Full list: Milk News

Wall Street Journal: Crackdown on Raw-Milk Machines Steams Fans in Europe

In Europe, Restrictions on Dispensers Have Farmers Frothing; Models That Moo
By Sarah Kent

Full Article & Video

Andrea Verlicchi, an Italian Web designer, used to leave his apartment in the mornings, stroll to a nearby vending machine and fill his recyclable glass bottle with fresh, raw milk.

“The milk is great,” said Mr. Verlicchi, like drinking it “directly from the cow.”

Vending machines that dispense fresh, unpasteurized milk have proliferated in Italy and throughout much of Europe in recent years. The stainless steel mechanical fridges can be found in supermarket parking lots, town squares and on roaming milk-mobiles. According to a “milk map” website designed by Mr. Verlicchi there are currently around 1,300 machines in Italy alone.

But even in Europe, where stinky cheeses, steak tartare and snails are all cheerfully scarfed down, the machines are under siege.

In Italy, regulators have cracked down on sales, suspending or shutting down machines that don’t meet exacting hygiene standards. Those that remain must carry big warning signs in red letters, advising buyers to boil their milk before drinking it.

Elsewhere, self-service milk machines have had it even tougher. In 2011, one popped up in the food hall of luxury London department store Selfridges, briefly sitting alongside designer cupcakes, Iberico hams and other goods favored by food fashionistas.

But the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency soured on the idea and intervened, ultimately launching a lawsuit against Selfridges and Stephen Hook, the dairy farmer behind the machine.

The FSA’s allegation that the farmer and department store breached food hygiene regulations was eventually dropped after both parties agreed to no longer sell via the vending machine. The FSA is currently considering whether to allow the wider use of the machines.

“We stopped selling following the decision by the FSA to undertake research and consultation into the product,” Selfridges said in an emailed statement.

The vending-machine shed at Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk, England. Dairy farmer Jonny Crickmore says he sells around 30 gallons a day, despite his farm’s remote location in the English countryside. ENLARGE
The vending-machine shed at Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk, England. Dairy farmer Jonny Crickmore says he sells around 30 gallons a day, despite his farm’s remote location in the English countryside. Sarah Kent/The Wall Street Journal

The machines are technically allowed in England, but only if they are located on the farm where the milk is produced. England’s producers say that defeats the purpose of the vending machines, which should make the milk more accessible.

“Are we going to…just remain a raw-milk backwater?” said Mr. Hook, who manages Hook & Son, the U.K.’s biggest raw-milk vendor and starred in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival surprise hit, “The Moo Man,” a documentary about him and his favorite cow, Ida.

It is a question being asked in Germany too, where the rules on vending machines are similar to those in England. There, the local chapter of Slow Food—an international organization focused on promoting environmentally friendly and local food—has held raw-milk tastings and campaigned for less severe regulation of raw-milk sales.

Ever since 1864, when Louis Pasteur discovered the process of pasteurization, industrialized countries have flash-heated milk to remove dangerous bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and bovine tuberculosis. The developed world has since carefully controlled the sale of unpasteurized dairy products.

In the U.S., where raw-milk sales are heavily regulated and banned outright in several states, the Food and Drug Administration has on occasion conducted raids on farms in search of illicit dairy products.

Even within the European Union, countries are left to make their own laws on how and if raw milk may be sold. In Scotland, the sale of unpasteurized milk is banned outright because of a serious food poisoning outbreak in the 1980s. In Ireland, raw-milk sales are legal, but the vending machines aren’t.

Proponents say high-tech features make the milk machines safe. Special valves stop the milk from flowing if it gets too warm. More sophisticated machines can send texts to farmers if there is a malfunction or the milk supply is running low. Some models even moo as they dispense milk.

The backlash against mechanical milk dispensers has left some of Europe’s small dairy farmers frothing.

Dairy farmer Jonny Crickmore bemoans the health warning he is required to put on his milk bottles. “I think it’s over-dramatic,” he said, standing outside the shed painted in cow-style black-and-white that houses the raw-milk vending machine on his farm in Suffolk.

