Summer 2014 Newsletter
By Kristen Tripodi
Full Article & Video
Starting Tuesday, raw milk can be delivered to farmers markets in Vermont. It’s all a part of a new law that was signed by Governor Peter Shumlin during the 2014 legislative session.
According to Rural Vermont—an organization that represents farmers, the new law says raw milk can be delivered to farmers’ markets by Tier 2 raw milk producers.
It gives increased access to markets for raw milk producers by allowing delivery to farmers’ markets.
The new law does not allow farmers to sell the raw milk at a farmers market. They can only deliver the product to customers who have already paid for the product.
To review the new law, click here.
By Eric Blaisdell
MONTPELIER — History was made Saturday at the Capital City Farmers Market as raw milk was delivered for the first time under a new law — though the man delivering the milk wishes the new rules had gone even further.
Act 149, legislation that allows dairy farmers to deliver raw milk to farmers markets, went into effect July 1. The farmers can’t outright sell the milk at the markets, but can hand it over to customers who purchased the product previously.
The law requires a potential customer to first go to the farm where they want to purchase the raw milk. After one visit, the customer can thereafter purchase milk from the farmer without going to the farm.
The state already regulates who can sell raw milk, breaking farmers into two tiers, with the second tier reserved for bigger producers. Tier-two farmers, or those who sell up to 280 gallons of raw milk per week, were allowed to sell the milk at their farms or deliver to the customer’s home, before the recent law expanding delivery to farmers markets.
Frank Huard, a goat farmer from Craftsbury Common, was the first at the farmers market in Montpelier to take advantage of the new law. The Huard Family Farm has won the state’s highest quality milk award for its goat’s milk from the Vermont Dairy Industry Association in 2009, 2011 and 2013.
Huard said being able to deliver the milk at farmers markets is important because it gives small farmers the opportunity to expand into larger markets. It’s also more convenient for both the farmer and the consumer to pick up the milk at a spot where both were planning to be anyway.
Even so, Huard said he was disappointed the law requires customers to visit his farm before they can purchase his milk.
“It’s difficult for some people,” he said. “It’s just not convenient to ask them to drive all the way to Craftsbury to purchase milk. People are busy. I’m almost an hour away, so if they come and stay for 15 or 20 minutes and drive back, that’s almost three hours of (their) time.”
Huard said he had hoped the law would allow him to pick up new customers at the farmers market, not just at his farm. But he said he’d take the law as it is for now, calling it baby steps in the right direction for making raw milk more easily accessible to consumers in Vermont.
The man who was picking up the goat’s milk delivery from Huard was Alan LePage, owner and operator of LePage Farm in Barre. LePage also sells his own produce at the Capital City Farmers Market and is president of the Barre Farmers Market.
LePage said the new law was written because of farmers like Huard, and that people should be free to choose the food they want.
“I resent the fact that the state seems to think they know better than anyone else about the subject,” LePage said.
He said raw milk, which he has been drinking for 40 years, is no more dangerous than any other food or drink.
“The risks of raw milk spoilage are much less than they are with pasteurized milk,” LePage said. “The risks (of raw milk) are vastly exaggerated. If pasteurized milk spoils, there’s all kinds of bad things that can get into it. Whereas, raw milk generally makes cheese (when it spoils). You put it in a goat skin and travel to the other side of the hill on a 90 degree day, you’ve got cheese. That’s how cheese was invented. You can’t do that with pasteurized milk.”
LePage said raw milk has enzymes that pasteurized milk doesn’t. Those enzymes help keep certain pathogens out of raw milk.
As to why our food producers long ago started to pasteurize milk, he said it began when people started producing adulterated milk in what he called “dungeons” in the cities.
“Basically (the cows) were fed waste from breweries and basic inedible substances and the milk they produced was horrible,” he said. “People were dying from it. Rather than clean up these places and ban them, they simply insisted that all milk be pasteurized.”
The FDA is backing away (at least temporarily) from a policy statement that declared cheese makers would no longer be able to age their cheese on wooden boards. The statement caused outrage in the artisan cheese community and consumers quickly came to the aid of the industry signing onto a petition and expressing their outrage through social media. The American Cheese Society released a position statement, and it was clear that the industry was prepared to fight back if the FDA did not change its position.
