Iowa may soon have as many milking coaches as lactation consultants. After a lapse of about four decades, human breastfeeding has secured its place once again in our culture as the premiere way to nourish an infant. In a parallel narrative, fresh wholesome milk from cows, sheep, and goats is regaining its reputation as a premiere health food. To boost that growing reputation, milking coaches are pulling up another milking stool to help people learn more about the realities of milk fresh from the udder.
"We've only used manmade milk (formula and pasteurized milk) for around 60 to 70 years but we've used breast milk and raw milk for 6000 years. If it wasn't for breast milk and raw milk, we wouldn't be here!" says Brad Hopp, a milking coach near Lawton in northwestern Iowa . "Learning more about milking helps people understand it better, and I'm all for that."
Although mothers' milk retains some of its mystery in the face of scientific inquiry, mothers these days know how precious it is to their babies' health and growth. A little mystery in the food supply passes when it's balanced by strong instincts and a solid record of success. But mystery can feel uncomfortable when it strays too far from knowledge and experience.
"The idea of raw milk feels exotic and mysterious to many people in Iowa ," says Christy Ann Welty, homeschooling mother of two who helps milking coaches and new milkers find each other. "More understanding and less fear will help everyone as they make decisions about the best ways to feed their families."
More understanding and less mystery: that's the meaning of "Milkers get it."
A second meaning of the phrase relates to Iowa state law.
Drinking wholesome, fresh milk -- fresh from a healthy, grass-fed cow, sheep, or goat without processing through a pasteurization vat -- has been illegal since 1968 for most people living in Iowa . The privilege of choosing whether to drink milk fresh or pasteurized is reserved to the few who control livestock, land, and have mastered the skill of milking; everyone else is restricted to only Grade A pasteurized milk, except for those who are willing to operate in the gray areas of the law. "Giving away milk is not covered by our rules," says Dustin VandeHoef, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), "but all sales are illegal."
Passages from Chapter 192 of the Iowa Code (state law) say, "Only grade 'A' pasteurized milk and milk products shall be sold to the final consumer, or to restaurants, soda fountains, grocery stores, or similar establishments;" and later, "No person shall within the state produce, provide, sell, offer, or expose for sale, or have in possession with intent to sell, any milk or milk product which is adulterated or misbranded;"
VandeHoef says, "We interpret the words 'adulterated' and 'misbranded' to include raw milk, and this is also the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] interpretation which is adopted into the Code."
The IDALS interprets "sales" to mean "exchanges of value." During a phone call to his office, VanderHoef was reluctant to specify which circumstances would be considered prosecutable and which would be outside IDALS's rules.
A broad interpretation of the meaning of "sales" puts giving away raw milk, and even drinking raw milk from one's own animal, into the gray area between legal and illegal: renting a stall in a farmer's barn to shelter your cow if you do not have a barn; bringing a sandwich to the person milking your goat for you; bringing a bottle of wine to a dinner party where the hostess serves raw milk. Membership in a private kitchen club could be interpreted as a "sale" if one of the members gives away samples of raw milk.
To steer clear of potential gray market entanglement, all milking lessons from "milkers get it" coaches are free, and no donations are accepted. "We're not trying to get around the law," says Welty. "Our purpose is to pass along a valuable skill to people who want to be self-sufficient or live a sustainable lifestyle or simply exercise choice about the food they eat."
In order to exercise the simple choice of "Fresh or Pasteurized" without engaging black markets or gray markets, a person has to learn how to milk and has to control livestock plus enough land to support it. One mission of "Milkers get it" is to help people overcome barriers that state law and bureaucracy have erected. Another mission is to assist efforts to change the state law.
Challenging the statute with a court case is lengthy and expensive. One current lawsuit disputes one circumstance in the gray area of the law: Freitag v Secretary of Agriculture was filed in January 2010 and litigation continues in Linn County 's district court. Representing two milkers who boarded their cow with a Linn County farmer, the Farmer-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund "is acting in the capacity of a public interest law firm to protect the fundamental rights of the public at large ...."
Changing the statute directly with new legislation is another option. Small-scale dairy farmers, health food customers, legislators, and many others worked together during Iowa 's 2011 legislative session to lift restrictions against consumers buying raw milk directly from farmers. "We made progress," says Francis Thicke, organic dairy operator and former candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, "but not enough to pass it this year. We'll try again next year."
Meanwhile, you can pull up a three-legged stool and try a free milking lesson for yourself, and encourage your state legislators to get some hands-on experience, too. Accurate information and authentic experience are often the best tools for changing engrained habits of mind and for updating rules and procedures. Milking coaches are ready to introduce all comers to the wholesome experience of squirting fresh milk from the udder of a healthy animal into a warm, foamy pail of milk. When you feel the rush from a satisfying squeeze, you'll understand. Milkers get it.
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