Who Says You Can’t Succeed By Selling Raw Milk at $24 Per Gallon?

CharlotteSmith-Champoeg

Charlotte and Marc Smith

No matter how you look at it, the data on farming in the U.S. are depressing. The average age of farmers is approaching 60, and most family farms have less than $50,000 annual revenues.

CrowdfundingWinners-Polyface8-15

Margaret and Steve Cegelski, ranchers from Santa Barbara, CA, flank Joel Salatin and me at Polyface Farm on Saturday.

That’s why it’s inspiring to meet Charlotte Smith, and hear her story of Champoeg Creamery’s success—based on her commitment to produce high-quality raw milk, which she increasingly complements with grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, pork, and eggs. I met her in person for the first time (along with her husband, Marc, who is a public school teacher), at the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s Food Freedom Fest in Staunton, VA, on Friday. That event, which drew about 150 people, was followed on Saturday by the FTCLDF fund-raising tour of Polyface Farm, led by owner Joel Salatin, which drew an overflow crowd of 300. There I met Margaret and Steve Cegelski, California cattle ranchers who won my crowdfunding prize earlier this year in connection with my new book, The Raw Milk Answer Book, to accompany me on the Polyface tour (see photo above).

In chatting with Charlotte Smith, I realized she is a great illustration of how working diligently and publicly for safe raw milk can be a big business booster. Charlotte pushed hard to become the first certified dairy member of the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) in 2012, and is also on its board. Her milk is in such demand she is now selling raw milk for $24 a gallon. She is limited in her production by Oregon’s three-cow limit on raw dairies, or she would likely be serving many more than the 100 regular customers she currently has.

Instead, she has a long waiting list for her milk; certainly it helps being within a half hour of Portland, OR.

Her experience selling raw milk and building Champoeg Creamery over the last six years has convinced her about the importance of having good business skills to supplement farming ability. So much so that she’s begun a training program for farmers, known as 3 Cow Marketing.

She’s worked with some dozens of farmers and wannabe farmers, helping them via a training program she devised, of videos, worksheets, and live group coaching calls, to learn basic skills in marketing and financial planning. It’s not just about selling raw milk. “I’ve seen lots of excellent farmers give up after a couple years,” she says. This includes farmers of all types, and it’s usually because they didn’t run the farm enough as a business, she says.

For Charlotte, the weekly or bi-weekly need families have to replenish raw milk supplies helps keep customers regularly returning to Champoeg, and increasingly buying her farm’s beef, chicken, pork, and eggs. She’ll face a dilemma shortly as to whether to continue pushing the farm’s breakneck growth, which has seen sales double each of the last six years.

While she’s publicly encouraged dairy farmers to become RAWMI members, she’s also pushed for expanded access to milk, such as a lifting of the three-cow limit on dairy owners in Oregon. Just recently, she joined the board of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

45 comments to Who Says You Can’t Succeed By Selling Raw Milk at $24 Per Gallon?

  • Mark Mcafee Mark Mcafee

    Charlotte and Mark are so special. So proud she was the first to be Rawmi listed and become a mentoring example for all! So true about running a raw milk operation like a business!!! So true….

    • Brigitte Ruthman

      Have you been to Lancaster County lately? Quietly, sometimes above the radar and sometimes below, farmers are selling out and conducting profitable businesses to customers from Philadelphia, doing what Charlotte and Mark are doing. The public is latching on so fast there isn’t enough demand sometimes to meet supply.

      • David Gumpert David Gumpert

        Brigitte, think you meant to say there often isn’t enough supply to meet demand. And yes, increasingly farmers near big cities are selling direct to city residents….at high margins that reflect the farmers’ true cost of production. Slowly, people are getting the message that you get what you pay for–nutrient-dense food for higher prices, and unhealthy food for low prices.

  • marcie mcbee

    I wish I had known this and found her at the fund raiser. It cracks me up who all we talk with and really have no idea who they are or what they do.

    • David Gumpert David Gumpert

      Yes, I’m always amazed by the people who show up at the fund raiser….some of whom I meet, and some of whom I miss. It makes me think I should sponsor some kind of reception for readers of this blog to meet and talk. By the way, great to see you again, and learn how well you are doing.

    • Charlotte smith

      Yes I wish I could have met you, too, Marcie!!

