Its been seven years since Michigan agriculture authorities settled the highly embarrassing raw milk case against farmer Richard Hebron by agreeing in principle to allow herd shares in the state that was the first in the nation to ban raw milk in 1947.
The herdshare agreement was formalized with the release of the report of the Michigan Fresh Unprocessed Whole Milk Work Group in early 2013. Between 2007 and now, several dozen Michigan dairies are understood to have adopted herdshare arrangements to allow distribution of raw milk.
It all seemed to be going smoothly….until today. Now, the seven-year calm in Michigan has been broken with an assault on My Family Co-Op, which operates a herd share with a local farm to provide raw milk along with meat, eggs, and honey to about 600 families.
I spoke with the co-ops director, Jenny Samuelson, as agents from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development were going through her refrigerated truck in the parking lot of a chiropractor in Washington Township, and inspecting the 250 gallons of milk, as well as eggs and other products.
She said they were forcing her to pull the truck off the road for failure to have a food handlers license that would allow her to sell the eggs and honey as a retailer.
They are counting how much raw milk I have, even though raw milk has nothing to do with what they are after, she told me. If they want to take the eggs, they should take them. They are overstepping their bounds.
They were also endangering the integrity of her milk, she said, by exposing it to summer temperatures. I need to keep it cold. Co-op members who receive milk are members of a herdshare she set up with a neighboring farm, and distributing raw milk is the co-ops main function. I pay a farmer $5 a dozen for the eggs, and charge $1 for delivery, she said. I dont make any money on that. I just do that for members.
She wondered why the MDARD felt compelled to stop her truck and essentially halt all food deliveries she had scheduled for today. “They could have just come to my farm and told me about the problem they had with my eggs.”
By the end of the day, the MDARD issued a statement in which it indicated it was searching out raw dairy products other than fluid milk. The MDARD’s March 2013 policy formally endorsing raw milk exempted non-milk products. MDARD said it “did place a seizure on illegally processed and distributed raw milk products that are not covered under a herd-share agreement.” The MDARD statement indicated that the co-op can continue to distribute milk, though it didn’t indicate why “some raw milk was placed under seizure” as well.
The MDARD’s tack, in going after products like cream and butter is somewhat different than what occurred in Wisconsin last year, when it went after Vernon Hershberger, and in Minnesota, when it went after Alvin Schlangenaccusing the farmers of retailing farm food as a way to try to prevent the sale of raw milk.
For Samuelson, the seizure order puts at risk thousands of dollars worth of milk. She also felt the MDARD was contradicting itself: “They told most of the members that (the seizure) is because I don’t have a food license (for meat and eggs). We don’t need a food license to deliver the members’ products. They haven’t kept their story straight. If it’s the food or cream products, then let us deliver the milk as it is sitting on my truck seized right now. We need the seize on the milk to be lifted.”
(This post was adjusted and updated after it was first posted July 15.)