Today, the FDA claimed that it in fact had not issued a new policy, they stated:
“The FDA does not have a new policy banning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-making, nor is there any FSMA requirement in effect that addresses this issue. Moreover, the FDA has not taken any enforcement action based solely on the use of wooden shelves.
In the interest of public health, the FDA’s current regulations state that utensils and other surfaces that contact food must be “adequately cleanable” and properly maintained. Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings. FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.
The FDA will engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.”
Good for the FDA for backing down. Although it’s unfortunate that they are dodging accountability by claiming they did not change their policy. The American Cheese Society released a .PDF version of the statement by FDA’s Branch Chief Monica Metz, the chief official responsible for food safety issues involving cheese. In that document she stated
The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP requirements, which require that “all plant equipment and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained.” 21 CFR 110.40(a). Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized. The porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood. The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products.
So let’s consider this a clarification, of their earlier clarification, which improperly characterized their official policy. Either way it’s good news.
This is also a lesson for people in other regulated industries. When government officials make pronouncements that don’t seem grounded in law or policy, and threaten your livelihood with an enforcement action, you must organize and fight back. While specialized industries may think that nobody cares, the fight over aged cheese proves that people’s voices can be heard.
While this is clearly a victory for the cheese industry, nothing is stopping the FDA from promulgating new regulations, so cheese makers will need to stay pay attention to what the FDA does next. FDA spokesperson Lauren Sucher signaled as much when she stated the agency would “engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.” That sounds like the FDA is planning to make some new regulations, and the engagement will likely come through the notice and comment rule-making process I described here.
By STEPHANIE STROM and KIM SEVERSON
June 10, 2014
A decision by the Food and Drug Administration to question the use of wooden planks to age some cheeses has produced a stink that rivals Limburger, prompting an uproar among the artisanal cheese makers and consumers who fear they might lose access to products like obscure blue cheeses from Vermont and imported Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The agency recently interpreted a decades-old regulation requiring that cheese-making equipment be designed and constructed of material that is “adequately cleanable” in ways that made it appear that wood, which has been used for centuries to help age cheese, was no longer sanitary enough.
“The porous nature of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood,” Monica Metz, chief of the dairy and egg branch of the Office of Food Safety, wrote in a letter to the New York State Agriculture Department at the beginning of this year.
For some styles of cheese, wood is an essential part of the process. It aids in the control of moisture that helps form rinds on big wheels of English Cheddar and small, delicate washed-rind cheeses. It also provides an amenable surface for the microbes that add flavor and character to cheese.
But the wrong bacteria can sicken consumers, which is what the F.D.A. was trying to control with its initial decision.
Cheese makers from California to Vermont took to social media in the last few days to express outrage. The hashtag #saveourcheese surfaced on Twitter. Chefs and cheese lovers took to Facebook and blogs to rebut the notion that wood was harmful.
Tuesday evening, the agency seemed to backtrack, saying that it planned to work with artisanal cheese makers “to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.”
To take away wood as part of the cheese-making process would mean wholesale change for more than a third of the cheese makers in America and could have implications for imported cheese, about half of which is aged on wood, said Nora Weiser, the executive director of the American Cheese Society, an organization that represents the nation’s farmstead and artisanal cheese makers.
In Wisconsin alone, more than 33 million pounds of cheese — of the 2.7 billion pounds produced in the state — is sitting on wooden shelving, she said.
“Wood is a perfectly safe surface,” she said.
The F.D.A., however, says wood could be a potentially hazardous surface, and recently cracked down on one small cheese maker in New York, which prompted state officials to seek clarification from the agency.
The issue began during an F.D.A. inspection in 2012, when the Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Company in Trumansburg, N.Y., was barred from making cheese after Listeria monocytogenes, a type of bacteria that can cause fatal illnesses, was found on one of the wooden boards on which cheese was aged, as well as on other surfaces.
Ms. Taber Richards cleaned and disinfected her equipment and kitchen yet again, conferring with the F.D.A. about what cleaning products and processes she was using. “It was kind of like trying to hit a moving target in the dark,” she said. “I never knew explicitly what they wanted done.”
