People are looking for raw milk but why is raw milk so hard to find? That’s the topic of today’s podcast. It’s a complicated topic and I’ll break it down into three categories as well as make suggestions regarding what you can do about it.
I’m very excited about today’s topic. Raw milk is a passion of mine. I hope all of you who are new listeners will enjoy this podcast. I appreciate your stopping by and welcome your feedback. And a warm welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast every week. I appreciate you all so much. This podcast is for you. Let me know what you’d like to hear and I will make it happen.
- Homestead Life Updates
- Why is Raw Milk so Hard to Find?
- Hot Buttered Rum Mix
Homestead Life Updates
Will the heat never end? I think I’ve said this before, but I really don’t like the extremes of summer and winter. The cold seems to hang on forever in winter and the heat seems to hang on forever in summer. I’m so ready for fall. I’m ready for the leaves to turn.
Fall in the Blue Ridge Mountains is glorious. The Weather Channel usually has a map that shows the progress of the leaves starting in upstate New Hampshire and Vermont and progressing all the way down the Appalachian Mountain chain to Alabama. It’s a big tourist time for us. Lots of fall festivals and activities are planned. We were able to attend a dairy livestock show in Stuart, Virginia (our county seat) that is heralded as one of the best in the state.
I have only a couple of updates on the Homestead. Today, Egwene, our 4 ½ month old Jersey heifer calf left our farm bound for a new home. I’m on pins and needles waiting to hear that she arrived safely. She is traveling all the way to New York. Her new owner seems very conscientious and I believe she will be in good hands.
All four outside concrete block walls of the creamery are now complete. Next the inside concrete block walls, then the roof, plumbing, electrical, and gas. There will be inside walls and tile flooring. The windows and doors. So much to do. We take one step at a time and gradually the destination comes closer.
On to today’s topic.
Why Is Raw Milk So Hard to Find?
The reasons are varied but seem to revolve around three things.
- It’s illegal in many places
- The risk of being on the radar of the USDA and/or FDA
- Legal ramifications if you are targeted
I’ll also go over what you can do to help. But first, the reasons.
It’s illegal in many places
I’ve spoken of this before. I’ll do a recap of that information. Why it is illegal is another great question and a subject for another podcast.
Today I want to talk about what’s legal and what’s not. And I also want to discuss how that affects your access, the consumer. The laws affect your ability to make your own informed choices about what you will feed your family.
My grand nephew has problems with psoriasis that is relieved by drinking raw milk. I’ve had people tell me their body aches were lessened by drinking raw milk. Some children unable to drink pasteurized milk are perfectly fine with raw milk.
I was contacted recently by someone interested in our herd share program. I was shocked to hear her say that her doctor told her that her daughter could drink raw milk. Most doctors tow the establishment line and don’t make any waves. Most often they tell you that your child will die from drinking raw milk. And sure, that’s great that the doctor said it’s okay, but where is she supposed to get that milk? Is everyone reduced to buying their own cow? That’s simply not practical.
In only 12 out of 51 states and Washington DC can she just walk into the grocery store and buy raw milk for her child.
If you don’t live in one of those 12 states, your options are already limited. The next easiest option is buying it directly from the farm. That is legal in 15 states. Can’t sell it in the grocery store but it can be purchased from your local farmer – if you can find one. They don’t do a lot of advertising. More on that later. The next level of navigating this intrusion into your right to choose the food you want for your family is the herd share agreement. That’s what we have here in Virginia and also in 10 other states. In four states, if the milk is labeled as “pet milk”, you might be able to get your hands on it. And the final blow to those who live in the last 9 states is they are barred from purchasing any raw milk. No pet exemption. No herd shares. Those folks have to travel to another state.
Those are the last numbers I have. It may or may not be completely accurate. Political activity to change the laws is always going on – both for and against your right to choose the food for your family. And it goes beyond milk. So many of you also want yogurt, butter, cream, cream cheese and so on.
The bottom line is that many of us want to make lifestyle choices that include traditional ways of eating. Unfortunately, when it comes to getting your milk straight from the cow the way Mother Nature made it, the government gets between you and your right to choose.
