The Amish keep things simple. Their cow share programs consist of having a customer lease a portion of a cow, then paying board on the cow they are leasing, a fee that correlates with the amount of milk they are getting. Very simple, but the state says this is exchanging money for raw milk, which is illegal. Our association is set up so that we collect a flat fee from our shareholders every month for their fair share of the expenses, and they get their fair share of milk each week, with no connection between the two. They pay the same monthly fee whether they are getting a gallon and a half a week, or three gallons. It is the main thing that keeps the government out of our hair. But it is a complex system, a bit hard to manage. In addition, in order to be legal, you must truly give up ownership of your cows, and the shareholders must participate in the operation, both by making business decisions as a group and by doing the physical work, such as milking, digging thistles and in our case, spreading biodynamic organic fertilizer over all of the pastures spring and fall.
We do all of those things. Unless they change the laws in this state, under the terms of our agreement, we can legally distribute raw milk to those who choose to include it in their diets.
What we are doing is a far cry from the Amish farmers' cow shares. There is no way they can just use our agreement as a boilerplate to adapt their business. However, they left with a copy of our agreement in hand, along with our brochure, which outlines our cost structure and tells potential customers why we think our milk is the best around.
I bounced one idea off them which did at least get some nods. I told them I would be glad to work with them in order to look at what kind of a structure would make sense for them and for their customers.
I believe that raw milk needs to be available to those who want it. The danger of raw milk is getting it raw from a factory farm. I have been in many Amish barns, and I wouldn't hesitate to drink the milk from any of them. They feed this milk to their families, and they take care in how the milk is handled. Factory farms do not care, and are allowed outrageously high bacteria counts, because after all they are going to cook the milk and kill them all anyway. (Yum, yum, store bought milk with lots of dead bacteria floating in it!)
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Right now, since the state has not been successful in putting the Amish farmers out of business to date, they have taken a different tactic - one large milk processor has taken a huge grant from the government, and now suddenly is asking (no, demanding) that all of the dairy farmers who ship to them to sign a paper swearing that they will not produce milk for raw consumption under a cow share plan. The wives must sign the paper as well. So all of a sudden, if they do not comply, they do not have a place to sell the rest of their milk.
That means another barrier has been put up so that you, the consumer, no longer have a choice. And it should be your choice. If you do not want to drink it, no one is making you. If you do want to drink it, no one should be standing in your way. Lest you think that the government has a right to save us from a "dangerous" food, here is a list of deaths from various things in our diet or our environment since 1992:
- Deaths from raw milk - 2
- Deaths from radish sprouts - 3
- Deaths from spinach - 5
- Deaths from PASTEURIZED MILK - 620
- Deaths from tobacco - 7,250,000