Farms as Battlegrounds

Sharon June 20th, 2009

I recently attended an event at the farm of a couple who are in the process of starting up a goat dairy.  Those of us visiting were given a tour of the barn, milking parlors and cheesemaking areas as they were being built, and a list of all the requirements by the state of New York for dairy production.  This included separate sink areas in each room for hand washing – it was not possible for the dairy owner to wash her hands in a separate room from the one she milks in, or makes cheese in – each room had to have its own sink, even though they were directly adjacent to one another.  The plumbing alone required multiples drains, into multiple drainfields.  I have no idea what they were spending on these facilities, but if it was less than $40,000, I’ll eat my hat. 

I was speaking at this meeting, and I began my schtick about how important it is for many people to get involved in human-scale agriculture, but as I did, the primary farmer for their household kept observing that it wasn’t very cheap to start a farm for her.  And she is right, of course, if you are speaking of dairy farming.  My CSA was begun with a very tiny investment - we spent $40 on an advertisement, and maybe $60 on seeds and soil amendments over and above our usual purchase –  but a dairy (which is a wonderful industry for much of the Northeast, given our prepoderence of thin soils, steep rocky land and rain) requires start-up costs beyond those available to most people.

Now the reasons for these restrictions is that milk is a potent harborer of bacteria.  Restrictions on dairy go back to early public health measures, and the constraint of tuberculosis and other diseases.  There are genuinely and sincerely good reasons to be concerned about bacterial contamination of milk.  Of course, on the other hand, I can personally hand slaughter and sell, with no inspection or oversight at all, 1,000 pastured poultry birds every single year.  We all know that chicken could never be a source of dangerous pathogens, right?

The point, of course, is that raw meat is dangerous if it is contaminated or not handled appropriately.  Milk is dangerous if it is contaminated or not handled appropriately.  But the two things are not treated in parallel – customers of my poultry are permitted to accept the risk that I might mishandle my birds, and buy and eat them.  Customers of milk, at least in New York, are not permitted to accept the risk that I might mishandle my goat’s milk – in fact, I can’t legally even give milk away to someone who desperately wants it.  That is, there’s very little sense in the laws. 

These goat farmers have to invest an enormous amount of money in order to begin their enterprise.  At the moment, I believe they are milking only 14 goats. I’m sure they want to expand, but how much?  That is, the problem of this enormous investment is that it virtually forces them to grow larger than they might want in order to get adequate return – or to struggle to pay the bills for a long, long time. 

Joel Salatin’s superb _Everything I Want to Do is Illegal_ does a much deeper analysis of the insanity of laws at the national and state level that affect small food producers than I can.  Wouldn’t it be better for all of us not to have to truck our lambs, cattle and goats to slaughterhouses, where they are stressed and exposed to disease?  Shouldn’t humane meat production involve a humane death?  Isn’t the risk of contamination much smaller as I slaughter one lamb, rather than in a place that does 8 an hour?  Is there a risk that I might cause illness by mishandling?  Sure, but we know that happens in the industrial system all the time – your industrial meat permits a certain percentage of fecal matter to get into the meat, after all. Yummy!

 I’m all for people understanding the risks, say of raw milk, farm slaughtered meat or whatever - I’d be happy to require people sign something showing they understood them. But they should be allowed to assume that risk.

Because, of course, regulation always favors larger farms – by definition, our regulations presume industrial agriculture as a norm – which does a great deal to make something so destructive and deeply bizarre normal.  I love milking, I like goats, and I make damned good cheese and yogurt.  And yet, I will never run a dairy – because I can’t afford it.   Nor will many small farmers or young families for whom dairying would be a good career, and a good use of our land. 

My family cooks and bakes extremely well – we used to include bread as a gift in our CSA baskets.  And yet, we could not charge honestly for the bread, because we do not have a commercial kitchen.  I admit, I cannot quite figure out how I might cause food borne illness with bread, which after all, consists of water, salt, yeast and wheat.  I suppose I could hunt up a local source of ergot poisoning, but that seems like a lot of effort. And yet, the law says a commercial kitchen is necessary for me to bake bread.  This is too bad, because many people eat bread, and would rather get it from their neighbor who makes it than from the grocery store.  Others who could use a small supplement would probably appreciate the chance to increase their income by baking.  The local Amish generally ignore these laws, and make a nice supplement selling pies, cakes and bread, but experience intermittent crackdowns and hostilities.