The Risk of Being on the Radar of the USDA and/or FDA
For small farms like ours, it’s best to remain low key. Aggressive advertising campaigns can bring unwanted attention from government officials as well as the original intent to serve more customers. Instead, we rely on small, personal interactions and word-of-mouth.
Many times, people get into positions of power over others and, for whatever reason, they abuse it. Not all, of course. And not even a majority. But our contacts with other small farmers and farm organizations have kept us informed of the atmosphere that sometimes surrounds official inspection personnel. Even if you are following every regulation to the letter, they can find ways to make your life unbearable.
For small farmers like us, the risk of showing up negatively on the radar of USDA officials or the FDA can be catastrophic. We are blessed to have a great relationship with our local VDACS/USDA dairy inspector. At least as far as I know we do. From the beginning we have done everything he has asked without complaint. We have shown him respect and he seems to have the same respect for us and what we are about in building this creamery. There is no need for additional interactions with USDA and/or FDA officials. Those tend to be the worst when it comes to wielding power over others. At least from what I’ve read that is the case. Relationships with more local people are always preferable.
And if you happen to get on their radar for a legitimate problem (quickly corrected), you are forever in their sites. It is statistically plausible that during the life of every business mistakes that require quick action and procedural correction are going to occur. To illustrate I’ll tell a short story without names.
A small dairy, operating for 15 or 20 years, had a problem with one of their cheeses. The problem was that one of their cheeses tested high for a particular bacterium. Being conscientious business owners, they had all of the procedures in place to track down where their cheese went and got it all recalled. They do a lot of wholesale, so there was a lot of it out there. Even small batch cheese can end up being hundreds of pounds of cheese distributed all over the country.
In the end, no one was made ill. The recall was not initiated because of illness. Again, it was a cheese that failed a test conducted at regular intervals to ensure the safety of the cheese. The recall was a preventative measure. I can’t stress this enough. Even if a cheese fails a test, that does not mean that anyone will ever get sick from consuming it. This number or that number was high – the statistical possibility that the “bad” bacteria would grow was higher. Contrast that with all of the folks who are made ill – or worse die – from consuming contaminated spinach, lettuce, cantaloupe and factory farmed beef. Those recalls generally happen after many have become ill and/or someone has died. That is not the case with cheese. We catch it long before it becomes a problem. Regulations for testing are strict. Perhaps that’s why dairy products, raw and pasteurized, only make up 4% of reported food borne illnesses.
Anyway, the FDA got involved because of the recall. Now that this small dairy is on the FDA radar, regularly scheduled visits are common. Worse are the surprise visits. The agents hover with their virtual clipboards in hand, watching every move. Their eyes are begging you to make a mistake. As you can imagine, many times there are no moves until they leave. When someone is examining your every action with a fine-toothed comb, sure that you are violating some statute, it is best to give them as little ammo as possible.
And once you are on the radar, it continues. Where once you never saw anyone from the FDA, now it is a continuing possibility that will appear and make demands. Excessive amounts of cheese are tested. The agents truly spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find another problem. And perhaps this all sounds okay to you. Perhaps it sounds necessary. But for us, it is life or death for our business. We don’t want to take chances on someone with power having a bad day and looking to us as an outlet for their frustration or anger. Our number one goal is to make sure our cheese and other raw milk products are perfect in every way and to never wind up in the sites of a federal agency.
The Financial and Legal Ramifications If You Are Targeted
As a small farmer I can tell you, our operation may not have survived this kind of intrusion and scrutiny. Testing every single batch of cheese made and multiple wheels from that batch? That would be disaster for us. Some of our batches are single wheels. Usually no batch produces more than 3 wheels. If we had to send in one from every batch – well you begin to see the problem.
The cost would be prohibitive. Testing that many cheeses would cost us 1/3 or more of our product intended for revenue. Due to information we have received from other farmers, we send our required to tests to VDACS and another to a third party. There are stories of small farmers having one bad test after another from their official USDA testing while the same milk tests fine via third party. Another result of getting on their radar. Additional tests cost money, but that is the cost of doing business in the dairy industry.