  • David Gumpert David Gumpert

    I was grilled about raw milk on NPR’s Boston station, WBUR, yesterday afternoon. A couple times I pointed out that I’m not necessarily an advocate of raw milk, but rather an advocate of choice. The interviewer was also skeptical about the European studies indicating raw milk protects against allergies and asthma in children. I explained that these were carried out by international teams of scientists. The full nearly 20-minute interview is here: http://radioboston.wbur.org/2015/08/17/raw-milk-2

  • Ken Conrad Ken Conrad

    The next time someone tries to tell you that vaccines are effective at preventing illness, remember this little boy who had been vaccinated against the very microbe that ravaged his body. It would be inconceivable for health officials to think that their invasive toxic methodologies are in fact responsible for prompting such illnesses.

    http://www.thespec.com/news-story/5802533-ontario-family-reeling-as-boy-loses-legs-arm-to-rare-hi-bacteria/

  • rawmilkmike

    This is what the state and Mark McAfee want. Real food only for the rich. The rest of us can eat cake.

    • Gordon S Watson

      8 years ago, when I first started contributing to raw milk website forums, people railed at me that we were “gouging” at $12 per gallon. Last month, what started as Home on the Range cowshare, then Our Cows, folded in disarray ; the cost to subscribers was $20 Cdn, produced under the RAWMI protocol, delivered in glass, to the Big City 60 miles from the farm. And people were happy to get it at that price
      …. so we’re out of business, but NOT because the REAL MILK was priced incorrectly. The commies who run the dairy cartel succeeded with intimidation, when they failed to out-compete us.

      ….. REAL MILK is worth what the farmer says she needs in order to keep going and make it all worthwhile. But – never having done the work – you wouldn’t know that.

      Mark McAffee’s efforts over a decade, provide the good stuff for 1000s of people per week. ……go ahead, rawmilkmike = have a cupcake and you’ll feel better about being in that rut … grumbling, coveting the success of others, trudging along in the poverty mentality, here in the richest land on the planet, in all history. Perhaps take the advice given by your Great Helmsman in his Little Red Book, circa 1968 : “send the effete intellectuals back to the farm for re-education”

    • Sylvia Sylvia

      rawmilkmike, It priced me out of being able to afford it.

  • Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard

    Looking for food?
    The first question is: is it food?
    Price does not confer food status to something that is not food in the first place.
    That non-food stuffs can be produced at a dizzying pace does not, again, make them food.
    Cow plus grass/hay equals milk, cream, butter, cheese, kefir. These are foods.
    The SOI is straightforward.
    When a SOI becomes a Standard Of Deception (SOD), fraud is being sanctioned.

    Ingvar

  • Mark Mcafee Mark Mcafee

    Present day cafo milk market conditions certainly make very cheap dairy products. There is an old saying ” it is always cheaper if you steal it”. My dairy friends have their milk stolen every day when they sell at below cost of production.

    Go ahead and throw stones….. Sustainability is something I am proud of….by the way, OPDC retails cheaper than our non organic competition, because we care about our consumers and price points. Cheap raw milk can also mean unsafe untested raw milk from a place that underpays its workers!!!!

    That’s not me!!

  • Mark mcafee Mark mcafee

    Raw milk mike? Would you mind identifying yourself? Who are you and what is your issue? Why do you think that I am in anyway Allied with government agencies? By the way,….when you eat cake….drink some raw milk with it.

  • Ramanuj Basu

    Perspective: $24 per gallon is a bit cheaper than the white chocolate mocha cost at Starbucks. It’s easy to argue that, “Well, yeah, but Starbucks adds all that value: coming up with the recipe, mixing ingredients, etc.” But the REAL value is in what Charlotte, Amish farmers in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, and others are providing…an amazingly nutritious, delicious food consistently produced in a safe manner. I’ll take the milk over the mocha every time.

    • sylvia gibson sylvia gibson

      Their coffee tastes burnt and I wouldn’t waste my money there.

    • Lynn

      Even Pepsi is almost $7/gallon. Raw milk is worth what it costs to produce it.

      • Sylvia Gibson Sylvia Gibson

        I don’t consume any sodas, haven’t in over 20 years, that’s a non issue for me. Personally, I think those who spend their money at places like Starbucks are wasting their money, even if the coffee didn’t taste burnt to me, I would not spend that much for a cup of coffee. All the additives in their “drinks” makes me shudder in distaste.

        I did not imply it wasn’t “worth” it.

        $24/gal is out of my budget, it is untouchable for me. Even the $8/ half gal was stretching it and that was only consumed occasionally.

  • Mark mcafee Mark mcafee

    Ram…..amen brother!! The Starbucks value added is a lot easier than consistent high quality safe raw milk from a cow…that is milked 7 days per week 365 days per year that needs breeding, feeding and dies at totally un opportune times.

  • Frank

    We currently pay $5G from our local source in the SE and have been paying that for 2years now, it was $4 prior to this. They make a profit at that price as well. We have been buying from them for almost 10 years. Fully automated in their milking process, no portable milking machines. In the last two years they have added a larger tank for raw milk sales and a bottling maching.

    I have no issue with anyone charging $24, market and supply. If you can get it do so. For me, with a family of 6, we buy 28gallons a month and $24gal would be a deal breaker.

