• WisBusiness

Monday, May 10, 2010

Raw milk bill offers family farms, rural economy and governor a win

By Joe Plasterer
On the last day of session the governor was handed a defeat and possibly an unexpected victory. His Clean Energy Jobs Bill was delayed, preventing him from achieving a goal he sought to help define his second term. Yet with the passage of Senate Bill 434, a bill to legalize and regulate the sale of raw milk directly between farmers and consumers, he was given an opportunity to sign into law a bill to help put Wisconsin family farms and rural economies back on the path to profitability.

It’s no secret that the state has been losing independent family farms steadily. Most farm families need to have jobs off the farm just to keep the farm. We’ve seen rural communities and small towns decline as rural talent leaves for the cities. The exception to this trend is the organic and natural foods market segment, growing at 25 percent year after year. And therein lies the opportunity for the governor to put Wisconsin back on the path to economic success for our small family farms and related industries.

With the passage of the raw milk bill in both the Senate (25-8) and the Assembly (60-35) he now has a chance to sign into law legislation that will help Wisconsin family farms that focus on grass-fed cows creating nutrient-rich whole milk to develop honest and direct commerce with people who want their products. These are the consumers who are driving the demand for organic and locally grown produce and dairy. These are the people who follow the studies tying the quality of their food to the quality of their health. These are the people who want to regain the health of our rural ancestors, who had the vitality to pioneer a great state, world-class educational institutions, innovative companies and championship teams.

There is money to be made for Wisconsin farm families who can sell their milk directly to consumers for $5 a gallon. These same farm families are opening profitable farm stores where they sell their own products, and those of their neighbors. Families from the city are willing to make the drive to buy meat, honey, maple syrup and baked goods. These farms are buying more land and expanding their herds. They are bringing family members in from out-of-state, creating more farms and reclaiming the land for nutrient-dense agriculture.

The money doesn’t just stay on the farm. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Sally Fallon Morrell, these farms are creating an economic multiplier effect. Sally estimates that for every dollar spent on the farm, $5 are spent in the local community. Local retailers, implement dealers and farm supply stores all could benefit from the growth of small farms. With the growth of the organic and natural foods market, sold directly to consumers and local retailers, success on our small family farms can lead to success for our rural communities.

Critics say that raw milk is potentially dangerous. And yet 28 states -- including dairy industry competitors California, New York, Texas, Washington and more -- have figured out how to make it work. There are over 1,300 raw milk vending machines in Italy and raw milk is easily available in France, the United Kingdom, Slovenia and beyond. Are the fear mongers saying that Wisconsinites aren’t smart enough to figure it out? (And yet the Slovenians can?) Are they afraid to try? Or are they trying to protect someone’s liquid milk supply chain in this state?

Some fear that raw milk will impact the reputation of the Wisconsin dairy Industry. What would happen if Wisconsin defined a new, higher quality of milk, rebranding milk to take market share away from our competitors?

Wisconsin profits and grows with the success of its family farms. I’m looking forward to seeing Gov. Jim Doyle sign this legislation into law, ensuring his legacy as the governor who secured Wisconsin’s sustainable and profitable future, starting on our innovative family farms and in our rural communities.

-- Plasterer serves as the consumer representative on the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Raw Milk Working Group. He and his wife, Melinda Starkweather, and their three children, Jack, Kate and Josh, were featured in the Wisconsin State Journal article "Raw milk all right." He says they have been drinking local Wisconsin raw milk for nearly seven years and they’ve never felt better.


Comments: 7

At May 11, 2010 at 10:09 AM, Blogger rachel said...

Amen Joe- I am so pleased you are our representative to the Raw Milk Working Group. I am also a consumer of raw milk but more than that I am interested in revitalizing our small towns and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. With the recent plant closures in the automotive, manufacturing, lumber and construction industries it is imperative that wisconsin communities do something to keep our small towns vibrant and alive and keep some of our local dollars in them. By recognizing this growing sector and consumer driven need we can provide some of the natural resource both in land and climate and first hand knowledge from our farming heritage to be a leader in this nation for providing local, healthy food for our citizens and those who will travel to come and get what we produce. It makes sense on so many levels.I hope our govenor also recognizes the common sense approach to passing this law, and the potential to make our mark on food security and personal rights issues that this law addresses. Onward and Forward Wisconsin.

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