When Georgia’s Department of Agriculture held its hearing a couple weeks ago on a proposal to require that all raw milk be dyed charcoal, raw-goat-milk producer Bob Hayles was the first to stand up and speak out against the regulation. Dozens of others followed him, and the agriculture agency decided shortly after the session not to implement the regulation.
While many farmers and consumers feel they scored a major victory, Bob doesn’t agree. “Everyone thinks we won something important. But all we won was a battle, and it was a small battle.”
The event convinced him that a much more aggressive effort will be required to retain and extend our right to raw milk, and that the best way for him to do his part is via civil disobedience. “I’m not following the law,” he says, which in Georgia allows raw milk sales only for pets.
He began his civil disobedience in recent weeks, by not including required labels on his milk stating it is “not fit for human consumption.”
Next, “I will not renew my license” by the end of this year to sell raw milk as pet food.
Hayles is a 52-year-old former corporate executive who moved to his farm, Thornberry Village Homestead in Jasper, 60 miles north of Atlanta, four years ago, to “get the hell away” from corporate life.
“I knew people pay $10 a gallon for goat’s milk, and I figured I could do that.” He now sells all the milk he produces by milking between 10 and 25 of his goats. “If I had 100 goats, I could sell every drop I produce,” he says, adding that he doesn’t want to get that big. He also realizes that his business is more than a business.
He’s become convinced that the governmental assault on raw milk “will pretty soon become an all-or-nothing thing. Someone is going to win the war. Either raw milk producers will be run out or laws will be passed legalizing what we do.”
Given the legal and regulatory assault on raw milk going on not only in Georgia, but in California, New York, Pennsylvania, and other states, he has concluded that civil disobedience is the best way to draw attention to the issue. “There have to be people on the producer side willing to commit civil disobedence, just like Rosa Parks did. Otherwise, we will fail, and there will be no raw milk.”
The only hope is to convince politicians that our right to consume raw milk has broad popular support. He points out that Georgia’s agriculture commissioner, Tommy Irvin, has been in elective office 47 years (and according to the Georgia Department of Agriculture is “is the longest serving statewide official in Georgia as well as in the United States”). While he’s a staunch opponent of raw milk, he quickly decided against the dye proposal when he saw all the opponents, says Bob. The same thing has to happen in other places. “Mark McAfee is just one person. I am just one person.”
Consumers “have to be willing to put forth an effort.” This means “writing their legislators over and over.” It means “talking up raw milk at church. The Bible talks about the land of milk and honey. You can be sure that wasn’t pasteurized milk.”
Bob knows something about politics, having run for city council at the age of 17, and later for county commissioner—both unsuccessful efforts.
But this is much different, he ventures. “It’s all about people’s rights. In some towns in California, people want to ban McDonald’s. They want to ban people’s rights. That’s B.S. If you want to consume a Big Mac, you should have that right.”
Bob has obviously thought very seriously about the step he is taking. He has become convinced that, like many of us who support raw milk, that this issue is about fundamental human rights.
"At some point, people have to realize that throwing tea in a harbor was not necessarily a one-time thing."
I was very touched by the heart-felt condolences expressed on my previous posting about my uncle. The listing of authors who have touched us was intriguing. Amazing how much our thinking can be affected by just one or a few individuals. I’ve come to realize as well that sometimes our best teachers are closer to us than we realize. And sometimes appear in the most unexpected places or when we least expect them. And that we may not appreciate their lessons until much later than we wish.
Of late, I have been learning huge amounts from people like Bob Hayles, Barabara Smith, Mark Nolt, Greg Niewendorp, Andrea Elliott, Mark McAfee, and Richard Hebron (among others) about handling fear and uncertainty in the face of seemingly overwhelming force. (If any names are unfamiliar, you can do a search on this blog for information on them.)