War on Raw

Lancaster Farming has run an article examining the prosecution of Mark Nolt and another Pennsylvania farmer who sold raw milk without a permit. The tactics used to bust these guys are more reminiscent of the War on Drugs than routine dairy regulation:

Chris Ryder, [Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture] spokesman, said additional citations are pending in relation to the two most recent incidents in which Nolt sold raw milk and cheese to undercover PDA agents this year.

Meanwhile, a Lancaster County farmer was found guilty on May 6 on one count of selling raw milk without the state required permit after he was initially charged with three counts.

Glenn Wise, a Mennonite minister who farms 23 acres just outside of Elizabethtown, Pa., was ordered to pay a fine of $50 in his case.

Wise, who spoke by phone on Tuesday, said he sold raw milk to an undercover PDA agent on three separate occasions after the agent signed a contract to become a member of Communities Alliance for Responsible Eco-Farming (CARE), an organization of which Wise is a member.

Two things are worth emphasizing here. The first is that Nolt could have slipped under the radar by maintaining his raw milk permit and selling his other raw milk products on the down low. His refusal to do so is an honest, principled protest of the state’s restrictive laws. The second is that these farmers’ customers were clearly informed, going so far as to sign contracts agreeing to the sale outside of the regulated system. This is not a case of consumers being manipulated; it’s a case of state officials interfering with the business of consenting adults.

The raw milk movement raises eyebrows with its eccentricity, but the people on the front lines are among the country’s most ardent defenders of economic freedom. I’d gladly raise a glass of unpasteurized milk to them — if I could.

Raw milk vs. consolidation

Andrew Martin has an interesting article in The New York Times today about consolidation in the dairy industry:

In the last decade, the number of dairy farmers has declined sharply — from about 99,000 in 1997 to about 59,000 last year, according to the Agriculture Department. At the same time, there has been a major shift in where milk is produced.

Small dairy farmers east of the Mississippi River and in the Upper Midwest are increasingly being replaced by huge dairy farms in the West, in places like New Mexico and western Texas. Few dairy farms are even left in the Southeast.

These days, more milk is trucked halfway across the country because the local dairy farmer and milk bottler are out of business.

One of the points I didn’t have space to address in my raw milk article is that raw milk, because of its premium price, shorter shelf life, and the need to trust one’s supplier, can be a valuable product for local dairies. I’m not opposed to consolidation per se, but if you value small-scale farming, legalizing raw milk should be among your priorities.

The man ain’t got no cultures

Got milk?

Last week, Pennsylvania Mennonite farmer Mark Nolt was found guilty of selling raw milk without a permit. In California, dairy farmers are fighting strict new regulations that would require raw milk to be as biologically sterile as its pasteurized counterpart, and at least one dairy has faced a federal investigation into allegedly selling raw milk for human consumption across state lines. Why are consumers so eager to buy raw milk, and why are authorities cracking down on the people who sell it to them? That’s the topic of my new article at Reason Online.

As part of my research, I visited farmer Kitty Hockman-Nicholas at Hedgebrook Farm in Winchester, VA. It’s illegal to sell raw milk in Virginia, but dedicated dairy drinkers buy into cow shares to get their supply. By becoming part-owners of cows and paying Hedgebrook to care for them, they ensure a steady supply of the raw milk they crave.

Kitty couldn’t sell me any of her milk, of course, but she was nice enough to provide me a sample jar. After several enjoyable hours spent wandering around her farm on a spring day, watching the animals, learning about her milking process, and being introduced to her cows by name, my friends and I couldn’t were eager to get home and try the stuff for ourselves. One of us was a bit nervous, though. “I don’t know if I can drink this. It came out of a cow.”

“All milk comes from cows,” I said.

“No, it comes from plastic jugs!” she replied. And that’s the way most consumers think about milk these days, living their lives completely disconnected from its origin. Having watched the care Kitty took in milking, however, we tried her product feeling confident that the cows were as sanitary as they get for being, well, cows — a far cry from the many bulk milk operations that feed into pasteurized dairies.

Once we tasted the milk, we were all converts to its superior flavor. Having it side-by-side with ordinary store bought milk made the difference even clearer: the mass-market milk has a processed aftertaste that I’d never picked up on before, but that stands out terribly next to fresh, pasture-fed, unpasteurized milk.

A blind tasting with different friends a few days later brought similar results. One person preferred the standard milk, but the rest of us liked the fresh stuff better. (It helps that Kitty’s milk is unskimmed and therefore has a higher fat content, but that’s not the only factor going into its appeal.)

Visiting the farm was one of the most enjoyable weekend outings I’ve had in a long time. Hedgebrook is occasionally open to the public, and I recommend checking it out if you get the opportunity. Unfortunately, the experience of trying Hedgebrook’s milk is harder to come by. Part of the madness of our current dairy laws is that if Kitty were to sell her product, she would be shut down by the state of the Virginia. Unless the law changes, you’ll have to commit to owning a cow for all its days on Earth or take your chances on the underground black market for raw milk products.

Below the break, more photos from our trip to Hedgebrook…
[Read more...]

Raw milk R[evol]ution

Ron Paul supports raw milk!

Paul never outshines his message, which is unchanging: Let adults make their own choices; liberty works. For a unified theory of everything, it’s pretty simple. And Paul sincerely believes it.

Most Republicans, of course, profess to believe it too. But only Paul has introduced a bill to legalize unpasteurized milk. Give yourself five minutes and see if you can think of a more countercultural idea than that. Most people assume that the whole reason we have a government is to make sure the milk gets pasteurized. It takes some stones to argue otherwise, especially if nobody’s paying you to do it. (The raw-milk lobby basically consists of about eight goat-cheese enthusiasts in Manhattan, and possibly the Amish.) Paul is pro-choice on pasteurization entirely for reasons of principle. “I support the right of people to drink whatever they want,” he says. He mocks the idea that “only government can make sure we’re safe, so we need the government to protect us. I don’t think we’d all die of unsafe food if we didn’t have the FDA. Someone else would do it.”

I don’t see Mike Huckabee, government fat warrior, being quite so supportive of adventurous eating. From a New York Times profile:

Six weeks ago, I met Huckabee for lunch at an Olive Garden restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. (I had offered to take him anywhere he wanted and then vetoed his first choice, T.G.I. Friday’s.)

The foodie and the libertarian in me are in agreement. Ron Paul’s my guy.

[Via Hit and Run and Kids Prefer Cheese.]