Michael Schmidt and Elisa VanderHout held a meeting of Glencolton Farms farmshare members last night in Thornhill. Speaking with regard to the recently issued farmshare certificates, both thanked the members for their support in making possible the kind of farming that Glencolton stands for, a kind of farming that respects the land and the animals, and makes every effort to produce the highest quality of milk and milk products. Elisa described how a farm near Glencolton had recently been bought by someone who wasted no time removing the hedgerows and readying the place for the kind of no-holds-barred exploitation of the land that is sadly still in vogue among mainstream farming types in Ontario.
Michael’s wife, Elise VanderHout, reviewed for people the content of a memo she had written, which explained the details of the ownership structure. She also thanked the members for having helped save the land that Glencolton had been farming for 28 years from being lost. The recently bought 200 acres had been lost as a result of the first raw milk battle in 1994. Glencolton was able to rent it back but was forced to take action because it was once again for sale. In closing, Elisa invited members to come out to the farm on Saturday October 15th to share in the apple harvest, cider pressing and a potluck supper.
In response to questions, Michael said that there are now about 120 farmshare members at Glencolton Farms, and that some 500 people drink about 700 litres of the milk each week. Another 50 are still in the process of converting cow shares into farm shares. Becoming a farmshare member at Glencolton Farms entails purchasing a $2,000 share in the farm, a substantial financial commitment. Changing from cow share to farm share was as much a process to save the land as it was a step towards consumers becoming co-producers in their food
Michael mentioned that when he talks, at conferences in the United States, about raw milk and about how the co-operative ownership of Glencolton Farms is structured, people are fascinated and increasingly interested in this farm share model. Farmers are searching for innovative ideas on how their consumers can become more part of the farming process.
Since news of the January 2010 acquittal hit the media, Michael has been besieged by enquiries from consumers across Canada looking for raw milk and from farmers who want to start producing it. That acquittal, by the way, was promptly appealed by the province of Ontario. The appeal has now been heard, and we are eagerly awaiting announcement of the outcome. While the verdict was promised for last Friday September 16th, it has since been postponed until sometime this week (ending Sept. 23rd).
It was in response to that (post January 2010) deluge of interest from farmers and consumers that Michael decided to start Cow Share Canada, which provides training and accreditation for farmers, as well as information and access to raw milk producers for consumers. Over the past year and a half, some 50 farmers and consumers have taken the Cow share College course. Of these two have so far completed the advanced course and the required followup work to become accredited Cow Share Canada farmers. About ten are ready to get their accreditation any time. Two independent inspectors have already been inspecting farms and farmers on behalf of the organization. Cow Share Canada has been incorporated as a national organization in Canada with the goal that on the board of directors every Province will be represented to set national guidelines for raw milk production in Canada. Considering the growing underground trade based on the apparent legalization of raw milk in Ontario the need of recognized best management practices are extremely crucial.
It was mentioned at the meeting that people have heard of several other farmers out there providing raw milk to fill the growing consumer demand who are operating completely outside of the Cow share Canada training and accreditation structure. Michael emphasized that Glencolton Farms’ stellar record of zero customer illnesses due to raw milk was no doubt an important factor in Justice Kowarsky’s ruling. And that with freedom comes responsibility. Thus the Cow share Canada process is a safeguard not just for the consumers who drink the milk, but for the future of raw milk in Canada. However Cow Share Canada does not certify or guaranties the safety of raw milk. Cow Share Canada awards farmers the raw milk quality seal, based on training, inspection and testing results of their milk. Cow Share Canada also educates consumer groups about the aspects of quality raw milk production including soil management, breeding, feeding and sanitary aspects.
Michael also talked about his work with the raw milk farmers in Alberta, which has been reported on in some detail on The Bovine. It seems the Alberta legal system does not allow paralegals to argue for clients in court, and yet in this case the prosecutor persuaded the judge to allow Michael to represent the farmers being charged with raw milk offenses. After several months of wrangling and postponements, the outcome of the case was a reduced fine of $1,000 for the farmers (down from $20,000) and an agreement that people could go to the farm to get their raw milk. Apparently the Alberta Agriculture department officials were not pleased with that part of it.
While it wasn’t talked about much at the meeting, Michael has also been very active in B.C., where he has taken over as agister of the cowshare farm formerly known as “Home on the Range”, renamed it “Our Cows”, and started producing raw milk cosmetics. Michael’s cross-country support of the raw milk cause has been made possible by people’s donations to the cause of raw milk legal defense.
Some interesting points about A1 and A2 milk came up in subsequent prior discussion. It seems that this distinction (between A1 and A2 milk) is more important in cases where the milk is pasteurized. Michael learned this in the course of a workshop at a Weston A Price Foundation conference.