Could the Founding Fathers have envisioned a day when it was illegal for a man to milk his own cows and sell the milk to his neighbors? It probably never even crossed their minds.
Author Joel Salatin, the “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic farmer” who appeared in the documentary Food, Inc. and was profiled in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has a few things to say about a controversial topic: raw milk.
Grist.org reprinted Joel Salatin’s foreword to David Gumpert’s new book, The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights. Read on…
I drink raw milk, sold illegally on the underground black market. I grew up on raw milk from our own Guernsey cows that our family hand-milked twice a day. We made yogurt, ice cream, butter, and cottage cheese. All through high school in the early 1970s, I sold our homemade yogurt, butter, buttermilk, and cottage cheese at the Curb Market on Saturday mornings. This was a precursor to today’s farmer’s markets.
In those days, the Virginia Department of Agriculture had a memorandum of agreement with the Curb Market that as long as vendors belonged to an Agricultural Extension organization such as Extension Homemaker’s Clubs or 4-H, producers could bring value-added products to market without inspection and visits from the food police. The government agents assumed that anyone participating in the extension programs would be getting the latest, greatest food science and therefore conform to the most modern procedural protocols, which created its own protection.
As the Virginia Slims commercial says, “We’ve come a long way, baby.” These conciliatory overtures to maintain healthy and vibrant local food economies exist no more. Today I can’t sell any of those things at a farmer’s market, and even if I take eggs some bureaucrat will come along with a pocket thermometer and, without warrant or warning, reach over and poke it through my display eggs to see if they are at the proper temperature. If they aren’t, no amount of pleading that those are for display only can dissuade the petulant public servant from demanding that I dump those display eggs in a trash can on the spot. I don’t sell at farmer’s markets anymore.
In 1975, when I graduated from high school and began plotting my farming career, I figured out that I could hand-milk ten cows, sell the milk to neighbors at regular retail prices, and be a full-time farmer. This was before most people had ever heard the word organic. But selling milk was illegal. In those days, we didn’t know about herd shares or Community Supported Agriculture or even limited liability corporations.
As a result, I went to work for a local newspaper and became the proverbial part-time farmer-working in town to support the farming passion. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over the fact that the government arbitrarily determined to make it very difficult for me to become a farmer. That seems un-American, doesn’t it?
Isn’t it curious that at this juncture in our culture’s evolution, we collectively believe Twinkies, Lucky Charms, and Coca-Cola are safe foods, but compost-grown tomatoes and raw milk are not. With legislation moving through Congress demanding that all agricultural practices be “science-based,” I believe our food system is at Wounded Knee. I do not believe that is an overstatement.