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Raw Milk Reform Gets Mixed Reviews


 by C.B. Hall

With the enactment of new state legislation this spring, Vermont has liberalized rules on the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk. The new law, which took effect July 1, allows raw-milk producers to deliver their product to customers at farmers’ markets if the customer has already purchased milk at the farm in question and has been offered a tour of the farm. To deliver at farmers’ markets, the farmers must also be so-called Tier II producers, which means they have to meet standards for inspection, registration, testing and bottling not applicable to smaller, Tier I producers; they can can, however, sell up to 280 gallons of raw milk weekly, while Tier I farmers can only sell 87.5 gallons.

In addition to making raw milk easier to get for consumers, the reform makes the milk’s distribution simpler for farmers who might otherwise have to deliver to geographically scattered customers.

Berlin’s Rogers Farmstead, the only Tier II raw-milk producer in Washington County, has been distributing its product at Montpelier’s Capital City Farmers Market. “We’re very excited by the opportunity to offer delivery at the farmers’ market,” said Jessie Rogers, who with her husband, Nate, owns the farm, “but unfortunately the law didn’t go far enough, for a farm that is inspected by the Agency of Agriculture and tested regularly for milk quality. We feel that, given that level of regulation, there should be more opportunity available to sell directly to the general public at farmers’ markets.”

Asked if she considered the reform a success, Andrea Stander, executive director of Rural Vermont, which advocates a locally based food economy, said, “I think in a small way, so far. It’s early yet. Unfortunately, because it was late into the season [when the new law took effect], many farmers’ markets were already all booked with vendor spaces.”

She noted, however, that the roster of Tier II producers in the state had already grown from two at the beginning of this year to nine. “There’s been pent-up demand, and this small improvement in the law has opened up a market opportunity that was needed.” She also credited another provision of the new statute that sets sales limits in weekly rather than daily terms. This lessens constraints on sales on weekends, when the business is naturally livelier, since those sales become part of the weekly quota.

Four other Washington County farms, all of them with Tier I status, sell raw milk—Calais’s Maplewood Farm, Marshfield’s Hollister Hill Farm, Northfield’s Green Mountain Girls Farm and Waitsfield’s Simplicity Farm–according to the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Real Milk.