Milk Crusader

November 12, 2009

So yesterday I pulled kind of a ridiculous stunt.  I cut work and drove half way across the state to be present at the bi-monthly board meeting of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection or DATCP.  Why would I do such a thing?  Well … for raw milk.  The oddest thing is that I don’t even care that much about raw milk.  I’m not really sold on the health benefits, it may or may not be a miracle cure and panacea – I haven’t seen any evidence either way.  But I do care about small farmers.  And they are the ones who are getting stepped on in this whole Raw Milk crackdown.

This all started (for me) when about a month ago I heard that the farm where I recently started buying my milk (un-homogenized and in the most picturesque glass jars) had received a letter from DATCP telling them to cease and desist and threatening them with civil fines and a revoked milk license if they proceeded.  A couple weeks later the farm sent out an email asking us to advocate for them, call our representatives, make our love of the milk heard.  My first step was phone calls to Governor Doyle’s office.  Next I found myself at the meeting last Friday with Dan Kapanke (my republican representative) and this week its snowballed into an un-planned dash over to Madison to state my case.

The meeting was very interesting.  Raw Milk wasn’t on the agenda so we waited through about an hour of their standard reports and board business.  There was a lot of talk about how hard it is for dairy farmers in the state, the losses per cow annually (which are in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars), the new effort to extend more bankruptcy protection to farmers etc.  The last slide of the power point, which was left on the screen for a while was headed “we must do everything possible to support small farmers.”  Oh the irony.  So … then came the public comment period which started a little late and ended much later.  I should have counted but there were at least 20, maybe 30 people there who all spoke on the issue.  Farmers, advocates, foodies, people with health issues they feel have been solved by raw milk, regular consumers, an RN, a young republican, an old hippie.  It was quite a group.  We each took turns to go sit in front of a microphone and speak our piece, then take any questions from the board members.  It took a long time but I found the whole thing quite fascinating.  Most interesting (and hard to read) was the board’s reaction.  Several of them were obviously skeptical of the whole thing, several seemed fairly disinterested, and several more asked a number of questions and seemed genuinely interested in getting more of an idea of the situation.  Its impossible to tell what they were thinking but at the very least I think that we made a good showing for the Raw Milk issue and were able to leave an impression of a concerned citizenry.

Here’s what I said when it was my turn:

“Hello.  I drove over from La Crosse today to be at this meeting and I’ll be rushing out when I finish to try to make an appointment this afternoon.  But this issue is very important to me and when I heard about the opportunity to speak to you I decided to miss work and be here.  As you had on your last slide before the public comment, its very important to buy local and we need to be doing everything possible to help small farmers survive.  Well I am helping a farm family survive by buying raw milk.

“I should say that, although I respect the opinions of all the people who spoke before me about the health benefits of raw milk, I don’t actually care so much about that part of the issue.  For me this is about supporting local farms.  Before I bought raw milk I got Organic Valley, and I was happy to be paying my money to a cooperative of farmers.  But, in the same way that the farmers market is more satisfying than buying vegetables from the grocery store, this is much more satisfying. Direct sales mean that every time I buy a gallon I am putting six dollars into the hand of my farmer.

“I don’t know all the details of the law or of the enforcement policy you have here but I do know that something must have changed because these direct milk sales have been going on for years but the angry letters are coming now.  There is a bill going through the state legislature go make raw milk legal for sale in Wisconsin (as it is in 28 other states) but by the time it is passed, the raw milk producers may all be shut down.  I ask that the board look into this new found hard-line and ask DATCP to reserve judgment until the new law passes or fails.

“You’ve mentioned several times earlier in this hearing that there needs to be proper oversight and labeling for raw milk.  I agree.  I’m happy to sign a waiver to say that I understand the risks.  I’d be happy to read a label warning me of them.  But raw milk buyers are a very informed section of the public.  To get your hands on a container of raw milk you must do a great deal of research to find it, physically go out of your way to obtain it and then pay extra money to buy it.  These people know what they are getting.  For me the best possible label on my milk is that it comes (already separating) in a glass jar.  That lets me know what I’m getting … and it’s exactly what I want.”

After saying all this I got up and gathered my bag and then fled the room.  Firstly because I was late and needed to get on the road back to La Crosse and secondly because I needed to go be alone so I could have the shakes.  Public speaking makes me so nervous.  However I used my architecture review skills to hold it together for a very calm, reasonable sounding presentation.  Hopefully I did some good.  Then on my way home I called the Governor’s office again.


I found out after the fact that I was mentioned in several articles about raw milk which the DATCP meeting sparked.  How odd.  Links are here and here.


6 Responses to “Milk Crusader”

  1. I am SO PROUD of you! You represent our biggest group of allies — for whom raw milk is not the issue — protecting our family farms IS the issue. We are in the thick of this — we are shut down — and from everyone I hear — we are needed, as a dairy, along with so many others. Thank you so much and keep up the great work, so we can keep up our work!

  2. Charles N. Rutledge Says:

    As a small farmer struggling to survive, I want to thank you for taking the time to go to the meeting and make your comments. I had neither the time or the gas money.

    I myself have never attempted to sell raw milk because I am afraid of the government. After the raw milk farm up in Hayward was driven out of business a few years ago by the government, a number of people approached me to purchase raw milk, and I refused every single one. One woman even walked away in tears. It broke my heart and this was before I new anything about the true health value of raw milk.

    All I can say is that you are safer drinking a gallon of my milk than you are driving one mile in your car. If the government applied the same standards to cars as they do to raw milk, all cars would be banned.

    To everyone who reads this, especially the regulators, please take a few hours to read and the following book:

    Here is another book I have not yet read:

    Exeland, WI

  3. […] Both farmers and their customers are protesting.  See this post from someone who recently attended a (DATCP) hearing to speak out.  Read about it here […]

  4. […] To learn more about raw milk and what you can do to protect it, check out my sister’s blog Lost Between the Letters. And look for your next opportunity to share in this local […]

  5. […] I get a daily digest of news from google about a few topics that interest me, one of them being raw milk.  Today it turned up this depressing story from a website called  The Wisconsin […]

  6. […] To learn more about raw milk and what you can do to protect it, check out my sister’s blog Lost Between the Letters. And look for your next opportunity to share in this local treat! This entry was posted in […]

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