At every level, regulation stands to make it harder and harder to be a small scale producer of food  – whether a farmer or a cook.   And, of course, it makes it harder to be an eater as well. All of those regulations are going to have to be reconsidered if we are going to have a truly local food system, or a local economy for that matter.  The laws that are designed for farms with 800 head of dairy cows simply don’t fit someone with two.  The models designed to prevent diseases that small farmers almost never get, or cross-contamination that isn’t a danger on a small farm don’t make sense - we know that. 

That does not mean we will never see diseases or contamination from small scale producers – we certainly will.  Sooner or later some small farmer will, unfortunately, kill someone - industrial producers kill hundreds of people with contaminated food each year, and tens of thousands by marketing food that harms rather than nourishes.  Eating carries risk – real risk.  We all know that.  We should be free to choose what risks we want to take – whether the risks of industrial food’s health costs and contamination problems, or the potential problems of small producers who have to go into the next room to wash up.  Those who believe that the best and safest food comes from people who have the time to care well for their animals and their land, and the investment in their community to want it to be wholly safe, should be able to choose good, honest, farm food.

Which is why I find it so very heartening that Wendell Berry has taken such a powerful and noble (not that this is surprising – Berry may be the most honorable public personage I know of) stand on the subject of NAIS, one of the crappiest bits of legislation ever proposed (and that is saying something).  He says,

The need to trace animals was made by the confined animal industry – which are, essentially, disease breeding operations. The health issue was invented right there. The remedy is to put animals back on pasture, where they belong. The USDA is scapegoating the small producers to distract attention from the real cause of the trouble. Presumably these animal factories are, in a too familiar phrase, “too big to fail”.

This is the first agricultural meeting I’ve ever been to in my life that was attended by the police. I asked one of them why he was there and he said: “Rural Kentucky”. So thank you for your vote of confidence in the people you are supposed to be representing. (applause) I think the rural people of Kentucky are as civilized as anybody else.

But the police are here prematurely. If you impose this program on the small farmers, who are already overburdened, you’re going to have to send the police for me. I’m 75 years old. I’ve about completed my responsibilities to my family. I’ll lose very little in going to jail in opposition to your program – and I’ll have to do it. Because I will be, in every way that I can conceive of, a non-cooperator.

I understand the principles of civil disobedience, from Henry Thoreau to Martin Luther King. And I’m willing to go to jail to defend the young people who, I hope, will still have a possibility of becoming farmers on a small scale in this supposedly free country.

Thank G-d for Wendell Berry. This is the essence of what we face – whether from NAIS or other legal challenges, from suburbanized zoning laws and other strategies designed to permanently institutionalize the power of industrial food production, and to render the most basic of all human activities – self-provisioning – arcane, alien, difficult and expensive. And if someone doesn’t stand up and make clear how wrong and false this is, we are going to face very deep difficulties indeed. 

Wendell Berry is a national treasure, and putting him in jail would be like pissing on a Matisse.  I hope he never has to go. And yet he’s completely right about the stakes of the matter – and the ability of younger people to stand firm.  I would like to say I will never register a single animal that lives upon my farm.  I know that isn’t true -that if the price of compliance is high enough – not just jail, but long terms in jail, fines or loss of land, I will comply.  I wish I could say otherwise, but if the price were my family’s livelihood and security, I don’t know what I’d do. 

And yet, I won’t comply easily, or quietly, and I hope most of us won’t. In fact, I think the establishment of underground food systems may be essential as we go into much more difficult times.  As states and regions are strapped for cash, they will fight to extract fees and registrations from us. And we will fight to produce food that ordinary people can afford to eat, in the face of terrible threats to the basic food security of those people.  It is a fight, no question. 

Sharon

35 Responses to “Farms as Battlegrounds”

  1. NMon 20 Jun 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Standing, clapping.
    NM

  2. Greg Jefferson 20 Jun 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Sharon:

    I thrilled to see your libertarian tendencies!

    Regulators come up with the regulations – not the people through their elected representatives – and more often than not do a very poor job of what they were originally tasked to do.

