Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Chocolate and deep thoughts

I spent a good chunk of the day making various kinds of fudge to take to the Farmers Market on Saturday. I enjoyed making it, the smells were wonderful, and knowing I would have something more than eggs and a bit of salad to sell helped me keep going when it stopped being fun. Making fudge involves a lot of stirring. It only takes a fairly small part of the brain to accomplish, so the rest of mine was busy thinking again (not always a good thing). Since I was making goat milk fudge, I thought a lot about milk, micro-dairies, local food production, and barriers I keep finding.

Before we moved back to Ohio, we lived in a state where it was legal to sell Raw Milk. It is legal in about half of the states in the U.S. I ran a very small grade A raw milk goat dairy. In these states raw milk has to meet the same safety requirements that pasteurized milk must meet. The dairy and the milk are inspected and tested regularly by the same USDA inspectors that inspect and test the larger, pasteurized milk dairies. None of the states where raw milk is legal have any difference in the incidence of milk born illness than non raw milk states. Our milk was consistently better on all the inspection standards than the milk from the larger pasteurized dairies. Ours was a very small dairy. We only milked 12 goats. We did everything by hand with minimal equipment. Still, we exceeded the state and national standards for safety. People loved our milk. Some drove from as far as three hours away to get it. It was a good business for a tiny farm.

Here in Ohio it is illegal to sell raw milk. The stated reason is public safety, but the other states that allow it's sale have already shown that this isn't a real concern. If I want to be a dairy and sell my milk to the public, I must pasteurized it. The equipment to pasteurized milk costs between 10 and 25 thousand dollars. Because my "farm" is so small, I don't have the land equity to qualify for a farm loan. I qualify for no farm programs I am aware of. If I got bigger then maybe I would, but that defeats what I am trying to do. The state laws prohibiting raw milk sales prevent me from developing a micro-dairy in my community. They force me to find ways around the law, like goat share agreements, and they take away the safety of federal inspection in the process. I still ensure my milk is clean and safe, I know what the standards are, and what the procedures are to meet those standards. But, having another set of eyes, from outside, looking at what I do was a comfort at our other dairy.

Raw Milk laws are only one of the barriers that the government has placed in the way of small farmers that result in fewer and fewer small local producers. Other things, like an increasingly costly and complex certification program for Organic products, or the NAIS and other "safety" tracking programs, or the various farm "support" measures for which most small farms don't qualify all stand in the way of building a local food system. As a small producer I find it maddening.

So, I make fudge. It is a way I can use some of my goat milk in a product I can sell. I suppose I could make soap, but it isn't my love. Maybe the food system will teeter enough, or crash and little local guys like me will get a chance to shine. I hope we can find sanity before something like that happens.
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