On Raw Milk, and current regulations in Vermont

Vermont’s legislature is currently debating the regulations around the availability of raw milk, and earlier this spring I spoke to the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products as a raw milk consumer.  (This post is an adapted version of what I said there.) You can find all the House Ag Committee documents related to this bill (including testimony from myself and other witnesses) on their website, and you can follow the Farm Fresh Milk Campaign at Rural Vermont.  The current situation is that it is legal for farmers to sell raw milk in the state of Vermont, but there are some very strict (bordering on prohibitive) regulations that make it difficult for farmers to reach consumers.  An effort is being made to mitigate those regulations, giving consumers easier access to the extremely high quality (and safe) raw milk that is being produced in the state of Vermont.

I’ve been a customer of Huard Family Farm for the last year and a half or so. Frank Huard delivers raw goat’s milk to my home about once a week, and sometimes we’re also able to pick it up from him at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. The milk from Frank’s farm is absolutely delicious, with a flavor much more subtle than anything off the grocery store shelf. I would drink it just for the taste, but I also drink it because most milk really upsets my digestion if I drink much of it. The milk from Frank’s farm never bothers my digestion. I don’t know for sure if this is because it’s raw or because it’s goat’s milk, or a combination of the two, but I do know that I can drink it by the glass and feel good and nourished.  I can say positively that (to me, and many others) raw milk tastes better and more distinctive than pasteurized milk, and I would venture to say that raw milk lets those of us who drink by the glass enjoy the local terroir in a way that pasteurized milk just can’t.

Frank has always been gracious about delivering to our door, but I’ve often wondered how he could possibly meet expenses when he has to drive all over the place to deliver milk to customers: Gas is expensive, and it has to take him a lot of time to drive to each individual customer. If Frank could sell his milk via retail stores, it would be convenient for me, but what’s more important is that it would be sustainable for him. We used to get raw goat’s milk from Trillium Hill Farm in Hinesburg, but they stopped selling milk after the 2012 season because that part of their business had proven to be unsustainable. I wonder if this would have been different if there weren’t so many restrictions around the sale of raw milk. I find the present restrictions frustrating personally, but the biggest concern to me is that these restrictions make it so difficult for farmers to reach customers. It goes without saying that a business must be able to reach customers to survive.

I recognize and appreciate that the intent of the present labeling language is to protect the consumer, but I wish that our legislators would give more credit – and more responsibility – to consumers: In my experience, what pasteurization is and does is general knowledge. I think it’s enough to state that the milk is raw/unpasteurized. So long as I’m clearly told what the product is, it’s up to me to determine whether it’s healthy for me. Please show that you respect me and other consumers by trusting us to do that.

In addition to speaking as a consumer, I’d like to say a few words just as a resident of Vermont: I don’t think it’s possible to emphasize too much how important small farms like Frank’s are. They feed us, keeping us nourished and healthy and giving us a much-needed alternative to mass-produced, trucked-in food. They keep money in the local economy. They give Vermont the distinctive sense of place that makes this state a destination. They’re vital to our sense of community: A teacher of mine used to say, “we all exist in a web of interdependence,” and eating food grown or produced by someone in your community reinforces how much we all depend on one another.

The farmers I know are the hardest working people I know, and I think it’s safe to say that, as a group, farmers are the hardest working people in Vermont. While some regulation is reasonable, the present requirements place unnecessary obstacles between the farmer and the customer. H. 426 won’t change that farming is a difficult job, but it’ll do a lot to make this work economically feasible for the farmers affected.

Anna Lappe said, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” I want to vote for a state full of thriving family farms, by buying this good, wholesome product from a local farmer. Please make it easier for me to do that, and give Frank and other farmers a real chance to thrive by supporting H. 426.


Stonecutters Kitchen, Doolin, Co. Clare

If you’re on your way to Doolin or the Cliffs of Moher, be sure to stop by Stonecutters Kitchen.  It’s right on the main road between Doolin and the Cliffs, and has some of the freshest and tastiest food I’ve eaten in Ireland.  One of my favorite ways to pass a day on holiday in Doolin is to walk from the Rainbow Hostel, past Fisherstreet, uphill to this restaurant, enjoy some soup and tea and dessert while reading or writing, and stroll back downhill.

The owners and staff are very friendly, as is the resident sheepdog, and the views can’t be beat.  Their plates and teaware are made by a local potter (who, sadly, has moved out of the country) and are a pleasure to use.  Plus, the desserts are absolutely scrumptious.  My favorite is their banoffee pie – a wonderful concoction involving caramel, banana, a graham cracker crust (actually made of digestives), and chocolate.

Learn more and make sure to check out their hours (which vary by the season) at http://www.stonecutterskitchen.com/,  and keep track of their delectable specials via facebook here.  I wish I could stop by for lunch now!


