Tag Archives: raw milk

Guest Post: Dairy Farmer, Raw Milk Expert and Friend

I’m excited to share this next post with you. I’ve invited my friend Terri Lawton, dairy farmer from southeast Massachusetts, to write a guest post about her farming operation and her background. Terri sells raw milk and is a technical

Terri, getting ready to give a talk about milking standards at a conference.

Terri, getting ready to give a talk about milking standards at a conference.

expert on the subject, raw milk food safety and regulation and has addressed national audiences about the topic. The last two posts I’ve shared have been about why raw milk is a somewhat complicated issue. I’ve said that even though we have decided to not sell it, we are not against other people selling or consuming it. Terri and I spoke about my recent experiences and my posts and I was thrilled when she agreed to write about what she does with a few suggestions regarding raw milk, if you are interested. She can be found on Facebook and has her own blog at terrilawton.wordpress.com and okarealmilk.wordpress.com.

From Terri:

I’m an 11th generation farmer. I grew up on my parents’ dairy farm in Foxboro, Mass. I always loved cows, and spent most of my time on the farm as a child, pretending to be a cow, feeding the cows, milking the cows with my parents or gettingmy 4-H calf ready to show.

When I finished high school, I went to college and studied agriculture. I got my associates degree in Production Agriculture, with an emphasis on feedlot management from Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado. Because I felt like I still had a lot to learn about farming, I transferred to Purdue University where I was a double major in Animal Agribusiness and Agricultural Communications. I was also in the crew club, dairy club, and Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. I also did livestock judging for three years of school and dairy judging with Purdue.

Because I had a strong background in dairy and several food science/food safety classes at Purdue, I thought that being a dairy inspector for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would be a good way for me to get involved in the agricultural industry in Massachusetts. Several farms I inspected were selling raw milk directly to families. I had been drinking raw milk my whole life. I was amazed when I realized that some people drove more than an hour to get raw milk.

After I finished up as a dairy inspector, I wanted to get closer to farming. I enjoyed being around cows, and owned several which my parents milked for me. I had planned to start making cheese, but needed an income while we were building the cheese room, and developing our cheese recipes, which is why I looked at selling raw milk retail.

I knew that my experience as a dairy inspector could help me harvest and bottle a superior raw milk. After developing a milking and bottling protocol that minimized potential risk, having the farm and retail area inspected by the dairy inspector, and having my milk meet exceptionally high standards, I received my license to sell raw milk in March of 2006. I started selling raw milk from grass fed cows on a pre-order basis so that I could ensure people got the freshest possible milk. Usually it was only a couple hours old when customers picked it up and brought it to their homes.

I decided to put food safety and integrity first from the beginning.

I know that selling and drinking raw milk can be risky. Based my experience as a dairy inspector, education at Purdue, and personal research about food safety and microbiology, I believe it is a risk that can be managed successfully. I also have seen farmers that were not up to the rigorous integrity and obsession with food safety that I think is necessary to do a good job producing raw milk for retail sale. However, for some farmers it is not much of a stretch to produce an exceptionally high quality raw milk.

I am grateful to be able to sell raw milk directly to families. I like having the folks come to the farm to pick up the milk. I enjoy meeting folks that care so much about food and supporting their local farmer. If I could encourage raw milk drinkers in one thing-please get your milk from a licensed raw milk retailer. It is a lot of work to keep raw milk clean. Inspected farms are held accountable, and must adhere to standard good practices. Integrity is very important in selling raw milk. Our customers need assurance that we are working hard to keep the milk safe. Inspections, milk quality testing and licensing are good tools to provide that assurance.

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under Agriculture, Dairy Care, Dairy Industry, Milk

We’re Saying No and Yes to Raw Milk

This is a follow up to the post, To Raw Milk or Not to Raw Milk.

It was a pretty clear decision for us about whether or not we would sell raw milk: No. However, we say yes to if you want to consume raw milk in general. That may seem like we are talking out of both sides of our mouths, but after my first post, I’ve learned that it’s a topic that many others feel conflicted about as well.