So in October 2013, she was surprised to receive a letter from the F.D.A. demanding that she agree to a consent decree stipulating that she could not receive, prepare, process, pack, hold or distribute food until she developed a program to rid her operations of listeria once and for all or face a lawsuit.
“I thought I had been cooperative and responsive,” she said. “But when I called, they said, ‘You didn’t get rid of your wooden aging shelves.’ Well, no one had ever told me I needed to get rid of them.”
State regulators then wanted to know whether that prohibition on wood applied to all cheese makers, and in January, Ms. Metz sent them her interpretation of the federal regulation requiring equipment that was “adequately cleanable.”
She did not definitively state that wood could not be used to process cheese, however, and cheese makers in New York continued to fume.
“Were they going to enforce a ban on wood in New York but not Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania but not France?” said Robert Ralyea, a senior extension associate in the department of food science at Cornell University and a cheese maker himself. “All we knew was that a ban was enforced on Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese.”
So on Thursday, Mr. Ralyea started an email blast “to a relatively large crowd,” which lit up social media and the blogosphere.
Vince Razionale of Jasper Hill in Greensboro, Vt., where a series of aging caves are lined with wooden shelving that hold prizewinning cheeses, said, “We’re feeling really nervous about this whole situation. Like a lot of other cheese makers, we’re feeling very exposed.”
Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, now plans to attach an amendment to an agriculture appropriations bill moving through Congress that would prohibit the F.D.A. from spending any money to enforce a ban on the use of wooden shelves in cheese making. He said he expected widespread support from lawmakers in Wisconsin, New York and other states with large cheese production.
“The F.D.A. is mixing up the hygienic practices of a producer with the materials being used in production,” Mr. Welch said. “If you have an unhygienic operation in the production of food, probably everything is going to be infected, so is the F.D.A. going to ban the use of stainless steel when it finds listeria on it?”
He said the issue was creating a tremendous amount of financial uncertainty among cheese makers, noting that Jasper Hill would have to spend about $20 million to replace the wooden shelving it uses for aging.
He said a ban on wood also would affect the taste of cheeses that rely on it for aging and kick off an international trade war. “Many European cheeses are aged on wood, so if the F.D.A. enforces this rule, it will mean those cheeses cannot be imported into the United States and that will surely lead to retaliation,” Mr. Welch said.
The statement issued by the F.D.A. on Tuesday noted that the ban was not a new policy because the regulation on “adequately cleanable” utensils and surfaces dated back to 1986. “Historically, the F.D.A. has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings,” the agency said, adding that it was “always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.”
Mr. Welch snorted when the statement was read to him. “They should be able to give a definitive point of view one way or the other rather than creating more ambiguity and uncertainty with their wishy-washy statement,” he said.
PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A fight over local control and food sovereignty that began in the fields of Blue Hill more than two and a half years ago, spilled over into the state’s highest court on Tuesday.
Justices with the Maine Judicial Supreme Court heard arguments from lawyers representing Dan Brown, a small farmer fighting against sanctions imposed by the Maine Department of Agriculture that stem from his sale of raw milk on his farm without a license.
“I can’t give my neighbor a half gallon of milk. This is crazy talk,” exclaimed Brown as he stood outside the Cumberland County Courthouse.
Brown says it was about ten years ago when he and his wife, Judy, decided to start a small farm operation on their land at their home in Blue Hill. They had a handful of chickens and added a couple of cows.
“I loved it. It was a way of life,” said Brown.
They were producing more milk than they could consume, so Brown says he approached the state to see if they could sell the raw, unpasteurized milk, he was told he could on his farm as long as he didn’t advertise he was doing it.
“I was following their directions,” he explained. “I asked them what can I do? Where can I sell my milk? ‘If you sell from your farm, we don’t need to know you’,” he says he was told.
For several years he says they’re weren’t any problems. His operation grew to roughly 300 chickens and eight cows. He invested money in a farm stand and started making cheese and other products along with selling vegetables. Brown says he never worked so hard in his life, or was as content working as when he was fixing things on the farm.