Burren Perfumery, Co. Clare

As the days get colder here in the northeastern U.S., here are a few more photos from my midsummer trip to Ireland.  When I visited the Burren Perfumery in 2005, for whatever reasons I was nonplussed.  Not so this trip!  We visited the shop first, sampled all of their wonderful new herbal balms, and ended up bringing some borage balm home.  Then we had a walk around the garden, where I took these photos.  Finally, we met a friend at the tearoom for, well, tea.  Everything was so delicious that we stayed on for lunch.  The special was a spiced vegetarian dish served over quinoa, which was an unusual treat, since in Ireland healthy vegetarian options are often limited to a hearty carrot or potato soup.  The Burren Perfumery is out of the way, but well-marked.  If you’re in the area, I highly recommend a trip there, preferably on a nice day so you can enjoy the garden and then sit outside in the cafe.

Taking off from a borage flower.

If you look carefully, there’s a moss-man lying in the bed, and a fireplace to keep him warm.

A moss lady luxuriating in a verdant tub.

Yummy Crunchy Delectable Food: A Post for Blog Action Day 2011

West Show Jersey July 2010 46

I’ve blogged before about ethical issues concerning food, but this Blog Action Day, I’d just like to say a few words about how delightful food is.  There are such a wonderful variety of tastes to choose from:  earthy-sweet carrots, rich cream (or, for me, goat’s milk), nectar-like honey, warming chai.  I’ve gotten to enjoy an even wider range of tastes since I’ve become a fan of tea and, more recently, a student of herbalism.  Any day can be made better by a cup of tung ting, an oolong that tastes like spring, or the oceany gyokuro.  Herbs might taste super-sweet like licorice, refreshing like lemon balm, or harshly bitter like hops, but they’re always interesting.  Herbalist Guido Masé described Rhodiola as that herb that “tastes like roses and then sucks all the water out of your mouth.”  I doubt you could fail to identify the taste of Rhodiola after that description!

Kulikov Bazaar with bagels 1910Food is fun to taste and smell, but it’s also fun to chop and blend and knead – and buy.  When I lived in Philadelphia, my favorite day of the week was Saturday.  My boyfriend and I would walk up to the Headhouse Square farmer’s market.  I’d buy basic veggies from the Amish farmer there, and heirloom tomatoes and other delightful things from the organic farm stand.  Saturday’s market wasn’t as big as Sunday’s, but there was more opportunity to chat with the farmers, and maybe find out what could be done with that strange vegetable I didn’t know the name of.  As a Vermonter, visiting the farmer’s market felt like a little bit of home.  I’d always impulse-buy something that I hadn’t planned on – often kale, which I knew I didn’t like (at the time), but which is so gorgeously richly green I could rarely resist.


We’d tote our goods back home and I would usually spend the day cooking:  Perhaps making a chili-inspired stew with fresh tomatoes and peppers, and maybe some sweet potatoes and kale.  I might make some brown bread or stove-top pizza, too.  Saturdays always seemed so satisfying, and I felt a lift in low-level anxiety that I always had in the city. 

Ferdinand Wagner MarktfrauI think it was because of all of that basic, nourishing sensory stimulation.  This week I read a blog entry over at Three Highlights that said, “Machinating is what we do when we let the mind spin with little more intention, flexibility, or creative openness other than to ‘get things done.’  It’s not the same as thinking. Or musing. Or imagining. Or creating. Or experiencing.”  Since I spent a lot of time on the computer – and was missing my accustomed natural, low-concrete landscape – this was a real danger for me.  But getting and making good food always lifted that cloud and got me back into experiencing and musing and creating.

So, I guess that’s another reason why I like to buy local, from the grower, and to buy whole food that takes a bit of preparation:  I’m getting even more for my money.  I’m not just getting calories, I’m getting nutrients, and tastes, and smells, and textures, and even conversations and friendships.  I’m getting food for the body – and food for the soul.


Tea in NWK

On the way home from Ireland, we had a layover in Newark.  There’s nothing to make you feel human – after seven hours on a plane and the culture shock of going from Shannon to New Jersey – like a good cup of tea.

(The tea is set on the sill to the right.)

Tea on the Burren

One gorgeous day in Doolin, with an unexpected couple of hours to spare, we decided to have tea, at the mouth of a prehistoric souterrain in the burren.  You know you’re really lucky when you have the opportunity to sit out under a clear blue sky, surrounded by stone and wildflowers and ocean, and sip on a cup of tie guan yin while contemplating the stories that might live in that stone.  You know you’re a bit of a dork when you have a travel tea kit all set, just in case.

In previous years, I always had a horrible time finding this spot. This summer, I started to get better at seeing the individual features of the burren, and so, tucked away out of the wind, this became a favorite place to visit.

Bloody Cranesbill, a relative of geraniums, was growing over the entrance to the souterrain.

 The way it was described to me, this man-made underground passage would have been used for storing food (since it stays at a cool, consistent temperature), and possibly for hiding in. I was told that fourteen people had once fit in there during a downpour.  It must have been a tight fit!

A Hart’s Tongue Fern growing just inside the entrance, protected from the wind.

Conversations over Tea and Dogs