Interview with Ottawa-area raw milk farmer Jacqueline Fennell Conklin

Jacqueline with her husband and children on their Conavista dairy farm near Ottawa, Ontario.

The Bovine: Jacqueline, thanks for taking time to answer some questions for our readers, and also thanks for being open enough to publicly identify yourself as a raw milk farmer. It seems that you and Michael Schmidt are about the only raw milk farmers in Ontario who are willing to talk about what you do in print. Tell us a little about your and your family’s background in farming and how you came to be a raw milk producer.

Jacqueline's son in the barn with the cows that give the raw milk.

Jacqueline: I grew up a city girl, and moved to the farm when I met my husband John.

I became involved in some farm groups in 1999 with other young people looking to enter the dairy industry.  After successfully lobbying the DFO to allow non quota holders to get a license to produce milk, I became an export milk producer for three years.  Then the DFO killed that option, due to a WTO decision against the quota holders, who were expanding their farms and herds to produce export milk outside the quota system.  This was just as the BSE crisis swept the farm community.

For three years we maintained our herd, with both my husband and I working off the farm to keep the farm going and became founding members of our local Landowner Association, of which I was the President for a few years.  In 2006 we came to the point where we couldn’t continue farming for nothing, then we met Michael.

The Bovine:. How did you go about setting up your cowshare operation, as in finding the right legal form and finding people who wanted to be part of it?

Jacqueline: Michael was a wonderful advisor helping us step by step setting up our cowshare.  With the help of Randy Hillier, we put a press release out in Decmeber 2006 explaining our intentions to enter the raw milk business.  That was right after Michael was raided, so it was picked up quickly in the local media.  We wanted to see if there was interest in Eastern Ontario, and our phone rang off the hook.

The Bovine: Where are your members located, geographically speaking? Can we say how people get their milk? Do you have a bus like Michael? Do they come to the farm? Or do you use drop off points like they do at Our Cows in Chilliwack?

Jacqueline: Our members are from Toronto to Montreal, Ottawa and Gatineau and many points in between.  We have formed many groups so that each family takes turns coming to the farm for their group and only personally make that trip every few months in most cases.

The Bovine: What has been the history of your involvement with Michael Schmidt and Cow Share Canada?

Jacqueline: I have been involved with Michael Schmidt as a mentor and advisor since December 2006, he is always supportive and a great source of knowledge.

I am a supporter and member of Cow Share Canada.  I feel that CSC is a way to set aside the people that are doing this the right way from the ones that are just trying to make a quick buck.  I hear stories all the time from people who have previously been getting milk from other farms where it is dirty or they are feeding high grain rations.

The Bovine:  Has your local public health unit taken any interest in your raw milk operations?

Jacqueline: I have had a few visits from one fellow at our local health unit.

The first was in January 2007, two inspectors came and gave me a copy of the Health Protection and Promotion Act.  We had a cordial discussion and I told them if they wanted they could talk to me one on one anytime, but warned them that I would respond in like force if they came with the police, and MNR.

The one inspector did return in March 2010 just after Michael won the first court case.  He wanted me to give him the names and phone numbers for my cowshare members and a tour of the barn…I gave him neither and he went on his way.

There was a letter to the editor of the Ontario Farmer newspaper last week, and a local farmer was pressing the health unit to come after me.  I am aware that an inspector from the Lanark, Leeds and Grenville Health Unit contacted a journalist for that paper asking about me….so they might come again soon.

From the raw milk rally Jacqueline organized at Tunney's Pasture in Ottawa on Nov. 23, 2011

The Bovine: Do I understand correctly that you’ve recently organized or helped organize rallies in support of raw milk in Kemptville and at Tunney’s Pasture in Ottawa? Can you tell us a little more about what that was like. How was your experience of support from your cowshare members and interested members of the public?

Jacqueline: We have very strong support in our cowshare as well as the public.  We had great rallies in Kemptville and in Ottawa.

There were over 50 people in Kemptville, we had great local media coverage and the OPP liason team were very kind and understanding and eager to learn about the raw milk divide.

