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Why We Farm: Trying Raw Milk

Neysa working 2

A year and a half ago, my husband Travis and I decided we wanted to be organic farmers. Neither of us had a background in agriculture. In fact, I was probably about as disconnected from physical labor as you can get — I was pursuing my PhD. This weekly series will take you through Travis’ and my journey to own and operate our own organic farm. From a farm internship in a tiny New York town, to management positions at the largest CSA farm in the southern United States, and now our current project of running a one-acre farm in Austin, Texas, our experience has been filled with wild successes, sharp disappointments, and self-discovery. I hope our story can provide others with ideas and resources for their own farming projects–urban or rural, big or small, hobby or professional. I also hope it can shine some light on the new organic movement surging in urban spaces and among America’s young people. To me, our collective attempt to reconnect with food is a testament to the ability of youth to create, even in difficult times.

Have you tried raw milk?   Maybe you’ve noticed that opinions about it vary pretty drastically.  To hear the CDC tell it, raw milk will instantly kill you.  If, on the other hand, you listen to some raw milk proponents, raw milk cures cancer and gives you the power of mind bullets.  Since it’s the FDA and CDC who get to influence policy, raw milk is pretty difficult for average people to get their hands on.  There are only a handful of states in which it is legal to sell raw milk in stores.  One of those states is Connecticut, and the state line, as it turned out, was only 5 minutes away from Ryder Farm in Brewster, New York.

One Sunday in early August, Travis and I decided we were going to try raw milk and decide for ourselves.  We headed into Danbury, Connecticut, to a little health food store that sold raw milk from a nearby farm.  We walked into the dairy section and picked out a half gallon.  As we made the short drive back home, we began to talk about what we were doing.  Were we really “playing Russian roulette with our health” like the FDA’s John Sheehan has said?  Or would we feel incredible and never go back to store-bought milk?  Was this stuff poison or magic?  We walked into the farmhouse kitchen and each poured our own glass.  Travis and I looked at each other, braced ourselves, then took a swig at the same time.  My immediate reaction? Disappointment.

It wasn’t sour; it wasn’t yellow; it wasn’t thick. I didn’t die, and I didn’t turn into Popeye.  It was just … milk.  This is illegal in most states? I thought.  It was milk.  From a cow.

Death and super strength aside, the core of the raw milk debate is whether raw milk is an inherently dangerous product.  That is, whether milk from an animal is very likely to have harmful bacteria in it.  According to the CDC, that’s exactly the case, and in response it has launched a general assault on raw milk, its producers, and its consumers.  The information on the CDC web site is presented as an honest look at raw milk, but taken as a whole turns into a collection of horror stories designed to scare people away from raw milk and delegitimize small dairy farmers.  But look closer, and the CDC’s own numbers don’t back up its message.  According to the site, over the last 10 years raw milk has caused 1,600 illnesses and 2 deaths.  There aren’t solid numbers for how many people are consuming raw milk, but the estimates I’ve seen consistently hover around 3 million.  That means that over 10 years, 0.05% of consumers have been sick from raw milk, while the number of deaths is miniscule.  In contrast, a different product that has full support from the CDC, pasteurized eggs, caused 2,000 illnesses during the 2010 outbreak, from May to November.  That’s one and a half times as many illnesses in half a year from pasteurized eggs than raw milk caused in 10 years.  Thinking about it that way, what reason do I have to think that raw milk is inherently dangerous?

PaperMilkPhoto Source

So why is the CDC so adamant that raw milk is the major health risk of the millennium?  Do they just want to destroy the good nutrients in milk, keeping the population perpetually anemic and therefore easier to control?  I don’t think so.  Pasteurization, even ultra-pasteurization as is currently practiced in the United States, makes sense for our current milk distribution system: mass production, factory farming conditions, nationwide shipments, long shelf time.  Try putting raw milk into that equation, and you’re sure to get health problems. But there is no reason why small producers selling milk from their cows (or goats or whatever) can’t work outside this system and provide a safe and nutritious product.

Does raw milk have more nutritional value than pasteurized milk?  Personally, I think it does, but I don’t have the science to back it up.  What I think is more important, though, is that current pasteurization laws for milk prevent market competition.  Farmers cannot start small, independent dairies because they cannot afford the pasteurization equipment, which often costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Then, if they do somehow manage to purchase the equipment and pasteurize, the price of milk per gallon is so depressed by the large milk producers, remaining solvent becomes unlikely.  If a producer tries to do raw milk, the restrictions are so tight and the difficulty to sell so high, that the model is often unworkable.  What we have, then, is a monopoly of large dairy farms selling to large food processors.  Raw milk has arisen as a tiny pocket of competition, and raw milk producers should be encouraged, not slandered and shut down.

