When the truck carrying the goods pulls up to Suzy Provine’s flower shop in Millersville, as many as a hundred people may show up to get their fix.
They’ll snatch up their share of the contraband and take it back to their homes, where they are free to consume it in peace.
The illicit substance in question?
The members of Grassfed on the Hill – a private club for Marylanders who want to purchase unpasteurized milk – pay $6 per gallon for the milk, shipped directly from an Amish-run farm in Lancaster County, Pa. Some tout the health benefits of drinking natural milk. Others like the idea of knowing exactly where their milk is coming from.
Whatever their reasoning, they’re a devoted bunch of consumers. They just wish they could buy their milk at local farms.
“I love the farmer that we get our milk from,” said Liz Reitzig, one of the coordinators for Grassfed on the Hill. “But as a Maryland person who grew up in Maryland – it’s a shame I can’t support a Maryland farmer.”
Maryland is one of 10 states that forbid the sale of raw milk, though there’s no law preventing residents from buying it. Advocates say this forces people to patronize out-of-state farms, sending valuable consumer dollars elsewhere.
Reitzig estimates that Maryland loses about $2 million a year to out-of-state farms, largely due to raw milk sales. She and other critics of the state laws are fighting back, planning rallies in hopes to get the seal of approval on such sales.
“It is sad that in this economic crisis we’re having, farmers in Maryland can’t even begin to be a part of that,” the Bowie woman said.
Her group is one of a handful of so-called buying clubs in Maryland. The clubs partner with farmers in other states to bring raw milk to Marylanders, who then pick up the milk at different drop-off points. A Blooming Basket, Provine’s shop, is one such location in Anne Arundel County; there also are spots in Annapolis and Linthicum. Provine estimates there are at least a few dozen drop-off spots throughout the state.
“It’s an underground thing,” said Christiana Logansmith of Annapolis, a two-year member of Grassfed on the Hill. “No one is buying this milk who doesn’t really want to.”
Laurie Bucher, chief of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Center for Milk Control, said there are good reasons for banning the sale of raw milk. Drinking it is risky, and could lead to salmonella poisoning.
“We can’t change people’s minds, but we’re here to protect the public’s health,” Bucher said. “Even the advocates will tell you, they know they’re taking a risk, but they feel the benefits outweigh that risk.”
The department won’t cite consumers for buying raw milk, but inspectors will come down on farmers who sell it. Bucher said farmers get a warning for their first violation, and if they continue to sell the milk, they’ll get a notice from the department of an intent to suspend the farm’s milking permit.
If the farmer ignores that, inspectors will notify the cooperative where their regular milk is sold, and ban the farmer from selling all together.
“That’s happened three times that I can remember,” Bucher said….”