The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!
– Chuck Palahniuk’s character, Tyler Durden, in Fight Club
*** warning *** – periods of intense sarcasm ahead.
Milk. Raw, unadulterated, and pure. Who would have thought that after years of professing that I did not like milk, I would fall completely in love with milk again. Not just any milk though. Raw milk. Mmmm… That’s what I like.
I grew up in a house that drank 2% milk. We bought our milk directly from the grocery store. I doubt much conscious thought ever went into exactly where it came from though. My parents were of the generation that milked cows on the farm in their youth, but by the late 20th century they had adapted fully to the milk comes from the store lifestyle. I’m sure we believed it came from somewhere near by, but really we didn’t know just where that was.
I lost my taste for milk sometime around the end of high school, I guess. Just something about it didn’t sit quite right with me. While some friends would talk about a tall glass of milk as refreshing, to me it just sounded… well, gross.
I still used milk though. I enjoyed it with cereal. I used it in various recipes. I loved ice cream. But to just drink milk? No. No thanks. Hard pass. I self diagnosed myself as lactose intolerant.
Then, years later, I was told I should only use or drink skim milk. Primarily this was for health reasons. My cholesterol always runs a little too high, not high enough to warrant medication, but high enough that I should be mindful of it and maybe eat some oats. Oats with skim milk, mind you. But skim milk just didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t even like milk. It was like watered down milk masquerading around as actual milk. Like a partially rinsed container of milk really. Water with a milky aftertaste. Again, no thanks. Hard pass.
But recently I discovered raw milk straight from the farm. And I tell you, this stuff is amazing. I can happily drink a glass, tall and cold, straight from the fridge. It’s delicious and a complete, natural food rich in essential vitamins and minerals. Substantial research even purports it to be far superior to pasteureized milk and a better choice for individuals with lactose intolerance, ashtma, and autoimmune deficiencies. It is wonderful.
There’s just one problem though. In Ohio, I cannot legally purchase raw milk directly from a small, local farmer. Somehow we collectively have aggreed to allow it to be deemed forbidden that I could purchase milk directly from a local farmer simply by the process of two grown adults making an informed and consenusual decision to do business (ie. purchase raw milk) together.
Stop. Go back. Read that again.
That’s right. I cannot legally buy raw milk for my own consumption directly from a farmer who has dairy cows. That is a freedom I’m denied. That’s a liberty denied to small farmers and dairymen.
Yup. There’s a law.
Under Title 9 of the Ohio Revised Code, Chapter 917, “no raw milk retailer shall sell, offer for sale, or expose for sale raw milk to the ultimate consumer…”. This section goes on to virtuously extol the rules, licensing requirements, and labeling instructions relevant to raw milk products.
Well, thank God! Heaven forbid I be exposed to the sale of raw milk. Who knows what dangers I could be exposed to from not drinking milk produced on an industrial scale, shipped hither and dither in tanker trucks across the country to industrial processing sites, only to then be shipped in plastic or waxed cardboard containers to nearby chain grocers. I could make the faulty assumption that milk actually comes from cows and not plastic jugs in the grocery cooler!
What happened to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? Was there an “except when…” in that Constitutional clause that we were never taught? Are we entitled to life, liberty, and happiness except when deciding how and where to purchase milk?
So if I want raw milk, I’m made to feel like I’m doing something illicit. I feel like I’m breaking the law. Or am I just enabling a farmer to break the law? Am I complicit? Do I really have to sneak around and find a farmer who will get me my fix under the table? Do I have to find a shady, chipped-tooth farm character in the backwoods who is willing to buck the system for a price? Is there a secret knock I have to know? Is it really that complicated?
Thankfully, no. Christine found a means for us to get me my fix of raw milk. It turns out that industrious and legally savvy, farm friendly individuals found a workaround solution to this issue. So let me break the first rule and tell you about herdshare.
Herdshare, or herd share if you prefer, is a contractual agreement between a party and a farmer. The party, called a shareholder, is able to obtain raw milk, and often other profits of the livestock, as a proportionate share of the shareholder’s interest in the herd. It’s important to note that the shareholder isn’t buying raw milk directly, but rather paying for a share in the farmer’s herd. A herd that just incidentally happens to produce milk.
As crazy and convoluted as that sounds, it is a legal means to buy raw milk. Herdshares have held up in courts much the same way as community supported agriculture (CSA) farms have withstood legal challenges over the years. As long as you are purchasing a share of the herd as opposed to raw milk, the law of the land says that is ok.
So after reading and signing 10 pages of three separate contractual agreements with a local farmer, we can now legally obtain raw milk for consumption on our homestead. Again, be mindful that we’re not buying raw milk. Contractually we only buy a share of the herd. This miracle contract somehow protects us from the evils of just purchasing the raw milk that farmers have produced for thousands of generations.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset at the farmer for having us sign such a contract. I know fully well that they have to protect themselves and their interests through such a process. A process they no doubt cannot stand any more than I. In fact, just as an added level of security in our farmer’s interests I’ve deliberately left their name out of this post’s discussion. As much as I would love to give them a little free publicity and direct others their way, I’m wary of directing any additional unwanted scrutiny or troubles in their direction. So I keep them secret to keep them safe. It’s just like Fight Club. The first rule of herdshare is you do not talk about herdshare.
But why should farmers and their products be relegated to the status of dirty, underground street fighting clubs? Why should they need to protect and insulate themselves from providing the very things we need to survive? Why can’t farm products, cottage goods, and locally sourced materials be easily accessed by those who want them? We’ve regulated, licensed, and permitted everything to a degree that makes it nearly impossible for those small providers embedded in our local communities to provide these things to us unless the farmer or homesteader possess a degree of legal savvy and financial power equivalent to a major industrial corporation.
So what is one to do? Just like Palhniuk’s book was about rejecting consumerist society’s rules, regulations, and order, I say we rebel and support our local, small-scale, independent farmers in every way we can. Dare to stand up and buy fresh from the farm stand. Purchase eggs from a roadside vendor, even if they didn’t come from that particular roadside. Buy raw milk directly from the dairy farm, but only call it a share if that’s what you have to do. Tell your local councilperson, township trustee, or state representative that you want to be able to do these things easily, openly, and freely.
We do. And in doing so we know where our milk comes from. We know who raised our eggs. We know what our beef was fed. We know our chicken didn’t travel thousands of miles to reach our plate. And we enjoy all of these things because they are so much better than those anonymous, plastic wrapped items in the grocery store cooler.
Just don’t punch anyone. That’s really not nice. Nor is an effective way to bring about change we can all benefit from regarding farms, real food, cottage goods, and local markets.