David E. Gumpert  @  ChelseaGreen

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Vermont’s Raw Dairy Farmers Are Doing a Booming Business, and We Don’t Even Know Half the Story

Posted on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 at 5:03 pm by David E. Gumpert

It’s kind of amazing, when you think about it, that we’re still debating–as Milky Way and Ken Conrad were, following my previous post–whether milk comes through a cow’s udder sterile or having picked up certain beneficial bacteria.

Our government and public health research establishment are so committed to eliminating raw dairy from the public consciousness that they wouldn’t consider exploring raw milk’s probiotic nature and dynamics. They wouldn’t, after all, want to find positive news.

Another amazing phenomenon is the failure of our public officials to explore the role of raw dairy is its role in community and economic development.

Raw milk sales from farmers to consumers keeps money within communities. Because consumers need to replenish their milk supplies, they regularly return to farms , every week or two weeks, and in so doing, buy other farm products like beef, chicken, eggs, honey…and circulate more money in the community. The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association made this point in its 2009 survey of raw milk production in the state.

This point is made once again in a survey of raw milk producers in Vermont by Rural Vermont, the grass-roots farmer-consumer organization made famous last week when it decided, in response to bullying by the state agriculture authorities, to suspend three instructional classes on how to prepare raw milk yogurt, whipped cream, and cheese. It conducted its survey last year in hopes of convincing the Vermont legislature to make changes to the raw dairy laws, which were updated two years ago–for example, many farmers want to be allowed to sell the value-added raw dairy products like butter, yogurt, and cream.

Rural Vermont extrapolated from its survey that raw milk accounts for slightly more than $1 million in annual sales in the state, up 25% from a year earlier. It also figured raw milk production and sales were directly responsible for creating 331 jobs in the state.

The average price for raw milk in Vermont is $6.52, the survey found–about 50% above store prices for pasteurized milk.

As someone who has participated in any number of surveys of small businesses, I can guarantee that the results are understated in terms of total revenues. Business owners, no matter what their products, nearly always try to underplay their results. Even though the survey sponsors may guarantee anonymity, business owners are by their nature suspicious, and figure the tax authorities could well get their hands on the information…and come nosing around doing audits or whatever.

Add the difficulties associated with raw milk, and you have yet another powerful reason for raw milk producers to avoid saying too much. The Rural Vermont survey takers admit they had difficulty locating many raw milk producers, since those officially selling less than 50 quarts daily don’t have to register with the state to qualify to sell raw milk, and many have kept themselves off the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Real Milk site.

The survey notes, “In discussions with farmers, it has been determined that there are many raw milk producers that will not publicize/register with the Real Milk Directory for fear of agency repercussions or of perceived onerous compliance issues…” The result, says the survey, is “a vibrant underground raw milk market in Vermont.” In other words, lots more milk is being sold than is officially being tallied.

There’s been lots of talk in Washington about easing regulations on small businesses, but this talk apparently doesn’t extend to the dairy industry. Start talking about economically encouraging raw dairies, and the public health types, led by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, will begin hyper-ventilating about the dangers of raw milk. And now they are moving to cripple yet another off-shoot of raw dairy: the fast-growing raw cheese industry…even though the data fail to suggest any kind of serious public health challenge with raw milk cheese.

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The latest publication to report on the raw milk business is Mennonite Weekly Review. One of the messages that comes through loud and clear is similar to that in the Vermont survey described previously: raw dairy farmers have developed an aversion to publicity. The article is a good summary of what’s happening, but note that all the Mennonite farmers are quoted anonymously.

Read the original post on The Complete Patient.

rawmilkrevolution David E. Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution.
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