Or, as it often seems in the case of attempts at slandering raw milk, “no publicity is bad publicity”. Here’s a story showing that, just because you operate in a jurisdiction in which raw milk is legal, doesn’t mean you’re not going to have the sort of problems with health departments that Home on the Range has been having lately. Again, this missive is from Gordon Watson:
“DUNGENESS — In the last month of 2009, the Dungeness Valley Creamery faced one of the worst things that can befall a small food business.
Now, in the first month of 2010, the family-owned dairy is awash in local love.
That’s not too strong a word for the response, after Dec. 2, from North Olympic Peninsula residents who drink the raw milk from the dairy just north of Sequim.
Dec. 2 was the day the state Department of Agriculture and Department of Health issued a “consumer advisory” implicating the milk in E. coli infections of three people, even though no direct link had been made between the dairy and the infections.
Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer said a Clark County man in his 30s, a preteen girl in Snohomish County and a King County boy were sickened by the bacteria earlier in the fall; all recovered and experienced no serious complications.
All three of the patients were drinkers of unpasteurized milk from the Dungeness Valley Creamery, Moyer said. Since March 2006, the creamery, at 1915 Towne Road in Dungeness, has been licensed to produce and sell the milk from its 70 grass- and hay-fed Jersey cows. Today, the creamery trucks its product to 20 stores across Western Washington, from Port Angeles to Bellevue and Seattle to Olympia.
After the infections were discovered, state officials inspected the Dungeness dairy — and have continued to do so — and have found no E. coli bacteria in its milk or in its facilities.
There was no recall of the farm’s milk and no penalties or restrictions placed on sales.
That does not mean no damage was done, of course.
Dungeness Valley’s largest customer, Whole Foods, took the milk off its shelves for a month, said Jeff Brown, whose family owns and operates the creamery.
“They’re pretty much back to their regular order,” he said this week. “But a whole month without Whole Foods was a substantial bite.”
Vicki Foley, spokeswoman for Whole Foods in the Puget Sound region, wouldn’t comment on whether sales had returned to normal or whether customers had asked for the raw milk.
“Unfortunately, we don’t talk about sales of any product,” she said.
Return to Clallam and Jefferson counties, and the story changes. Drastically.
At the Port Townsend Food Co-op, “We did not really experience any variation,” in Dungeness Valley milk sales, said grocery manager Peter Petrenchak. “If anything, we bumped up.”
The Co-op sells 50 to 75 gallons of the milk each week, Petrenchak added.
At Country-Aire in Port Angeles, manager Linda Warder likewise reported a rise in raw-milk purchases during December.
Part of that was thanks to the holidays, she said. “There’s a lot of partying going on, and milk is necessary.”
But Country-Aire’s shoppers are both loyal to the local dairy and well-educated about food, Warder added.
Raw-milk drinkers Dungeness Valley’s milk is more expensive than pasteurized, but its fans seek it out for what the consider superior flavor and nutrition.
At Good-to-Go, another natural-foods store in Port Angeles, co-owner Julie Grattan also said sales of Dungeness Valley milk stayed healthy.
She’s been stocking the raw milk for nearly a year, and said her customers are as thirsty for it as ever.
The same goes for Sunny Farms in Carlsborg. The only effect the state’s advisory had was to increase sales, said grocery manager Ming Chang.
Raw-milk purchases jumped up 15 to 20 percent in the weeks immediately following it, he said, though he declined to give gallon numbers.
“Our local consumer chooses to support our local producers. They’re confident in what the Browns are doing,” Change said. “This really demonstrates the support for our local economy.”
At the same time, however, another non-local grocery store saw no dip in sales after the advisory.
Marlene’s, a natural-foods market with stores in Tacoma and Federal Way, took Dungeness Valley’s milk off its shelves for a few hours, general manager Lisa Gebhardt said.
Put it back on shelves
“Then we found out what was going on, and we put it right back,” she added. She read the advisory, and said it showed no direct link between the E. coli infections and the raw milk from Clallam County.
Meantime, Marlene’s sells more than 100 gallons a week of Dungeness Valley Creamery milk.
“People who drink it love it,” Gebhardt said. “We sell out of that milk all the time.”
Marlene’s owner, Marlene Beadle, has visited the creamery herself, Gebhardt added. Turns out Beadle grew up in Port Angeles.
Brown, for his part, said that E. coli bacteria can be found in many other foods, such as spinach, tomatoes and meat. Jason Kelly, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, acknowledged that the pathogen has come from other sources besides raw milk.
The Brown family posted a response to the state advisory on its Web site, http://www.DungenessValleyCreamery.com.
Jeff Brown’s daughter Sarah Brown McCarthey, co-owner of the creamery, said it will continue producing milk “in its natural form,” grade A unpasteurized, from the farm’s 70 Jerseys.
“Our reputation has been compromised without any fault of our own,” she added. “WSDA only put out the press release to make sure they are covered, and are erring on the side of caution.”
The creamery’s Web site also has a page full of testimonials from customers who pledge fierce loyalty to the dairy.
Jeff Brown, however, said this week that what he sees as the state’s bias against raw milk could still hurt him.
Anyone who is thinking about drinking raw milk, he said, may shy away now. The negative publicity “takes away future sales.”
Agriculture’s Kelly stands by his advisory against drinking unpasteurized milk.
But it is a legal product in Washington, he added.
“We have no bias against it,” just as the state is not biased against other foods — peanut butter, leafy greens, hamburger — that have been sources of pathogens.
“We advise consumers that if you purchase bagged spinach, you should wash it yourself … and we always say, ‘Cook that hamburger until it’s 165 degrees in the middle.'”
And, Kelly added, “the only way to make sure there are no pathogens in your milk is to buy pasteurized.”
Brown, for his part, maintains that the state was wrong to implicate his milk as it did.
He said that based on his production of 200 to 350 gallons per week, some 1,000 Washingtonians are drinking it in good health.
But “do I want to fight [the state] in the courts? No,” said Brown, before returning to work on his farm.