Boulder Creek resident Annette Mello, who had sworn off milk, tipped a cup of fresh, warm goat’s milk to her lips and took a drink.
Mello was part of a small group of people who gathered across from the downtown Santa Cruz Farmer’s Market Wednesday for an act of civil disobedience: drinking raw milk from an unlicensed Bonny Doon dairy. Five of the county’s estimated 20 dairy collectives, or “herd shares,” gathered to protest a series of cease-and-desist letters sent by state regulators to similar farms across the state.
And despite Mello’s aversion to cow’s milk, she liked it.
“In fact, I would buy a share based on what I tasted,” Mello said.
Mello said she had no qualms about imbibing a product the state says is dangerous, feeling most food safety scares are the result of processing that takes place in the agricultural industry.
California’s Department of Food and Agriculture sees it differently, saying state laws overseeing dairy farms are in place to protect the public health. But small herd share operators say obtaining a state license is costly and unnecessary, and the crackdown – which includes a raid on a Southern California herd share and raw food market – are a waste of taxpayer resources that interferes with people’s ability to make choices about which foods they eat.
While the letters and raid have triggered outcry among the local food movement, no local farms have received warning letters. But the county Board of Supervisors is expected to be asked next week to vote on a resolution supporting herd shares.
Raising milk for your own family is fine. But regulators say when it is shared – even if the recipients own a portion of the herd through purchasing shares – state laws are triggered. To comply, farms typically spend thousands of dollars to upgrade equipment and more.
That doesn’t sit well with Mali McGee, co-owner of the Bonny Doon herd share Milk Mama goat farm. McGee helped organize Wednesday’s rally, where three goats were milked on the lawn of a local church and free milk was handed around.
“I don’t want any family farms in California or the U.S. to live in fear,” said McGee, who also picked up at least two new members from the event.
Several drank goat’s milk, some for the first time. Children and babies also partook, and while two county officials were at the market to monitor the situation from afar, the crowd was supportive.
“I think people should be able to own a share of a goat if they want to,” said Live Oak resident Jude Todd. “I think the forces that are behind stopping them are corporate.”
Another county herd share operator, Lynn, who declined to give her last name for fear of reprisal, said many of her members join for health reasons. They say it is hard to find goat’s milk, especially raw goat’s milk, for purchase.
“I think this is wonderful that we’re doing this. I just hide up in the hills and hope no one comes,” Lynn said. “I think family farms used to be the backbone of our country, and I hate to see it changing.”