Ontario dairy farmer Michael Schmidt ended his hunger strike more than a week ago, but he just ate his first solid food yesterday, at the banquet dinner of the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Wise Traditions Conference in Dallas.
He didn’t partake in the smoked sable, pot roast, vegetables and poached pears with carob sauce gobbled up by the 1,300 conference participants. After a week of just sipping on vegetable broth because he had no appetite, Schmidt finally felt well enough to have some raw steak and butter—suggested fare from several medical practitioners who have been consulting with Schmidt on getting back into a regular eating routine.
“I didn’t feel like eating food,” he told me this morning. “Last night at the banquet was the first time I began to feel like eating.”
The practitioners advising him were concerned the vegetable broth might be depleting his body even more than not eating. “It was now approaching the seventh week” without food, he explained. “I didn’t realize how much you push your body into a real stress situation. There is a tipping point if you don’t deal with it.”
The food he had last evening agreed with him, and he said he felt stronger. “It seems as if I am at a good point.”
Schmidt said he is also convinced his meeting with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty occurred primarily because of the special efforts of several raw milk mothers in Ontario. He’s heard from several mothers who said they had emotional conversations with McGuinty’s staff members, imploring the political leader to meet with Schmidt. “The biggest influence came from mothers who phoned his office and started crying to the staff people” about the possibility of losing both Schmidt and their raw milk. “The staff people couldn’t take the pressure any more” and implored their boss to grant Schmidt an audience.
In eleven days, on November 24, Schmidt goes from the proverbial frying pan into the fire, when he is sentenced by an Ontario judge based on his conviction of violating the province’s dairy laws by making raw milk available to his herdshare members. True to form, Schmidt welcomes the event, since he wants to see how the prosecutors handle the required victim-impact statements. These tend to be emotional explanations from victims of violence or fraud as to how their lives have been hurt or ruined.
The “victims” in this situation are raw milk drinkers, none of whom have been made ill or otherwise experienced adverse effects. Quite the opposite, says Schmidt “Judge (Peter) Tetley now has to rule on something with no victim. They have nothing. From a legal principle, someone has to be damaged.”
Coincidentally, there will be rallies in support of raw milk taking place in nine cities across Canada the day before the sentencing, November 23, marking the fifth anniversary of the most recent police and regulator raid on Schmidt’s dairy.
In the meantime, Schmidt is trying to get back into the everyday rhythm of life following his 37-day hunger strike. “It affected me more after the fact whe I realized the impact. Oh my God, I can plan my life.”
He also has peace in his home again. “My wife got increasingly distressed” as the hunger strike went on. “She didn’t tell me to stop it, but she was upset. That was very difficult for me, to see how it stressed other people out.”
But most significant, “It helped to connect them to the seriousness of the situation. How much more serious does it have to get than the situation in California (with Rawesome) where you have inspectors coming in and discarding the food.”
The Raw Milk Institute had its first exposure to prime time over this past weekend, at the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Wise Traditions Conference.
The raw milk safety and standards-setting organization—the brainchild of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. owner Mark McAfee—has been a source of controversy on this blog in recent months, even before it has announced its safety standards and other aspects of its organizational structure. According to McAfee, who set up and hosted a slick-looking booth in a prime location of the Wise Traditions conference site, it was all peaches and cream. Just one farmer expressed serious misgivings about being represented by RAWMI, according to McAfee.
By the end of Sunday’s main conference, RAWMI had signed up more than 500 consumer members, who had committed to dues of $10 per month. McAfee added, “We have had interest from six farmers who have filled out our forms” to become certified as RAWMI-approved.
The certification process will be modeled on that used by Cow Share Canada Inc., a standard-setting organization of raw dairy producers organized by Ontario dairy farmer Michael Schmidt. Cow Share Canada has trained about 40 dairy farmers over the last two years, and accredited six, with six more that have nearly completed their accreditation, according to Schmidt.
McAfee and Schmidt agreed during the weekend to join forces and create The North American Raw Milk Alliance.
Schmidt said he decided to join forces with McAfee after becoming convinced he was serious about addressing the concerns of smaller producers. “I read carefully the concerns people expressed on your blog,” Schmidt explained. “There is the fear about small operations.”
Schmidt said he and McAfee are still working out the details of how the North American Raw Milk Alliance will operate in practice. According to Schmidt, “There is the issue of some kind of national common standards which would help to establish the credibility that we are as serious about food safety as we are.” The idea is to “establish these quality guidelines and have them as our quality seal rather than as our defense mechanism. The debate needs to change.”
McAfee, for his part, said RAWMI will focus on developing size-based quality and safety standards, based on Cow Share Canada’s approach. “The smaller you are, the less frequent the testing. It’s all size appropriate.
He said he plans to have his Organic Pastures Dairy Co. and RAWMI operating as completely separate entities. He also expects RAWMI will help its members work out disputes that may come up with regulators. “I see us as being preventively oriented,” he said, helping farms reduce the likelihood of running afoul of regulators. The best hope for farmers “is to be able to show a food safety plan that is being followed, and test readings on the web site” within RAWMI-recommended ranges.
RAWMI’s proposed standards for coliforms and standard plate count are currently under review by its Advisory Council, and should be released later this coming week, McAfee said.
The Wise Traditions Conference is well known for its great food. Usually, the conference features much locally-grown food, but that wasn’t the case this year. Judith McGeary of the Texas-based Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance announced at the Saturday evening banquet that most of this conference’s food had to be brought in from out of state this year because of the devastating effects of a long-term drought in Texas. “Sadly, Texas farmers couldn’t produce enough food for this conference,” she said. Many are on the verge of being forced out of business, she noted.