    I have written and spoken often about the end of the Left and Right – to be replaced with Libertarianism or %*$$#!!ism. I thank you for the plug for our side.

  3. Heatheron 20 Jun 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Sharon, I write my congress people and the president, etc. But there isn’t much that will get me to march on DC (literally), because quite frankly, we’re busy like everyone else trying to get systems working and in place locally. But if you or Mr. Berry ever decide it’s time to march on Washington, I’m thinking you might have me there on that one.

  4. Stephen B.on 21 Jun 2009 at 12:08 am

    We wanted to keep a small chicken flock at our 160+ acre residential school because of the fantastic educational resource they afford kids, especially special ed kids carrying diagnoses such as PTSD, severe ADHD, etc., but our head people in our main agency office, but especially our medical director folks said, basically, no way. There’s too much disease risk, etc. Of course, we stillll serve our kids the cheapest, institutional chicken pucks etc. that Cargill and Tyson can send us via our local commercial food supplier, with all the incorporated feces, antibiotics, etc., of course thrown in.

    It turns our our head nurse keeps chickens at home, so I suppose we should quarantine her away from the students?

    Then too, maybe our students shouldn’t be allowed to visit their neighbor living across the street from the school since he too keeps a small poultry flock.

    There’s a lot of fear out there.

    But again, we will still let the kids eat the Tyson chicken pucks and drink the commercial milk swill in the icky, plastic-coated, half pint cartons we get from the Massachusetts, Suiza/Dean Foods mega dairy. (Garelick.)

    No need to fear that stuff…..rrrrrrriiiiiiggggghhhht.

  5. deepianon 21 Jun 2009 at 12:33 am

    Where do you stand if you simply barter your surplus dairy produce? Is this not a way around the bureaucracy for the small farmer?

  6. Apple Jack Creekon 21 Jun 2009 at 12:58 am

    As a Canadian, I run into rules a bit different from yours … but still, as one farmer I know put it “they make the rules to deal with some stupidity, and at the same time, they create a bunch more stupidity!”.

    I can serve you egg salad sandwiches if you come over for lunch – you accept the risk that I’ve kept a clean enough kitchen not to poison you with the egg salad. Yet, if I serve you the milk I collected from my own cow in my own barn with my own hands … you’re not legally permitted to accept that risk (in Alberta, in fact, in all of Canada, I believe, it is illegal for a cow or goat or sheep owner to even *give* raw milk to anyone outside their immediate family, much less sell it).

    Our regulations do tend to be fairly consistent – we have no “under a thousand chickens” rule here, all meat sold must be butchered at an approved facility – but we do have specific exemptions for people to sell eggs in reasonable quantities (at farmers’ markets and such), vegetables and ’safe foods’ like baking and jams done in home kitchens – although raw milk and home-butchered meat are completely out of the question, all the time, everywhere.

    I expect that as things in the larger world change, people will just start ignoring the rules and doing what makes sense … if the government can’t afford to pay for basic services, they certainly aren’t going to be paying the inspectors anymore. Still, it would be nice if in the meantime, the people who are trying to make a go of self-sufficiency and local food production were able to do so without having so many hoops to jump through.

  7. BBPon 21 Jun 2009 at 2:06 am

    Up until the mid 1950s, my grandparents ran a small dairy – 20 head all milked by hand. The milk went into milk containers like the ones you see for incredible prices in antique stores, which were set out on a platform by the side of the highway every morning, along with a few dozen eggs. A truck from the processing plant picked them up and left clean empties. A check arrived from the processor every month that was enough to keep the farm going.

    Their dairy operation came to an end when the processor informed all the little dairies that they would have to install holding tanks and make provisions for a heavy tank truck to empty the milk about twice a week. Grandpa closed down the dairy operation and went to work off the farm until he retired as there was no way he could afford the necessary equipment and a road through his field.

    I hope that we eventually see a return of small dairies like my grandparents, but in order for that to happen all of the industrial strength regulations are going to have to change, along with practices like I outlined above aimed at industrial scale production.

  8. Ilanon 21 Jun 2009 at 6:16 am

    Have any of the small dairy farmers tried selling “bath milk”?
    see:
    http://tinyurl.com/mfcmpq
    for an article about it.