In 2011, an inspector with the state paid his farm a visit. Brown says he was told he needed to make numerous improvements to comply with state regulations. He estimates it would have cost between $20,000 and $60,000 to meet the requirements.
“To produce a couple gallons a day, how could you ever recoup that?” he wondered. “It is the infrastructure needed to produce the milk to fall under a commercial dairy license.”
Brown closed his doors for about a week. Other farmers in the area reached out to him and told him the laws had not changed and that he should continue operating as he had been. So he reopened and was soon sued by the state.
Dan Brown says paying for the required license was never the issue, but the amount of money he would have had to invest to build the infrastructure to fall under a commercial dairy license was beyond his capabilities and something he was not interested in doing.
“This is about more than one man, milking one cow and selling its milk to his neighbor,” stated State Representative Brian Jones, at a rally before Brown’s hearing outside the courthouse. “We support the right of communities to determine how they will manage the production and distribution of food among themselves and the rights of individuals to determine what foods they will eat.”
Jones joined Brown and roughly two dozen of Brown’s supporters on the courthouse steps before his case was heard. All of them support local food sovereignty ordinances like the one passed in Blue Hill back in 2011. The ordinances seek to protect small scale food producers from having to comply with state and federal regulations and inspections.
“I am here because I believe food raised by a community, for a community, within a community should be regulated by that community,” said Heather Rhetberg, who traveled to Portland from her farm in Penobscot to show her support for Brown.
Eleven Maine towns have passed food sovereignty ordinances in recent years in an effort to support their local economies and keep them in business supplying their friends and neighbors with food grown or made in their own backyards.
Gary Cox, a lawyer with the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund traveled from Ohio to Maine to represent Brown before the Supreme Court. He says if Brown is successful in his appeal it will “be a huge victory for food sovereignty”.
The state, which imposed a fine of $1000 on Brown for selling raw milk without a license, believes state and federal statutes supersede local ordinances.
“The department really does support local food sales and these kinds of transactions between farmers and individuals,” stated Randlett. “But, again as I pointed out, it can’t be without rules.”
The Maine Judicial Supreme Court is expected to issue its findings in the coming weeks.
Public health officials will tell you that drinking raw milk is not worth the risk of suffering a food-borne illness. But advocates — who contend raw or unpasteurized milk can battle everything from autism to allergies — are behind bills in a number of states to open the door to raw milk sales. Further, Congress is entertaining two bills to make it easier to buy and transport raw milk across state lines.
While 30 states in the U.S. allow consumer sale of raw milk in some form, a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that unpasteurized products are 150 times more likely to cause food-borne illnesses than pasteurized versions. But advocates say the health benefits outweigh the negatives, and people should have the right to choose what they want to eat or drink.
Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to kill microorganisms. Typically milk is held at 161 degrees for 15 seconds, a process called flash pasteurization. Under a 1987 federal law, products made from unpasteurized milk may not be sold or traded across state borders.
Currently states are divided into areas where the sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal to states that allow some form of sale, whether for pet food, retail sale, farm sales or herd shares (where consumers purchase a share of a farmer’s herd in exchange for raw milk).
Rep. Thomas Massie, R- Ky., recently introduced two bills: The first would end the interstate ban on raw milk sales, and the second would allow interstate transport between states where raw milk is currently legal.
According to The Conference of State Legislatures at the state level, 40 bills to allow raw milk sales or ease current restrictions have been introduced in 23 states.
Sally Fallon Morell, the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit education foundation and advocate of raw milk, said if consumers want to drink raw milk they will find a way, many times going to states where it is legal.
“It’s grossly unfair for farmers in states where it is illegal to sell raw milk,” Fallon Morell said. “It doesn’t mean people will stop drinking it. It just means those farmers cannot profit from the enthusiasm for raw milk.”
The foundation fights for the legal sale of unpasteurized milk and a ban on soy-based formulas for infants, based on the theories of Weston Price, a 20th-century Cleveland dentist, believing that pasteurizing milk destroys vitamins and damages health-giving enzymes in milk.
