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.