Written by contributor Tiffany Larson.

Part 2 of 2 in a series talking with Charlotte Smith, the owner of Champoeg Creamery. Charlotte raises jersey cows in St. Paul, Oregon providing over 80 families a week with fresh, high quality raw milk. You can find Part 1 here.

We continued to drink raw milk and I learned all I could about the politics behind it and why it’s so hard to find.  We were spending about $250 per month on raw milk.  Not only did we drink two-three glasses each per day but I was also making our own cheese, butter, yogurt and sour cream, all naturally enzyme-rich foods we needed for great health.  I then realized I had five acres of grass pasture and felt the “calling” to have my own cows.

I was so passionate about providing this luscious and nutritious “white gold” for my family that I began Champoeg Creamery two years ago. Being a small, raw milk dairy truly is a calling – it is not a profitable endeavor due to the constraints of Oregon law.  Raw milk legality varies from state to state and it is legal in about half the states. In Oregon, raw milk sales are legal if you have three dairy cows or fewer, sell the milk directly from the farm, and do not advertise.  We get no government subsidies like pasteurized milk dairies receive, and it’s very hard, dirty work that has to take place twice a day, 365 days a year, 18 degrees and icy or 95 degrees and sweaty.

Raw Milk Quality

I also began producing raw milk because I knew I could produce better raw milk than I could buy anywhere. All raw milk is not the same.  The most nutritious raw milk comes from cows who are:

  • rotated to fresh grass daily
  • eating grass that is 4-7 inches tall and therefore fast growing and at its nutritional peak
  • not returning to the same grass paddock for at least 21 days

Additionally, the safest raw milk is chilled within minutes to 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Healthy cows produce healthy raw milk – healthy cows eat grass, high-quality hay, and very little grain. I knew I could commit to these labor intensive and costly practices to ensure top quality milk.

Raw Milk Safety

The FDA is concerned about the safety of raw milk because if it is not handled properly it can harbor food borne illness causing bacteria, just like any other product. My response to that is that consumers must do their homework. We need to shift from a society that expects the government to provide everything for us so we can act unconsciously, to one of being informed consumers who take the responsibility of buying food for our families very seriously. We mistakenly believe when we go to the grocery store that everything there is safe to bring home and serve our families, however, look at the news and the millions and millions of pounds of food products being recalled on a regular basis, everyday items we buy in the store.

Buying Raw Milk Locally

If you follow the procedures I use to produce safe, clean, and nutritious raw milk, it is very easy to do so.  When looking for a farm to purchase raw milk, I recommend the following:

1. Ask for a tour. If a farmer won’t let you tour their property then I would not buy milk from them. When you meet the farmer they should be open to sharing their practices and answering all your questions. Do you trust this person? Ask for references of several customer’s names and numbers who’ve been getting milk from the farmer for some time and call the customers.

2. Look at the cows out in the pasture.  Are the cows clean, is the feeding area clean, is the barn clean, how does the place smell? How many cows are on the property vs. the acres of grass?  Are the cows rotated to fresh pasture daily?  Does the farmer have access to irrigation so the cows are on fast-growing grass for 9 months of the year, or is the grass gone by July, meaning the cows are truly grass-fed only 4-5 months of the year?

3. Look at the milking area.  Is it clean? A dirt floor in a barn can be a clean place to milk, look to see if it is free of manure and bedding?  How is the milking equipment cleaned and how are the milk jars sanitized?  Where is the milk handled and is that area clean?  How is the milk chilled? Is it in an ice bath or just placed in a freezer or fridge (cools down much slower which could allow for illness causing bacteria to grow)  How often is the milk tested for bacteria?

4. Ask if they use organic and sustainable farm practices.  No hormones or antibiotics, no GMO grains, 50% or more of the feed coming right off the farm.

Overall, be an informed consumer. Be confident in the choice to drink raw milk so you can educate your friends who will ask how you can be sure it’s safe. If you follow these procedures then you will be assured the milk you bring home to drink is safe. Then, in your own home, make sure it’s kept covered in its container and refrigerated.

Photo by cheeseslave

Raw Milk and Health

For seven years now our family has enjoyed excellent health due to introducing raw milk into our diet.  Since incorporating raw dairy products into our lives we rarely get sick, we suffer from no upset tummies and have healthy digestive systems, we rarely spend money on doctors, over the counter or prescription medications.

I drank raw milk all throughout my last pregnancy and my youngest began drinking raw milk as soon as she could hold a sippy cup. She is the poster child for good health – rarely gets colds, has never had antibiotics (she’s almost five) and sports a very strong immune system. She’s in school with 16 other children, being exposed to all sorts of illnesses, but remains infection-free.

I talk with many of my customers who are controlling the symptoms of, or curing a variety of health issues with raw dairy products: eczema, asthma, allergies, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, autism, osteoporosis slowing, quicker healing of bones after surgeries, and many comments of overall stronger immunity. Every time I listen to a customer’s anecdotal evidence I am more inspired to get up and go out in the weather, 365 days a year, to produce the nutritious food that is helping people recover good health.

I also give cheese classes on the dairy so attendees can have the farm experience of making cheese from milk directly from the source. It’s a wonderful way to give people the opportunity to be connected to their food.

Does your family drink raw milk? If not, what are your concerns about drinking raw milk? Do you have any other questions for Charlotte about producing or using raw milk?