Using milk in its unpasteurized state is one of the joys of learning to make cheese at home. With a just a little coaxing, raw milk readily transforms itself, unlike the myriad fixes that go into working with over-processed milk. As we often tell our students, it simply wants to become cheese.
Thus it is with great concern that we’re following Organic Valley’s recent decision to ban farmers that also sell raw milk directly to consumers. The reasons are unclear — other processors, such as Horizon Organic, do not prohibit their producers from selling raw milk — but the ruling is certain to affect local producers. In essence, members of the cooperative will now have to chose between selling raw milk to Organic Valley or to local consumers. Following are several links to help you find out more about this controversy:
• “Organic Valley Lays Down the Law on Raw Milk” by David Gumpert, reposted by the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association:
Last week, the board voted four to three to prohibit its member dairies from selling raw milk. “It’s not a fun issue here,” says George Siemon, the CEO. “Everyone on the board drinks raw milk.” It’s been the most bitter dispute in the enterprise’s 22-year history, he says.
The decision threatens to tear Organic Valley apart, or at least hamper its business effectiveness, by raising two major risks.
First, Organic Valley could lose a significant number of its dairy members. No one knows how many of its dairies sell raw milk, but 10% seems a conservative estimate, according to co-op insiders. That means 150 or 200 dairies, minimum, are selling raw milk…. A second concern is that Organic Valley’s anti-raw-milk stance could alienate significant numbers of consumers. Organic Valley has many loyal customers among the raw milk crowd, some of whom buy the co-op’s yogurt or cheeses in addition to drinking raw milk.
• With 36 dairy farmers in the coop, “Maine Organic Diary Farmers Question Raw Milk Ban” at Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN):
“If Organic Valley really wants to get picky, there are an awful lot farmers who withdraw a can or two from their tank and either make cheese with it themselves or have another cheesemaker do something for them,” [Spencer] Aitel says. “I don’t think many of them are notifying Organic Valley that that’s happening, and if they wanted to get really nasty about it, they could drop every one of them, and that would probably be better than half.”
• The Journal of Natural Food and Healing has posted the statement issued by Organic Valley on their raw milk decision:
“At the request of the membership at the co-op’s most recent annual meeting, the board wanted to end this drawn out raw milk debate, and they took the more conservative route, to prohibit the farmer-owners from being in the raw milk business. This decision will require all our farmer-owners who sell raw milk to choose one business or the other. This may end up being a boon for the raw milk movement in the states where it is legal. The Cooperative cannot condone the sale of raw milk in the states where it is illegal.
CROPP Cooperative is not against raw milk. We have let our farmers sell raw milk on the side for two decades. We have gone through a well vetted, inclusive process. It is now time for us to stand by our board’s decision.”
It has not gone without notice that Organic Valley, which was established 22 years ago to help save small family dairies, itself features raw milk in some of their own products such as raw milk cheese.