Tennessee farmer adapts to raw milk

All across America, dairy farmers are faced with economic challenges due to a wholesale price for milk that takes no account of their costs of operation. So what’s a farmer to do? This is an excerpt from the story of one farmer who was sufficiently in touch with the times. This farming family realized that you’ve got to give the people what they want — raw milk, from grass-fed animals. Tell me it’s not the way of the future — if dairy farming is to survive in corporate-dominated America. From the knoxnews.com website:

Marcie McBee stands in the milking parlor of the McBee Dairy Farm in Mascot, which offers a cow-sharing program for consumers who want to drink raw milk. Photo by J. Miles Cary

“A small but growing number of Tennesseans are drinking raw milk, straight from the cow and unpasteurized.

Some say it’s the elixir of good health. Health officials say it’s hazardous.

And raw dairy farmers? They’re just trying to make a living.

The sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal in Tennessee. But a loophole in Tennessee agriculture law, passed in May 2009, has opened the door for farmers to distribute raw milk locally through what they call cow-share or cow-boarding programs.

“The only legal way a person can acquire raw milk for human consumption is if they own the cow itself,” said Tom Womack, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. The law allows even “partial owners” of an animal to use its milk for personal consumption.

“Some people take the next step and sell shares of those cows,” said Womack. “But (raw milk) is a serious health risk, and there’s no amount of regulation that can make an unsafe product safe.”

Making a living

The state doesn’t track cow-share programs, but at least four Tennessee farms began advertising their programs on the Internet in the last year. One is the McBee Dairy Farm in Mascot.

“We were dying, losing our farm,” said Marcie McBee, explaining why she and her husband switched their family Grade A dairy to a small cow-share program more than a year ago. The cost of feed, fuel, equipment and veterinarian bills for 150 cows left little profit, she said.

“I figured it out – after expenses, you’re making about a quarter a gallon,” she said.

McBee’s experience is not unusual. There are only 481 licensed Grade A dairies left in Tennessee in 2010, down from 1,562 in 1991, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

McBee sold off all but 15 cows and said she switched to more sustainable farming methods. The cows’ new, mostly grass diet is both a cost savings and better for their health, she said. She said she tests the milk regularly, using the same tests they did as a Grade A dairy.

Today, she sells 20 shares per cow, plus she charges a monthly boarding fee to each owner. In return, they get one gallon of raw milk per week, per share, at a total cost of about $5.77 per gallon, more than a typical gallon in a grocery store.

“We’re good. We’re making a living, paying bills,” said McBee, whose family also drinks the raw milk.

Raw milk drinkers say the extra cost of the milk is worth it because the drink contains “good” bacteria and natural antibodies. Some say raw milk can help ease asthma, eczema, arthritis and digestive problems…”

Read the whole thing on knoxnews.com


Filed under News

2 responses to “Tennessee farmer adapts to raw milk

  1. Milkmen USA

    This is a great article. As a Milkman deliver service, we see the demand for this type of milk rising. We also believe that a way for dairy farmers to be profitable and have a sustainable operation is to have a raw milk dairy farm. At present, The Milkmen USA is seeing a growth in demand and a serious commitment to ordering raw milk from the Milkman delivery services. The Milkman years ago was in every town before the large “Supermarkets” came to town. There was one or more milkman/men in every town. Today we are seeing a surge in the demand for home deliveries and the services of the Milkman. A Milkman is the direct link from the farmers to the consumers. It works. we recommend that this raw milk dairy and others work with a milkman delivery system. It is all about education, distribution, community relations, and direct contact with the consumer.

    We are so glad to hear this news. Keep up the great works. For further support, please do contact us at MILKMENUSA@earthlink.net. Right now on the East Coast, milkmen are forming distribution systems to drive this type of economics. And it works for their business, the dairy, farmers with fresh vegetables and fruits, and even the ranchers with cattle for beef, free range poultry operations, and the same for eggs, pork and more. There are more Joel Salatins and Michael Schmidts and Tim Wightmans out there.. Just create and support the distribution, marketing, and sales of fresh farm foods and raw milk and see what can happen. It is happening now. A milkman distribution system can make this happen.

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