Monday, December 19, 2011

calf manure.........yeah..............

My resonse to the last two blog posts at the Complete Patient Blog:

Mark is focusing on the 0157:H7 coming from the calves manure and somehow getting to the he saying the 5 kids from 4 different counties possibly got sick from some exposure to OPDC calf manure (touring the farm...licking the bottle!?!), but not from the actual OP raw milk or raw milk products? Is he even conceding that the kids got sick from OPDC milk? so confused...I hate being manipulated with brilliantly hazy rhetoric.

When do we get to see the state report?

I am happy that OPDC customers have their raw milk back. I am just concerned that there are still false assumptions floating around this same customer base. You know, the one where raw milk kills e.coli 0157:H7 so that raw milk is not inherently dangerous. Or that raw milk cures asthma or GERD.

I don't like sounding so cynical but the optimism and idealism in the CA raw milk crowd is a tad overboard. Yes, there is strength in happily engaged and vocal consumer base. Yes, OPDC does an amazing job at promoting raw milk and keeping up a positive relationship with their customers. Social media/networking and loyalty is powerful.

Where the RAW MILK MOVEMENT (i.e. OPDC, and the OPDC/raw milk consumer base gets in a bit of trouble is when political speech making and charming rhetoric is gobbled up and the truth gets dirtied in the calf manure.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Farmers Market Consumers: Buyer Beware. Part 3 of 3.

Buyer Beware at Farmer's Markets

Part 3 of 3. Part One and Part Two

I've spoken with the market manager for the farmer's market where I work and shop. Diana Rodgers runs the Sunday Mar Vista Farmer's market. Here is what she says about the issue of consumer protection in the ever growing direct to consumer farmer's markets: 

"You may be experiencing seeming reticence or apathy because farmers' market managers are concerned for the livelihood of the real, true dedicated farmers so one wants to be sure.   Also, a big expose would hurt the whole business including the farmers -- and there are still a lot of them-- that work earnestly to do things right.  The big supermarkets would like nothing better than to see farmers' markets go away.  At the same time, many are very concerned about fraud and looking for new ways to enforce thoroughly.  This takes a lot of research and diligence so it appears sometimes that nothing is being done.

Part of the problem is that the formal Agricultural inspection system is severely underfunded and we're having trouble getting the legislation passed to up the budget for agricultural inspectors.  A huge part of the issue.  There were 300+ farmers' markets in the State of CA in 2000 there are now over 700 so this is daunting and a lot is falling on market managers alone who don't have the resources to do everything by themselves.  Not to mention properly along with all of the other demands of the job.

Another problem is that there are a lot of people opening up farmers markets who know nothing about the system, farming etc.  So, they see markets as moneymakers but do not have the education to open and manage them properly.  A lot of this is the result of grass roots become industry and demand outweighing supply (small, family farmed produce).  An industry growing too fast without the proper checks and balances in place for the current system.

Big improvements have been made in the last year on the local level despite it not appearing so. A sincere and concerned group of LA Managers have gotten together to form a consortium around these very issues.  We  work on questionable farmer investigations as a team but we're having to learn a lot as we go.  We are doing inspections and sharing information and trying to do calculations based upon how many markets one farm goes to but there's a lot of other things to factor in.   I think we are all blinking in the horror of all of this and trying to gather ourselves a) to make sure our markets are quality and b) to join forces in our small way to work together to investigate and to enforce -- something, historically the job did not require to the huge degree it does now.

It is important to protect the small farmer in this work -- as it would be a terrible thing to ruin the very people we want to support, at the same time, more needs to be done to help work on a solution to the growing problem and to create a strong message to the cheaters that it will not be tolerated.

I think all the managers in my circle would be very interested in the information you have gathered -- many of them have HFF in their markets. Especially if it is evidential for them to use in enforcement.   They just have to be sure, clear and measured about how they use it.  If there is something tangible to enforce, I suspect they'd want to do so.

I so appreciate your concern.

