“Buying local continues to be a leading food trend in the California, and many small farmers are expanding the ways they sell produce locally. The Bay Area has a growing number of farmers’ markets and many Community Supported Agriculture programs. CSAs allow communities to invest in local farms and receive weekly produce baskets in return.
While local produce growers are flourishing in California, small dairy operations are being threatened.
Doniga Markegard is a family farmer and strong advocate for local food sources in San Mateo County. She has a program similar to a CSA but instead of produce, she sells shares in her grass-fed cattle and cows. In exchange, herd share participants get meat or raw milk from the animals.
Markegard, whose herd share consists of a four dairy cows, has found California Department of Food and Agriculture regulators waiting at her gate.
“And for no reason,” she said. “It’s a violation of our right to grow our own food and go into private contracts with our neighbors.”
Markegard believes enforcing California’s “one-size-fits all” dairy regulations is an attack on the local food movement. She argues that if small dairy farmers are forced to comply with the same expensive equipment requirements as large-scale dairy operations, they will be forced to shut down.
Small Dairy Herd Working Group
Markegard, whose farm is near Half Moon Bay, is a part of a working group formed to resolve the issue of regulating small dairies in California. The Small Dairy Herd Working Group consists of California farmers, health inspectors and dairy representatives, and the CDFA.
Many dairy herd share operations throughout California that are without dairy licenses have received “cease and desist” letters from the CDFA. The working group was formed in response to the farmers’ outcry over the letters.
“The governor and [CDFA] secretary consider improving food access a priority and we felt the small dairy herd issue offered an opportunity to explore options, “said CDFA Veterinarian Annette Whiteford in an email to the Daily Journal.
Instead of requiring small operations to meet the same requirements as commercial dairy operations, Markegard said, farmers in the working group are drawing from herd share regulations established in other states to formulate a new system. They are drafting a three-tiered proposal; with varying levels of regulation according to the size of the dairy.
According to Markegard, the working group is looking at a Tennessee ordinance that exempts herd shares — and other similar agreements, such as 4-H, in which you board your animal on someone else’s property — from dairy licensing. The debate is over whether these types of agreements should be considered private contracts….”