“Amidst a spate of law enforcement raids and other regulatory actions taken by local, state, and federal officials against raw milk producers across the country, an alarmed group of small California dairy farmers and consumers have recently formed the Food Rights Coalition and begun to push state regulators and legislators to take action to help them. The coalition formed in response to at least a half dozen cease and desist orders issued by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) over the past year to small dairy herdshares across the state.
At a Petaluma, California meeting last week, several local members of the group expressed concern for the loss of their livelihoods and the safety of their families, seeking the assistance of 6th District Assemblyman Jared Huffman to protect their milking rights.
Prior to meeting Huffman, Farmer J (who spoke during an interview on condition of anonymity) stated that the CDFA’s actions forced them to reach out to other herdshares, farmers, and advocates to begin organizing: “It was the fear of what they were doing and where that could be heading that led us to come together and try to protect ourselves and fight for our right to do what we’re doing–milking and caring for a few cows and sharing the milk with our co-owners.”
A herdshare is a private business arrangement whereby consumers purchase a piece, or share, of a cow, goat, or herd of the animals and contract with a farmer who is compensated for feeding, caring, and milking the animals, and bottling, storing, and distributing the milk. The details of the relationship between farmers and their herdshare co-owners may vary, but they generally feature the encouragement, sometimes requirement, that co-owners make some regular contribution to the animals’ care themselves.
Herdshares are often begun simply as a means of dealing with the volume of milk that can be produced by a lone family cow. One lactating cow can produce four gallons of milk per day—enough to create small-scale exchange of goods on a local level. According to Farmer “A”, who has a small Olema herdshare and also spoke on condition of anonymity, product transparency is key to a successful herdshare operation, and their co-owners are generally a passionate, well-educated bunch. “A lot of our members have developed a personal relationship with our cow…we’ve had quite a few people come out and really inspect the whole farm. It’s important to them to see how the cows are treated and they have a say in how we feed them. Good pasture-management techniques are a very big deal to them.”
“But,” she continued, the CDFA just doesn’t know how to deal with small dairy operations, treating one or two cow operations as if they’re far larger, industrialized businesses. “They only have these large dairy guidelines, so whether you have 200, 2,000, or one cow you’re the same in their eyes.”…”