We had over 100 in Ottawa on the morning after the first snowstorm of the year!  We had radio media and a few local film makers and online bloggers.  The Ottawa Police, the RCMP were very kind and eager to help us.  Our cowshare members have been kept informed throughout this entire process and are always ready to do what they can to support our farm and Michael.

Local newspapers were very supportive as were public comments to the papers and to local radio programs.

From the raw milk rally Jacqueline organized at the OMAFRA office in Kemptville, Nov. 16, 2011.

The Bovine: Are you still taking cowshare members? Do you have a waiting list? What do you say to people who come to you seeking raw milk?

Jacqueline: We are getting close capacity, but do still have some room.  I welcome everyone who contacts us and expresses and interest in joining the cowshare family.  I do my best to answer all of their questions about raw milk and about our farm and then invite them to come and visit the farm and see how we do things.

The Bovine: What’s the scale of your farm operation? How many acres? How many cows? What breed(s) are your cows? What are your breeding objectives, in terms of long term herd improvement?

Jacqueline: We are a small family farm, we milk 30 registered purebred Holsteins.  We do use artificial insemination after a close call with a bull years ago.  We mostly use young sires and are starting to use A2 bulls.

The Bovine:  Farming is a tough row to hoe economically at the best of times. How is running a cow share dairy working out for you financially, if you don’t mind sharing?

Jacqueline: We love farming, you have to really, or you wouldn’t do it.  It is 24/7/365, so you have to love what you are doing!

Our operation is a true family operation.  My husband and I along with our children do all of the work in the barn.  Chelsea is 13 and Cody is 8 and they are a big help, we certainly miss them when they are not here!  We are also fortunate to have the help of John’s older son on a regular basis when we need him.

We find the cowshare gives us the ability to continue to improve our farm.  It brings such pleasure to be able to see things moving forward.

Another snap from the Ottawa rally at Tunney's Pasture, November 2011

The Bovine: What’s your relationship like with other farmers in your area? Are they jealous of your success? Do you get the feeling some of them might be considering the raw milk path for themselves?

Jacqueline: Well, everyone knows what we are doing.  I don’t believe that any of them are considering doing what we are.

As I mentioned before there was a letter to the editor of the farm paper last week, where one of them was taunting the government to come after us.  No one knows of a farmer in the area by that name, so we think it was a local dairy farmer using an alias.

I am sure there are many dairy farmers who don’t like what we are doing, but none of them say anything to our face and are usually very friendly.  I hear from others that they say plenty behind our backs….and that is just expected.

The Bovine: Aside from the rallies in Kemptville and Ottawa, have you been involved with any other outreach work on behalf of the raw milk cause? Have you been invited to speak to groups in your area? If so, how has the reception been?

Jacqueline: I have met with my MPP Steve Clark (PC).  He is very keen to work with us to move the raw milk issue forward and is supportive.

The Bovine: Quebec was one of the few provinces that didn’t participate in the last cross Canada rally day. Have you had any contact with farmers across the border on the subject of raw milk? What do you know about raw milk culture in Quebec? The French seem to be big on food, and  we know the Quebec government has even brought in special laws to allow raw milk soft cheese a couple of years ago. What’s your perception of what’s going on in la belle province, with regards to raw milk?

Jacqueline: I don’t know any farmers in Quebec.  I do however have groups that come from Montreal and Chelsea Quebec, to our farm.  Currently, I am receiving a lot of calls from the Montreal area.  Just as in Ontario, consumers are very interested in raw milk.

The Bovine:  Could you say something about how and why you’ve chosen to be so open and public about your raw milk farming. What would you say to other farmers who might be considering following your example on openness?

Jacqueline: We decided at the beginning to be above board.  I don’t feel like I am doing anything wrong, so I don’t believe I should act like I am doing anything wrong.

I also believe that standing strong together is the better way to show solidarity.  I don’t believe that one person should be put out to take the brunt of the attack, and we should all be standing shoulder to shoulder with Michael and showing the government and the consumers that we are united.

The Bovine:  Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Jacqueline.

Jacqueline in Kemptville during the November 16th rally.

24 Comments

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24 responses to “Interview with Ottawa-area raw milk farmer Jacqueline Fennell Conklin

  1. miro

    wonderful to read and get to know this farmer

  2. Michael Schmidt

    Cheers to a courageous and honest friend

  3. Raoul

    Great interview ! Thanks to THE BOVINE for bringing the real milk news about a real local Ontario Hero Jacqueline Conklin !