Enthusiasts say risks are minimal. Many swear by the microbacteria-rich liquid’s health benefits, claiming raw milk can help cure ailments like asthma and allergies. Some even drink it on doctor’s orders.

And then there is the taste.

Calves at Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk, England, which sells fresh, raw milk in vending machines at the farm ENLARGE
Calves at Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk, England, which sells fresh, raw milk in vending machines at the farm Sarah Kent/The Wall Street Journal

“It is a delicious food that is quite unlike pasteurized milk. It is all we have in the house,” said Gerry Danby, a lawyer focused on supporting artisan and local food producers and former chair of Slow Food U.K.

“I would be very put out, to say the least, if that were to be prohibited,” he added.

But raw-milk fans say that restricting sales would just drive trade underground onto a black market. English farmers already maintain a brisk trade taking advantage of the fact it is legal for them to sell milk in England, which then gets trucked over the border to Scotland.

Raw-milk producer Ian O’Reilly said he sends anywhere between 10 and 40 gallons a week to customers in Scotland though he could send more if he could only find a cheaper courier to take the boxes packed with bottles up to the Highlands. For now, he can’t cater to customers in more remote locations.

Even with all the restrictions hampering sales, some farmers say they still can’t keep up with demand for the organic, unpasteurized milk.

“We have people approaching us all the time saying they want to buy raw milk and the biggest stumbling block is access,” said Mr. Hook.

At Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk, Mr. Crickmore’s machine attracts a loyal following. He said he sells around 30 gallons a day, despite his farm’s remote location in the English countryside.

“It is mad, 40 or 50 people a day come to our farm…we have one crazy fool who comes” from a town nearly two-hours’ drive away, said Mr. Crickmore, as he refilled the tank in his vending machine for the second time in one afternoon.

“He’ll come and clear out the vending machine. He’ll take 30 liters [8 gallons] at a time and fill up the back of his car.”

Food Safety News: Carriers are Dropping Liability Coverage for Raw-Milk Producers

Some folks who drink raw milk probably already see themselves as risk-takers, but they may not have thought about the fact that drinking their favorite beverage increasingly means not just taking risk but, for the producers, also “going bare.”

“Going bare” is what the insurance industry calls it when someone opts to go without coverage either because they cannot afford it or because it is just not available. For at least the past two years, reports have popped up around the country about raw-milk producers having difficulty obtaining or continuing insurance coverage.

One example came early in 2012 when the Farm Bureau-owned Rural Mutual Insurance Co. sent out notices about all Wisconsin farm policies it covers specifically advising policyholders that their coverage does not provide for “the sale and/or distribution for offsite consumption of unpasteurized (commonly called raw) milk from cows, sheep and goats for human consumption.”

Retail sales of raw milk are illegal in Wisconsin, but off-site consumption of unpasteurized milk bought on the farm is legal. However, raw milk picked up on the farm has apparently become too risky for insurance coverage in Wisconsin.

What began as decisions by individual carriers who sell policies directly to small farms is now a concern for the big re-insurers such as Kansas City, MO-based Aon Risk Solutions. It is more of an insurance company for insurance carriers and helps to keep the industry solvent by spreading risk.

“Most of the entities we work with are larger commercial operations and are not engaged in the sale of raw milk,” explained Tami Griffin, deputy national director for Aon’s Food Systems, Agribusiness & Beverage Group.

“That said,” she told Food Safety News, “we do work with, and have relationships with, underwriters who are in the business of insuring farms, and I would say that they are increasingly concerned about what farmers are selling to consumers through farmers markets, farm stands, etc.”

“Because of the press that raw milk gets, it is definitely on the radar of insurance companies, and I have heard some carriers are not willing to provide coverage for those selling it,” Griffin added.

Insurance coverage going away is still coming as a surprise for some raw-milk producers. Dog Mountain Farm near Carnation, WA, outside Seattle — a stop on many a foodie’s tour itinerary — recently learned that its carrier was dropping its raw-milk coverage.

