Friday, July 18, 2008

In The Raw

HA! Gotcha! Pervs.

I'm talking about milk. Let me say right at the start here that I do not believe that humans NEED milk, in any form other than from their mothers, as infants. I don't. I also think that modern industrial dairy practices have given us a product that is a far cry from anything nature ever intended. But the fact is, I love the stuff, and I especially love the stuff that you can make from it, and used judiciously, I believe it can be an important and even beneficial part of a human diet. But the more I learn, the more I know that I don't want my daughter consuming the quantities of milk that I did as a child, and I want the dairy products she does consume to be of the highest quality, and as natural as possible.

I've been killing myself trying to find a source of fresh, raw, grass-fed milk to buy. As it is in most of the country, buying and selling raw cow's milk is illegal in Arkansas. There is a loophole, apparently, where you can "invest" in a dairy cow, and get paid dividends in the form of milk from that cow. Really--it's called a "cow share," and I'd love to find one. I don't think I'm going to have any luck, though, because it looks like the hoops the farmers have to jump through to offer a cow share are many, and tricky. And it's painfully obvious that the barriers against this practice have FAR less to do with protecting the consumer from health threats than with protecting the huge and powerful corporate dairy industry from competition.

Hello, Dairy Industry! Yes, I realize you've purchased ad space that runs here, and, well, yes, I understand about biting the hand that feeds me, but hey--you want some consumer feedback? GIVE ME BETTER CHOICES. Give me organic, GRASS-FED milk from cows that actually live the lives portrayed in the graphics ON YOUR PACKAGING, that hasn't been ULTRA pasteurized so that it's a totally dead product. Release your lobbyists' stranglehold on the industry so that people like me are able to procure milk products from small, LOCAL farmers. Hey, here's a thought--if my milk only has to travel, say, a couple hundred miles or less to get to me, then maybe it won't NEED to be nuked to such an extreme that it has a two-month shelf life!

Honest to gosh, Dairy Industry--all you have to do is give me the OPTION. I swear I'll pay twice as much for the product I want. From your point of view, it has to be better than what I'm doing now, which is buying LESS milk than I otherwise would. Just my two cents, guys. If you're gonna keep printing pictures on your milk, yogurt, ice cream, cheese, and butter packages of sleek, shiny, happy cows contentedly grazing on fields of green grass in the sunshine...I just think you might want to consider making that kind of operation a reality for at least a FRACTION of dairy cows. See how we, the consumer, respond. I think you'd be surprised. I mean, it's not really fair to market on the idyllic image that most of us have about milk-cows, only to pull a bait & switch and send us Frankenmilk in plastic jugs from across the country. Just sayin'.

Anyway, this brings us to goat's milk. Much, much more of the world is fed on goat's milk than cow's milk. Goats are just easier, more convenient, and kinder to the planet as a whole. A goat can thrive in an unforgiving terrain that would not support a cow. Goats are more economical to feed and house. Goat's milk is easier to digest than cow's milk. I know where you think this is going, family members, and NO, I have not bought a dairy goat. Yet. But I am doing research and making contacts with those who DO own dairy goats, and planning to go pick up some frozen goat's milk (and some fresh, if I can find it, though most people seem to freeze it for purchase). What's amazing to me is that I can buy fresh, clean goat's milk off the farm for about half the price that I can get it at the store, and it won't have been zapped of many of its nutrients through ultra-pasteurization, like the kind offered at my grocery store.

And here's an interesting little tidbit: It IS legal to buy raw goat's milk in Arkansas. I would imagine that this is because not many people in the general public even think of goats when they think of dairy products (although, doesn't almost everyone you know enjoy Feta or chevre cheeses?), so the threat of competition to agribusiness is small. But JUST IN CASE, there are laws in place to keep those goat's milk producers from getting too uppity (or even making a living), and to keep too many consumers from being able to avail themselves of this very viable, and many would say superior, alternative to cow's milk. I'm sure that many other states have the same laws in place as Arkansas.

In the first place, raw goat's milk can ONLY be bought or sold on the farm where it was produced. These are called "incidental sales." So, you know, no sending your product out to stores or anything like that--that might give the common consumer an actual alternative to mass-produced dairy! But don't worry. The dairy goat farmer doesn't really have to fret about not being able to market his product in stores or at farmers' markets, because the government ALSO puts a cap on how much raw milk he's ALLOWED to sell in the first place! Really! I know, right? Can you imagine any other industry being told exactly how many units of a product they're allowed to sell? The more you know, the harder it gets to see the USDA as anything but a regulatory agency designed to protect the bottom line of the "Big Guys."

But back to the raw goat's milk. It is legal, in Arkansas, to sell up to, but NOT MORE THAN 100 gallons of raw milk per month. I'm not even sure how the government keeps tabs on that count, but that's the law. 100 gallons. At this point, it becomes clear that the restrictions placed on raw milk are NOT about consumer health, but about favoring Big Agribusiness. If the state of Arkansas were actually concerned about raw milk being, in any way, a health hazard, why in the world would they allow 100 gallons per month of this terrifying substance to be unleashed onto an unsuspecting public? I think the term "incidental sales" pretty much gives us our answer. "Incidental" sales just aren't a threat, and a sales-cap that means an average of 3 or 4 gallons a day not only limits a consumer's access to a product, it limits the farmer's incentive and reward for producing that product. It makes me want to spit nails.