    • Charlotte Smith

      fully automated, no portable machines, bottling machine – you are describing a dairy operating under very different laws then the 2 cow limit in Oregon. With no economy of scale the $24/gallon price reflects the very different circumstances. Would love if our law was different and we could produce milk on a scale that would allow us to sell it cheaper. But that’s not Oregon, not now. Yes, in your area $24/gal is a deal breaker. Consider yourself blessed in the raw milk area!!

  • Mark mcafee Mark mcafee

    OPDC organic certified raw milk retrials for about $15 per gallon at most common coops in CA sometimes a little more at $16.50 or so perhaps as high as $17.50. Our price to each and every store is the same. No preferential pricing to retail stores.

    To be able to sustain a micro business with just three cows on $24 per gallon is extremely hard… The classic comment I hear from some price sensitive consumers is this: I think I will get my own cow and get it for free….after a year they return with a very grateful and worn out look on their faces….Saying:” I did not realize how cheap your raw milk is”.

    The reality of cow ownership is a blessing but mostly a huge social, familial, economic and scheduling burden. $24 per gallon is a fair price when health is calculated, quality feed, testing and safety is considered. In my book….$5 per gallon is too cheap.Quality Organic Feed takes up most of that. Even if pastured. A CAFO sharing milk from the bulk tank that is untested, fed GMO and etc….that seems more like $5 per gallon raw milk.

    Another way of looking at this might reconsider any type of price comparisons. Every part of America has its own raw milk reality, history and level of concern for GMO, pasturing, testing and concern for safety… Raw milk is a blessing regardless of its level of approach to perfection. Lets not make the cheap the enemy of the expensive or the good the enemy of the best. Everyone can make their own assessment of these qualitative measures as long as they have access to the information and understand the safety for each choice.

    One last thing….It really pisses me off when raw milk producers make organic claims when they are not certified organic and have not done all of the million hassle things to assure USDA organic certification….it is simply unfair. I consider it deceptive marketing. I see this all ofvthe time. If a producer wants to make organic claims….go through the million hoops and hassles to make those claims. Bragging rights go to those that are tolerant enough to endure hassle hell and pay the price for organic hay when it is twice the price as conventional and etc….

    • Ken Conrad Ken Conrad

      Be careful Mark!!!
      Self-righteousness can get the better of you at times.
      When it comes to organic certification, I have studied it, I don’t like what I see, and I want nothing to do with it.

      I agree with Joel Salatin, “Ever since Americans convinced elected officials that organic licensure was an important function of the government, Polyface has been vilified, misunderstood, and often mistrusted for not participating in the program. We’ve spent a lot of time defending our independent mindset and have certainly made enemies by holding to our position.

      ‘I sat on the very first organic certification panel in Virginia, prior to federal involvement, and was appalled at the political hanky-panky even at the earliest, smallest, introductory stage. I resigned after only two certification sessions.

      ‘Pardon me while I yell across the world: “I TOLD YOU SO!” I wish ill to no one, but I confess it is sweet exoneration when the following news blast came out today. I deeply appreciate the work of Cornucopia for sticking with integrity and exposing the charade that has become the organic certification program.

      ‘This is why buying local, eating seasonally, knowing your farmer, and using your domestic culinary arts to prepare, package, and preserve your own unprocessed foods is the ultimate secure way to verify your food. Please, please read the following press release to stay on the cutting edge of integrity food education. Thank you.”

    • sylvia gibson sylvia gibson

      Many don’t want to waste money being “certified” organic. Being “organic” still does NOT guarantee no chemicals used. ecfr.gov lists the chemicals allowed. Toxic.

      Added chemicals are still allowed. http://foodbabe.com/2012/05/22/watch-out-for-this-carcinogen-in-your-organic-food/

      Paying the fees for being “certified” really means nothing. It’s no doubt, probably better than conventional farming, yet, it is still a hoax and play on words and has different meanings to different people.

  • Mark mcafee Mark mcafee

    Ken, I 90% agree with you. Two points however:

    For those that do not know a farmer and want to know what they are eating, organic is a starting point.

    For those producers that cheat…it is a market control system that at least levels the field a bit. Markets are stabilized by organic certification. The conventional roller coaster from hell is avoided. By cheating….I mean those that claim organic organic but are only after the money and cheat at every turn as they use the words organic…but are far from it..USDA organic inspection is a policing action that is critical. Organic made America better….Raw milk made America healthier.

    • Ken Conrad Ken Conrad

      Mark, I don’t trust dogmatic self-serving government inspection agencies. As far as cheating is concerned, there are always going to be unscrupulous opportunists… certification or not. In fact the certification process gives a whole new meaning to the term cheating!

      Cheating is one thing; the accepted criteria established in order to acquire government organic certification is another. In many cases it’s little more then a charade with the products being certified hardly more organic then the conventional.

