Raw milk sustains farmers, but it's still hard to find
By Tom Meade
Article from The Providence Journal
More and more fitness advocates in southern New England are drinking fresh, raw milk.
Rhode Islanders have to travel to Connecticut or Massachusetts to buy raw milk legally.
"Massachusetts raw milk farmers play an integral role in the state's agricultural landscape," according to a report released this week by the Raw Milk Network of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA/Mass). The report said that raw-milk dairies "contributing to the economy, using sustainable farming methods that contribute to environmental preservation, educating their customers about the value of fresh, local food, and producing a healthy product for all to enjoy."
According to a survey conducted in February, by the Network, Massachusetts had 25 active raw milk dairies - certified by the state to sell raw milk directly to consumers on the farm. Twenty three of them sell cows' milk and two sell goats' milk. The farmers manage a total of nearly 1,000 cows, and sold more than 80,000 gallons of milk to consumers in 2008. From the smallest dairy, milking only three cows, to the largest, with 200 head to manage, each of them relies on raw milk to sustain their farming business.
Prices for bottled raw cow's milk in Massachusetts range from $3 to $9 per gallon, with an average of $6 per gallon, at a time when milk sold for pasteurization to the federal milk pool brought less than a dollar per gallon to farmers. Dairy farmers are struggling to remain in business, having to pay more to produce their product than the Federal government allows processors to pay for it. Many farms are closing down altogether. The number of dairy farms in Massachusetts dropped from 829 in 1980 to 189 in 2007, according to the Massachusetts Association of Dairy Farmers. In contrast, the number of raw milk farms in Massachusetts has more than doubled in just the last three years. Total sales of raw milk direct to consumers in 2008 in Massachusetts amounted to more than $600,000.
Massachusetts regulations require that raw milk be sold only on the farm where it is produced. While this helps create important relationships between farmers and consumers, contributing to the public's awareness of agriculture in Massachusetts, some raw milk farmers also express concerns that this limitation prevents them from being able to meet the growing demands of consumers, and sell enough milk to sustain their farms. "Cigarettes are more accessible than our milk," said one farmer in the survey. Many farmers also indicated that they would like to be able to sell products made with raw milk - cream, butter, etc. - on farm, in the same way that they are allowed to sell their milk. "They've figured out how to regulate fish so that it can be sold and eaten raw from stores," said one farmer. "Why can't they do the same with milk?"
Providence Journal file photo