Much of the information on raw milk is based on anecdotal accounts of its benefits. RealMilk.com, a website by the Weston A. Price Foundation, says that in addition to helping grow children’s nervous systems, raw milk produces bacteria that help break down lactose, making it easier to digest for people with lactose intolerance.
“We have thousands of testimonies from people who can’t drink pasteurized milk but have no problem with raw milk,” Fallon Morell said.
A Tale of Two Milks: A Farmer’s Perspective
Ran in the Rutland Herald 5/4/14 (view post)
By Lindsay Harris
As the Vermont Legislature considers S.70, a bill that would allow the delivery of raw (unpasteurized) milk to farmers’ markets, there has been a spirited discussion on the value of raw milk sales as part of Vermont’s agricultural economy. As the founder and former operator of Family Cow Farmstand, a raw milk micro-dairy in Hinesburg, I’d like to share a farmer’s perspective. We Vermonters are blessed to have an abundance of local foods; however we are at a crossroads in building a local food system that is truly sustainable. Raw dairy production can be a part of the solution, if Vermont has the courage to move forward and not stay stuck retelling a story that dates to the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Raw milk and raw dairy products have sustained many cultures across the globe for thousands of years. Raw milk in its various forms is mentioned in the bible over 50 times. Pasteurization is a recently developed technique only becoming a widespread practice within the last 60 years. Despite this, we often hear how pasteurization is essential for food safety. This disparity has everything to do with modern production methods.
In the early 1900’s the rise of industrial milk production was the cause of a terrible public health crisis. Confinement dairies started popping up next to whiskey refineries so the waste grain mash, called “swill”, could be force-fed to cows, producing low-cost milk for poor city dwellers who no longer had access to fresh milk from farms. These early industrial dairies were terrible places where both the cows and the workers were filthy and often sick. Illness spread to people who drank the raw “swill milk” and something had to be done. Instead of requiring cows be healthy and milked on small, clean farms, regulators allowed low-cost, low-quality swill milk to remain on the market, and required that it be “cooked” (pasteurized) before sale so it wouldn’t spread infectious disease. For a long time there were two milks in America: “Certified” raw milk that came from clean rural farms, and low-cost, cooked swill milk produced in the cities. With the gradual industrialization of most dairy production, milk became a commodity and pasteurization became the norm and the law.
Dairy regulation has come a long way since then, but it still allows for: large, confinement housing systems; feeding cows with concentrates, industrial food wastes and GMO’s; co-mingled milk from many thousands of cows; regular use of hormones and antibiotics; and milk from unhealthy cows to enter the food supply. The feasibility of industrial milk production depends on pasteurization. But there is another way to farm where pasteurization has never been necessary. It is the way humans have been successfully raising dairy animals for many thousands of years, in small herds fed on grass.
Cows with a grass-based diet are much less likely to harbor pathogens.1, 2 A recent UVM study tested over a hundred milk samples from 30 small-scale, Vermont farms. 3 The results consistently showed outstanding milk quality and zero pathogenic cells in any of the samples. Recent data from the US Centers for Disease Control show a person is many times more likely to get sick from consuming seafood, chicken, beef, spinach and many other common perishable foods than from drinking raw milk.4 Furthermore, recent studies show significant health benefits to drinking milk that has not been pasteurized. 5
Current regulations surrounding raw milk production and sale in Vermont reflect a fear and bias that is not supported by scientific evidence. This fear and bias is evident in the Vermont dairy industry’s vehement opposition to allowing sales of high-quality raw milk from small farms. Currently, Vermont’s raw milk producers are held to a higher standard of testing and inspection than conventional dairies and they are unfairly restricted from selling their product even when they meet these regulations. Let’s follow other states’ lead in allowing farmers who produce excellent, high quality food to sell it and return control over food choices to informed consumers.
Please contact Governor Shumlin and ask him to support greater economic opportunity for raw dairy farmers by signing S.70, and by directing his Agency of Agriculture to develop policies that encourage and support the development of micro-dairies and regulates them fairly.