Dog Mountain runs a farm-to-table café offering a menu for three meals a day, with patrons being a mix of those food tourists and area residents. They had invested $75,000 in a USDA-certified raw goat milk dairy and then found they had lost their liability insurance.

For a raw-milk producer, going bare carries the same risk as going without automobile or home insurance. It means being responsible for any kind of damages or injuries without being able to share that risk with an insurance company.

It is not uncommon for treatment of a child or senior citizen injured by a pathogen such as E. coli O157:H7 or Listeria to result in direct medical costs exceeding $1 million. It makes the decision to go bare literally a bet-the-farm kind of decision.

While tough to get, raw-milk insurance has not totally gone away. Kendall Turner, a Denver insurance broker, advertises on the web that such coverage is still available.

“Recently, it has become very difficult for dairy farms to obtain liability coverage for the sale of raw milk,” Turner said, adding that he can determine in about 20 minutes if someone qualifies for coverage.

He said that the “biggest challenge for the farmer is to understand is that the insurance company sometimes has more rules than the state … .”

Seattle Times: After $75K investment, raw milk dairy in Carnation (WA) unable to get insurance

By Rebekah Denn
October 2, 2014
Full Article

Last year, Cindy Krepky realized her long-held dream of building a raw milk goat dairy on her Dog Mountain Farm near Carnation. After building her herd and investing $75,000 in a USDA-certified plant, she provided bottled milk from her does to customers through her farm store, CSAs and other outlets.

Now, she told customers, her insurance company will no longer cover raw milk sales. While the product is legal (though controversial) in Washington state, insurance coverage has been an issue for other farms nationwide. (For the lowdown on the Washington situation, click here.)

She’s looking for other insurance coverage, or considering leasing the goats. She plans to provide milk to the up-and-coming Cherry Valley Dairy for a new line of goat cheese. A Cherry Valley cheese maker just spent time in Italy learning to work with goat milk, and Krepky expects the results to be “incredible.” Still, now, she doesn’t expect now to ever recoup her investment in the dairy and bottling plant – or to achieve the goal she worked toward for so many years on the land where the sustainably-minded farmers also oversee vegetables and fruits, pigs, chickens and eggs, and other products from soups to jams.

“Such is the life of farming,” Krepky said philosophically by phone Wednesday, momentarily postponing a rabbit slaughtering. “You never know whether it’s going to be Mother Nature or some new regulation… It’s a very risky business.”

VT Digger: Raw milk producers say new rules hurt business

By Morgan True
Oct. 1 2014
Full Article

Raw milk producers held a news conference Wednesday to say new Agency of Agriculture policies are making an otherwise friendly law more burdensome.

The agency is simply implementing changes to the state’s raw milk regulations that became law this year, responded Diane Bothfeld, deputy secretary of dairy policy.

Those changes allow Tier 2 raw milk producers, or farmers generating more than 50 quarts per day, to deliver their product to customers’ homes or farmers markets.

Previously, raw milk could only be sold at the farm where it was produced. Since the new point of delivery rules became law, the number of Tier 2 producers has grown from two to eight with several more slated to increase production to that level soon, said Andrea Stander, director of Rural Vermont.

But the way the Agency is implementing the law change threatens that growth, Stander said.

The original raw milk law, passed in 2009, required producers to regularly send milk samples to certified labs to check bacteria levels. A new policy requires that samples be sent to labs in the containers in which the milk will be sold.

That requirement is wasteful and will make it costly to have their milk tested, milk producer Rich Larson said.

The new regulations took effect Wednesday, and Stander said despite a formal letter to the Agency of Agriculture, producers were not given an opportunity weigh in on how the rules would be implemented.

Rich and Cynthia Larson, Tier 2 producers from Wells, said the regulations were implemented “suddenly,” and caught them off guard.

The agency contacted all Tier 2 producers registered at the end of August and delayed implementation by a month, Bothfeld said, adding that the regulations were originally set to take effect in September.

The agency is implementing new laws, not going through a formal rulemaking process, Bothfeld said, and no public comment period was required.