    Basically the unpasteurized milk is sold as “bath milk” for cosmetic purposes only, yet the customers understand that it is a way of getting around the regulations. I have seen a vendor selling “bath milk” at a farmers market here in Melbourne, Australia.

  9. ycomicon 21 Jun 2009 at 7:15 am

    Going to nap for a bit this morning then off to hatfield farms… Why does the weather have to be so bad :(

  10. Anion 21 Jun 2009 at 7:28 am

    Here in VT we’ve had rules allowing small quantities of raw milk to be sold, but recently they were changed(under much pressure) to allow for larger quantities of raw milk to be sold on-farm and even advertising it for sale is allowed. As well, after much protest and advocacy the chicken slaughter rules were changed as well- they used to be insanely strict.

    Yes, I too don’t understand the point- large commercial agri-business can operate as they do, sickening and killing people but small farms and direct sales are restricted beyond belief.

    The other problem is that when a small farm or producer does sicken someone, the authorities really crack down. Years ago an unlicensed cheese maker was believed to have sold cheese that sickened people at a farmers market- a crackdown ensued that put all the unlicensed cheesemakers out of business. The new rules required much in the way of infrastructure.

    Somehow we have to be able to create a balance here- creating conditions and rules that allow for small producers and direct sales while trying to maintain public health. I personally don’t have a problem with requiring inspections of cheese makers and certain conditions for cheese production- if I bought cheese from an unlicensed/uninspected producer I’d want to know them well and the conditons under which the cheese was produced. I used to do inspections for organic certification and always found the dairies and operations of the licensed cheesemakers to be incredibly clean and well run- without exception. I know this is important- although the standards for sinks and such as you describe can be kinda nuts so we need a reasonable balance.

    I shudder to think what rules might come down the pike for berry and vegetable producers after the next widespread e-coli event; without an understanding of how small growers differ from large ones, the rules could put small farms out of business; I can only imagine how many sinks they would require in the berry field. :(

  11. Stephen B.on 21 Jun 2009 at 7:49 am

    Here in Massachusetts there are some dairies licensed and inspected by the state to sell raw milk off of the farm. I am a customer of one of those dairies.

    One thing that is interesting is how scared people are of products like this. If I mention to anybody that I don’t feel good (due to a long work day, maybe a cold, or whatever), a few people that know I drink unpasteurized milk have actually suggested that the milk is the reason why.

    In California and other places that allow raw milk sales, often if somebody gets sick, the milk is immediately blamed. The fact that the other customers who consumed the same batch of milk report no illness matters not. The rule seems to be to always blame the farm products from the little farmer despite all the massive recalls due to illness we’ve seen from industrial spinach, ground beef, milk, and so on.

    Hopefully time will change this.

  12. Andrewon 21 Jun 2009 at 7:50 am

    Someone mentioned Alberta, Canada as a place with hostile farm policies, particularly dairy. This is entirely true, it is illegal to even give away raw milk. Try making cheese with factory milk! It is also illegal to give or sell eggs, unless you have a production quota assigned to you from the egg marketing board. Farm meat must be processed at a certified meat processor (which may not include your local butcher).

    The rules are designed around large farms and ranches (a section is 640 acres, most the farms are in the 8-10 section range). These large farms require large transport systems to send their output to large central processing facilities.

    And yet last in Canada, over 20 people died from a listeriosis outbreak from Maple Leaf Foods – a major factory producer of processed meats.
    The owners of these facilities continue to claim cost-pressures as a reason to limit external government inspection, and substitute self-inspection.

    The good news is that when existing systems collapse, nobody is going to give a tinker’s damn about the regulations. The tough part to navigate through is the process of collapse – when there are still factions of the food bureaucracy hanging on to their existence.

  13. Susan Bon 21 Jun 2009 at 9:33 am

    Not a dairy farmer nor do I sell eggs but ran into the same type of regulation when wanting to startup a small food processing business – jams, pie fillings, etc.

  14. KimSon 21 Jun 2009 at 9:51 am

    Sharon, I emailed my state representatives with your eloquently written entry. I have little faith it will do much good, but my gut tells me I must keep at them or hide in my hole. I choose the former.

