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News for March 25, 2010

Raw milk’s fans are mooooved to defend their favorite beverage

The tea party is so 15 minutes ago. I just came from a raw milk party.

Actually, it was only me and Muriel Plichta, a huge fan of drinking cow's milk before the man gets at it with all that pasteurization.

Muriel invited me to her south side Milwaukee home to have a taste of milk so real it's still mooing a little.

"If people benefit from this, why are you prohibiting it?" she asked, and by you she means the State of Wisconsin and its law against farmers selling unpasteurized milk and raw milk products. There's a bill in the Legislature to change that on a limited basis here in America's Dairyland. More than 20 other states allow some type of raw milk sales.

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Endangered French cheeses cry out for help

PARIS — In one of Paris' top hotels this week, a crowd of foodies sat down for a tasting with a difference -- a nibble at rare French cheeses facing gastronomic extinction.

Along with tipples of reds and whites, waiters dished up a palette ranging from pungent blue to goat-milk creaminess and crusty buttery cows' milk slabs. "What do they have in common?" said master cheese-maker Herve Mons. "They're made of raw milk."

Of the 100-150 raw milk cheeses available, three disappear each year, meaning around 40 have become extinct in the last decade.

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Would you drink raw milk?

Day three at my food journalism conference at MIT in Boston. One of the hot topics that arose yesterday was raw milk - a topic that generates intense passions.

It just so happens my fellow Fellow here, Maureen O'Hagan, just wrote a story about it. We've reported on raw milk occasionally, most recently here at The Inbox about a controversy in Canada.

Former Cornell University researcher Joseph Hotchkiss was telling us yesterday that pasteurization massively reduced infant mortality beginning in the early 20th century. It became national law in 1948. Hotchkiss repeated an oft-used quote on the subject - drinking raw milk - even today - is "like playing Russian roulette" because of potential exposure to E Coli, salmonella, listeria, etc.

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Learning About Cheesemaking and Raw Milk from Two Dairymen in Alabama

I'll be honest, before I talked to David Wright and Corey Hinkel, I would have bet my life that you couldn't find something like the artisan dairy operation they run in a place like Northeast Alabama. But a conversation last week with the duo shattered my Northerner-biased expectations and has given me a mind to visit the Heart of Dixie.

Over the last forty years, David has transformed Wright Dairy, his 200-acre farm in Alexandria, Alabama, from a large-herd, grain-fed milking operation to a smaller-herd, mostly grass-fed outfit.

He now bottles non-homogenized milk, buttermilk, and makes ice cream and yogurt and sells mainly at his dairy stores in Alexandria and Birmingham.

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Raw Milk Sales

General opinion in the Ozarks seems to be that a farmer cannot sell a gallon of raw milk – "it’s illegal." In most cases that seems to be true, but not because of regulations by the State Milk Board. The fact is that not all, but most dairy farmers selling to a cooperative have an agreement to sell all the milk produced on the farm, not used for his or her home consumption,  to the cooperative.

“It is legal to sell raw milk, a buyer can go to the farm and buy milk,” said Karen Prescott, Environmental Health Administrator for the Springfield/Greene County Health Department and chair for the State Milk Board. But there are some stipulations, one main: The transaction must take place between the milk producer and the buyer. “It’s a buyer beware situation.”

A dairy farmer wanting to sell raw milk by the gallon would first need to check his contract with the coop currently marketing his milk. There are two ways to sell raw milk. The preferred way would be to sell regulated Grade A raw milk. This involves jumping several hurdles to become graded and licensed. The farm has to have a Grade A milk barn, and a separate facility to bottle the milk. Bruce Salisbury, owner of Lorenae Dairy, has been selling regulated raw milk for about six months. He deals with the State Milk Board in Greene County for lab work, and four inspectors. Salisbury also sells cheddar cheese curds and is a grader/tester himself. A person selling regulated raw milk is permitted to sell at the farmers market in Springfield and to deliver. Because of the 1999 Missouri Food Code, not all markets allow the sale of regulated raw milk.

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The Country's Best Eco-Bars

These days, a number of bars are putting sustainability on tap with eco-friendly brews and green business mindsets. Though eco-bars are still a fairly new concept, the idea is brewing slowly from coast to coast, much to the pleasure of green bar flies nationwide.