Diana Rodgers
Mar Vista Farmers' Market"

What ARE the markets doing to investigate Healthy Family Farms in order to keep them in their markets as a vendor? 
Certain farmer's markets where Healthy Family Farms sells their products have lawyers on retainer watching the Healthy Family Farms saga closely. Or are they protecting their own interests, the interest of the small farms they host, and the cities that host the markets? "Farmer's markets have been sued by farmers that they've kicked out before," says Greta Dunlap, market manager for both South Pasadena and Beverly Hills farmer's markets. She said that her market's lawyer has been watching the "Healthy Family Farms issue" for about a year. Operations Manager Aaron Young confirmed that the Board of Directors for the Santa Barbara Farmer's market where Healthy Family Farms sells on Saturday had met recently to discuss the situation. Other farmers/ranchers in that market told this citizen and former Healthy Family Farms customer that they were surprised when Healthy Family Farms showed up the Saturday following the board meeting. When pressed as to why they are still selling in Santa Barbara, Young responded that they, too, have a lawyer on retainer and that "they [the board] are waiting to see what comes down the pipe [presumably from the current investigation and trial]." Dunlap echoed a similar sentiment, "We're waiting to see what comes down the pipe."

The manager of Hollywood's Sunday farmers market responded to my question about what they are doing to protect their consumers from fraud by basically stating that Cal Ag in Ventura counts what Sharon Palmer produces and Cal Ag Los Angeles keeps track of what she sells. According to Laura Avery, head manager of the Santa Monica farmer's markets where Healthy Family Farms sells on Saturday, Ventura Ag checks Healthy Family Farms egg layers and the last count, done in April, recorded that Palmer had 2,000 egg layers. But they don't count meat birds, Avery said. She also said that her market is trying to count what Healthy Family Farms sells against what Ventura Ag reports is actually on Palmer's land. This is a step in the right direction, but is it enough?

Recently, I inquired as to how the investigation into Healthy Family Farms is going at the Santa Monica Farmer's Markets, where I used to buy from Healthy Family Farms at the Saturday market. It is my earnest belief that Laura Avery is doing everything within her power to investigate Healthy Family Farms. Unfortunately, it seems as though the information I have gathered is from the past and the more current picture evidence does not provide anything that is "tangible to enforce" in the words of Diana Rodgers, above.  It is my sincere hope that Sharon Palmer is producing her own meat and eggs at this time.

So what do watch dog farmer's market managers do to investigate fraud themselves? According to Mar Vista market manager Diana Rodgers, where Healthy Family Farms is not a vendor, they are doing the best they can with limited resources. From an article by David Karp for the Los Angeles Times Farmers Market column:

"Rodgers meets regularly with other local managers in a group, recently incorporated in a chapter of the California State Grange, to discuss a broad range of issues such as street closures, regulatory requirements and quarantines. And in January she was appointed as an alternate to the Certified Farmers Market Advisory Committee, which helps guide the state program.

Market integrity, always a concern for Rodgers, has become a priority since media reports last fall about vendors who sold produce they'd bought from the wholesale market rather than what they'd grown themselves. She evaluates farmers who apply to sell at her market by checking that they haven't been cited for peddling by agricultural authorities, by asking which other markets they sell at, by vetting them with other managers whose opinions she respects and by visiting the farms.

Verifying integrity can be tricky. Brief farm visits like the ones she recently did are enough to catch blatant cheaters, Rodgers says, but won't nail those who grow a plausible amount for show and then buy the rest. The new mantra for integrity-conscious managers is "do the math": check records of farmers market sales against estimates of production on the farmer's certificate, issued by county agricultural inspectors. But the variables, such as crops, growing areas, seasons and sales to wholesale outlets are so complex that it's difficult for even a determined manager to catch cheaters, who have grown increasingly creative in exploiting the loopholes in market rules, Rodgers said.

The problem is that farmers markets have proliferated, but agricultural commissioners have scant resources for inspections. Rogers recently took a lead role in rallying support for a plan, proposed by a committee appointed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, to increase the stall fees paid by farmers in order to fund enforcement and manager training. If this plan fails to gain authorization from the state Legislature, as now seems likely, local managers may need to band together to hire professional investigators if they are to protect customers against fraud, Rodgers said.