However, Bothfeld said the agency is willing to take input from producers and Rural Vermont, but that can’t happen until early November because the agency needs time to review its own policies.

Farmers expressed concern that during the interim their businesses could suffer and they could face fines if they’re unable to comply with the new regulations.

Labs only need a two-ounce sample to test for bacteria, said Nick Zigelbaum, director of Bob-White Systems Inc., an FDA certified laboratory in South Royalton. Farmers typically sell their milk in half-gallon or quart containers.

Zigelbaum joined the producers and advocates Wednesday, because he said the state should be making it easier for farmers to have their products tested, not create barriers to testing.

Bothfeld said the new law requires that sale containers be tested in addition to the milk to ensure there’s no bacteria in the containers that’s not also in the milk.

Her agency, charged with implementing the change, decided that requiring samples to be sent in the sale container was the best way to do that.

In addition to Bob-White Systems, farmers can send their samples to the state-run lab, which is temporarily housed at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

Testing is free at the state lab, but Bothfeld acknowledged that for some producers, sending their samples to Burlington could be costly.

The agency is willing to see if there is another way to check sales containers for bacteria, Bothfeld said.

Producers must notify all delivery customers if a sample exceeds the bacteria threshold for raw milk.

Vermont’s raw milk law is based on the informed consent of consumers, Bothfeld said, and producers were previously able to meet that requirement by posting bacteria levels at the farm.

But now with additional points of delivery, consumers must be notified of the most recent bacteria counts at that place.

It’s not uncommon for producers to have milk retested to ensure accurate results, Larson said, but with the increased cost of testing, he’s worried he might lose customers or face fines.

Gov. Peter Shumlin walked passed the news conference on his way from the Statehouse, and took a moment to chat with farmers.

Shumlin voiced support for the fledgling raw milk industry, and said he drinks raw milk occasionally, but didn’t wade into the discussion.

WCAX: Vt. farmers cry foul over new raw milk rules

Oct 01, 2014
Full Article & Video

MONTPELIER, Vt. – New policies on the sale of raw milk in Vermont started Oct. 1, and dairy farmers who sell the unpasteurized milk are crying foul.

At a press conference Wednesday, they said the new testing procedures will add unreasonable costs for farmers and will not produce a better product for consumers.

“We had a successful amendment to the raw milk law last spring from the Legislature which allow these tier two farmers to deliver their milk to their customers at farmers markets, which has opened up some economic opportunity for this part of the agricultural economy. This policy goes exactly in the opposite direction,” said Andrea Stander of the group Rural Vermont.

WCAX: Raw milk producers protest new Vt. rules

Sep 30, 2014
Full Article

MONTPELIER, Vt. – The Vermont Legislature passed a law to make it easier for farmers to sell raw milk, but raw milk producers don’t like the new rules.

Rural Vermont, a farm advocacy group, is sending a formal letter of protest to the Agency of Agriculture, saying the new rules burden farmers with unjustified costs and discriminate against producers and consumers.

Burlington Free Press: Vt. Technical College is future site for state lab

Nancy Remsen
September 5, 2014
Full Article

Vermont Technical College received unanimous endorsement Friday as the future site for a new laboratory operated by the state agencies of agricultural and natural resources. The college in Randolph was one of 19 sites state officials evaluated.

After an hour of questions, the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee gave the Department of Buildings the green light to move to the next phase of planning the laboratory project. The new lab would replace twin facilities destroyed when Tropical Storm Irene inundated the Waterbury Office Complex in 2011.

The dual mission guiding the services offered by the two labs is to protect human, animal and environmental health and foster commerce. Some recent laboratory work has included testing 1,000 samples from homes to determine if a dangerous pesticide had been used to eradicate bedbugs and testing of animal feed after Tropical Storm Irene flooded thousands of acres of cropland.

Since Irene, the two agencies have operated with reduced laboratory capabilities in five rented spaces, with the bulk of their work carried out in the Hills Building owned by the University of Vermont. The lease runs out in 2017 — which led state officials to focus new attention on finding a location and constructing a new building.