  4. This is what I call a reality check. No intellectual diarrhea, no intellectual dissection of how to beat the legal system. No beating around the bushes.
    Standing behind what is right for her, her family and her members with an open and honest approach.
    It seems as if women in this mooovement understand with their heart, much better what needs to be done. Let the voices of the heart speak and let the mind be much more reflective before drowning this blog in intellectual and virtual realities of should and should nots.
    We all should remember that we are measured by what we do and not what we say.
    Who is truly free?
    I bet Jacqueline has grasped the concept of freedom in very practical terms.
    Alice Jongerden and Jacquelne Fennel should both be entered into the RAW MILK HALL OF FAME.
    Woman in the Rosenstrasse in Berlin defied in 1940’s successfully the Nazis despite of the overwhelming brutal power the Nazis had.
    Think about that.

    • Gretna Maggiacomo

      Dear Michael, you are absolutely right, Alice is right & Jacqueline is right & when the cause is clearly right I believe that food freedom folk can stand proud & tall in the face of opposition ….. the beauty of the raw milk issue is the simplicity of its agenda RAW MILK IS HEALTHY & WORTH DEFENDING & IN NEED OF FAIR REGULATION…… like any good farmer we must be willing to dirty our boots to hasten towards our common goal!

    • Robert Bright

      That you for that. I knew it, but needed the reminder.

    • Frank

      Michael,
      Perhaps it was not your intent, but the undertone of your post/comments seem to suggest others SHOULD be more like Jacqueline and Alice. I bring it to your attention because your comments might put some others off who don’t want to be guilt tripped into acting a certain way to gain your approval… I’m not saying you SHOULD’T guilt people, and I’m not saying you SHOULD be different… I’m just saying.
      As a great man once said, “let the mind be much more reflective before drowning… in… realities of should and should nots”

      • Every body is free to think what they want to think.
        If I have to worry about every word I say then I am not free.
        Frank, a person should be judged by their actions or inactions and not by their words.
        Who ever feels guilty might be guilty of something which I cannot determine.
        I learned early on that one should never count in a fight on others.
        I also learned that always those who are not fighting seemed to know best how to fight.
        Somehow it doesn’t matter if I support or question somebody, there is always judgement day.
        Therefore it is important to understand why we are in this battle about food rights.
        Sometimes these hypothetical debates hee on the Bovine remind of a hypothetical situation where a car drives with 100 kmh towards a concrete wall and insight the car people discuss if they should or should not put on a seatbelt.
        Jacquelin is a courageous woman, and she has earned my deepest respect and admiration.
        Let others reflect on their own approach.
        Unless we have courage to stand by, what we are doing nothing will save us from the total destruction of our rights.
        Jurisdiction, private contract, herdshare, Farm share, cow share, co-op or whatever means nothing to those who want to eliminate the current trend of food freedom.
        Unless we are prepared to face the music and are willing to stand on the side of openess without fear, we will perish and no hypothetical legal construct will grant you protection.
        We are not living in a bubble of freedom, we are living in the reality of circumstances and the definition of freedom will have to be reviewed how it can apply in today’s world.
        I am free, even when I am sitting in jail.
        Thanks Frank for initiating this exchange and I am glad I was able to respond because of that.

      • Frank

        Thanks for your reply.
        For your benefit, I might suggest that comments like “a person should be judged by their actions or inactions” edifies for some the feeling that you are judging others, and that you come from a place that says how things SHOULD be.
        Your multiple references to “fighting” also edifies, for some, that you are in actuality not free, and further edifies the idea that things SHOULD be a certain way, which confirms the feeling in some that you are in actuality not accepting of others.
        I humbly suggest that those who resort to courage and feel the need to fight, are, in actuality, not free. Not judging it right or wrong, nor declaring it as being so. Just giving words to my experience of your under/overtones.

      • Thanks Frank
        You just proved my point, better than I could have done it.

      • BC Food Security

        Frank:
        Do you have a relative named Peter ?
        If not you should get together some time and have a glass of milk together or something ! You have very similar ideas and ways of communicating !