Like many good managers, she provides customers with information to guide their choices, by posting on the website a map with descriptions of growing practices for each of her farmers. She also forbids vendors from displaying signs with misleading or meaningless phrases, such as "naturally grown" or 'no spray'."

Demand is Growing 

"Demand for local food is expected to reach $7 billion by 2012, nearly doubling since 2002, according to the Agriculture Department. And with more than 6,000 farmers markets currently operating in the United States — a 40 percent jump in the past five years — they are an easy place for consumers to go to get their fresh-food fix." states an article on MSNBC's food safety column. That article is concerned about food safety in the rapidly grossing and growing markets.

But as this current trial with Healthy Family Farms shows, maybe we should be worried that to "know your farmer" is not enough to put your full confidence in their products. A discerning consumer will visit the farm themselves, and know the tough questions to ask.

Part 3 of 3. Part One and Part Two

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Californians: What's in your Raw Milk?

The information contained in the videos posted below, is powerful.

Organic Pastures is the largest legal raw milk dairy in CA, and perhaps the world. Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures, is an outspoken proponent of raw milk and was one of the key note speakers at this years Weston A. Price Foundation Conference. When I met him at the raw milk rally to support the "Rawesome Three" this August, I was struck by his charm and ability to emotionally move and motivate people with his charisma. It was infectious.

The problem is, there are serious discrepancies between Organic Pastures marketing claims and what actually is occurring on their farm. I've been reading up and following The Complete Patient blog for awhile now. If you care about raw milk, this blog keeps it's pulse on North America's raw milk movement.

Mark McAfee posts there often and I was really very surprised with some of the things he would say and the tone of his posts. I was also concerned that some raw milk producers, especially the smaller ones, were highly suspicious of him and his dairy. They mainly objected to his RAWMI program.

I started getting more curious about the Organic Pastures dairy operation. I had literally bought into claims that raw milk is inherently safe and no harmful bacteria has ever been found in Organic Pastures milk. You can read more about their raw milk practices and safety here.

Organic Pastures is going through a tough time right now as the state of California has shut down production and sales of their raw milk the second time in 5 years due to 5 cases of ecoli 0157:H7 being linked to this diary through epidemiological data. Raw milk supporters and McAfee's customer base are outraged. They cannot believe that the state would shut down the dairy. They feel a recall would have been more than sufficient. They point to other "Big Ag" food born illness recalls as of late including eggs, spinach, and cantaloupe as being more of a menace to society than raw milk. Why shut down the dairy?

No one knows when the dairy will re-open but according to Organic Pastures they are hopeful distribution can begin as soon as next week. According to their press release this morning, e coli has been found in the manure of their calves. They are certain that the state will find the same in their testing.

I am certainly not trying to kick a man while he is down. Serious questions about the operations at Organic Pastures have been floating around for several years now. It just happens that these videos came out at the same time that Organic Pastures was ordered to shut down it's operations. I am pretty hopeful that it wasn't intentional or maligned. To be certain, this little article will not bring down Organic Pastures. Their fan/customer base is strong, and when they are up and running again I am sure they will be as financially successful as they have been in recent years. Some estimates in the comments section of The Complete Patient blog put the Organic Pastures Dairy's gross earnings at around $6 million per year. 

I am not arguing that raw milk is bad for you or even deadly. I am not saying we should not have the right to consume it. I regularly buy and drink raw milk! I am arguing that if producers are going to provide raw milk, at least give us the straight facts of how you 'grow' your raw milk.  We demand answers to tough questions from Big Ag and even our local food producers. Why not raw milk producers?

For Raw Milk Consumers:
While customers wait for Organic Pastures to reopen, I encourage OPDC customers to watch these videos and ask themselves a few questions:

1. Why does Organic Pastures state on their bottle that their milk comes from 100% grass fed cows. Clearly this is not the case.

2. Why does Organic Pastures have an open herd? What's the harm in having an open herd, you ask? I had those same questions. Fortunately for you and me, there are folks who have a passion for raw milk but also want to know if it is being produced in a responsible manner. Dr. Amanda Rose's history with Organic Pastures caught my eye, as well as her consumer guide for raw milk drinkers. She covers the open/closed herd question.

