Raw Milk, Sore Subject

2/8/12

  It’s been a busy week on the Ridge. This is usually our down time; we just chill out inside and watch the snow…hmm, no snow? So…we’ve been outside poking around. Picking up limbs from the fruit tree trimming, making spreaders to retrain the branches and trying to decide where we should put the “hoped for” greenhouse. Then there are those crazy mixed up hens who are trying to hatch chicks…is it too cold? I saw a bluebird last week; is it Spring already?

  One of the first things we decided to do when we became locavores was to look for a source of certified raw milk. Fortunately, we have a convenient source just outside of town. Roger and Dianna Hersman have a small dairy with a raw milk license on the Georgetown Road. Once a week, we go for milk and spend a few minutes chatting with these hardworking people. Dairy farming is not for the faint of heart- two hours, twice a day, 365 days a year, breeding cows, birthing calves, hauling feed ,  making hay, and never a vacation in almost 35 years. We appreciate the Hersmans and their dedication.

  In Pennsylvania, there are over 150 dairies licensed to sell raw milk. Last week, The Family Cow Farm in Chambersburg came under intense scrutiny when their milk customers began to get sick. As soon as their customers began to call with suspected illness, the Shank family voluntarily shut down sales of raw milk. All across the country, papers carried the “news” of this “deadly” outbreak and the “experts” warned citizens of the “dangers” of drinking raw milk. And the people trembled and where thankful for being watched over so carefully and the miracle of pasteurization.

  Yes, it’s true that at the turn of the Century, there was great danger from drinking raw milk. Many children were sickened and died. But consider what life was like…milk was hauled from the farm by horses and dropped on doorsteps or carried across the field in an open bucket from your neighbor’s farm. Food was kept cool in the spring house or ice box-not a very reliable source of temperature. Hot running water was a rarity, in fact, you were lucky if you had running water period. There were no standards for sanitation because very few people had even seen a pathogen, let alone knew of its ramifications.

 We’ve come a long way since those days and modern dairying is a safer process. But the Family Cow Farm was an example of a mechanical failure leading to disaster. It was determined that a faulty heating system in the sanitation area allowed bacteria to sneak into the milk supply on just a single day…but one day was enough to cause an outbreak of illness.

  For those of you who are thinking that you’re safe because your milk is pasteurized-think again! In the 11 years between 1998 and 2008, there have been no reported deaths in drinkers of raw milk. In 2007 alone, three people died from drinking pasteurized milk.  It’s true that we occasionally hear of instances like the Family Cow Farm, but the numbers are generally minimal. The largest outbreak occurred in 1985 when 168,000 people where sickened from drinking pasteurized milk. How safe do you think you are now?

  In fact, 76 million people each year succumb to a food-borne illness and 5000 of them will die! Most of these illnesses come from improper handling and storage of food products. That’s just one of the many reasons we prefer to eat what we grow and buy local. The more your food is handled and moved from place to place, the greater your chance of contracting a food-borne illness. Never believe that just because your food comes from a store in a brightly colored package, with an annoying extra piece of plastic around the top, that you are safe from sickness. The food industry survives by making you feel secure about buying their products but remember, you are only as safe as the equipment and people processing your food.

  So I’ll end by saying–I’d rather drink raw milk than be a roaming elk in Two Mile Run Park…it appears that my chances of survival are greater!

   Help us add to The Locavorium at www.bigoakridge.org  where we are compiling a list of local products and suppliers.

Until next week,

Paula


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