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I got up this morning and poured raw milk all over my cereal. There are people who say that raw milk is incredibly nutritious and good for health—and that probably had some impact on my thinking when I switched to raw milk. But the real reason I drink raw milk is because doing so is the best way to support my local economy—and it's delicious. It was like pouring ice cream on my cereal (thanks Stoney Creek Farm).
I first became curious about raw milk years ago, when I saw a small family farm being raided at gunpoint by agents of the government (watch the documentary Farmageddon to see it yourself). No one had been sickened by their unpasteurized milk, no animals had been treated cruelly. They just chose not to heat their milk and then sell it to a lot of people who made a deliberate choice to drink unheated milk. It seemed like the government response was way out of proportion to the crime.
Then I got to thinking of a picture I had seen of my great grandfather. He was a dairy farmer for most of his life and in the picture he was a slender, old man with a huge milk container slung over his shoulder. I know he drank his own product and it seemed to have served him well and raw milk didn't keep my great grandmother from living well into her 90's.
He had a small herd of about 25 cows he raised on about 100 acres of West Virginia pasture—land to rocky, steep and infertile to raise much of anything other than dairy cows. He made a decent living for decades on that land until they passed the pasteurization laws.
No one ever got sick from drinking his milk over the decades he was in operation, but the law said he was going to have to spend $10,000 on new pasteurization equipment and—back in the day—that was a lot of money. He had no choice but to sell his cows and retire. There would be no third-generation on the farm.
The problem was never with small dairy farmers that treated their cows well and fed them on pasture. The problem was the increasing size of the dairy herds, being fed on a diet of corn that they can't easily digest and standing around in dirt and crap with hundreds of their fellow bovines. The law, however, didn't distinguish between the two different types of dairy producers and so a whole class of small farmers was put out of business.
Which takes me back to Bill, the small farmer that I pay top dollar to milk a cow for me. He also sells the best bacon that exists in this world. It comes from pigs also raised out on pasture and he only has a few of them.
There used to be a lot of farmers like Bill who would have cows and pigs and chickens. When I sold bearings for Nice 20 years ago, there was a company out there making equipment for small hog farmers—those guys supplementing their income from corn by also selling a few pigs. That company is long gone, as is the factory that used to make those Nice bearings (Nice still exists as a division of RBC. Most of their bearings, as far as I am aware, are now produced in China.).
I am sure there were also a lot of small factories out there making products for small dairies that are now long gone. With cows now being milked by the thousands, who needs automated equipment for 30 cows? With pigs being raised by thousands and their waste stored in huge lagoons, who needs a spreader for the manure of a few dozen hogs?
As farms get bigger and fewer, the economy that serves them gets bigger and fewer. John Deere and New Holland have just about wiped out the competition.
However, there are still hundreds of smaller manufacturers out there, and Bearings.Parts sells many of them high quality bearings at low prices to help them compete. And I drink raw milk so there will still be small, local farmers out there to buy their products.