1. Russell, J.B., F. Diez-Gonzalez, and G.N. Jarvis, Microbes Infect 2, no, 1 (2000) 45-53.
2. Bailey, G.D., B.A. Vantelow et al. (2003) Commun Dis Intell 2003; 27(2): 249-57.
3. D’Amico, D.J., and C.W. Donnelly. J. Dairy Sci.93:134-147 (2010)
4. Centers for Disease Control. (2007). “FOIA 06-0819 Line list of foodborne illness reported to CDC’s National Foodborne Outbreak Surveillance System from 1973 to 2005” Available online at http://www.davidgumpert.com/files/Cdc-foodborne-i.pdf (accessed April 27, 2010)
5. Waser, M., et al. Clinical and Experimental Allergy 37.5 (2007): 661-670.
Mountain Home Farm
213 Bicknell Hill Rd
Tunbridge, VT 05077
(802) 989-2813 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Lindsay Harris is a dairy farmer who founded and ran Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg for the past five years. She now farms in Tunbridge where she is producing artisanal butter, buttermilk and ricotta cheese.
Intro by David Gumpert, Article by Rural Vermont Board Member Tamara Martin
The Vermont legislature is considering very narrow legislation (S 70) that would allow the two largest raw dairies in the state to deliver raw milk to customers at farmers markets. Not sell it, mind you, just drop it off to customers, so they don’t have to trek to the farms to pick it up. A Vermont House committee has been holding hearings on this proposal, listening to both proponents and opponents of raw milk. I was among proponents offering testimony. But in addition to outside “experts,” the legislative committee has also heard from a number of raw dairy farmers. I thought the testimony offered by one of them spoke very well to the issue of risk, as well as to the hidden economic implications of reduced raw milk availability.
by Tamara Martin
My husband and I are co-owners and managers of Chandler Pond Farm in S. Wheelock, VT in the Northeast Kingdom. We are a diversified farm of 200 acres. We grow five acres of vegetables and berries, process 1,000 pastured chickens a year, as well as pastured pork, grass-fed beef, eggs, maple syrup, hay, and lastly, raw milk. This diverse model works for us as we direct market all of our products and are able to provide a wide variety of nutritious food for our local community, while keeping the family tradition of farming going strong. It also allows us not have all our income in one basket and lets our enterprises complement each other.
My husband is the fifth continuous generation in his family making a living farming in Vermont… There is a blue milk pitcher in our fridge feeding us and our three children, 8, 7 and 5, fresh milk since we began our family and started farming.
We currently market our products through several avenues—all local. We have a 45-member CSA, a farm stand on the farm, and we attend two farmers markets. The raw milk, of course, is only sold at the farm. We are a micro dairy. We milk two to four heritage breed cows, American Milking Devons, which don’t produce in large volume, but their milk is incredibly high quality. Milking Devons are known for their higher protein content as well as higher CLA’s and Omega- 3s, than most any other milk. Buying a product like this, pure Devon milk, anywhere but directly from the farm, is virtually impossible in Vermont.
We don’t sell a large amount of milk, largely because of the location of our farm. Even if we were able to meet reasonable guidelines to sell at drop off points or markets, our dairy herd would never grow as large as many in Vermont. We chose this path of a micro dairy because it allows us to produce a high quality milk, and we are able to take care of cows and our milking systems to the degree of cleanliness and sanitation that we feel best about.
Fresh milk sales in Vermont feel particularly challenging. I have personally done plenty of research and reading about regulations in other states such as New Hampshire, Maine, as well as accompanying statistics. I understand the desire for food safety, but only when balanced by common sense and the idea that people have an inherent right to choose the food that is best for their family, whether we agree or not. We can choose raw milk or Diet Coke, understanding the risks. It’s our choice.
One has to realize that even before being a farmer, I am a mother. I am not interested in feeding my children an unsafe product. But I also am not interested in fear. I like to understand the risks and benefits and how it fits into the scheme of daily life. It is easy to read one scary story and have a knee-jerk reaction. When this happens to me, I force levelheadedness to take over. There are risks in everything. Do I allow my children to each poached eggs? Can they jump on a trampoline? Will I feed them raw milk from a source that I know to use the highest standards of sanitation and precaution? Do I allow them to visit Grandma in the hospital during flu season? Should they touch the grocery cart when norovirus is going around our small town?