Many eco-bars are starting with the basics--food and drink--by decking out their menus with organically brewed beers, locally grown foods and even biodynamic wines. But don't worry--just because a menu is eco doesn't mean it's lame-o. Take the Ukiah Brewing Company in Ukiah, Calif., the nation's first all-organic brewpub, which offers a wide range of organic ales and lagers like stout and porter and even serves up the nation's first organic beer in a can.

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Senate panel approves local food resolution

Local farmers and farmers markets got a pat on the back from the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee Tuesday, which approved a resolution encouraging Idaho-grown food production. The House approved the non-binding resolution March 15.

“I think this resolution… is a good signal to our citizens out in the state,” said Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow. Trail said he’s been involved with Moscow’s farmers market, which brings in $50,000-100,000 to stores in downtown Moscow each week.

Nampa farmer Janie Burns said the resolution would tell Idahoans that buying food from Idaho benefits their health, their community, as well as their economy. “The power of food systems as an economic engine is a real one,” she said. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said Idaho citizens spend $4 billion a year on food, but that 90 percent of that food comes from outside Idaho’s borders.

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Levy Restaurants and Niman Ranch Announce Exclusive Partnership All-Natural, Sustainable and Humanely-Raised Meats to Hit Menus at Levy Sports and Entertainment Venues

Chicago, IL and Denver, CO March 24, 2010 -- Niman Ranch and Levy Restaurants announced today an exclusive partnership that brings Niman Ranch’s all-natural, gourmet beef, pork, turkey, sausages and franks to the menus of a select number of high-profile sports and entertainment venues that Levy services, including Arlington Park, Churchill Downs, Conseco Fieldhouse, Georgia Dome, Nationals Park and U.S. Cellular Field. Niman Ranch is supplied by a network of more than 650 independent family farmers who raise livestock traditionally, humanely and sustainably.

Levy Restaurants will be the exclusive purveyor of Niman Ranch products in sports and entertainment venues. The collaboration includes a concession component, a suites and club program and will incorporate select cuts of meat in premium areas at participating Levy venues. Currently available on the suite menus at several arenas, the Niman Ranch offerings will be incorporated into the menus at participating ballparks, stadiums and other locations throughout the year.

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Crop Mobs, Landless Farmers & the Agricurious

T Magazine’s Christine Muhlke recently spoke to members of a burgeoning North Carolina-based movement of young, would-be farmers who get their kicks from plowing, planting, and harvesting:

The Crop Mob, a monthly word-of-mouth (and -Web) event in which landless farmers and the agricurious descend on a farm for an afternoon, has taken its traveling work party to 15 small, sustainable farms. Together, volunteers have contributed more than 2,000 person-hours, doing tasks like mulching, building greenhouses and pulling rocks out of fields. …

The Mob was formed during a meeting about issues facing young farmers, during which an intern declared that better relationships are built working side by side than by sitting around a table. So one day, 19 people went to Piedmont Biofarm and harvested, sorted and boxed 1,600 pounds of sweet potatoes in two and a half hours. A year later, the Crop Mob e-mail list has nearly 400 subscribers, and the farm fests now draw 40 to 50 volunteers.

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Developers bet the organic farm

Forget the golf course. The hot new "amenity" being offered to residents of new subdivisions is a working farm. You don't have to weed it (unless you want to), but you can have access to food that could not be more local and participate in a slice of vanishing farm life. Ironically, the housing developers that are so often the culprits in farmland extinction are starting to save some of it.

There is a difference, of course, between the old farming community where everyone farmed and a planned community with a farm included, but something of the old sense of rural village life can be retained by clustering homes and having them anchored by a farm, as part of set-aside open space. Often a farm market is set up, or a community-supported agriculture program through which residents can buy food shares. Farm-centered festivals and activities bring residents together.

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Mark Ritchie says sustainable farmers have much to share

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the Minnesota brand is in danger and it's up to those who care to right the ship.

Ritchie gave the keynote address at the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota annual meeting Feb. 20 at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

It's hard to sell Minnesota based on it's location and average temperature, Ritchie said, but there is what he called "Brand Minnesota." Brand Minnesota is a commitment to civic engagement, honesty, ethical business practices, to giving back to the community and of vibrant culture.

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Milk Wars Reach Detente: Some Like it Raw

Raw milk advocates won a little-noticed victory in the last week when a new bill was introduced to keep the substance viable, sailed through the House with only three no votes and passed a Senate committee unanimously this morning.

In the House, the dairy industry stood with raw milk advocates in supporting a compromise for small farmers and unpasteurized dairy enthusiasts alike.