  15. Greg Jefferson 21 Jun 2009 at 10:06 am

    I am absolutely stunned about the passion for “Raw Milk”.

    The science is very convincing. Remember science?

    Pasteurization does not reduce the nutritional value of the milk or milk products the way it reduces the risk of the milk or milk products.

    Not very long ago… “Spoiled” Milk and “off meat” sickened and killed people in significant enough numbers that the people thought it would be a good idea to do something about it.

    I am Libertarian. People should be able to take risks of their own choosing. If people want to accept the risk of being sickened with “Raw Milk”, they should accept ALL of the risk. If you get sick, you pay for the medical care, if you die you pay for the funeral. AND YOU CAN’T SUE! The freedom and choice and the consequences should be yours.

    But why can’t people slaughter their own chickens? Wouldn’t that be the safest form of “food preservation”? Keeping meat alive until it is needed for dinner? Wouldn’t people be more careful about processing meat for their own consumption?

    I live on an “almost self sufficient” farm (our site is: jeffersfarm.blogspot.com). We get our milk from our goats (we home pasteurize, listeria is really, really bad for small children and pregnant women, and we have no shortage of these) and we get our meat from the farm too. That means we home slaughter and process.

    We do not, and would not, sell processed meat. Our legal system was designed to destroy little people trying to do the right thing. We do sell animals and will help folks with the processing at their home if they need it.

  16. Stephen B.on 21 Jun 2009 at 10:26 am

    Greg,

    People got sick drinking unpasteurized milk from sick, infected cows, kept in filthy, mainly urban dairies. At the time, it was easier to cook the milk than clean up the dairies.

    A couple of years ago, some folks were killed by listeria in milk from a dairy in Worcester, MA. Guess what? The milk was pasteurized.

    I too suspect that pastuerization doesn’t really harm milk, but I want to support local farmers and it just isn’t possible for small, local farmers to install milk processing plants, so I buy their milk unprocessed.

    Sometimes, to make visitors to my house feel safe, I then home pasteurize, but it’s mainly for their piece of mind.

    Lastly, with all due respect to everybody, there is a new tone amongst some of the commenters here that last night, was rather vulgar, and is now sarcastic (”remember science”) that I hope goes back to where ever it came from real soon.

  17. Stephen B.on 21 Jun 2009 at 10:58 am

    Also @Greg,

    Thanks for your blog link. Despite the milk thing above, we think much alike I think and enjoyed the few posts I just read :-)

  18. Susan in NJon 21 Jun 2009 at 11:07 am

    I lived one summer in the early ’70’s on a small dairy farm in Switzerland that operated very much like BBP’s grandparents, but not entirely. One of my chores was to wash out the milk tins (after the distributor picked up the milk) in the large outdoor water trough. The entire place was a bit of an eye opener compared even to midwestern farms of the same period. Never got sick from the food, learned to cook really well without recipes, ate really well, and lost weight. All good.
    The commercial kitchen rules affect a lot of people. For instance, places like girl scout camps must retro-fit, not just main dining hall kitchens, but also kitchens in lodges that are used by troops for overnight camping (where the girls cook their own meals), replacing family-kitchen type appliances or wood-stoves with shiny stainless and commercial type facilities.
    All in all, I expect that when TSHTF, most bueracracies will have better things to do than police animal registration and bake goods registration. If the laws are on the book though, it remains a vehicle for policing “undesirables” especially in areas that are not entirely economically affected.

  19. Brad K.on 21 Jun 2009 at 11:21 am

    I read a few years back that raw milk can be sold for pet food in some states – one way organic growers met the appearance of compliance. This isn’t allowed in all states, though.

    Barter is hard to trace, but note that the IRS does include provisions – barter is supposed to be reported. Thus, there is a potential hook back into the regulators.

    For instance, Oklahoma forbids selling over the radio. The local “Old Trader” radio program lets people call in with old furniture, unwanted guitars, and potato and butternut squash starter plants for “low trade value”. People have been working around the law since there was a law.

    I just wrote US Senator for Oklahoma, Dr. Coburn, requesting that national distributors be forbidden from buying from small and incidental operations – and exempting those small and incidental operations from regulations that only make sense in large scale operations.