The charge for the two labs is to protect human and animal health, environmental health and foster commerce. Some recent laboratory work has included testing 1,000 samples from homes to determine if a dangerous pesticide had been used to eradicate bedbugs and testing of animal feed after Tropical Storm Irene flooded thousands of acres of cropland.

Several lawmakers on the oversight panel noted that details of the laboratory’s relationship with the college had yet to be negotiated. Despite the nominal lease, they worried the state might be stuck with some unexpected “overhead” expense.

“What is the financial arrangement?” asked Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia.

“We don’t view this as a revenue generator,” assured Dan Smith, interim president of Vermont Technical College. He said locating the lab at the college would offer myriad opportunities for students and faculty to collaborate with lab staff and for lab staff to utilize college classrooms and other spaces.

“This is not just another building on a college campus to us,” Smith wrote in a letter shared with lawmakers in advance of Friday’s meeting. “This is an opportunity to maximize the state’s limited resources in a way that serves the most Vermonters and will benefit generations of Vermonters to come.”

Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said talks with the college about ways to collaborate could begin next week — if lawmakers selected the technical college site. Buildings department officials also said talks would get underway on property management issues such as plowing, shared heating and cleaning.

State officials had made replacing the twin labs a lower priority compared to constructing a new state psychiatric hospital and replacing the office space lost in Waterbury. The hospital opened this summer and the new office complex is under construction.

Legislators also asked the state to research whether the laboratory services could be provided privately.

The study, delivered last winter, recommended the state continue to operate its own laboratory program. The report also said the two agencies should operate a consolidated laboratory.

Justin Johnson, deputy secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, said the plan is for the laboratory to “sit in Agriculture” and for some laboratory personnel now in ANR to transfer to the agriculture agency. “The programs in the Department of Environmental Conservation would be customers of the lab,” he said. There would be a board with representatives from both agencies to oversee the collaboration.

Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P Chittenden, asked why the University of Vermont failed to score well as a potential site, given it, too, had potential to offer student and faculty collaboration. UVM proposed two possible locations.

“There was a very large flaw with both sites — the amount of room available,” explained Sandra Vitzthum, project manager with the Department of Buildings.

Ashe also asked if there would be workforce problems by choosing a more rural location rather than one in Washington or Chittenden counties.

Ross argued that it was more important to locate the lab in the best place to achieve its public mission rather than try to accommodate workers’ preferences based on their commutes.

Lawmakers also voiced concern that the design of the laboratory could boost future operating costs. That was what happened with the new state psychiatric hospital.

“I would put that forward as something to pay attention to,” Kitchel told state officials.

Assured that the Legislature would have future opportunities to reject the site or tweak the project as it unfolds, the committee voted 9-0 to select the Vermont Technical College site.

Seven Days LTE: Raw Deal

By Andrea Stander
Full Letter to the Editor

[Re “The Rise of Micro-Dairy: A Longtime Dairyman Thinks Big — By Going Small” and “Milk Test,” August 6]: I appreciate Seven Days‘ coverage of raw milk and other food issues, but there are a couple of points I’d like to clear up:First, the author’s use of the word “trafficking” in reference to farmers who are selling raw milk perpetuates the idea that raw milk is some kind of radical, under-the-table commodity. The regulations are complex, but it is legal to sell raw milk in Vermont. In fact, generations of Vermonters were and continue to be raised on raw milk. Before milk became an industrial commodity rather than a food, most people in rural areas purchased their milk from their local farmer.

Second, if Vermont truly wants to have viable farms, there has to be room for small, grass-based, raw dairy operations, and the regulations that govern them must be reasonable and fair. As the potential customer quoted in the article said, “If all products were sold that way, I’d never buy anything.” What would happen to Vermont’s celebrated local food economy if everyone had to visit the farm before purchasing products at a farmers’ market? Or, what if all farmers had to waste precious time and fuel running around delivering their products to customers’ homes?