Thanks to the folks who joined in the conversation on my Facebook page. Lots of great information was shared while others raised questions about raw milk and wondered what it was all about. I thought I would explain the issue to the best of my knowledge here, share why we have chosen to stay out of the raw milk market and also share some great comments friends made about my previous post.

Milking Liesel at the fair.

Milking Liesel at the fair.

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized or treated with UHT (Ultra High Temperatures) to eradicate potential harmful bacteria while preserving most of the goodness of milk. Raw milk advocates will tell you that this process also kills off beneficial bacteria, enzymes and other pathogens that help boost immune systems, ward off allergies and even cure asthma. The trouble is the harmful bacteria pasteurization kills off can be REALLY harmful and even in the cleanest of set-ups all it takes is one outbreak to cause serious damage.

Lots of people who grew up living on farms drank raw milk and still do today. I myself got to drink some from time to time even though we didn’t live on a farm… and no, I didn’t get sick. Most swear by it – they grew up on it and were healthier for it. These folks however, tend to understand the risks associated with Raw Milk itself but also with selling the stuff. A dairy farmer friend summed it up well on my last post, “All it takes is one person to say the milk made them sick and you lose everything you’ve worked so hard for.”

Put another way, a friend from business school commented, “The EV (expected value) of selling raw milk is highly negative due to the potential liability…even if they signed a waiver.”

Another friend who is a dairy farmer-turned vet student shared, “I grew up on raw milk but it came from my farm. My body was able to produce antibodies to the bacteria that was found in it because it was introduced to it from a very early age and they were endogenous to my farm and my environment. I may have gotten very sick had I gone to another farm and drank their raw milk. But I may have been fine. Food borne illnesses are very hit or miss. My biggest fear is that the consumers do not have enough education on how to properly handle raw milk and will make themselves sick by improper handling and it will come back to hurt the farmer and the dairy industry as a whole. It is a personal choice and one that if we can build in safeguards to the farmer that would require proof that they were negligent before lawsuits could be filed than I have no problem. But I have to tell you as a veterinary student and studying many bacterial and viral diseases that can pass thru to humans thru raw milk–I would not drink even my own anymore.”

And he’s right – those harmful bacteria and viral diseases are nasty stuff. To share an example, recently in the news – The Family Cow in Pennsylvania, a raw milk seller, recently had its third outbreak since January 2012. This time it was Campylobacter. Campylobacter is a found in cow manure and infection symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, fever and abdominal pains that can last anywhere from two to ten days after consumption. Listeria, e-coli and salmonella are a few of the other more “popular” foodborne bacteria related to raw milk among others.

Not only would we risk a potential lawsuit, something we don’t have enough resources to suffer particularly as we are really still starting out, but there isn’t enough insurance out there to indemnify the guilt I would feel were someone to get sick from raw milk we sold them.

Please don’t get me wrong, millions of people drink and sell raw milk every day and nothing bad happens. And quite frankly, as another commenter implied, I’m happy they are drinking milk in some way! I certainly do not want to play into any Fear Industry marketing (I feel there’s enough of it out there). So, to be sure, there are not many outbreaks reported. In 2013 through May, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been four outbreaks of campylobacter and salmonella related to raw milk and cheese consumption including 69 illnesses and 15 hospitalizations in the U.S., (this does not include the recent Family Cow outbreak).

On the other hand, there have been zero outbreaks in pasteurized milk. If you’re interested in learning more specifics about the risks of drinking raw milk, I found a great resource for raw milk risk facts on this website: realrawmilkfacts.com. To be fair, here’s a pro-raw milk website: realmilk.com, however, I don’t agree with its characterization as an “extremely” low-risk food. It classifies this statement using the term “when handled properly” which I think is an understatement. A recent recall for potential botulism-causing bacteria contamination in milk powder sold to Chinese companies by Fonterra, the world’s largest milk processor based in New Zealand, shows that mistakes or just plain bad luck can happen to anyone. (By the way, this recall occurred before any illnesses have been reported as of this time.)

