Thanks to the many speakers, farmers, consumers, guests, and media who took time out of their busy lives to convene January 30th, in Guelph, for yet another in what’s become a long series of raw milk symposia that began not long after the infamous 2006 raid on Glencolton Farms. In this brief report, we are not going to try to cover all the great information that was presented during the afternoon, but rather to give a flavour of the proceedings.
First speaker on the agenda was farmer Mark McAfee (shown speaking in the photo above), who, together with his wife Blaine, came all the way from California to participate in this symposium and to share with Ontario raw milk producers and consumers a bit of the wisdom he’s gained running what is now the biggest raw milk farm on the continent — with some 550 cows and 500 acres of pasture. Mark is also involved with the RAWMI standards group, and he shared some intel from that work as well. A video crew from TVO was on hand to record much of the proceedings.
One big difference from past symposiums of this sort, is the low key role played by Michael Schmidt, seen above sitting in the audience with his wife Elisa, and lawyer Karen Selick. Unlike Elisa and Karen, however, Michael did not make a speech, although he did ask a question from the floor at one point.
Public health policy researcher Nadine Ijaz (above) gave a very detailed presentation comparing Canada with other states, and raw milk with other foods, and risk tolerance of raw milk with risk tolerance for other hazards in life. The raw milk movement is blessed to have someone like Nadine beavering away at gathering this kind of knowledge and information.
Michael Schmidt has for years wanted to encourage authentic dialog with representatives of the public health community, and Professor Art Hill (photo above) fulfilled that role at this symposium, of articulating a more mainstream perspective — one that was clearly not so popular with the audience. Fortunately there were several voices, Nadine’s included, speaking up to thank Professor Hill for his participation and to underline the crucial importance of respectful dialog, when it comes to making progress in approaching common ground at the intersection of raw milk and public health.
Elisa Vander Hout (speaking in photo above) talked a bit about her own background. She had been a student at the University of Guelph not that long ago. She spoke about how at one point she was feeling that education had been a waste because it didn’t prepare her to do the kind of agriculture she felt called to do. And then she happened to hear Michael Schmidt speak at the University on his philosophy of agriculture, which of course, has led to their present collaboration.
Blaine McAfee (speaking in photo above) shared an understanding of raw milk that was informed by her background in nursing. She also spoke from the perspective of her present work in the quality control end of things at Organic Pastures farm, which she runs with her husband Mark McAfee, in California — where raw milk is legal, and has been for years.
Karen Selick (at podium above) gave a ten-minute legal analysis of the challenges facing raw milk in its future journey through the courts, at the end of the afternoon, after the panel discussion and questions. While she was doing that, the TVO folks took away their cameras and went off to the side to interview Professor Art Hill. Members of the audience objected, however, and the TVO crew stopped their interview and waited til the proceedings wrapped up, to continue interviewing Professor Hill (photo below).
The symposium was chaired by farmer Sean McGivern, who has also worked with the “Practical Farmers of Ontario“.
We should also mention that in the middle of the afternoon, Calvin Weber, of Listowel Ontario, presented a talk on raw milk that he had prepared for a project at his high school. It was well received by the symposium audience of about 100 people.