If you want to learn more about raw milk as a farm-fresh product or as an agricultural policy issue, please contact Rural Vermont. Visit ruralvermont.org or call 223-7222 for details.

Andrea Stander

Stander is executive director of Rural Vermont.

Fort Worth Weekly: Got Raw Milk? (Texas)

Fort Worth puts greater distance between producers and consumers of unpasteurized milk.
August 20, 2014
Full Article

One hour south of Fort Worth, the serene setting of Rosey Ridge Farms fits the often-romanticized image of agrarian life. The roads are unpaved, and there’s barely a trace of modernity among the lush, seemingly endless fields of sunflowers and other crops. Proprietor Eldon Hooley has been working the land for eight years with his wife Lisa and their six children.

Two months ago, the Fort Worth City Council passed an ordinance that prohibits individuals from distributing raw milk from their homes. Although some doctors believe the substance has certain medical benefits, health officials see serious risks, including the spread of infectious diseases. Retailers have been prohibited from selling raw milk for decades, prompting many local raw milk lovers to drive to farms like Rosey Ridge, pick up containers, and take them home to distribute.

To Kay Singleton, a longtime resident of the Arlington Heights area, the ordinance is an affront. She became interested in unprocessed foods several years ago out of concern for her grandson’s health. After discovering raw milk, she decided to volunteer her porch as a drop point for individuals to pick up containers. She purchased an expensive cooler to keep the milk cooler than 50 degrees Fahrenheit –– unpasteurized milk does not have as long a shelf life as the pasteurized version.

Then the problems with the city started. At first, Singleton said, city code compliance officials began regularly “intimidating the driver who was unloading the milk” and would tell her that what she was doing was illegal.However, with no state law or city ordinance restricting raw milk distribution, she was convinced she wasn’t violating the law.

In May, four state health inspectors, two code compliance officers, and a police officer came to her house.

“They came and scared the bejesus out of my grandson by saying in front of him that I could go to jail,” she said. “Their tone was aggressive, as if I was a criminal.”

Singleton is so dedicated to remaining a part of the raw-milk community that she believes she has no option now but to move out of Fort Worth. Her home is for sale.

The ordinance, Hooley said, is “simply saying, ‘We’re going to take your rights away.’ ”

He said inspectors from the TexasDepartment of State Health Services have unfairly targeted his farm and, on at least one occasion, suspended his license (a Grade A raw for-retail milk permit) without due process. After Hooley filed a complaint, he said, one of the department’s directors called him, apologized, and reinstated his permit.

“If consumers do their research, and they decide what food they want, then they have a personal interest in it,” he said. “Now people want to buy direct from people they trust to provide whole foods.”

State Rep. Dan Flynn of Hunt County has been working on the topic for years: “The state law says raw milk is legal. Why can’t a legal product be sold at a farmers’ market?”

Raw milk has been verboten at farmers’ markets since 2000. Flynn said that if they can begin selling raw milk, individuals would have no need to take matters into their own hands. He recently sponsored a bill to allow the sale of raw milk in farmers’ markets, but it never made it to a floor vote. “It was late in the session, and time ran out” he said.

At committee hearings, more than 250 people testified, including numerous doctors who spoke about the medical benefits of raw milk in treating psoriasis and respiratory problems. “It would be disappointing if Fort Worth’s city council didn’t want the innumerable medical benefits from raw milk,” Flynn said.

Fort Worth spokesperson Bill Begley said the ordinance places “reasonable limitations” on the distribution of unpasteurized milk without prohibiting local residents from purchasing or consuming it –– only directly from farmers.

Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund that works to protect American farmers’ right to engage consumers directly, said the consumer health division of Fort Worth’s code compliance department is one of the most intrusive agencies he’s ever seen. Texas, he added, is one of the few places where state law allows the sale of raw milk while many cities ban it.

Despite the concerns of the Texas Medical Association and State Health Services, among others, Flynn plans to keep fighting.

“We have every intention of filing the bill again,” he said.

