture becomes more industrialized, the need for capital at the processing and marketing levels increases.  The question by case studies is whether cooperatives are able to access sufficient capital from members to be able to compete in these markets.”
Blogger’s Comments: 
Farmer cooperatives have been a large part of my professional life.  My grandfather shipped his milk and bought his feed grain through a nearby cooperative, as did other neighboring dairy farmers.  My wife’s grandfather, a respected Vermont vet in the 1930’s and early 1940’s, managed the Granite City Cooperative Creamery in Barre, Vermont.  He was also the President of New England Dairies, an organization that strived to coordinate joint marketing of milk in the Northeast in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s “…through one centrally controlled channel and with the elimination of destructive competition that deprived milk producers of rightful share of profits”.  I saw the changes and challenges to the cooperatives when I was a member of the senior staff of the former Farm Credit and Farmer Cooperative Banks for the Northeast, and again when I was Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets for the State of Vermont.  The challenges are not new in one sense (need for better farm milk pricing), but more complicated in other ways (consolidation at retail and wholesale levels and inability to leverage for higher farmer pricing). There has been greater deregulation in the dairy industry (parity concept was eliminated in 1982), and the federal price support level has been significantly reduced moving the dairy industry to more unregulated marketing.  Consolidation within the dairy industry continues both nationally and within Vermont. One research report states “as the dairy industry moves into the next decade, growth in milk production will come from large-scale agricultural enterprises located predominately between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River.  Expanding operations in the Northeast and Upper Midwest may not be able to make-up for the number of exits of smaller operations.” (See Outlook of the U.S. Dairy Sector The Next Decade).
Dairy cooperatives provide an important function for their members, as farmers do not have to concern themselves with the marketing function or supply chain management and the costs and knowledge associated with gaining access to markets today. However, the expectations today, as in the past (see the Milk Problem), by members for fair and adequate pricing still exist.  Larger dairy farmers desire to be treated equitably based on size and volume, and not equally with all members regardless of volume or size. Cooperatives in a more deregulated and volitale market structure may not be able to depend upon member equity as in the past either.  Numerous studies on the future of farmer cooperatives in the 21st Century indicate that new and innovative business approaches will be needed in order to be successful in ever changing marketing structures that are occurring today and are likely to continue.

Burlington Free Press: Pop Quiz for Peter Shumlin

Oct 5, 2012
Joel Banner Baird
Full Article

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin spoke with the Burlington Free Press last week en route from Montpelier to the Renewable Energy Vermont Conference in Burlington. Pressed for time, we dispensed with formalities.

Burlington Free Press: Have you ever tried raw milk?

Peter Shumlin: Well, yeah, I drink it. There’s nothing better. I like it better than the baked (pasteurized) stuff.

BFP: Would you accept a glass from a neighboring dairy farmer?

PS: Absolutely. As long as I knew the farmer. I’d have to ask some questions first. I’d have to ask if it were Holstein milk or Jersey milk. I’m partial to Jersey.

BFP: I’m not sure I could tell the difference.

PS: I could. Higher fat content.

Domestic and local

BFP: Have you ever consumed venison?

PS: I’m a hunter. I’ve been hunting ever since I was 11 years old. Every time I got lucky, I would eat venison.

BFP: How about moose meat?

PS: I like moose, but I don’t like it as much as I like venison.

BFP: Have you tried bear meat?

PS: I have. I actually would take bear meat over moose meat. But venison is by far my first choice.

BFP: Raccoon?

PS: I’ve never eaten raccoon. I’ve shot a lot of them, but I’ve thought that all the work of gutting and skinning them — there wasn’t much of a meal there when I was done.

BFP: Rabbit?

PS: I’ve raised rabbits. I’m not raising them now. I had my girls out skinning rabbits just after they learned how to walk.

BFP: Ever eaten Lake Champlain perch?

PS: I’ve got to tell you — Lake Champlain’s a long way from Putney. We eat New Hampshire perch, right out of the Connecticut River.

BFP: Name your favorite vegetarian entree.

PS: Vermont-grown salad. With my homemade dressing. Not that store-bought stuff.

BFP: Do you routinely compost your kitchen scraps?

PS: Yes. Always.

BFP: How about your garden waste — if you have a garden?

PS: I do have a garden. I’ve always had gardens, and I dug one where I’m currently renting. And yes, I do compost. Unless it’s tomatoes, because of that blight. I make sure I never compost a tomato plant.

BFP: Have you ever used a composting toilet?

PS: I’ve used one; I don’t own one. To tell you the truth, I’d rather go outside. Let’s put it this way: I’d rather use an outhouse than a composting toilet because the fresh air blows through.

The landscape

BFP: Name a place you’d consider a good example of “smart” (or responsible, sustainable) growth in Vermont.

PS: The business park on the Guilford-Brattleboro line. It hosts Omega Optical, and they put together what I think is the smartest mix of zero-net houses, together with manufacturing that uses community-generated power, on the site.

BFP: Name a place you wish would have been planned and built much differently.

PS: Almost every strip leading to every downtown in Vermont. In other words, we pride ourselves on the most extraordinary downtowns anywhere in the world. It’s where we nurture our sense of community: taking care of each other, knowing our neighbors.

The planning that we didn’t do from the 1960s to 2000 — the way that we let the entrances to many of our bigger downtowns sprawl across farmlands — was one of our great sins.

I’m not discriminating against any part of the state. Putney Road in Brattleboro, Shelburne Road leading into Burlington — they’re equally poorly planned. We blew it. We lost an opportunity.

Natural history

BFP: Aside from the sugar maple, what is your favorite native Vermont tree?

PS: Butternut.

BFP: Native Vermont shrub?

PS: (pause) So few of them are native. I know my least-favorite is buckthorn — it’s an invasive species. I’d almost say the blueberry bush. I like things that produce food.

BFP: Native Vermont flower?

PS: The black-eyed Susan. It’d be a tight competition with that and the trillium, in bloom.

BFP: Speaking of native Vermont flowers: Our state flower, the red clover, is actually a naturalized exotic (the same could be said for a lot of us). To be more on the local side, what would you offer as a substitute?


BFP: Is the moon waxing or waning right now?

PS: Waning. Had a full moon about four nights ago.

BFP: Predict the first frost in Montpelier this fall.

PS: Jeez — with climate change we might not get one! Are we high or low — because that makes a big difference. Where in Montpelier?

BFP: Okay: How about at your residence?

PS: I would say … I think it’s coming late this year. I would say October 28th. No, October 26th — I’ll back it up a couple of days.

Capital Press: Rule to allow raw milk sales goes to Wyoming governor

September 19, 2012
Full Article

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A proposal to change Wyoming’s food safety rules to legalize some raw milk sales is pending before Gov. Matt Mead.

The Casper Star Tribune www.trib.com“>(www.trib.com ) reports that the proposed change would allow people to buy raw milk as long as they owned a share of the animal that produced it. Such arrangements, called herd shares, are currently prohibited

Direct sales of raw milk to the public would remain illegal.

The Wyoming Department of Agriculture has been working on updates to the state’s food safety rules for more than a year.