“There’s no money in health. Walk up and down the food aisle, most of the food is dead. It’s sterile. A lot of people are sick because they eat processed food. Once you pasteurize or homogenize milk, it changes the structure of the protein. Eighty percent of the calcium is not available to your body. Your body doesn’t recognize it. They can say it’s in there, it’s on the label, but it’s not in a form that your body recognizes. So an old woman drinks milk and doesn’t understand why she gets osteoporosis. She can’t absorb the calcium.” -Kay Craig, Grassway Farms
Raw milk is simply milk that has not been processed through pasteurization or homogenization. Back in the day, before many current diseases were commonplace, say around 1920, Americans could buy street legal fresh raw whole milk.
Today’s processed milk comes from animals working overtime to overproduce three times as much as the normal cow. Pumped full of antibiotics and manufactured food, the super Holstein slave to the commercial milk machine is a complicated mother. Even if she’s not ingesting Bovine Growth Hormone, today’s hopped up heifer is maxed out.
There is, of course, an alternative.
Lake Winnebago is frozen over. It’s 8 degrees above zero. There’s a foot of snow on the ground and more falling fast. I decided to forgo the shortcut and drive the icy lake road from Oshkosh to the Grassway Farm in New Holstein.
Grassway Farm is a “certified organic” grass-based seasonal dairy farm. The 220 plus acre grass and clover spread grazes cows, chickens, pigs and turkeys in lush meadows, currently under a thick layer of ice.
A resident of Southern California, I wonder who these people are who endure the elements and why. Apparently they’re considerably more hearty than myself, as I’m still shivering from the walk to the car from the house…. approximately 10 feet.
Kay and Wayne Craig followed a dream and purchased the farm almost 10 years ago. After working in agribusiness for more than 11 years, they wanted to return to their dairy farm roots. They didn’t want to confine cows so they went on a learning expedition and found a way of farming that is kind to the cows and kind to the land.
They arrived at a kind of farming called managed rotational grazing that lets the cows out of the barn and onto the green pastures. This enhances the animals’ immune systems to produce milk, and ultimately cheese, that is natural and clean.
Grassway Farm produces and sells raw milk and they’re serious about it. You’d have to be to embrace the rigors of this rugged lifestyle. Not to mention the ever-present threat of a liability suit from a disgruntled customer or the government busting you for selling uncertified milk.
“All our babies are born in the spring. We have some late ones in July. We have about a hundred cows,” Kay tells me as she sits down at the kitchen table, enjoying the well-earned rest. “We truly believe it [raw milk] is not the toxic substance that the government likes to tell you that it is. Ultimately everything comes down to money and power. We both grew up on dairy farms and drank raw milk our entire lives. We’re perfectly healthy.”
Wayne and Kay have a thriving business with a 500 customer base in their farmship despite the bad press raw milk sometimes gets. Grassway is fueled by word of mouth with patrons driving as far as 60 miles to get the goods, undeterred by fears of unhealthy bacteria and the safety of raw milk.
“Grassway is fueled by word of mouth with patrons driving as far as 60 miles to get the goods.”
“As far as the government is concerned bacteria wear black hats. That is so untrue. We need good bacteria in our guts to be healthy. We must have good flora in our intestines to stay healthy. Eighty percent of our immune system is based on our gut. If our gut’s not happy our immune system is compromised and then we’re susceptible to everything around us. Raw milk is a plethora of good bacteria,” says Kay.
The bad rap has tracks traceable to unsanitary conditions that existed in the now-distant past. Years ago cows were milked by hand and the milk landed directly into open pails, or sometimes the barn cats sitting nearby would receive a random squirt from a friendly milker. Refrigeration systems didn’t exist; rather milk was cooled in milk cans in cold-water tanks.
Adding fuel to the fire, it was believed that milk was a carrier of tuberculosis.
“The TB argument that milk is the carrier for TB…that was the workers,” Kay says, “Scratching their noses and rubbing their eyes and coughing into an open pail…it wasn’t clean back then, with higher bacteria levels than you wanted.”
But that’s not the situation here. This place is as clean as a whistle.