Seven Days: A Longtime Dairyman Thinks Big — and Goes Small

Go big or get out: That’s the conventional wisdom that has been driving the dairy industry in recent decades. Plenty of Vermont farmers have chosen the second option. As commodity milk prices have yo-yoed between record highs and crushing lows, mid-size dairies in particular have felt the squeeze. In the last decade alone, the total number of Vermont dairy farms dropped from 1,433 to 993, according to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.

But not all of the surviving operations are large ones, milking thousands of cows. In fact, a growing percentage of Vermont’s remaining milk farms are small. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of dairy farms with fewer than 10 cows increased by more than 30 percent to 217, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture That’s almost one quarter of Vermont’s dairy farms. Small dairy herd numbers are on the rise nationally as well.

In Royalton, one longtime dairyman is singing the praises of this new model — the so-called “micro-dairy” — and supplying its practitioners with the equipment they need.

“At one point I had a farm with 250 head of cows, and I didn’t enjoy it,” said Steven Judge, who has been milking the animals for more than 50 years. Today, he keeps a tiny herd of four Jersey cows on his small, hilly Royalton farmstead.

Judge runs Bob-White Systems, a company that invented a small-scale pasteurizer designed for processing milk on farms. But the mini-pastuerizer comes with a hefty price tag: $70,000. So Judge is diversifying, brokering the purchase of bulk tanks, butter churns and other milking equipment specifically designed for micro-dairies.

The idea behind Bob-White is to put farmers in charge of their own destinies. That means being able to pasteurize — the process of heating milk to kill most of the possible pathogens, protect against disease and slow spoilage caused by microbial growth — on-site instead of shipping milk to a big processor, where it is combined with milk from other farms and eventually pasteurized and homogenized. Marketing its products directly to consumers allows a micro-dairy to command higher prices.

In July, Judge may have solved another problem for small dairy operations: His farm hosts the only private lab in Vermont certified by the Food and Drug Administration to test the safety and quality of raw milk being sold by farmers. Under Vermont law, farmers selling more than 87.5 gallons of raw milk each week must have their milk tested monthly. Prior to Bob-White’s recent FDA certification, that required driving samples to the state lab in Burlington.

Why the growing interest in small dairies?

“A lot of folks see it as part of a diversified business plan,” said Andrea Stander, the director of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont. Manure enriches soil. Byproducts from milk processing, like whey, can be used to feed pigs or fertilize cropland. It’s hard for Vermont to compete against California or the Midwest in commercial dairy production, said Stander, but the state excels in other ways.

“One of the things we do really well in Vermont is grow grass,” she said. “We have the climate for it, we have the history for it. A small-scale, grass-based dairy has real potential to be economically viable as part of a diversified farming system.”

When he started dreaming about designing his own small-scale pasteurizer, Judge applied some of the same thinking that guided an earlier enterprise with similar goals. In the early 1990s he founded Vermont Milk Producers and created the Vermont Family Farms brand of milk. The goal was to market milk under a Vermont label, and pay farmers more than they would otherwise earn in commercial production. He ultimately sold the label to a larger dairy co-op, St. Albans Cooperative Creamery. The St. Albans co-op passed the brand off to Hood, and eventually the label disappeared.

His new project puts dairy science back in the hands of farmers. Judge’s pasteurization device, called the LiLi (short for low imput, low impact) was initially plagued with problems. The first prototype — which Judge said he and his engineers tested extensively — couldn’t pass FDA approval. Consultant Amy Shollenberger stepped in to help Bob-White navigate the regulatory landscape, and said she quickly realized that the food-safety and production rules around dairy processing were designed with bigger operations in mind.

“They had to figure out how to work within the rules at this tiny little scale,” said Shollenberger.

Cornwall businessman Bruce Hiland, who has known Judge for years, said Judge faced an uphill battle when it came to bringing the LiLi to market.

“Steve has done a remarkable job of fighting his way through the established order to come up with, in this case, a really imaginative, creative, effective device that will help small family farms,” said Hiland.

