The Queen Charlotte Islands are located off the west coast of British Columbia, about 700 km north of Vancouver. They are sparsely populated and quite isolated. But now they are home to one of about eight cowshare operations now running in British Columbia. So you can live out there on the edge of nowhere and still get raw milk. That’s progress. Here’s a story by Heather Ramsay, which appeared in the Queen Charlotte Islands Observer last week. Thanks to Gordon Watson of Home on the Range cowshare in Chilliwack, for sending it our way!
“Every morning, Lisa Graham-Knight, who is running a cow-share co-op that provides fresh raw milk to 21 islanders, relieves Ebony and April, a Jersey Holstein and a pure Jersey cow, now living on Maude Island. An unlikely-looking revolutionary, the tanned, smiling 22-year-old has a clear conscience even though federal law forbids the sale or distribution of unpasteurized milk. That’s because she’s not selling the milk. Instead she’s participating in what some might consider a radical act. She sells shares in her small herd and buyers become part of a cooperative, paying her a maintenance fee each week. The milk produced by the collective cows is divvied up between owners.
Several other farms across Canada offer raw milk in a similar fashion, including a farm in Chilliwack where Ms Graham-Knight worked last year.
According to Health Canada, unpasteurized milk is unsafe. The agency has issued warnings over the last several years reminding Canadians that bacteria like salmonella, E. coli and listeria can be found in raw milk and these can lead to food-borne illnesses involving fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and, more seriously, kidney failure, miscarriage and death.
But raw milk activists say that health concerns are outdated. Pasteurization became necessary during the late 1800s when industrialization was ramping up, but health standards were not. Factory-like farms were producing milk for large cities and distributing over large networks. Disease and bacteria were easily introduced at any step along the way.
Ms Graham-Knight admits she hasn’t tested the milk, but she did have the cows tested for various diseases before she brought them up from Chilliwack and they were given a clean record.
Healthy cows create healthy milk,” she said. To create a good product, animals have to be very well cared for and with only two to look after on a small farm, she feels able to do that.
Raw milk is not for everyone, she admitted, but in her opinion pasteurized milk offers more potential for people to become sick. When milk from an industrial dairy gets contaminated, thousands can become ill. “Raw milk has its own immunity,” she said. “It wants to protect itself from pathogens.”
Some believe drinking raw milk makes children less prone to allergies and that raw milk can help with auto-immune conditions like eczema and Crohn’s disease.
Arguments for and against raw milk abound on the internet, but that aside, Ms Graham-Knight brought the cows to Haida Gwaii because she wanted to give something back. “It’s my home and I wanted to somehow contribute to the community,” she said. “It’s honest, wholesome work. And it’s the best food I could think of to bring.”
For Ms Graham-Knight, two cows and a cow share co-op allow her to live on her friends’ farm (thank you so much, Laird and Linda, she says) and earn a small income, something that is impossible to do in the industrial milk system.
Besides milking and bottling, she’s busy in the garden tending food for the cows. She cares for the pasture and ensures no harmful weeds are making their way into the cows’ diets. She spreads manure on the garden and she checks their feet for cracks, then she brushes their lovely backs.
The community has been very supportive, she said, with people stopping her on the street to talk about their fond memories of drinking milk direct from the family cow.
People remember receiving it as a child and they’ve been longing to have it again,” she said.”