November 6, 2011

Raw Milk: Some Practicalities

Part Four in my series on raw milk.  To see the previous posts, please click the label "Raw Milk" at the bottom of this post.

This raw milk experience, by the way, is kind of frustrating.  While I am excited to be able to give my kids local, raw, healthful milk, it would be easy to be discouraged.  You see, in most states raw milk is somewhat illegal.  In California it is legal to buy and sell it, but it’s not an easy thing to do.  Sure, there’s one brand of raw milk available in natural food stores, but, if I remember correctly, a half gallon costs about $10.  Since the company’s distribution is so large, it’s not as local of a product.  Most people in the United States who buy raw milk buy it directly from a farmer, either on the farm, through a buying club or through a herdsharing agreement.  
I'll recount the process we've been through so far.  Please bear in mind (especially if you happen to be the nice couple who delivers the milk) that my goal is not to complain, but to educate people who might be unfamiliar with  the process.
We heard about the milk and decided we wanted to try it.  Our friend gave us an email address for the couple who run the deliveries to Chico.  I emailed them and told them we wanted to try it.  The wife emailed me three separate documents: the advertised special (Buy before October 31st and get additional shares for $1 each) and detailed instructions for the delivery, as well as a note that said that if we wanted to try it before agreeing to the herdshare, we’d have to ask our friends for some.  

I checked out the farm's Facebook page and Googled the farm.  Nothing of interest on Google.  Twenty pictures of cows eating grass on Facebook.  And a couple pictures of cows being milked, of the farmer, of a couple cats.
So we did.  We tasted it, counted the cost and decided to go for it.  On October 31st, the last last day of the advertised special, four days after we’d originally found out about it, I called the couple to tell them we’d like to join.  They seemed a little put out that I was calling on the last day. It was delivery day, afterall, but I called in the morning and figured they could just sign me up when they got to the farm that day.  
The husband explained the whole process that was outlined in the email in greater detail.  He told me to buy the jars at True Value and the cooler at Wal-Mart (no can do, we don’t shop there, and, frankly, we’re always surprised when we meet natural food, locavore types who say the do shop there, but I digress.  I'm sure we have plenty of inconsistencies in our ethics, too) or Big Lots and to get ice packs.  The cooler has to have soft-sides, no wheels and it must have a zippered pocket on the side for the payments.  Everything needs to be clearly marked with our last name in permanent marker.  Have the cooler with the jars, and an extra set of jars with a box to hold the extra jars while they are at the diary, at the drop off point in the Chico by 9:00 Monday morning, with two separate checks (one for the farmer, one for the delivery).  Now the checks are supposed to be in sealed envelopes (another thing to buy, since we don’t tend to keep envelopes onhand), with our signature across the seal.  It takes the couple who does the delivery all day to get to the dairy farm in Cottonwood, unload the coolers, switch out everyone’s jars with those the farmer has filled with milk, repack them into the van (“It’s like a puzzle, you know, getting them all to fit and be accessible for the three seperate drop off locations.”), and drive back to Chico and then on to Oroville. I should be able to pick up my milk any time after 4:00 at the drop off point in Chico.  Of course, sometimes, there's a delay and they aren't on time.  The lady was going to email me the contract that night.  My understanding was that I needed to get it back to them first thing in the morning.  
I checked my email that night, no contract.  I checked it the morning. Nothing.  So I sent her an email asking about it.  I got an email back that said they’d needed sleep last night (which I totally understood; it was Halloween, for Pete's sake and they'd been doing milk delivery work all day), but there was no contract attached to her email. About a half an hour later I got an email back from her with the contract.  

I immediately completed it and emailed it back. 

She emailed me back informing me that I wasn’t supposed to email it to her.  She explained that she and her husband have nothing to do with the contract.  That’s between me and the farmer, I am supposed to put it in my cooler next week with my check for the herdshare and the first week's milk. 
No problem.  (But I don’t understand why her husband had made it seem urgent the day before.)  

Later that day I got an email about the cream.  Did I want it every week or just sometimes on special order?  
Just sometimes, I’d like to try it the first week, and then I would let her know.  
To get it just sometimes, not weekly, I would need to place my order the Wednesday before the delivery (five days ahead of time).  Making cream, she wrote, is a very involved process, so the farmer only does it on weekends.  It would be difficult to get it the first week, because my extra set of jars weren’t at the farm yet... But she could loan me one, but she’d expect a replacement for her jar with my full set of jars on Monday...   Oh, and be sure to wash your jars; the farmer won’t fill unwashed jars. 
Is a standard Mason Jar okay?  Her husband had been very specific about buying the milk jars at True Value Hardware and about the jars fitting in the coolers and the coolers fitting in the van, so I didn’t know if I needed a special type of jar. I wondered if I could use the two pint-sized Strauss cream bottles I had sitting by my backdoor waiting to get taken back to the natural foods store for the deposit money, but all I typed was, “Is a standard Mason jar okay?”
Well, that’s fine, but you only get a pint of cream in it. (I had talked to my friend and read the contract, so I knew that.)  I’m not sure whether you mean a mayonnaise jar, a canning quart jar or a canning pint jar. 
At this point I was a bit frustrated.  Maybe I hadn’t been clear in my email, but it just seemed like there was too much information in those three Word documents (five if you include the contracts), those numerous emails and our phone calls, for me to still be unclear on details. 
I waited a couple days before emailing back:  "I hope you are having a nice weekend.  I have not been able to procure the cooler and ice packs yet." (Jason had looked for the cooler online, the only store that carried it locally was Wal-Mart, so we'd waited until we purchased the jars at True Value, which ended up being standard half-gallon size Mason jars, so that we could get their dimensions and order an appropriate sized cooler online.)  "What I will do is drop off my first set of jars and the contract this Monday and then (hopefully) begin milk delivery the following Monday."

She emailed back that she'd already put in my cream order.  Did I want to cancel it?  She reminded me that the soft-sided Coleman cooler is available at Walm-Mart and ice packs are available at the Dollar Store....

I’m writing this simply to communicate what a process this is.  Buying raw milk from a farm is absolutely nothing like jumping in the car, driving to the market and picking up a carton of milk.  It’s completely different.  Why? Because the consumer is dealing with individuals, not corporations.  A corporation can fairly easily have someone on the clock 24 hours a day waiting to sell me milk, but individuals have schedules and other commitments and time constraints, so we all have to work together to make things work. That’s what being in a community is all about.  It’s a hassle indeed, but it’s refreshing to have individuals taking responsibility for each other's food.  


  1. So sorry it was such a difficult process. It gets better, although we have had 3 gallons delivered when we only ordered 1 gallon and 1 gallon delivered when we ordered 2 gallons. So, there still may be some confusion along the way but it's worth it.

  2. This sounds both interesting and challenging. We don't consume enough milk product to make a similar shift in our household, but I'm glad you guys are trying this.

    That said, if we could link up with the Laphroaig people for direct deliveries, now that would be something!

  3. Wowers...that is intense! I am proud of you for your convictions and I hope you guys love the 'fancy' milk : ) <3 Jenny