  20. Jerryon 21 Jun 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Since I milk cows and sell my milk through Dairy Farmers of America let me point out some of the problems with raw milk.

    First lets hear what my vet calls raw milk “a nutrient broth with fecal matter” are his words. I too got the pasteurized milk ordinances and seriously thought about selling raw milk until the listeria outbreak in Mass. After reading that one person was suing for forty million it kind of took the wind out of my sails. I’m the only one in my family who drinks it on a regular basis and as a matter of fact my whole family grew up drinking raw milk. I pasture my cows and other dairy farmers marvel at how clean they are but in todays society there is no room for error thus I’m stuck selling to Dean Foods. I know some people will not agree with me but kids today are not exposed to bacteria as much as previous generations were thus the immunity is not there to fight off even small amounts of exposure.

    I too agree with previous comments that the game is rigged in favor of large farms but the only way to fix it is a change in liability laws and what do you think the chances of that happening in a state where most of our legislators our lawyers.

  21. Saskboyon 21 Jun 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Most people don’t understand that farming is a national SECURITY issue. If we ever go to war with a country that supplies our food, does anyone think we’d seriously win even if we started with a powerful military?

  22. Greg Jefferson 21 Jun 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Stephan:

    Regarding the “urban dairies”…

    I live in “rural America”. For the most part, I would be unwilling to drink milk, or eat meat processed at the homes of many of the people living in my county. Rural America is poor, for the most part. Desperate people do desperate things. The poor are frequently desperate, and I believe that some would be tempted to sell something rather than discard it. Doesn’t mean I am right, but that is my decision.

    Life is not fair. People are not perfect. I am actually doing this (raising my own food and trying to buy local), and I am responsible for the well being of my family. I would not risk the health of my children to make a political point.

    Raw milk does not come without significant risk to the lives of your infants and unborn children, and is not without risk for healthy adults. I do not believe that people should risk their children’s lives without a thorough understanding of the science and germ theory.

    Pasteurization is simply another hygiene practice, much as a wound or incision site is cleaned and disinfected with alcohol and/or idodine – another common hygiene practice.

  23. Sharonon 21 Jun 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Greg, I’m actually a total agnostic on the subject of raw milk – I drink my own goat’s milk raw, mostly because I like the taste better, but I don’t have a problem with pasteurizing for the purpose of drinking or sale – although I think people who want it should be able to buy raw milk. We had a source of milk (I can’t say much about this, for fear of incriminating those who helped us out) before we had our own goats, and I pasteurized during my pregnancies and when my children were under 2.

    Where raw milk does make a difference is in the taste of good cheese – and good cheese, properly aged, is something I really care about, and is somewhat different than straight milk.

    What does trouble me is that the same couple I write about here, starting up their dairy farm, had to pay nearly 10K for their commercial pasteurizer.

    Sharon

  24. Greg Jefferson 21 Jun 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Jerry:

    I pasture my goats, but I agree with your vet.

    Ruminants are not terribly sanitary animals.

  25. Greg Jefferson 21 Jun 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Stephan:

    My apologies for my rudeness. “Remember science” was, in fact, uncalled for.

    I wanted to make a strong impression on people with small children and pregnant women that the evidence is pretty clear that raw milk has serious risks. That does not give me license to speak with anything less than kindness.

    Greg

  26. Greg Jefferson 21 Jun 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Sharon:

    I share your Libertarian tendencies – people should be able to make their own decisions on a host of subjects, including raw milk.

    But we should all keep in mind that even the nicest, most well intentioned farmer is not immune from contamination.

    Like you, I do not fear that level of contamination in the dairying of animals for home consumption… but I have very young children, and sleep better by pasteurizing at home.

    Your larger point in the post was well made and well received.

    Thank you!