I continue to drink raw milk whenever I have the opportunity.  There are a few producers in and around Austin.  At www.realmilk.com, you can find a list of distributors of raw milk in your area.

Neysa is currently farming an acre of organic vegetables in Austin, Texas. For updates on her farm, visit www.dissertationtodirt.com or follow her on twitter @farmerneysa

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15 Responses to “Why We Farm: Trying Raw Milk”

  1. I just want to say hell yeah! We live in MA, where you can only buy raw milk if you get it directly on the farm. We drive an hour each way and think it’s totally worth it to have fresh, unprocessed milk and support our local dairy farmers!

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  3. Born in New Mexico with dairy running in my veins. At the age of 6 We moved to California. The fresh milk that I had as a young boy was gone, save the occasional holiday gathering back in NM. What did I care I wanted what every young boy wanted Dr. Pepper! Now in my late 30′s living in Kentucky and recently shell shocked by this “you cant drink that B.S.” I have come to the conclusion that I will just have to have a cow of my own. Don’t you tell me I can’t do something. I feel a need for an amendment to the second amendment! Give me Guns and fresh milk.

  4. I want some! I’m a whole milk drinker because I don’t believe on putting water in my cereal. I would love some pure raw milk!

  5. Sharon Dugan Says:

    Having a very hard time finding a local dairy that delivers. I have no car. But, if they DO sell raw milk, the farmers I’ve spoken with won’t mention it on the phone, either. I can understand that; they’re afraid of government agencies & bureaucrats. Terrible things are happening to raw milk sellers & consumers. We must hang together on this or we will hang separately.

  6. Marla Del Collins Says:

    where can I purchase raw milk or raw milk powder? Thank goodness for folks like you!!

  7. Hi there, i am looking to buy raw milk in canada, ontario. I reside in mississauga. Do you have any idea where can i get in mississauga or toronto.

  8. Where can I purchase raw(unpasturized) milk near Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

  9. How do I find a local farmer in my area for Raw Milk? Thank you for your help. Keep up the good farming!

  10. Try going to eatwild.com That’s where I found my wonderful farmer. Hopefully there is one near you who will sell raw milk.

  11. I have been drinking Raw Milk, morning, noon and night for the last 12+ years. Every Sunday morning I traval 64 miles to and from the farm to buy 2 gallons.
    I started drinking it to rebuild my immune system after it was distroyed by me lowering my total cholesterol and triglycerides, Long story that very few believe, But I’m the winner.
    I you want to know more about raw milk and where to buy it near you, http://www.whats-in-raw-milk.com , I’m truly healthy now

  12. Gennaro Santella Says:

    Question?? i am wondering if a cow is feed a quailty diet and produces quality milk and when its feed grains or corn and produes low grade milk.
    what happens if u feed an enchanced diet i wonder how much more quality milk is produced along with its health benefits??? it seems a cow can be a medium for heality living, why would the usda be so against such a benefit.. I guess we have to follow the money!?

  13. Amanda DePastino Says:

    Hi. It’s so hard to find a dairy farm here in AZ. Of course, there are some, but none near where I live and I simply can’t afford to drive 50-70 miles one way to get a gallon of milk that costs $10, and then turn around and spend $30 extra in gas… doesn’t make sense. I don’t know if any of these places ship or deliver the milk, but I would like it if they did. When I was a child, I remember my grandmother and I used to go to a family owned dairy farm very near to where I went to school (one of the kids in my kindergarten class was the son of the dairy farm owners), and we would get glass bottles of fresh milk at the little store they had off the side of their house. You could see the cows in the back in their pens, and they were basically free range, and allowed to roam within a corralled area. From what I know, that farm is gone. I have thought of contacting Shamrock Farms, which is just down the freeway from us, to see if they sell raw milk, but they probably don’t. Some farms even have said that they can only sell their milk as “pet food”. So, I don’t know what to do. Seems the FDA has really taken over our right to eat well. It makes me sick. Do you guys sell and ship milk? If not, do you know any farms that do? Thanks so much.

  14. Yes! Finally something about Magic Mary Austin.

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