I Wish All States Could Be Like California Where Buying Fresh Milk Is Easy
by Guest Blogger Joseph Heckman
My family just returned from vacation in California. Besides wanting to go somewhere warm and sunny one consideration was where can we buy raw milk? We also wanted to take my daughter to SEAWORLD to celebrate her birthday. Of course Florida has SEAWORLD too, but California allows sales of raw milk. So California won our business. When we arrived in San Diego we needed milk. I had already heard that Whole Foods had discontinued selling raw milk so I needed to find another store. Surprisingly, the very first person I asked told me exactly where to go – Henry’s Farm Market – and it was only a few blocks away. How convenient!
So we drive over to Henry’s and there it is prominently on display front and center in the dairy case; Grade A Raw Whole Milk from Organic Pastures. In this instance I also happen to know the farmer since I once hosted Mark McAfee as a seminar speaker.
Now to appreciate my excitement in finding it so easy to buy the milk of my choice, the reader needs to know that I live in New Jersey where sales of raw milk are illegal. New Jersey is known as the Garden State. Although it is the most densely populated state in the nation, it also naturally has great direct market potential for organic vegetables and pasture raised foods. The roadways passing by New Jersey farms are clogged with potential customers. In 1990, when I settled in New Jersey, there were reported to be 250 dairy farms, but by 2010 there are less than 100.
Like a lot of people from New Jersey, I travel over to Pennsylvania to purchase fresh milk directly from a farm. Of course I would much prefer to buy raw milk from a local New Jersey farmer, but that cannot happen unless current law is changed. Plus, round trip travel to the farm in Pennsylvania means driving about 90 miles and takes about 3 hours.
One of the pleasures of buying directly from the farm is a chance to see the cows on pasture and meeting the dairy farmer. I also occasionally purchased raw milk from Connecticut and Massachusetts dairy farms when I am traveling in New England. Travel time and distance are of course practical considerations.
New Jersey has some excellent organic grass based livestock farms that do sell raw milk cheese and also want to sell raw milk. Unfortunately these local farms are placed at a marketing disadvantage because once people make a special trip to Pennsylvania; they are naturally inclined to also buy any meat, eggs, fruit or vegetables available from the same farm. About half of the other customers I meet on the dairy farm over in Pennsylvania, turn out to be from New Jersey. It is always interesting to listen to their stories about why they are so committed to raw milk, but that a story for another time.
If unpasteurized milk sales were permitted in New Jersey, direct farm-to-consumer market opportunities would likely expand for all local farm products. Milk, more than any other food, has the potential to bring shoppers to market. For example, once I found my source for raw milk at Henry’s Farm Market in California, I had no reason to shop anywhere else for all of the other organic foods I wanted. A few days after my first jug of creamy delicious Organic Pastures Raw Milk was gone; I went back for more milk and purchased other foods as well.
Near the end of our vacation, we had part of a jug of milk left as we were checking out of our hotel. Upon checking out, our hotel agreed to store it for us as we intended to spend to the day at SeaWorld. When we returned to picked it up, the concierge was very excited that the milk was raw, and told us how much he loves raw milk. We of course told him it was available at Henry’s – just a few minutes away from where he worked.
Some day in the future, I hope to be able to purchase raw milk from a local New Jersey farmer. Legislation in New Jersey could make that possible. In summary, what my experience illustrates is that when a state makes sales or distribution of a particular food illegal, it has economic consequences. My case shows that the economic wave even extends beyond agriculture. Finally, I wish to express my appreciation to Mark McAfee of California and the dairy farmers of Pennsylvania and other states who are committed to pasture based organic dairy farming to supply us with this very special food we enjoy called raw milk.
Dr. Joseph Heckman is a soil scientist with the Rutgers New Jersey Agriculture Experiment Station. He grew up on an organic dairy farm, and has helped to organize the Rutgers Raw Milk Seminars. Heckman has written a number of articles on organic farming for Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal published by the Weston A. Price Foundation. See his recent blog post about his trip to India.
Another article by Joseph Heckman is In Defense of Living Organic, published in That Natural Farmer.