Please note: If you are new to my blog you can catch up on the reasons for my raw milk passion and the struggles our own farm have experienced, by reading any of the previous posts on the topic I have written over the last 3 years . To do so, simply enter "Raw Milk" in the search bar under the picture of our house, on the right.
So yesterday was in many ways our most productive meeting with IDPH. It was the 6th mtg of the Dairy Work Group and the third meeting ( thus "round three") that was well represented by raw milk farmers and consumers.
At our last conference call in June, tempers flared and "progress" came to a grinding halt when the farmers refused to work with the original, biased agenda and proposed new rules initially created many months back before the farmers/consumers were ever included in the process. After nearly an hour of a standoff we ended that mtg with the agreement that we would start over from scratch.
And yesterday we did. Meeting in Bloomington,( face to face, always much better than a conference call) the attendees included Molly Lamb and Steve Divicenzo from IDPH of course along with one other IDPH employee, One Farm Bureau Rep, 7 raw milk farmers, 5 raw milk consumers, and 2 Prairie Farms employees.
Not without a few very tense moments, mostly due to a consumer questioning the need for Prairie Farm representation, and this blogger suggesting to Molly that her team of inspectors will need additional training on the reality of raw milk production, the mtg flowed and action steps were taken.
Not as quickly as many of us would have liked though. One of the IDPH employees himself was heard whispering in not that much of a whisper, "This is SO Frustrating!" (us too ...us too) but at the end of the second hour, after a Prairie Farms representative stated he felt responsible for ALL the milk produced , raw or pasteurized, in Illinois and an IDPH rep confessed he was no longer sure what side he was arguing for, we had agreed on a two tier system for Illinois Raw Milk Farmers.
The first tier would allow off farm sales only but would not require regular inspection or testing, the second tier would be voluntary for the farmer and would require regular inspection with much higher standards such as those being promoted through the Raw Milk Institute founded by Mark McAfee.
I know there are some of you out there who might believe the farmers are perhaps "selling out" as we are actually involving ourselves in the rule writing rather than sticking to our original guns (and posters) that blared NO NEW RULES. But through this process we have learned that there were never any raw milk rules in Illinois to begin with, only policy. I'm still blown away by THAT one!
We must remember that IDPH has been given the directive that they MUST develop raw milk rules. So we have a choice, continue to stand off to the side chanting No Sale ( didn't you just love Jessica Lange in the movie Country?) which would then just encourage IDPH to write the strictest rules they can OR we can get deeply involved and do our very best to help them create reasonable rules that benefit both the consumer and the producer.
Because I am a firm believer that change occurs best from within, I and many of the other raw milk farmers on the dairy work group, choose therefore to continue to work within those limitations. Even though IDPH has the authority to yank the whole raw milk rug out from under us landing us on our manure speckled keisters, with each meeting I feel the risk of that action, lessons.
Of course once this group is done, and that could be months, the rules will go up the IDPH ladder including through their legal department, followed by two 45 day public comment periods. Whatever the results, the raw milk world of Illinois as we know it, is rapidly changing. Hopefully for the better.