I am fortunate that I have a few raw milk buying options. I spend a fair amount of time in New Hampshire, and there I have a favorite farm where I can buy wonderful milk from a farmer who carefully tends to several grass-fed guernseys. The milk is very creamy and often lasts up to three weeks in my fridge before it begins souring. (The farm isn’t permitted, but is subject to irregular state sanitation inspections; the farmer is on a first-name basis with the state veterinarian.) Unfortunately, it’s an hour-and-a-half round trip to get the milk, and often it’s difficult to make the time in a busy schedule.
Over the last two years, a couple of much larger dairies have satisfied state requirements and gained access for their raw milk to several supermarket outlets (California style). So when I am short of time, or just lazy, I can drive 20 minutes, and while shopping for various staples, pick up a half gallon or gallon of raw milk.
I have to say that I feel funny about buying the supermarket raw milk. I am uncomfortable about the fact that I don’t know the farmer, and thus know almost nothing about the farm where the milk is produced. I can tell that the milk isn’t as high quality as my farmer-supplied milk. It doesn’t taste as good, doesn’t have as much cream, and it begins tasting sour within a week of purchase.
I also feel funny about not being as loyal a private buyer as I would like from the farmer. But I do pay a price–sometimes the farmer has milk for me, and sometimes, when I call in advance, I’m told there won’t be enough, since the regulars have to be served first. What’s fair is fair.
Still…I highly value having the option of being able to obtain my milk from the farm or from the store. To me, the raw-milk-quality-difference isn’t unlike it is for other foods–those items produced in large quantity for supermarket distribution generally aren’t of the same quality as items only available at the farm.
I guess where I’m going with this is to agree with many of those who commented following my previous post that it’s going to be very difficult for the Raw Milk Institute to represent the needs of both the private and the public raw milk marketplaces.
My sense is that RAWMI’s founders and its board members (including this one) failed badly to anticipate the divergent requirements.
It’s not just the requirements of the large, Organic-Pastures-type dairy that operates in a highly regulated marketplace, versus the small dairy that serves herdshare members or operates under state regulations to sell directly to customers who visit the farm. It’s local versus mass market. It’s private versus public. It’s community-based versus general market. It’s unrated versus nationally standardized.
All these differences need to be anticipated and planned for by a new organization with as ambitious an agenda RAWMI. Lots of people on this blog anticipated the differences, but they tended to be minimized by us folks involved with RAWMI. I know my reaction was that RAWMI should be given a chance to do its thing. I just never anticipated how complicated it would be to do its “thing”…or even fully articulated exactly what its “thing” was going to be.
To those who see conspiracies at the root of the problems, I’d say no. I believe all the people involved in trying to further particular agendas are sincere and committed. Stacy Pearson wrote me to explain how hard she had tried to work with the local Minnesota raw milk proponents. I believe her. I believe she has had the best of intentions. I also believe the Minnesota grass roots people have good intentions.
But the bottom line is that RAWMI faces profound differences in philosophy. And I am increasingly coming to believe that RAWMI can’t serve all agendas–most specifically, the private vs public approaches. The private side still has work to do to articulate its agenda and approach to handling oversight (its own or from outsiders).
Right now, by trying to be all things to all groups, RAWMI runs the risk of losing the trust of too many people in all arenas. If there is one thing raw milk proponents everywhere have had difficulty doing, it has been to establish trusting relationships with any outsiders. For good reason. Politicians lie. Regulators are unpredictable. Big business manipulates.
Right now, there is a major trust gap between RAWMI and much of the rest of the raw milk world. Can it be repaired? I don’t know. But I do know that RAWMI would be wise to go back to the drawing board, regroup, assess it mission, get feedback from the marketplace of farmers and consumers, and above all, listen to what the marketplace is saying. Even then, it may not be the right mechanism at the right place at the right time.
The raw milk issue sometimes symbolizes the divisions that occur in academia between sustainable agriculture supporters and Big Ag, which provides financial support to many universities.
Those divisions tend to stay buried, like much associated with the power and influence of Big Ag. But a new article in a publication put out by Rutgers University in New Jersey brings some of the differences to light. The article is about a Rutgers professor who supports raw milk (and a contributor to this blog), Joseph Heckman, and the opposition he has experienced among at least some of his colleagues. I’m impressed that a university publication would take on the topic, and come at it pretty fairly.
The New American has a good re-cap of the controversy over Amish farmer Daniel Allgyer’s run-in with the feds. He relies on info from this blog.
The publication also has a level-headed assessment of the controversy around Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, concerning supposedly racist remarks he made in the 1990s (being brought up now as Paul shows rising strength in Republican primary states). I like the part about a neo-conservative coming down on Paul for advising anti-government militia: ““Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” That, of course, is the engraved-in-stone quote from a Minuteman commander to the rebels in Lexington, MA, in 1775.
Finally, I am proud to say I was named to the Food Safety News “Naughty” list for 2011. Even prouder that Canadian raw dairyman Michael Schmidt was named to the same list.
I am encouraged that the “naughty” citations were done without derision. FSN criticized me for saying that “we are at war” over food rights (though it allowed, “…he makes sensible points about the regulation of raw milk, relative to other risky foods.”) Michael Schmidt was designated “naughty” for engaging in a 37-day hunger strike over food rights. I certainly stand by my “war” metaphor, and I know Michael is proud of his brave action.