For Raw Milk advocates:
1) If OPDC is not forthright in their marketing, does it matter? Yes, because we, the raw milk consumers, are mislead.
2) 100% Grass-Fed is not a term to mess around with or dilute. It is highly irritating that farmers who are primarily grass farmers first and ranchers or dairymen second have to compete with producers who are not using the term appropriately.
3) I am fully aware that there is a higher demand for raw milk currently in CA then there is supply. I am fully aware that OPDC has helped to create this awareness of raw milk and demand for raw milk precisely because of McAfee's enthusiasm and marketing know how. To this I say, well, then market it like you do it, Organic Pastures. Otherwise, let a competitor or a few come in and above all, do it better.

What's my beef with Organic Pastures Beef?
Here is another example of misleading advertising. Organic Pastures began to sell ground beef from their spent dairy cows at farmer's markets and in stores this past October. I was alerted to their suspicious marketing because they sell their ground beef at the same price point as the grass-fed beef rancher that I buy from.

From their USDA Organic Ground Beef email launch:


Our cows graze on organic green pastures, all year long. Warm California sun + a lot of green pastures make for the best tasting beef with all the right nutritious, good healthy fats our bodies need and deserve. Our pasture fed animals are raised outdoors on pasture and treated humanily with organic practices. This combination makes the best meat around! We call it "back to basics". Our cows call it "AMAZING"!  We believe you will call it "the best beef you have ever had!" 

The problem I have with this is now they are directly competeing with an honest to goodness grassfed cattleman who prides himself in the taste of his beef and even borrows this rancher's marketing tagline with a slight twist: "The best beef you have ever had!" I beg to differ. Cattle that are raised for meat consumption on an 100% grass-fed cattle operation graze on irrigated pasture their whole lives (usually around 2-3 years old). The rancher I buy my meat from chose a specific breed, Lowline Cattle, specifically for the taste and quality of the meat. He grows 5 kinds of grass to produce the best tasting beef a la the Joel Salatin method which can be read up on in his book "Salad Bar Beef". He makes sure his beef is full of healthy fats, 15% fat to be sure. Organic Pastures USDA Organic Ground beef is less than 15% fat from dairy cows that stop producing (how old are the cows, when/why do they stop producing?) These are important questions to ask yourself. Why would you pay the same price per pound for different quality beef?

Not Grain-Finished

There are many different types of beef varieties available to purchase at the store. Grain adds weight, mostly in the form of fat, faster than grass. Weight equals money for the rancher. Americans are also used to more fat in their beef than most other people. Some find grass-fed beef too lean, but it is healthier and more flavorful. Corn is also the cheapest form of animal food, which is why most beef is grain fed or finished. We believe in quality NOT quantity. You will taste our quality in our healthy meat. 

This is highly misleading. According to the videos below, as well as from statements by their telephone representative, Organic Pastures dairy cows are given up to 4 lbs. of corn daily their whole milk producing lives, the same grain they say is the cheapest form of animal food! They also buy adult cows from other organic ranches, and who knows what they've been fed? I wonder what "not grain finished" really means? Does it mean that after the dairy cows are spent, they are stopped their grain rations and put out to pasture? How long are they off their grains? These questions matter.

Another point raised by a source who is in the know about small scale food distribution:
"distribution is always the key for any new venture, and Mark McAfee has worked hard over the years to develop his own distribution network in California. Most food producers don’t develop their own distribution, but wholesale out to distributors. So that gives McAfee a huge advantage over the smaller producers of beef because McAfee has his raw milk dairy network. Consumers beware!!"

And now, the videos:
This is from a blog for a new buyers club being set up in CA by the owners of Tropical Traditions. In an effort to track down a source legal raw milk in CA, for their buying club, they visited the two CA regulated dairies, Claravale and Organic Pastures. Having a background in researching and working with truly grassfed beef, chicken and egg ranches in Wisconsin's Amish country, the Shilhavy's know what to look for and what to ask when finding food resources for their own family and others.

I recommend that you read the full article, but here are the videos:


Organic Pastures