Got Milk?

by Steph Larsen

As the consumer movement towards unprocessed, local and organic food grows, so do questions about how the food was produced. Perhaps none is more controversial than in the case of raw milk.

Raw milk is simply milk that has not been pasteurized to kill bacteria or homogenized so that the cream does not float to the top. The controversy is explained well in this news clip and features a farm that is only a few miles from the Center for Rural Affairs office:

Click here to read more.

The first time I ever tasted raw milk was at the dairy farm I work at in souteastern England, and it didn't occur to me that that's what we were drinking until the farmer I worked for asked me to take a pitcher up to the milk room and fill it from the tank.

Since then I have consumed countless gallons of raw milk, including milk from those beautiful Jersey cows pictured on the Kvam's farm. I do this fully aware of the claims on both sides regarding risks and benefits, and to my knowledge drinking raw milk has never made me sick.

It sure does taste good though, and it makes fantastic homemade yogurt.

Value-added agriculture is something we talk a lot about here at the Center, and it could mean turning a tomato into juice or milk into cheese or ice cream. It can also mean using an alternative production methods such as organic or grass-fed. As they mention in the video, the Kvams sell their milk for $10 a gallon, and it is their methods of production - include feeding grass and practicing organic methods - that add value to their end product.  Adding value to a product helps farmers gain a greater percentage of every food dollar, as well as creating jobs and strengthening rural communities.

Every state has its own laws regarding raw milk, as you can see on this map.

Passions can run high on the issue of raw milk, but it seems to me that there should be a way to ensure public safety while at the same time allowing consumers to buy a product they want. Personally, I buy raw milk because I want to support my local farmer, though I would probably not buy it from someone I didn't know whose farm I hadn't visited.

What are your experiences with raw milk or other value-added agricultural products? Are there farmers in your area who add value to things they grow? Would you pay more for foods that use more sustainable agricultural practices?