Raw milk producers and advocates filled the Bethel Town Hall on Sunday, October 27 for Rural Vermont’s Raw Milk Summit, a day spent sharing information, reviewing and defining goals, and planning for the upcoming legislative session when Rural Vermont will work to pass a new raw milk bill.
After a morning welcome and review, Mark McAfee of the Raw Milk Institute gave the keynote address. He spoke of his dairy farm in California, of the challenges they’ve faced in his home state, and how the growing demand for raw milk is creating jobs and increasing health. What he emphasized the most, though, is the need for education. “Don’t fight, teach,” he told the farmers at the summit. Educated customers create and strengthen the raw milk market, and so it is important for raw milk producers to connect and educate—to be allies, not competitors.
Over sixty cow and goat milk producers came together to share their experiences of selling raw milk under the current law and what they are hoping the new bill will address. During the afternoon work session, great discussion was had on aspects of a new bill, giving farmers a chance to speak on what is important when it comes to raw milk legislation. Consensus was reached on many topics, giving Rural Vermont solid ground to stand on as we continue to reach out to farmers and consumers across the state as we prepare for the legislature.
Why work for raw milk legislation? It’s not just because it is a live food that supports our digestive health, because people deserve the right to make their own choices about what they consume, or because in our fragile economy it is a growing market. Raw milk creates a community where customers know their farmer, where, as Mark McAfee puts it, customers walk up and give farmers a hug and a kiss on the cheek for the milk they produce. By design, raw milk creates a system of farming rooted in animal and environmental health, which in turn creates a healthy community.
In the spirit of community, the summit ended with a milk mixer complete with apple pie and homemade raw milk ice cream. Farmers and community members ended the day with delicious dessert. As we move forward on raw milk legislation, we look forward to hearing from more farmers across Vermont so we can introduce a comprehensive bill with the biggest benefit for the most people.