My Goat Cheese Giveaway
by John Coles of Satyrfield Farm
How my troubles with the law began
In January 2005, Virginia began to require permits for all mammalian milk (including goat milk), except for one species, Homo sapiens. Is someone going to make cheese from mouse milk?
For a farm to comply with this regulation it would cost approximately $50,000, the pasteurizer alone would cost $10,000. Our operation is very small. When selling directly to the final consumer (not through restaurants or stores), a farm store, farmers market and a home kitchen is all that is needed.
An Unwarranted Attack on a Wholesome Product
Most of the cheese that I make is a fresh soft cheese from our raw goats’ milk. I don’t believe in pasteurizing milk to drink or to make it into cheese or other cultured milk products. The reason is that it is nutritionally superior with the natural enzymes and lactic acid bacteria intact. Adding a culture to pasteurized milk does replace the missing bacteria, however, I consider the pasteurization process an adulteration of my product. As an artisan cheesemaker, I believe in working with nature and keeping my cheese as natural and whole as possible.
Most of my customers want my cheese because it is not pasteurized.
Farmers Need to Become Schooled in the Law to Survive
Our farmers’ market begins in April, so we had 3 months to decide how we were going to make our cheese available to our customers and not get in trouble with the Virginia Department of Agriculture. Fortunately, the Virginia Secretary of Agriculture (a former legislative delegate friendly to our cause) stated in writing that we could legally give our cheese away.
This is the fifth year that we have been giving away the cheese. We do accept donations which are not for the cheese (this is very important and why it works), but, in our case, donations are for lobbying on small farm issues and court costs. We have been in and out of court since 1980 and are currently in court on a NAIS (National Animal Identification System) related issue. Other farmers giving away their chees would have different reasons for accepting donations, but never tie the donations to the cheese.
Other Farmers are Joining Us in the Great Raw Cheese Give Away
Caleb Russell, son of Kathryn Russell of Majesty Farm is giving away fresh cow milk cheese at The Charlottesville City Market, the same market where I am a vendor. This is his first year. He accepts donations for a barn that burned down last year.
At our farmers’ market I give away between 40 and 100 lbs of cheese in pound and one half pound containers. Since giving it away is not a sale, technically, I don’t have to pay the 6% stall fee. I do sell vegetables and some composted goat manure. I pay the stall fee for what I can legally sell.
I make as much or more money in donations than I made prior to January 2005 when I was selling the cheese. Most of my customers understand the significance of what I am doing and are very generous.
As I mentioned, this is the fifth season I have been giving away the cheese at the Saturday market. At least 2 people each market day tell me how much they appreciate what I am doing. The cheese giveaway is awkward, but the praise makes it all the easier to do. Once in a while a person will take the cheese and donate nothing. But this is balanced by a rare $50.00 or $100.00 bill. It is all part of the game I play with the State Agriculture Department.
Agribusiness Pushes for One-Size-Fits All Rules
Unfortunately, thanks to the cow dairy lobby, Virginia does not allow exemptions to the permitting law for selling directly to the final consumer. We need a two-tiered regulatory system. One-size-fits-all regulations preclude the existance of the small farm. if your farmers market takes a percentage of your sales be sure you are not just giving away cheese. You can keep the peace with your market manager if you are selling fruits, vegetables, etc. That way, you can make sales and report a stall fee.
Don’t be intimidated by the authorities. Unless raw milk and milk products are controlled substances in your state, you can legally give it away. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
John Coles and Christine Solem are the owners and operators of Satyrfield Farm in Albemarle County, Virginia. Christine has been farming for 35 years, John for 30. Never in the history of their farm has their food caused any illness. The story of his problems with food safety legislation and the cheese giveaway were front page news in the Washington Post on October 20, 2007. John is a member of the Virginia Independent Farmers and Consumers Association and the Weston A. Price Foundation. Contact John Coles by snail mail at 1836 Polo Grounds Road, Charlottesville, VA 22911 or by phone 434-973-6505. Tell him Hartke is Online! sent you!
Note from Kimberly: Look for articles coming up on this blog about HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, which is now before Congress. If this law passes, the problems experienced by farmers like John Coles will be magnified 100-fold. Judith McGeary and Steve Bemis will be on Hartke Is Online! to discuss these laws and tell you how to help your local farmers by voicing your opposition. See also, my previous post, The Raw Milk National Anthem, a great song about the need to legalize raw milk! Contact National Independent Farmers and Consumers Association if you are having similar problems in your state. To donate money to help small farmers who are dealing with harassment, visit the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation website.
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