I can’t fear everything. I make decisions based on facts and risks. With all that said, we drink raw milk from our farm and have from others that we trust when we aren’t milking. I guess I feel the need to explain this, because I would never knowingly sell something I personally wouldn’t drink or feed my children just for economic benefit.
So let’s talk economics. It is hard to sell milk when your farm is just six miles out of town. I can’t imagine farms that are twenty miles out that have an excellent quality product and no customers.
In order to make your micro dairy profitable, you have to be able to sell a certain volume, with a certain bottom line. This is a business and our expenses are real, as is our time. If it’s established that this product is safe, please, let us sell it and support our families by farming. If we’re selling lots of it, then the regulations should be appropriate. If we are just selling a few quarts a day, then let’s use our common sense in those regulations. Scale-appropriate rules are ideal in risk and economics.
I get dozens of requests from customers every summer who know I have milk for sale at the farm, to sell it at the market or even just bring it to town. I am constantly explaining to them that this is illegal. They’re always disappointed and sometimes even frustrated. They want to drink fresh milk, for their own reasons, but can’t afford the time and gas to come out to the farm every week.
Now I want to address really quickly what some of the realities of milk delivery to a market or central drop-off locations might look like at our farm. First off, understand that we currently bring a truckload of vegetables, eggs, as well as two or three coolers of frozen meat to two markets a week all summer. As well, bi- monthly winter markets. Keeping products chilled and high quality is always a concern and the biggest effort of farmers markets for many reasons. Number 1 being that NO ONE wants to sell (or try to, rather) substandard product.
Bringing the meat in coolers frozen solid has always worked like a charm. The meat stays frozen even on the hottest days. We leave the lids on with a price list and open to let the customers choose their product then close them. No problems. Vegetables can be a difficult at times but we have found if they are prechilled prior to loading up for market with cold towels they do very well. Based on those experiences, I could imagine several scenarios for transporting and keeping milk chilled. I am always amazed at farmers’ ingenuity. For example the many different ways small micro dairies like ours have figured out how to chill milk in the time limit given to the right temps.
The initial ideas for us when thinking about transporting milk to market or central locations involve making sure the milk is adequately chilled ahead of time, plenty of ice packs and possibly an ice water bath with a small cooler of secondary ice packs to change out on particularly hot days. A min/max thermometer in our cooler etc. I urge you to allow drop off points and farmers sales and with a few COMMON SENSE guidelines and let us try at our hand at how we’ll do it.
Currently there is a law to allow delivery to homes. In allowing drop off points and market sales, the last concern is what happens to the milk from the time it leaves the farmer to when it gets to the fridge. I tend to trust people to make good decisions. I know you or I would. At market currently I am constantly talking to people about keeping their product. Most customers, for example, when purchasing meat but maybe lingering at the market for lunch, will leave their meat in my cooler until they are ready to head home, I don’t tell them to do this, and they do it themselves because they are smart and can be trusted to figure out how to take care of their food. Others bring insulated bags or coolers in their cars with ice packs, the same goes actually for folks who buy milk at our farm. I don’t see how drop off points or markets really change anything. At some point we have to assume when making laws that people are smart, just like we assume they wash their cutting boards after cutting meat and wash their hands.
Lastly, one of the things that gets me most frustrated about food rights is the poverty and justice side of this issue. We’ve passed a law that says folks can buy this product, it is safe enough for that, BUT they’ll need to go to the farm, or live in the delivery area of the two farms delivering milk, AND be home when that delivery is supposed to come. What that says to me is, if you don’t own a car and have the gas, money and time to drive five to twenty miles or more you don’t actually have that right. It means this is a product available only to those who can afford it. It isn’t the market price that is not allowing them to feed themselves in the best way they believe possible, it’s the laws around the product, which by default have eliminated the families or persons who don’t make enough money to get it.
Many family and friends we know and love have been drinking raw milk for years. Hopefully, the disconnect of what is legal to eat at any given time and what generations of Vermonters have been eating and continue to eat is closing as we close the culture gap and the legal gap with common sense regulations and allow ALL Vermonters access to the food of their choosing whether they live near a farm or not.