What You Can Do
I don’t want to sound all negative about this. Yes, today it is hard to find raw milk and raw milk products. There are reasons that these laws were put in place. Some are legitimate, though the knee-jerk response was harsh, and some are not legitimate. Some of the reasons are political and driven by the dairy lobby. As I said, I will cover that in another podcast.
For now, this is what we have to work with and we are happy with our current situation. The laws in the state of Virginia allow us to help you by offering part of our herd to consumers. Access to raw milk and raw milk products is there for you. It is a bit inconvenient, but the health benefits of raw milk products are worth it. The demand for raw milk and raw milk products is growing by leaps and bounds. We are working to expand the availability of raw milk products and you can help too. But the laws are always under attack and pressure to be made stricter. While North Carolina just expanded their availability by allowing herd shares, other states and moving to restrict access and outlaw herd shares.
One organization that helps farmers and consumers with many problems – access to raw milk being only one of them, though a large part of their focus, is the Farm to Consumer Organization. You can support them financially by becoming a member. Additionally, you can be on their mailing list and be informed about legislation that affects raw milk as well as other legal challenges that small farmers face.
Be Active in Your Quest for Raw Milk Products
There is one raw milk product that is available in the state of Virginia. No Yogurt, butter, or fresh cheese such as cream cheese. No not those. Only raw milk cheese can be legally sold to the public. The cheese must be aged greater than 60 days. For us, and most others, this is not a problem. None of our cheeses are worth a darn before 90 days, well beyond their 60-day minimum. Most of our cheeses are aged at least 6 months before they reach maturity. And they just get better from there. There are no other raw milk products that can be sold in the state of Virginia. Again, it’s the herd share program that gives you access to products such as yogurt, butter, cream and fresh cheeses like mozzarella or cream cheese.
Last year there was a bill on the floor in Virginia that would have allowed an exemption for private homes to make yogurt to sell at farmer’s markets. This would have been similar to the current law that exempts baked goods that don’t require time or temperature control after preparation. There are a lot of do’s and don’ts and a limit to the dollar amount of gross sales. There were similar provisions in the bill to open the market to yogurt. Anyway, not enough people showed up in support of the bill and it failed to pass.
Another organization in Virginia is VICFA – that is Virginia Independent Consumer and Farmers Association. They have an “action alert” registration form on their website. I’ll put links to both of these organizations in the show notes. Or you can look them up online. That’s Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Organization and VICFA, Virginia Independent Consumer and Farmer’s Association. Both are fighting for your right to choose raw milk products for your family.
Hot Buttered Rum Mix
This is a rich and delicious beverage. It can be made with or without alcohol so everyone can enjoy it! This is as large recipe that makes 52 servings. No problem though. It is a mix that stores well in the freezer.
What You Need to Make the Mix
- 2 cups butter, softened
- 3 ¾ cups 10x powdered sugar
- 2 ¼ cups dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 quarts vanilla ice cream, softened
What You Need to Make a Serving
- ¾ cup boiling water
- 1 to 2 tablespoons rum or brandy (optional)
- Ground cinnamon and nutmeg to taste
- ¼ cup butter mixture
What to Do to Make the Mix
- Cream butter and sugars until smooth. Beat in vanilla and ice cream.
- Fill freezer containers. Store in freezer until needed.
What to Do to Make a Serving
- Place ¼ cup butter mixture in a 10 or 12-ounce mug.
- Stir in boiling water and rum.
- Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.
That’s it for today’s FarmCast. I hope your plans for the fall season are coming to fruition. It’s a lovely time of year to enjoy life.
I know that for most people it’s hard to find raw milk today. But remember, that you can help by becoming informed, involved and invested in the laws in your state. You can make a difference. We have a right to choose the food and nutritional program we think best for ourselves and our families. Stand up and let your voice be heard. And let others know about our herd share program. Also, we’d love to hear from you. What raw milk product piques your interest? Maybe if there is a demand, we can add it to our list of services provided for our herd share owners.
Let me know how you and your family like that Buttered Rum drink. Try it with our raw milk butter. You’ll be glad you did.
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As always, I’m here to help you “taste the traditional touch.”
Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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