      Don’t get me wrong, we buy organic whenever possible and focus on products that are explicitly labeled free of drugs, GMOs and not pasteurized. As far as certification is concerned I take it with a grain of salt.

  • Mark mcafee Mark mcafee

    Several years ago OPDC entertained the idea of abandoning organic certification, but keep up the practices…when we shared this thought with some core consumers….the screaming outrage started!! We then stopped considering that notion immediately. Our core wants and demands: to know us, to visit us, that we be certified organic, that we test, share our test results, that we are safe.

    Commercial reality of public brand perception is different than perhaps some of the opinions here at the Complete Patient.

    Being the 3rd ranked organic dairy brand ( for fluid milk ) in the USA and ranked #1 in fluid milk growth….tells me everything I need to know about our consumers choices. ( Spins )

    I rejoice in bringing a once very niche, fringe, and clickish product to the mainstream. The more kids that safe raw milk, the less asthma there will be..the better guts there will be…the brains there will be…the better America will be. Enough said.

    • Bora Petski

      But Mark then you would have to change your company name, what does the O in OPDC stand for? You have a great thing going don’t change.

  • Mark mcafee Mark mcafee

    Ken, let me clarify…my problem is with non certified producers making organic claims and are not organic and have not paid the price of organic…in an attempt to gain value from being certified organic.

    • Ken Conrad Ken Conrad

      Mark
      There is no doubt many consumers who are mentally dependent on government programs and regulations for their security. It is good business acumen to take heed of their angst.

      That being said however, there is a growing number of consumers who recognize this absurd pretense by tptb in order to create a pleasant and/or respectable appearance of food products. These consumers are wising up to the fact that governments are more concerned with controlling the public rather then its safety. They are beginning to take personal responsibility for what food (and medication) goes into their, or their children’s bodies, despite being marginalized and vilified for doing so.

      Using as an excuse the unscrupulous acts of the few in order to justify and broaden ones attempt to manipulate the masses is an age-old tactic that caters to the human desire to control.

  • Vicki

    That’s so awesome I would love to do that!!!!

  • Shawna Barr

    Whether certified with a label or not, I opt for food grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics, etc., and not genetically modified. I choose the same for my livestock. It is great when I can grow my own, or purchase directly from a farmer with whom I have a relationship and can simply ask about or observe their growing practices.

    This isn’t always reality though. When I don’t have that luxury of the do-it-myself, or first-person option, you bet I choose the organic label! Organic certification is not perfect, to be sure. It does not always mean all that the public thinks it means. And I agree that private certifiers such as Cornucopia do a more authentic job of verification than the USDA. But even so, obtaining certification takes a lot more than “paying fees.” It does mean something. If you don’t believe me, please talk to a few of the certified farmers at your farmers market. Ask Mark what it takes for his farm to maintain that certification…I guarantee it takes a lot more than just writing a check.

    We have opted not to certify as organic, although we follow the recommendations of the NOP and beyond. Certification is not necessary with our very local, very small, community-direct model. But I have great respect for my fellow local farmers who have certified, and out of that respect, am happy not to use the “label” to describe our farm products.

    On a related note, as Monsanto and Company have thwarted attempt after attempt to label GMOs, USDA organic still prohibits the use of GMO products in foods that bear the organic label. So at least we have that if we want to opt out of GMOs.

    • Gordon S Watson

      further to “standard of identification” and officialdom’s insanity with labelling : the item at this URL illustrates that how utterly perverse they get

      … real, raw skim milk is being dumped because the dairy refuses to label it “imitation” in order to comply with the Florida law which says that skim milk in commerce must have vitamins added to it

    • sylvia gibson sylvia gibson

      “We have opted not to certify as organic, although we follow the recommendations of the NOP and beyond”

      I think many farmers follow this philosophy as best they can. I have found that most will tell you what they use and don’t use, and will also tell you why they use it, etc. There is great respect for these farmers who are open and honest.

  • Mark mcafee Mark mcafee

    Gordon, great link for the story on Florida skim milk….

    I have fought some battles in Florida on the raw milk side and found that jurisdiction to be blantantly corrupt. I was part of an effort to meet and discuss raw milk with senior milk officials back in 2004. They cancelled the meeting after I had purchased airline tickets and been promised the key meeting. They know how to play the hurt game. Truly sick and unfair.

    The Stanard of Identity process that is intended to assure dairy products are healthy….are the very SOI standards process that assures that the establishment is protected. Skim milk is defined as including added Vitamin D etc…because ” pasteurized milk” has lost its natural vitamin D. The pasturized dairy protect SOI has addressed this issue. What is needed is a raw milk SOI in Florida. That is far from happening. The process is dominated by the processors. They have the money and 99% of the market power.

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