By offering “gentler” pasteurization than some larger-scale equipment, Judge claims the LiLi better preserves the taste of fresh milk. “The flavor of milk is every bit as complex as wine, but it’s been forgotten and ignored,” said Judge.

But getting the LiLi onto farms has been tough, given the price tag. The model that eventually earned that stamp of approval required significant, costly engineering changes — including a larger pump and heat exchanger, more expensive valves and programmable computer controls.

“It exists to enforce regulations, not to encourage innovation,” Judge said of the Food and Drug Administration in an email. “I don’t blame the FDA, I just found the lack of an established and predictable review process to be extremely frustrating and expensive.”

Bob-White has sold exactly one of the LiLi machines, to Back to the Future Farm in Westtown, NY. Farmers Lee and Rose Hubbert and Mike O’Dell bottle whole and chocolate milk from a herd of 50 Jersey and Holstein cows. They sell milk under their own label locally and plan to expand to New York City markets later this month.

Rose Hubbert said the farmers investigated other pasteurization systems and found the LiLi operated much faster. That’s crucial for processing the 300 gallons a day they milk from their herd. “I think it’s going to pay off in no time at all, to be honest with you,” said Hubbert. “We’re selling a lot more milk than we had ever dreamed of.”

The LiLi’s rocky and expensive start prompted Judge to explore other revenue streams for Bob-White Systems. That’s why he began selling dairy equipment specifically for small producers. On a recent afternoon at his modest Royalton office, he pointed out milk pails, cream separators and cleaning supplies.

Judge also began importing small-scale bulk tanks — the stainless steel vats into which fresh milk is pumped and stored. At the time, he said, the smallest tanks available in the U.S. had a capacity of 600 gallons. Working first with a facility in Slovenia, then with one in Greece, he began selling bulk tanks with capacities between 15 and 90 gallons.

“Everybody thought I was crazy to try to sell these little bulk tanks,” said Judge, noting it was the same reaction he got when he decided to build a milking barn for four cows. He estimates Bob-White Systems has sold roughly 250 tanks, ranging in cost from roughly $2,400 to $4,400, to micro-dairies around the country.

One of Judge’s customers is Lindsay Harris, a dairy farmer in Tunbridge. Harris and her husband, Evan Reiss, cut their teeth as raw milk farmers at the Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg, where at the time they were the state’s largest raw milk dairy. Harris said the proximity to a major urban center made the business economically viable, but she and her family wanted to live in a more rural setting.

They sold the business last year, and moved to Tunbridge to start Mountain Home Farm. Harris said she knew a raw milk business wouldn’t sustain the family in the more remote location, so she and Reiss began making cultured butter, ricotta cheese and other lightly processed dairy products from eight cows. They bought a butter churn from Bob-White Systems.

“It was the only one I could find anywhere in the country, and here I’m 12 miles from his shop,” she said.

She noted that Judge has made the micro-dairy industry a lot more accessible since the time she and Reiss started the Family Cow 10 years ago. At that time, they couldn’t find a small bulk tank anywhere in the United States, and had to import one — for roughly $5,000 — from Europe.

Harris’ choice to remain small was a complicated one. On one hand, she said, it’s incredibly difficult to make a micro-dairy work financially. Even something as simple as buying a small supply of labels for her milk products is difficult; suppliers are used to dealing in truckloads, she said, not boutique quantities.

But she likes having total control over her herd and her product, and having a hand in every step of production.

“I think it takes a pretty special situation to make it profitable, to make it work,” she said — and Mountain Home Farm isn’t yet at that point. Harris and Reiss are exploring other ways to derive income from their farm, including sustainable forestry.

“You aren’t going to send your kids to college and vacation in Europe on a micro-dairy,” Judge agreed. “It’s a supplemental income.”

For now, Judge is still mulling over the problem of the LiLi and trying to design a pasteurizer that costs less and will still earn FDA approval. All a pasteurizer needs to do, he pointed out, is heat milk to 161 degrees Fahrenheit and hold it at that temperature for 15 seconds.

“Why should a machine that is capable of doing that cost more than a new BMW?” he asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”