Friday, April 23, 2010

The Rest of the Story

If you are regular reader of my blog, skip to paragraph 2. If you are new to my blog or just have short term memory issues like your truly, start here.

Our small diversified farm has a Grade A Dairy which is also Certified Organic by MOSA. For the last 11 years we have sold the majority of our milk to Foremost Farms USA in Baraboo, Wisconsin. We have never signed any written contract with them other than the one that said we would not use growth hormones on our cows. That was easy to sign. We have never used hormones. All those 11 years we sold a small portion of our milk direct to the consumer who came to our farm. About 10% of total milk produced the first 5 years. Fact: It is legal to sell raw milk off the farm in Illinois. Over the last few years the amount of milk we sell direct to consumers who come to our farm with their own containers, has gradually increased to about 30% of our total milk produced. Fact: There is no state law in Illinois limiting the amount of raw milk sold. The field man who is an employee of Foremost but also is supposed to be the farmer liasson,  has known for many years that we sell raw milk. He in fact told us to "tread lightly" in late March and warned us that if  Foremost discovered our milk sales to private customers we'd probably get a 30 day notice to quit. No one from the main office of Foremost in ELEVEN years has ever contacted us about our off farm milk sales, until earlier this month.

On April 14 we received a letter from Foremost telling us "Foremost Farms cannot condone the practice of selling raw milk for direct consumption due to the very real risk of food-borne illness. These sales also put Foremost Farms at risk for actions by the various regulatory agencies should food-borne illness be traced to your farm as a result of your raw milk distribution and/or sales. For these reason, please verify in writing by April 20, 2010, that you are not selling and will not sell or provide raw milk directly to consumers or small artisan processors." 

So there you have it. Stop doing what the State of Illinois says you can do. I called Dan Belk Director of Procurement at Foremost on April 15. He was polite and cordial. I wanted to know why our selling milk direct to consumers was suddenly a problem after 11 years. He said "It was not brought to our attention until recently". I asked where I could find the written policy from Foremost regarding this issue. He said "There is a policy our there but not about raw milk. Our bylaws say you cannot sell your milk to anyone but Foremost." I asked him where those bylaws could be found. He said he would send me a copy. He did. Under the section of Membership , this sentence was highlighted (By Mr Belk ? His staff ? ) They must be currently delivering their milk to or through the cooperative.  

Please note blog readers, the bylaw DOES NOT state that the member (farmer) cannot sell their milk to anyone but Foremost. Hmmmm I'll bet someone in that corporate office will get that changed real soon. Be warned fellow Foremost Farmer Members. That milk you've been providing to your elderly aunt to save her a trip to the store might just not be "allowed" by Foremost in the near future. And hey !, what about that milk you "deliver" to your own kids in your own kitchen.?  No, I don't think I'm being overly dramatic or paranoid. I think I'm being very realistic about the possibility of losing even more control over what belongs to you and your family. The loss of basic rights never starts with a big parade and loud sirens, it comes in through YOUR back door and oozes up your back steps and into your own kitchen before you even hear the screen door creak.

Now about the 6 day warning we were given, in all fairness when I told Mr Belk that our fieldman verbally told us we'd probably get a 30 day warning, Mr Belk agreed to extend the deadline from April 20 to May 15th. We appreciated that. It gave us 30 WHOLE days to downsize our herd by 50% and find good homes for  good cows. 30 Days to figure out how to replace our monthly income from Foremost which averages about $2500 a month. 30 days to find an independent lab to test our milk so we can maintain our standards of low somatic cell counts and high percentages of butterfat.30 days to tell our story (Special Thanks to Tim Jones and Chris Walker from the Chicago Tribune for the excellent story they did about raw milk and our farm which is in todays edition. One side note. That Chris Walker did a fab job of running backwards in out pasture over rocks, holes and cow piles just to get good video of Keith who happens to walk very fast.,0,2185455.story

We also have just 30 days to double our raw milk customer base to make up for the lost revenue from Foremost. That task has to be done without formal advertising since the State of Illinois says it is legal to sell raw milk but illegal to advertise it .( Don't ask. Don't tell. Our government is so good at that little mantra aren't they ?)

But enough whining ! 30 days is better than 6 days. Keith and I have a diversified farm so our revenue is not limited to the dairy. I have an off farm job for which I am extremely grateful.We have tons of meat in our freezers, dozens of eggs and gallons of milk in our frig.We have the support of family and friends Our situation does not even begin to compare to the pain that the State of Wisconsin has slathered all over hard working Farmers Max Kane ,Scott Trautman and their families

But, be warned fellow dairy farmers. If you sell milk to another company and all you have is a verbal agreement , be careful. Ask for a copy of those bylaws.READ THEM. Ask for clarification of them. Become a member of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Touch base with your attorney and your farm insurance agent. Dig into those Illinois State Laws. Education is the best defense. And when you are done with all that, grab a big tall glass of cold fresh raw milk , sit down for a spell on your back porch and enjoy the labors of your very hard work.Don't forget to thank the cows.

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