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: 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.
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.
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.
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.