With all of the focus on raw milk in the news, commentators are overlooking an important point. Michael Schmidt, the Canadian dairy farmer facing criminal charges for distributing raw milk has hundreds of shareholders. By standing up for his own rights as a farmer, he is also standing up for their rights as consumers.
Along with other raw dairy farmers in Canada and the U.S., Schmidt’s battle against anti-raw milk bureaucrats is a battle for not only for the right to farm, but also for the rights of the consumers to obtain the food of their choice. According to participants in The Bovine, a blog that follows the Michael Schmidt case, what’s missing from the news reports is the fact that thousands of consumers are supporting these farmers and believe in their product, so much so that they have invested in their enterprises.
Cow-boarding programs are nothing more than community supported dairy farms where consumers have access to the milk of their own cows.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s) came about as a way for health-conscious consumers to support locally owned and operated fruit and vegetable farms. Increasingly, families are concerned about the quality of their food, and the long distances food is traveling from farm to table. This led to a desire to promote local farms that employ true organic farming practices, such as the use of compost and manure, instead of petro-chemical fertilizers and pesticide sprays.
Through CSAs, families become benevolent benefactors. CSA members commit a portion of their food budget to support a specific farm. They subscribe to a weekly share of the season’s harvest in advance. These payments at the start of the growing season enable small scale, perfectionist farmers to employ traditional farming methods that have given way to industrial agriculture and government subsidies.
Recognizing that artisan produce farming is a labor of love and that farmers need money to sustain themselves, communities have become patrons of their local farmers who want to be free and independent instead of cogs in the industrial wheel. A renaissance of natural farming is the result, and a new, dynamic farm economy is emerging.
The realm of dairying is no different. Traditionally, cows were raised in the sunshine, on pasture, eating green grass, the way nature intended. With the high price of real estate, combined with the low prices paid to dairymen by milk processors, the only economy of scale that works is factory farming of huge herds. A small family farm can’t survive.
The forced consolidation of the dairy industry began with poor animal husbandry that necessitated an expensive pathogen-killing industry. Milk processors, milk transporters, add several layers of middlemen between the farm and the end consumer. Government subsidies, hidden from view, are the only thing that keeps this system afloat.
The mandatory pasteurization laws that currently hinder traditional dairymen from competing in the marketplace are the brainchild of the dairy industry, intent on minimizing the price paid to the farmer and maximizing profits for their executives and shareholders. Yet, farmers are not prohibited from consuming their own raw product, only from selling it.