      • I actually thought Peter was Frank or George. A very distinct person specific identifier comes through the comments.
        I still cheer on Jacqueline; and Peter or Frank or George might try to cheer up a little bit and enjoy their milk before it sours.

  5. Gretna Maggiacomo

    Completely off topic but I notice the posting times are way off for some reason???

  6. Callaghan Grant

    Great to hear a commercial raw milk dairy success! WONDERFUL to hear they are breeding now for A2 milk. The A1 protein is more of an issue than many dairy farmers want to acknowledge. Also happy that they are not feeding as much grain to their cows since it causes a build up of Omega 6 fatty acids which cause inflammation. Go all grass! If you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on! Keep setting a great example! I have my own Guernsey(s) (2) and am soon to breed the heiffer as well. As I am 53, female and alone managing this farm, I am looking to breed them to an A2 minature jersey so the prgeny will be smaller and easier to handle — not that my Guernseys are difficult. They are sweethearts, being stepped on by a 400 lbs cow is much less damaging than being stepped on by and 750 lbs cow!

  7. Jacqueline Fennel Conklin

    Thank you all for your kind words.

    I do have a small correction Callaghan Grant…we are not a commercial farm by any means! I guess you make that assumption because we milk Holsteins. We started milking 5 cows and have been very fortunate to be able to expand to the 30 milking we have now over the past 5 years.

    We have fed grass only since 2004, the only grain fed on our farm is to small calves in pens. We offer them a small amount of grain so they don’t continue to suckle after we give them milk.

    We have followed Michael’s advice from Day 1 and have tested all of our milk monthly for pathogens as well as standard component testing and somatic cell count and plate count. We feel it is important to show through these tests that we have a high quality product.

    We are not certified organic, but we don’t use chemical pesticides, hormones or antibiotics. This is another thing that we started in 2005.

  8. Today Google has announced that the American government plans to control the internet.

    Milkman USA

  9. Raoul

    To keep our spirits up we need to hear about more success stories like this and more often .

  10. Callaghan Grant
    that’s the direction I want to go = take the modern Guernsey back down to a smaller cow. Please contact me my website www dot freewebs.com/bovinity

    as for the A2 debate ; when it came out, I was impressed by the book “Devil in the Milk” but am now more inclined to Mark McAffee’s position ; that the damage done by par-boiling milk, ie. Pasteur-ization, is far worse than the difference between A1 and A2 proteins. Therefore the thing to do now is, concentrate on helping producers of high quality REAL MILK, get underway

    the best ‘wedge issue’ for the Campaign for REAL MILK to exploit, is the FACT that Jones disease in dairy cows causes Crohne’s disease in human beings who drink milk from those cows. The dairy cartel is in the same position as Big Tobacco was … having knowledge that their product does harm, yet hiding it from their customers. Their model is going to pieces ; our business is demonstrating the solution

  11. I didn’t know you could get A2 Holsteins. Good info to know for future.

    I applaud everyone who is in this fight all across the country. We’re not on a farm yet but I expect that in the next few years we will be and I’m sure cows of some variety will be part of it. Thank you all for being so courageous!!

  12. we are looking for people that want to farm
    one hundred acers and have a garden share
    farm share
    IN NEW BRUNSWICK ON 100 acers
    we know how to farm and garden
    but we cant buy the farm so we are willing to share everything
    and we will teach gardening and farming
    and share the farm with anyone that wants to 125 grand is the farm
    with 100 acers of ORGANIC LAND

  13. Richard Barrett

    Frank or anyone else, I would like to encourage you to read everything you can on Michael Schmidt to know what he has experienced and to try to feel what he felt like when a raid occurs. He is a man of Wisdom and good
    character. Please glean from him. The man out of the trenches and in action receives the most shots at, but the battle moves closer to Victory.

  14. Leah Reid

    I want to buy raw milk and raw milk cheese
    Where can I get it!!
    A new believer in this area !’
    Leah Reid

  15. Nancy

    Can I buy raw milk, cream, cheese from you. I am looking for the wonderful cream we used to buy on our way to our cottage in Quebec. Sadly, it has gone.

    Thanks.

    Nancy McLean

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