On a personal note, I’ll continue to feed my kids pasteurized milk. It truly is a nutrition powerhouse with lots of good calories, essential nutrients, protein and other nutritional benefits that are still being realized. And as far as exposure to pathogens and other bacteria goes, I think they’ll eat enough farm dirt in their childhood to build up an arsenal of immunity if they haven’t already.

Any other thoughts or questions about this subject?

12 Comments

Filed under Dairy Industry, Family, Farm life, Milk

To Raw Milk or Not to Raw Milk?

Over the weekend we were approached for the second time in one week about selling raw milk. Not a light subject. Or is it?

Both people who asked were just visiting – the size of our town actually doubles in the summer time with snow birds and other vacationers. The first person was easy to turn down. It was at a town festival where we were selling our jersey beef and sampling cheese and I simply said, “Thanks for asking, I’m sorry but no, we don’t sell raw milk.”

The second was a little tougher. A neighbor had a visiting family member who had a few goats at home from which they get their milk. She and her young daughter were having a great visit and were hoping to take home some jersey beef to try as well as to drink some raw milk while they were here. Our neighbor called to see if they could come by and get the beef. She also asked on the phone about the raw milk to which I said that I was really sorry but no, we don’t do that.

A few minutes later, they arrived at the farm to pick up their beef. They all got out of the car, the dogs greeted them, I ran and got the beef, mixed up their order a bit (I blame the mommy brain) and then enjoyed a little small talk while the little girl played with the dogs. I then noticed the woman visiting had a jug in her hand, which confused me (I had said my line on the phone, right?), and she tried to persuade me in person to take some milk from the tank.

It was hard to still say no to her – so many thoughts were going through my head:  It would probably be just fine. What would the DF do? She’s only here for two more days. Are we even allowed to sell it so casually in Vermont? What do we risk? What about insurance? To top it off – our neighbor in a mom-like way said something about finding/sharing milk with our “neighbors,” (I didn’t fully hear what she said with all the thoughts swirling around in my brain but I can sniff a guilt trip a mile away.) Oh boy.

I voiced some of my thoughts:

Me: Did you try guy up the hill who also has goats?

Her: Oh, we did, they are all dry.

Me: I’m not sure we’re allowed to sell milk.

Her: Oh, in XX state you can sell up to 20 quarts or something and it doesn’t matter.

Me: We’re not really set up for it.

Her: Cocked eye-brow with an “I’m not buying it” look.

Me: I don’t… I don’t really feel comfortable without talking to my husband, the Dairy Farmer.

The whole time we were talking, I kept watching the little girl and thinking of a news article I read a few days earlier about victims of illnesses derived from consuming raw milk and where they were now. One was about a young girl who was still dealing with issues a year later. Her life was never going to be the same.

I talked to the DF that night and we stood firm on our no-decision. He said to put it on him if I needed to. So sweet… I sort of already did that 😉

The truth is I’m torn about this issue. I can see the side where hey, if the folks know and understand the risks associated with consuming raw milk, why not. It’s a few extra dollars right to our bottom line and they leave happy campers. Chances are nothing would happen – many gallons or pounds of raw milk are sold throughout the country without issue. I can actually hear a dairy farmer friend of mine in my head saying big deal – just give it to her.

On the other hand I wonder if they really understand the risks associated. Insurance and ability to continue to operate aside, how would we feel if something ever did happen? Now that would be some real guilt. We have had some excellent quality tests on our milk lately, but you just never know. I remember a few years ago a family dairy with a processing plant and an impeccable history of hard work, dedication and top quality had some outbreak in the milk they sold directly to consumers – and that was pasteurized milk. The message there underscored the importance of food safety: if it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone.

So, what would you have done? Did I overreact? Am I overthinking the situation? It’s a hot debate no doubt.

Regardless, I will add “research the raw milk regulations in the state of Vermont” to my never-ending list of things to do.

1 Comment

Filed under Dairy Industry