And while many people believe that consumer demand could change this, I have my doubts. If more and more people stop buying from Industrial Dairy in favor of options like raw milk from dairy goat farmers and cow shares, I suspect that we'd suddenly find brand-new legal restrictions on those "alternative" practices. Cow shares are already illegal in a couple of states, unless all the share partners actually form a CORPORATION in order to share that cow and what it produces. It's very frightening, to me, to think just how much our government controls what food is available to us, and how VERY much the wants of corporations are favored over the needs of individuals.

*steps down from soapbox*

So...if any of my local friends here can point me to anyone who organizes cow shares, or a great local dairy goat farm, please leave a comment or email me. I'll be checking out some resources, and will let you know what I find. And if any of you have thoughts on raw milk or goat's milk or evil, evil gub'ment agencies, I'd love to hear them, good or bad, agreement or dissent.

*shakes fist at Government*


  1. I have to tell you how much I'm loving all your entries on farming and slow food. My friends and I often talk - only half jokingly - about buying a hobby farm together. I always end up in charge of cheesemaking in the plan, although so far all I've ever made is paneer.

    I may hire you on as our consultant if we do ever go through with it. ;)

  2. Here's another puzzler for you: Here in Georgia, raw milk sales are likewise illegal. However, my local CSA is allowed to bring in and sell raw milk from a farm in South Carolina. This confuses me.

    Question: If I use a gallon of goat's milk with the mozzarella kit, what kind of cheese will it make?

  3. In PA you can sell raw milk with a license. Our CSA has a dairy (and a license) and anyone can buy their raw milk and yogurt at the local health food store.

    As far as I know, there aren't many CSA's in Arkansas. My grandparents were dairy farmers in Newton Co, and when I lived in Pope Co we used to by goat's milk from a guy in Dover.

    Maybe ask someone at Beans and Grains (Wild Oats now?)

  4. There's a lot of restrictions in NH about selling raw milk but not nearly as bad as it sounds in Arkansas.

    The problem here is that because of the restrictions on how much they can sell, there is a huge demand, and most of the farms actually have waiting lists for people wanting it.

    And - it's really really expensive.

  5. I was just talking about this with OmegaDad, prompted by driving by a local dairy farm and wanting to buy some, and your post about making mozzarella. He says the law was put into place because, as you say, the big cooperatives pushed it. So I can see the cows wandering the lush green pastures, but can't buy the result except at the food stores, pasturized and homogenized. Hm.

  6. I have to admit that my fear of Listeria infection now that I'm pregnant trumps my desire to buy raw milk. But before I found out, I was actively investigating where and how to get raw milk. Here, you can only purchase it for PET consumption, and the producers are required to dye it green. And the people I know with goats are so very, very scared of being "busted" for selling their milk for human consumption that there is only one person selling the green milk. Pisses me off, it does.

  7. The green milk would be good for St. Patrick's Day, at least.

    But I guess I never thought about milk all that much when I buy it, but I should probably mooo-ve on to something a bit more healthier (sorry, was that too cheesy?).

  8. Very "spot on" observations. I agree with you.

    I also would love to have a dairy goat. My friend used to have dairy goats and they produced some of the best milk I'd ever tasted. It was clean, pure, and raw. And the chevre she made with it, well, it was to die for!

    So get a goat and I'll enjoy her vicariously through your blog.

  9. Sorry I can't help you out with a tip as I live in Virginia, which has laws that sound a lot like Arkansas. :-( I remember drinking raw cow and goat milk growing up in NJ. Don't know if it was "legal" or not - Mom's a renegade that way. I would say find yourself some goats of your own. You've got some land, you've got experience with animals and you're smart. You'll figure it out. ~annie

  10. My sister had a cow milk allergy, so my mom bought a nanny goat, and we all drank goat's milk for a few years. It's great!

  11. I read your blog often, but this is my first post! I grew up in Arkansas (LR) and am so interested to read about the farmers' markets, slow food, etc. there now. Here in TN you can buy raw milk "for pet use only" and there are very few farms who offer it. The people who buy it are very committed to it, though - but my family hasn't made the leap yet. We do buy milk from a local farm that doesn't ultra-pasteurize it. How weird about certain states requiring it to be dyed green! Good luck on your search...

  12. Just stumbled upon your blog and I love this entry! Here, you can buy raw milk in PA and I know that there are also some Amish farmers that will sell raw milk and I am not sure if they fall within some legal loophole.

    I'm not sure about raw, but I sure would love to get my hands on some fresh milk, our farmer's market has been trying for a while to get some. My sister lives about an hour away and is lucky enough to be able to get fresh milk delivered to her porch!

  13. After going to Slow Food Nation in San Francisco and sucking down a half gallon of raw milk, I'm back on the bandwagon. Love your article! I found it when I did research for my own Raw Milk rant, and linked to it. Thanks for a great article boosting the visibility of fresh milk! If allowed, here is my Raw Milk article:

  14. Hello! Check out Tennessee and the "Agreements" they have concerning "Boarding" their milk cows with a dairy farm...Very Interesting and accurate I think.
    I have a small farm - I have had 4 milk goats and am going to purchase a Jersey cow. I also enjoy the heck out of fresh milk and the products I can make from them.. Having both the nannies and a milk cow will allow me the true pleasure of eating/drinking what I please. My grandchildren will be fed these things and they will learn from Grandma how to make them!
    Centerton has an auction each Sat. if you want a goat right away. They can tell you anything about the goats b4 u buy. Check it out. Also - you can talk to the people that go to the action - they almost always know someone that has dairy goats. Easy info to get and great joy to have.
    Maybe I'll post again in the spring when I have everything underway!
    Hang in here!


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