“It’s very different now. It’s a closed system. We pre-dip every teat end with a mild iodine. Every cow has an individual clean cloth towel, you put the unit on and it goes into a bulk tank. There are no open pails. Most dairies have a pre-cooler, a plate or a tube. We can knock 15 degrees off before it ever hits the bulk tank with the big compressor. The goal is to bring the milk down to 38 degrees in an hour.”
Pasteurizing milk was a quick fix that negated the cause of the problem, unclean conditions. Clearly the cost of the solution, pasteurizing, is that we have milk that’s not only of questionable value but contributes to disease. The health and economical implications are staggering.
“When you pasteurize the milk to get rid of the [unsanitary] problem you destroy the bacteria and deactivate the 23 natural enzymes that are present in milk to help you digest milk. Your body now needs to create those enzymes to break down the milk to digest it. It’s hard on your system.” Kay tells me.
In fact, the annihilated enzymes destroy Vitamins C, B12 and B6, kill beneficial bac-teria, diminish vitamin content and promote pathogens causing allergies, tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease, cancer and who knows what else. So why is anybody drinking it?
“There are farmers who don’t drink their own milk. We work very hard to keep our cows healthy. We don’t push them. We’re organic. They eat what they are designed by God and nature to eat… roughage. Grass in the summertime. As soon as we get green up, we get them out there. We move them every 12 hours. They get a new section of fresh lush after every milking. They will be out on pasture till the weather dictates that we bring them in. Till the frost and the snow and the frozen waterlines dictate. Then we have loose housing sheds.”
The cows at Grassway are decidedly well cared for. The sensitivity to the animals and their commitment to the land are, of course anomalistic in dairy farming, but the success of their business is a testament to the fact that it can be done. Grassway Farm is thriving in a time when many small farms have been swallowed up by large corporations.
“Cow health. The conventional dairy cow, where they’re pushing 23,000 pounds per cow/milk production, they may or may not be given BGH, the bovine growth hormone to push them even harder…their diet is high in corn, whether it’s high moisture corn or corn silage. They push these cows very hard. The average life of a dairy cow in a confinement herd is 42 months. We have some 10- and 11-year-olds. Keep in mind we’re seasonal,” Kay says.
Ultimately people who drink raw milk understand its profound effect. Sometimes, but not exclusively, they are people who have learned hard lessons about digestion and overall health.
“There are so many sick people out there,” she tells me, “When they come to our little store, they come looking for milk. They have issues. All sorts of intestinal problems…leaky gut, Crohn’s, food allergies, diabetes, cancer, just go down the line. The concern is that they are gonna get sicker. They tell their doctor that they drink raw milk and that’s what the media will jump on.”
And though it has been proven that their product is not a health risk, independent farmers like these in the business of food as medicine may not survive a liability suit.
“If you’re painted with a bad brush and you have to defend yourself,” she says, “you have to spend 100,000 dollars in legal fees proving yourself right. That’s why farmers don’t do raw milk. It’s not worth the risk. Wisconsin state and the federal government have gotten farmers so scared. You don’t know till you’re challenged. The liability issue is there.”
Kay and I venture outside and walk the frozen, pristine acreage where husband Wayne looks comfortable in a pair of overalls and a flannel shirt as I shiver in a down parka. Happy cows linger in an open barn. I ask him why the government doesn’t want to certify raw milk.
“They don’t wanna deal with it,” Wayne says,“There are farms that I wouldn’t drink raw milk from. If they were to allow sales anywhere, then there would be some problems. I have a vested interested in them developing a higher standard for raw milk, but they don’t wanna do that because that’s acknowledging that raw milk is safe. And the dairy industry wants nothing to do with it because if you’re buying raw milk directly from the farmer, you’re bypassing the whole system. It’s all about the money.”
And though the legitimacy of the need for governmental regulation to control quality is valid, so is the need for the raw milk. People are counting on farmers like Kay and Wayne for their health and they know it.
Sale of raw milk is legal in 28 of 50 states in the U.S.
Find out where to get your raw milk and if raw milk is legal in your state at www.realmilk.com.
Sam Slovick is a regular contributor to LA YOGA Ayurveda and Health as well as LA Weekly. He is also published in Details, Vibe, Giant, Nylon, Neon, Angelino, The Advocate, The Face, Curve and others.