  27. Megon 21 Jun 2009 at 5:41 pm

    I work on a small goat dairy in western NC, and I can vouch for the costliness of such an operation. The regulations are many and myriad, and although we were licensed in 2001 we aren’t technically a grade A dairy. Thus, we cannot sell milk, period, much less raw milk even though there is a high demand in this area for it. I drink raw milk and have done so for quite a while. I’ve never been sick because of raw milk, and I am thoroughly convinced that it is healthier and easier for the gut to process. In fact, pasteurization destroys much of the “good” bacteria that prevents “bad” bacteria from gaining a foothold, thus being a blank slate for colonization by harmful pathogens. Of course, I think people should have the option to obtain raw milk from good sources. I’ve always been of the mindset that people should be able to make their own decisions about what they consume and where it comes from, and subsequently take responsibility for those choices. The government, in my mind, has absolutely no right to dictate what we can eat.

    On the subject of NAIS, I count myself a resistor as well. If you haven’t read Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, I suggest you do so. Farming in any form is becoming more and more costly and difficult, and this is a time when we need young, dedicated farmers more than ever. The government should be encouraging small farmers, not discouraging them with senseless, overbearing regulation and escalating costs of business.

  28. Urban Gardeneron 21 Jun 2009 at 6:47 pm

    Try this one :-
    In Illinois, if you cut honeycomb and package it to sell, no problem. The minute you filter the honey and package it, it is considered “processed” and needs to be done in a commercial kitchen.
    Pasteurization is not required.
    Now, they say you can use any commercial kitchen, e.g. restaurant, school etc, but in practice, folks will not “loan out” due to liability issues.
    So essentially one then has to rent.
    I have 2 hives and produce about 50 lbs of honey surplus for sale. About 80 bottles, mixed 8oz and 16oz.
    I have to pull the frames, put them in a box in the trunk of the car, drive 8 miles to the kitchen through an industrial area, go up 2 floors in a freight elevator, then pay for 4-6 hours rental time in order to filter the honey through a sieve into jars, right next to people filling the air with flour for baked goods.
    Well, if I want to sell at farmers markets, that’s what I have to do….

  29. Coleenon 22 Jun 2009 at 7:33 am

    Perhaps those people who are so anti-raw milk should read more on listerosis. Pasturization does not keep listerosis from becoming a problem and this bacteria actually increases under refrigeration. Yes, it is a problem for the immuno-supressed, pregnant women and childern. So are all the other “bad” bacteria in our soil (that we grow vegetables in), our showers, our clothes…you get my drift.

    Food-borne illness has been marketed well to keep the masses buying from the big institutions, rather than doing our own canning, enjoying our farm production and that of our neighbors. We are all going to die of something…most likely it’s not going to be food. The odds are much more in favor of cancer, heart disease, automobile accidents…you don’t see too many people telling you how dangerous it is to ride in that car do you? “Statistically” speaking, food-borne deaths and major illness are a NIT!

    Even we farmers have bought into the advertising campaigns against our own products and to the one-in-a-million odds of getting sued and loosing our land and livelihoods. The lack of personal responsibility, ability to sue for the least issue, and the entitlement generation are going to break us, if the collapse doesn’t come soon. If the collapse is too slow then the regulators will try enforcement as revenue generation and control. If it hits hard, then all bets are off and people will want food enough to value our products, even if they don’t have any money to pay for it. No matter what happens, producing your own food, giving it to neighbors and telling our politicians to BACK OFF! is the right thing to do, so we must be persistent and LOUD. My representative here in OK, says it’s really not the battle of Dems and Repubs, rather a battle of city v. country since the city thinks all food magically appears in grocery stores.

    Our job is education! We need to be taking every opportunity to teach kids about farms, educate parents about food laws and why we need to be ACTIVISTS in this particular area, speakers at community forums and using every soap box we can find. This is too important to let someone else take care of it.

  30. WNC Observeron 22 Jun 2009 at 9:44 am

    Along with Peak Oil and Peak Economy, we are also seeing Peak Regulations. This NAIS thing is just about the last gasp.

    As the economy declines, governments are going to find it impossible to keep up their enforcement efforts. Eventually, it will be pretty much back to the unregulated market that used to be. Hopefully we will have learned a little bit about public health and can manage to keep a few wise and effective practices in place (maybe informally applied and enforced by local guilds or something) to protect people from the worst health risks.

    Right now, the problem is that we few far-sighted individuals already see the direction things are heading, and want to get a jump start into the new paradigm. Meanwhile, the mass of society, and especially government at all levels, is still mired in the old paradigm, and cannot even realize that it is shifting, let alone imagine what the new paradigm is shaping up to be. Somehow, we need to figure out how to position ourselves to be ready when things have relaxed to the point where new opportunities open up, while meanwhile living within the constraints that our excessive regulatory regime imposes upon us.