“There were no hitches and no objections to the bill,” said Rep. Ken Andrus. “The dairy industry was there and supported it.”

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Organic farmers push for pesticide notification

Maine farmers are divided over a legislative proposal to change a new system for notifying residents of pesticide spraying near their homes.

The pesticide notification law, passed unanimously last year in the Senate and the House, created a statewide registry so residents who live within a quarter-mile of any farm or other spraying site can sign up to be notified before spraying is done.

More than 550 people have signed up since the registry went online in September. At the same time, opposition to the measure has mounted among commercial growers and sprayers.

"It appeared to fly under the radar somewhat" in the Legislature last year, said Henry Jennings, director of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, which is responsible for overseeing the new registry.

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Mayor's agriculture plan soon to bear fruit

Vegetable gardens will soon be sprouting in unlikely places throughout San Francisco including a building that produces steam to heat the Civic Center, Department of Public Works land in the Bayview, outside McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park and at the San Francisco Police Academy in Diamond Heights.

The public library has installed gardens outside its Mission and Noe Valley branches with plans for more and is leading classes for teens on how to cultivate them.

And the city may soon adopt proposals from private groups to install easy-to-assemble chicken coops in its gardens and send mobile vegetable markets to school pick-up zones and other busy destinations.

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Raw milk drinkers stand by their milk

MIDDLEBURY — Some believe the benefits of drinking raw milk outweigh the risks, but health officials say drinking raw milk is dangerous — especially after tainted milk made 18 people sick in southern Michigan.

The people became sick with Campylobacter infections after drinking raw milk from a dairy in Middlebury. Health officials say it is situations like this that highlight the need for pasteurization.

In Indiana it is illegal to sell raw milk, but there is a loophole. You can drink raw milk and milk products if you own the cow they come from.

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Buying into local food with honey shares

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: One out of every three bites you take depends on bees. Recent reports say that 80 to 90 per cent of honeybees have died out on Vancouver Island.

Three years ago there were 12,000 honeybee hives on Vancouver Island. This year: 2,000. And it’s not just happening on Vancouver Island; it’s happening around the world. Bees are in trouble; which means beekeepers are too. There are half as many beekeepers today as there were 20 years ago.

I spoke once again to Brian Campbell, the king of bees, a man who is committed through education programs and workshops to train a new generation of beekeepers in this ancient and honourable art.

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Is It Time for a Green Tea Party?

The idea of a Green Tea Party is awfully seductive.

What civility-craving, green-of-center soul wouldn't want to create something to counter the Tea Party's name calling and negativity? Is the Coffee Party the answer? (Evidently, it has over 170,000 fans on Facebook in a few weeks.) A Green Tea Party? (Turns out this name was used last year but didn't seem to go very far. I wouldn't be surprised to see it come into play again.)

Yet, however it's spun, rhetoric of the Tea or Coffee or Green Tea kind doesn't seem to completely hit the mark. It doesn't satisfy. It doesn't nourish. It's the political equivalent of empty calories and junk food, leaving us hungry for the real work of fixing our country, healing our cultural wounds, mending our broken financial system.

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The Town That Food Saved

The town of Hardwick, Vermont, nestled in the state's Northeast Kingdom, is one of those towns described as "hardscrabble." The median income is 25% below the state average, and unemployment is nearly forty percent above it. Yet in the past three years, the town's 3,200 residents have embarked on an unusual journey - to save their economy by promoting local food. New companies have sprouted up to sell tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, artisanal cheese, tofu and apple pie.

Media attention soon followed. A feature in the new york times dining section, a spot on Emeril Legasse's cooking show, and now a new book put the spotlight on Hardwick's efforts. The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food is by Ben Hewitt, a freelance journalist and a farmer. He digs beneath the hype to see how Hardwick's farmers banded together to save the town's economy, and asks whether other communities could follow Hardwick's model. He's joined us as part of our Next Green Thing series.

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Direct farm marketing still offers great rewards in a depressed economy

STAPLES, Minn. — Despite challenging growing conditions, bad weather and a lackluster economy, many direct marketers had a good year last year.

How did they do it?

Good advertising, including use of Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Good demand for locally grown foods helped sales, said direct marketing expert Jane Eckert. Eckert was the key presenter at the recent Minnesota Department of Agriculture's "direct marketing in a lackluster economy" workshop last week.

The workshop mirrored Eckert's use of technology to deliver the message. The presentation was given in St. Paul and teleconferenced to sites in Duluth and Staples. More than 70 people participated.

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