I am very lucky. I own my own goats and most of the time consume raw, or fresh, milk from my own herd. I am quite careful about  the care my animals get, the care of the equipment and the speed and process of storing the milk.  I don’t sell milk because I don’t want to deal with the government’s fear or anger, nor do I want to deal with the “convenience store mentality” of buyers.

A farm is a business, but is also a home. There are certain routines that must occur if life is to go on, and, because life is unpredictable, things happen.  Animals get sick, Others escape. Feed needs replacing, all of these contribute to whether I am on the farm at any time or another. I do have to milk at certain times every day, and milk only can be stored for SO long.  This does not make allowance for car break downs, day care drop offs, last minute delays, or even lack of electricity.  If I were to sell milk I would have to deal with people saying “I’ll be there on Tuesday at 10 a.m.” only to find that Tuesday really is Thursday and 10 a.m. is really 9 p.m.  I don’t have the ability to store countless gallons of milk precisely because I don’t have a bulk tank and I want to know the status of every gallon I milk out of my herd.  Bulk tanks are blind, and machine milking puts a machine between me and the milk source, something that is necessary for big herds, but not in mine.

But there are many people who believe that milk is milk, therefore raw milk is fine, and better, simply because it came from a small farm. That’s not always true. I would never drink fresh, raw milk from a bulk tank that wasn’t geared toward fresh milk.  There is a safety net called pasteurization that is in place just for that purpose, and most dairy farmers can’t maintain management standards as high as a small fresh milk operation. But because people don’t understand that there is a “scale of operation” that is different between these types of farms, they are more likely to improperly handle their milk on the way home, or even on their countertop.

But education can take care of that.  If people were actually taught how to properly handle milk, without pasteurization, then their milk would be even safer, even if it was pasteurized.  Leaving milk in the sun, on the counter, in an open container, are all disasters waiting to happen. It may be just be a rotten taste, or it may be a very sick milk drinker.  That happens regardless of whether it’s fresh or pasteurized.  

Given the state of our current economy and our government funding, doesn’t it make sense to empower people to make informed decisions and then target KNOWN offenders instead of chasing any fresh milk operation because they might make someone sick.  The vast number of Americans drink milk from a conventional dairy, where sanitary standards vary with the farmer,or scale.  Those who choose to drink fresh milk SHOULD develop a relationship with the farm, not the retailer. It is that relationship that will establish a trust, or a mistrust, rather than an anonymous milk provider who never sees their customers and customers who don’t know how their milk is raised.

Sustainability is about putting the correct emphasis on the proper syllable.  Chasing small farmers is like swatting flies, while focusing the USDA/FDA’s attention on the source of the milk for most people is really addressing the real issues – milk safety for those who do have to use anonymous milk. It comes down to trust, from the customer to the farmer, and the farmer to the government.  When the
“Extension Agent,” would come by, in the days, it was a pleasant opportunity to learn more about the cows/product, catch up on new approaches and touch base with a friend.  Now when the “agents” show up they are often accompanied by Sheriff’s and guns.  Which is a more sustainable approach to governing – an informed trust or an enforcement mentality.?  I know which I vote for.  It does not come to partisanship at all, but honest trust from both directions.