Raw Milk: Laying the Groundwork for the Future

By Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture

The following article appeared in Passages, the newsletter of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. For more information go to www.pasafarming.org.

Hundreds of Pennsylvania farmers, consumers and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture representatives came together for an informational meeting regarding raw milk issues on October 20, 2003 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The meeting was generated by the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture and local chapters of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Some might feel that such a meeting would be charged with emotion and tension. But as it turns out, the meeting was very positive and productive and as Brian Snyder, executive director for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) put it, an example of “a community coming together around an issue.”

There were presentations given by two raw milk producers and two representatives from Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA), Department of Food Health and Safety along with an afternoon panel discussion.

Tim Wightman is a farmer from Hayward, Wisconsin. Tim started a CSA and hay operation and his customers kept asking him about purchasing milk. Since Wisconsin does not allow the sale of raw milk, they had to look to Europe for examples of how to setup a raw milk system. The state gave them permission to sell “cow shares” to their customers. Their customers purchased a share in the cow so they became part owner of the cow and the milk from that cow was theirs. After one year, Tim had 168 families signed up for milk. When the state found out, they canceled the program and tried to cancel Tim’s grade A milk permit. Once the word got out to the press, they signed up another 130 families. Over a Thanksgiving holiday, a large outbreak of campylobactor occurred from holiday turkeys. The state tried to pin it on raw milk to further their efforts in shutting the farm down. Ironically, while all this was taking place, the USDA sent the farm a certificate recognizing them for their high quality milk.

The fight continued for ten months and in the mean time, customers were sneaking out to the farm in the middle of the night to purchase their milk at the farm’s selfserve store. Then one month before their court date in civil court, they got a letter from the state. The letter stated that it is illegal to own shares of a cow but legal to own shares in a farm assuming the shareholder knows the risk. Under Wisconsin law, the farm can make dairy products for its workers and owners. Armed with this tool, Tim developed a company called Hayward Community Dairy, LLC. People purchase a share in the company that holds a grade A milk permit. The company holds the liability, not the farm. Tim sees the future of this as his farm becoming part of a larger community farming network. Hayward Community Dairy could purchase shares in another LLC farm and then offer those products to their shareholders, thus expanding the farm fresh products offered to the shareholders. This could possibly expand to on-farm processing of meats.

Tim Wightman’s long battle just to have the opportunity to offer his farm products to his community showed the advantages we have here in Pennsylvania. Tim stressed that we must keep the Pennsylvania tradition of on-farm purchasing. Wightman said “people want to purchase what comes from the cow and you have a value to your customers because you know your cows.”

Once, a reporter asked him what this movement should be called, Tim answered, “Honesty.” Wightman says it’s all about honesty and earning trust between you and your customers.

The next presenter, Mark McAfee, has a major advantage over Tim Wightman. His farm is in California and raw milk sales have always been legal in that state. What makes Mark’s situation unique is the fact that his family farm, Organic Pastures Dairy Company, LLC, is the only certified organic raw milk dairy in the USA that is also shelf legal. Mark’s presentation focused on the health benefits and safety of raw milk. OPDC sells raw milk products such as milk, butter, cream and colostrum all over the country and around the world.

McAfee stated that human pathogens cannot grow in clean raw milk. Pasteurization inactivates safety mechanisms thereby triggering pathogens to grow. Lactoperoxidase, lactoferrin, fatty acids and other active elements keep raw milk safe and provide healthful benefits.

OPDC’s safety principles include:

  • Every batch tested and posted on their website.
  • Batch all production runs.
  • Frequent testing of milk.
  • All milking and processing equipment kept clean.

Their cows are free from antibiotics, raised on pasture and are kept in a clean, low-stress environment. They use a mobile milking barn outfitted with industry-standard equipment to take the milking to the cows.

Mark sees their niche as an answer to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). They have 100 percent of the organic raw dairy product market in the Pacific rim. Mark says they are “creating something that really is what it says it is” and he stressed that we in Pennsylvania have the ground work to make progress here in this state.

In his presentation, Bobby McLean from the Pennsylvania Department of Agricultue (PDA) department of food, health and safety said he received lots of letters regarding the recent raw milk upheaval. Mr. McLean said that the PDA will not prevent the sale of raw milk to anyone but the PDA does want the product to be safe and stated that he was happy to have this open forum to clarify the PDA’s position. The PDA must enforce current regulations that were put into law in 1935. Bobby said their main concern is that the producer go through the raw milk permit process so the state can have a record and can monitor sanitation. Bobby expressed his willingness to help and work with producers.

Roy Malik from PDA covered the permitting process. There are currently 42 permits issued in the state, 6 new permits and 40 requests. There is no cost for the permit. There are costs for the tests that are required to receive the permit.

Tests necessary to get the permit include:

  • TB test annually
  • Johanes test and program
  • Water tested twice a year
  • Monthly milk test (standard plate, choloform, growth inhibitors, Somatic cell count).
  • Milk test must be through a state monitored lab.

In Pennsylvania, there are two kinds of raw milk permits:

Customer container permit: The customers bring their own container to the farm and you fill it. Roy cautioned against customers bringing used plastic containers because they are difficult to clean. He recommend using glass containers. All sales must be at the farm.

Prefilled Container Permit: Requires a separate room for filler and capper equipment but the milk can be sold anywhere.

Small ruminants such as sheep and goats fall under the same regulations as cows. However, there is an exemption for one cow. If you have one cow, you do not fall under any regulation.

Roy had high praise for the raw milk producers that he works with and praise for their products. The inspector also mentioned that there has only been one illness case in Pennsylvania and that was a “possible” raw milk illness.

Roy discussed some of the inventive ways some goat producers handled the pressure their customers were placing on them for various raw milk products that couldn’t be sold legally.

The goat milk producers got together and created a recipe book on how to make items such as cheese, yogurt, ice cream and some even gave a discount on the milk if they purchased multiple gallons.

The afternoon panel discussion included the four presenters from the morning along with Jerry Brunetti from Agri Dynamics and Dr. Carlton Busko, MD. This well rounded panel answered questions from the audience and gave various view points and insights to the whole issue. Tim Wightman discussed briefly how he setup his LLC company. He suggested you call your state securities office or a lawyer familiar with securities. This led to a question about liability insurance and Tim pointed out that an LLC may save your farm because an issuance company will go for your property.

When asked about who their customers are, Tim and Mark both said that they represent a wide demographic. Tim also mentioned the power of word-of-mouth advertising. For him, once he reached 85 customers, “Things just snowballed.”

Roy Malik cautioned that a majority of new raw milk licensed producers go out of business within 1 to 2 years, which reflects just how difficult dairy farming can be. But Jerry Brunetti pointed out that the times are changing; for the last 50 years food was viewed as a “necessary evil.” Today more and more people are looking for farm-fresh food alternatives such as raw milk.

As the day was winding up, there seemed to be a feeling that this was a step forward, a step towards an understanding on every side and a future where the playing field has been leveled to allow consumers the freedom to choose the kind of food they wish to eat and the farmers to have the freedom to farm the way they and their customers want them too. Brian Snyder stated during the presentations that “our goal is to operate in the light” and that this “needs to be a partnership.” So, although we have “miles go before we sleep,” this meeting was an important step in the right direction.

This article was reprinted in the Winter 2003 edition of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

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