  31. Sharonon 22 Jun 2009 at 10:41 am

    Just one more point on the raw milk discussion – it is important to note that listeria is a common consequence of many processed foods as well – deli meats, raw juices, soft-serve ice cream, etc… That is, it is a real and serious risk to fetuses and very young children, and it pays to be careful, but the majority of cases of listeria in the US come not from raw milk or raw milk soft cheeses, but from processed foods, or from pasteurized milk and pasteurized milk products that are contaminated at some later point.

    Also worth noting – aged cheeses are not a major risk, even if made with raw milk. The FDA lists aged raw milk cheeses last among its list of potential listeria carriers.

    Again, I’m not arguing with you, Greg, about the risk of listeria, nor do I object to pasteurizing my own milk for sale (I can’t sell it raw or pasteurized in NY), or teaching my customers to pasteurize before they drink if they have risk factors. Just observing that raw milk is itself not the biggest actor in this drama.

    Sharon

  32. Joannaon 22 Jun 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Every farmer I’ve ever bought raw milk from was absolutely religious about cleanliness. Unless the cow is somehow getting fecal matter into her bag, I am disinclined to worry about it. (if she is, I suspect that the farmer has other significant problems!) It really boils down to my diligence in seeing how the farmer manages his farm, and to my trust that they are maintaining it the same way when I am out of sight. I do not trust the government to do this for me. I tend to think that the self-motivated farmer who cares deeply is a far more trustworthy individual regarding my family’s health than someone who is motivated by trying to meet regulations. It practically begs for short cuts, if the regulations aren’t meaningful to them.

    These laws and regs are pretty much exactly what has convinced us that we cannot open a goat dairy the way we’d hoped to. We simply don’t have the upfront money, nor the optimism to take out large loans.

    It’s a pity. So we focus on feeding ourselves for the time being, waiting for the oil to fuel regulatory acitivity to run out. At least that way we’ll have accomplished some of the steepest learning curve ahead of time.

  33. Susanon 22 Jun 2009 at 5:04 pm

    I grew up drinking raw milk; my uncle and my parents both ran small farms and put their milk in the (now) quaint milk cans. We drank raw milk; I bought it and drank it until recently when it went up to $12 per gallon.

    Listeria is the least of my worries, at least with the raw milk suppliers. They are scrupulous with cleanliness. I did however get milk from Costco recently and had to throw it out due to the black mold growing on the top of the milk, that stuck to the sides of the jug.

    These regulations are designed to run small, sustainable farmers out of business and allow only for the industrial ag producers to run the country.

  34. Leighon 23 Jun 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Sharon wrote: “We should be free to choose what risks we want to take – whether the risks of industrial food’s health costs and contamination problems, or the potential problems of small producers who have to go into the next room to wash up.”

    Overall, this is a great article, Sharon, but I must ask, Where is our freedom in “industrial food’s health costs and contamination problems”? We all pay directly and indirectly for the CAFOs’ “right” to exist, don’t we? We in the Mid Atlantic states have paid for it in terms of water contaminated by poultry concentration camps and hog farms whose waste lagoons are breached when hurricanes roll through. I fail to see any freedom connected with these.

    “As above so below” and the reverse is true as well. When domesticated livestock cannot express their “isness” by having access to grass and sunlight, neither can the folks who eat them. And the rest of us pay both in higher healthcare costs as well as a general degradation in the productivity and well-being of our fellow humans.

    Where is my “freedom” to drink raw milk? I used to be in a share program in Virginia, but it became too far for me to drive to pick up the milk. Now, I live in Maryland, where even share programs are illegal. If we’re going to outlaw such a wholesome product — I felt better drinking it and never once got sick while drinking it, and I mean not sick at all, not even a cold — then we may as well bring back Prohibition. Alcohol will kill us far more quickly.

    Thanks,
    Leigh

  35. [...] I Want to Do is Illegal Sharon Astyk posts on the state of small farms in the wake of ridiculous regulation and the overly parental state.  The title of this post is a [...]

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