My daughter is the new and proud owner of a cow share.  Last month she came home from LaCrosse with a glass jar of milk from her friendly, neighborhood family farm.  It was filled with the familiar white liquid, and the cream was rising to the top.  I tasted it curiously, and found it delicious.  Since then I have been on a rapid learning curve about what I used to think was a fringy food.

Pure, clean milk. (photo credit: tambako the jaguar Flickr)

I’m finding that raw milk is verifiably safe, but that the network of family farmers who provide it is not.

Right now, here in Wisconsin (AMERICA’S DAIRYLAND) bureaucrats in the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) are actively working to shut down family dairy farms.

...Making milk.  (photo credit hans s' flickr)

...Making milk. (photo credit hans-s' flickr)

Raw milk is legal throughout Europe and in many states.  In the Dairy State, as well as a handful of others, farmers who want to sell raw milk and people who want to buy it from them have had the option of circumventing the pasteurization requirement through cow shares.  Farmers are legally allowed to drink the milk from their own cows, so the answer was to sell cow shares – then the fellow-owners of a cow can drink her milk too.

At this moment, government officials are moving to stop this.  For example, Oct 16, 2009, the Trautman Family Farm, a raw milk dairy near Stoughton, was required to surrender all documents related to its sale of raw milk, (including customer lists—even though buying raw milk is not illegal), and they were ordered to stop “selling or distributing raw milk or raw milk products.  This is happening all over the state.  (If you are interested in local Wisconsin issues, Sustainable Times has a good article about this.  part 1 part 2

Both farmers and their customers are protesting.  See this post from someone who recently attended a (DATCP) hearing to speak out.  Read about it here


Detractors claim that raw milk is a health hazard.  Yes, it is.  So is crossing the street.

Why focus dwindling resources on shutting down family farms who offer raw milk when there are so may more serious health hazards?  According to an article in the Boston Globe last year, (their article is a great intro into the world of raw milk.  Check it here. ) the U.S. Centers for disease Control counted only 1,007 illnesses and 2 deaths from raw milk or cheese consumption in the 7 years between 1998 and 2005.  This is a drop in the bucket of the 76 million cases of foodborne illness from many other sources each year.

Keep in mind also that the “sick” most people  get from raw milk is simple gastro-intestinal distress.  A stomach ache and the runs for a day or two is not a national disaster.

(photo credit: smoodysarah flickr)

The reports coming in on health consequences from factory-farmed herds of animals stuffed full of antibiotics and producing oceans of waste is so much more dire.


The general line is that heating to pasteurize makes milk safe and healthy,  but research is starting to find that raw milk is full of beneficial enzymes, vitamins, proteins, and bacteria – most of which are altered or killed when it is heated during pasteurization.

The Boston Globe article noted that a just released study of 2,217 raw milk drinkers in Michigan suggested that raw milk can be consumed by most sufferers of lactose intolerance, which may affect about one in 10 Americans.

I’ve just started to explore raw milk.  It is the logical next step for a locavore  — and what I’m finding is making me afraid – of mass produced, pasteurized milk.


According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy and research group in Washington, D.C., with local chapters around the country, about 500,000 Americans – or about 5 percent of milk drinkers – regularly consume raw milk. The foundation believes that the number is growing exponentially.  A wealth of information available here.

Raw milk is a boon to family farms and the people who want to support local agriculture.  Family farms that offer raw milk are truly sustainable both economically and environmentally.  On top of that,  modern cleanliness technology makes contamination dangers well within tolerance.

Buying raw milk is like getting your vegetables at the farmers market.  It’s the way that you get to put the money right into the farmer’s hands.


So I have decided to put my guests at risk on Thanksgiving.

I am going to use raw milk to make this year’s Thanksgiving feast – but that’s not what worries me.

Every year I host a Thanksgiving feast of vegetarians and meat eaters.  The centerpiece of the meal is Polenta Dome Flambé, which both vegetarians and meat eaters happily gobble up.  (I’ll report on our veggie thanksgiving feast next Friday.)

To accommodate those guests who feel they must eat pieces of a certainbird to properly give thanks, I have always provided slices of turkey breast from the butcher’s counter at our local food coop, and I’ll do it once more — even though my research has revealed they are 10 times more likely to get a foodborne disease from deli meat than raw milk.

...The quintessential wholesome snack. (photo credit: Idhnys-f flickr)

6 replies

  1. Your dinner guests will be exposed to far more risk driving cross town to your home than they will be exposed to by raw milk. Follow the money trail and we’ll find out why the raw milk laws exist.
    I think I’ll get on my Harley without my helmet on and ride to the store and buy a quart of safe, pasteurized milk. I’m glad Wisconsin laws are watching out for my health.

    Good soil to you,


    • Thanks for your support. I’m a journalist, and I trust my research, but still I respect that my guests may be a little worried because they haven’t read everything I have. It’s going to be an interesting topic for discussion around here next Thursday.

  2. I for one have been drinking raw milk for over two years since we found it available in our local markets. We had heard about the health benefits available from raw milk so we decided to give it a shot.

    The milk comes from cows right in the city limits and it is soooo tasty. Not to mention it is also from Jersey cows which, although they produce less milk than a Holstein is much tastier and higher in fat content. Because raw milk is legal in Washington State, I feel very fortunate. I would definitely serve it for thanksgiving, as am happily drinking it every day – with no ill effects.

    Here’s the dairy where we get our milk:

    • Thanks for your feedback, Sean.
      I’m glad raw milk is freely available to you. I find it so difficult to understand why here in what our license plates proclaim to be the Dairy State that state officials are trying to make fresh, raw milk between consenting adults unavailable.

  3. Hi!
    Looking for a good book or two on the topic? Loan you mine even!

    The Raw Milk Revolution by David Gumpert
    The Untold Story of Milk by Ron Schmid

    Stop on by out to our farm and see what all the fuss is about.
    Stop around 9am when we’re milking!!!


    • Hi Scott
      I sure hope this mess gets resolved so that you can keep up your good work.
      I will look for those books. I want to learn more.
      And I hope I can visit your farm.
      Best wishes,

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