The Bovine: There’s a major raw milk symposium in Vancouver April 6th and you’re one of the speakers, Alice. Could you tell us a little about what you’re going to be sharing with the participants at that event?
Alice Jongerden: I will be sharing my story and discussing the Challenges of Farming, Losing the Family Farm, and what is needed to bring it back and how that can be done. Also highlighting herdshares, and why they make sense.
The Bovine: Perhaps you could start by telling us how you personally got interested in raw milk, and how that interest led to you becoming agister for the original “Home on the Range” cowshare farm in Chilliwack.
Alice Jongerden: Wanting the same opportunities for our children that I had growing up, we started our hobby farm. First we had chickens, added a cow, then a few goats. When our cow could not get pregnant, and no longer had enough milk to provide for our family, we purchased another cow, and she produced way too much for our family. We took the logical step of sharing the cow with a couple friends, so we wouldn’t waste the milk, as well as to share the costs of raising the cow. At that time I had never heard of cow sharing, Michael Schmidt, Mark McAfee or any controversy over raw milk. I only knew from growing up on a commercial dairy that we could not legally sell it, or give it away because of the current supply management. When word got out that I was milking cows for a few people, I received a growing number of requests from others to do the same for them. I believed and still believe very strongly that anyone that wishes to have that opportunity in Canada should not be denied their right to own a cow and have someone else care for it, still allowing them the benefits of that ownership. It was that belief, together with some entrepreneurial spirit kicking in, that grew our herdshare to 350 families in 2 years before the government said no. This was not your typical business. It didn’t start with a business plan. It was a successful model because the consumers paid in advance. When there was enough committed interest to purchase a cow, the share fees covered the purchase, and the weekly maintenance covered the cost of feed, boarding, and transportation of their fresh milk daily to the city.
The Bovine: As far as I’ve been able to figure out, BC probably has more known cowshare farms than any other province in Canada, although some are quite small. Do you have any thoughts on why that might be? What can you tell us about the cowshare scene in general in B.C.?
Alice Jongerden: BC consumers are known to be the biggest label readers in Canada. That says a lot. These are educated people. They do not trust what they are told, as too often products have been misrepresented. They want to know for themselves where and how their food is produced. They are looking for total transparency. They get this when they know their farmers. Once they have tasted and enjoyed real food, they can not easily settle for anything less. There are more than a dozen silent cowshares in BC.
The Bovine: We know that Michael Schmidt farms in Ontario, but he’s been traveling and teaching in BC, Alberta and in the United States. Can you tell us about the history of Michael’s role in raw milk in B.C. Were you in touch with him before you got involved with Home on the Range?
Alice Jongerden: January 2010 was the first time I spoke on the phone with Michael, and I met him the first time when he travelled to BC in February, 2010, where he joined us in court as Fraser Health petitioned for a permanent injuction to shut down Home on the Range. That was just a couple of weeks after Michael had been pronounced “Not Guilty on All Counts”. Since that time, backed by principle, he has continually given of himself, asking nothing in return, furthering the raw milk movement nationally.
The Bovine: So what have you been doing lately, Alice. It’s been a while hasn’t it, since you were agister at Home on the Range. What have you been doing since then?
Alice Jongerden: Together with my husband and business partners, 18 months ago we formed our Home on the Range Organics Ltd. company, to provide real food throughout the Lower Mainland www.homeontherangefarms.com
The Bovine: So is raw milk a part of that, or are you just doing other real foods?
Alice Jongerden: It is a seperate entity
The Bovine: Right, so nothing to do with raw milk?
The Bovine: Are you a member of the new Our Cows cowshare, which, as I understand it, is the new name for what was “Home on the Range” cowshare? Part of the change was, again as I understand it, that the milk from “Our Cows” was distributed to members as cosmetics, rather than for internal use.
Alice Jongerden: Home on the Range is no more. It ended when I received my contempt of court. Our Cows is a new entity, providing a herdshare for entirely different purpose.
The Bovine: I’d like to ask about support for raw milk among the parties in the BC election. Isn’t there an election in progress there now? I know some NDP MLAs had come out in support of raw milk. What about the party as a whole?
Alice Jongerden: Back in November 2011, a petion was tabled in the legislature by MLA Jenny Kwan, NDP, and followed up by a speech on the steps with Jenny Kwan, Lana Popham, Mike Farnworth, and Nicolas Simmons. It was a wonderful peaceful rally, which made page 3 news of the main daily news. All MLA’s, all NDP [MLA = Member of Legislative Assembly, the Ontario equivalent is MPP = Member of Provincial Parliament, NDP = New Democratic Party.]
The Bovine: So how did that petition go over in the legislature? What did the petition demand?
Alice Jongerden: The demand was the right to choose the foods we eat. Legalize herdshares, and drop any illegal activity related against small farms and dairies.
The Bovine: So how did the legislature respond? Did anything come of it?
Alice Jongerden: It was tabled. MLA Lana Popham and MLA Jenny Kwan came to the farm. The NDP opened a Raw Milk file under the instruction of MLA Adrian Dix. Still a work in progress
The Bovine: So is there an election campaign in progress now and if so is the NDP coming out in support of raw milk in their campaign?
Alice Jongerden: There is an election campaign in progress. Not one politician has the guts to run with this. Interestingly enough, the one that inspired all this was the Premier, Christy Clark herself.
The Bovine: Tell me about that, how Christy Clark inspired all this. [Christy Clark is Premier of the province and leader of the provincial Liberal party.]
Alice Jongerden: We were lucky enough to have a one on one [meeting] with her. That followed with a one on one lunch meeting with the then Minister of Agriculture. The details of that are private.
The Bovine: Didn’t Christy Clark interview Michael Schmidt on air and say that she’d grown up drinking raw milk back when she was a radio host, before she became Premier?
Alice Jongerden: Yes, Christy Clark interviewed Michael and said she grew up drinking raw milk. [See The Bovine’s story on that here.]
The Bovine: So perhaps she sympathizes with the raw milk cause but for some reason is choosing not to speak out in favour of it in this election.
Come out to the “Fresh Milk, Food Politics” event Saturday April 6th to hear Alice Jongerden and other raw milk leaders share their experience insights and ideas on where the movement is going and what we can do to share in the process. For more on Alice Jongerden’s background in farming and raw milk, read “History of Harassment – The Little Chilliwack Dairy” on the Hella Delicious blog. Hella D is a west-coast blog that’s been providing excellent ongoing coverage of the local raw milk scene over the past several years.