Raw milk makes a splash: Ohio law requires raw-milk enthusiasts to “share” cow
When organic farmer Dwight Otworth decided to buy some dairy cows, he wasn’t sure if his five teenage sons would like the taste of unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk – much less if he could offer raw milk to the public because of Ohio’s restrictive agricultural product laws. He decided to add the cows to his growing menagerie of grass-fed animals anyway on his Five T Farms, in Franklin Furnace, Ohio.
Thankfully, the growing quintet – his sons Trenton, Trever, Travis, Traye, and Troy, for whom the farm is named – took to the milk, as has the general public.
“They like it way better than store-bought milk now,” said Otworth, who runs the farm with the help of his wife Jonda and the boys. “We go through about a gallon a day at our house.”
The rest – about six gallons a day from two or three milking cows – the farmer sells through “herd-shares.” For an ownership portion of a cow, people who enjoy the taste and healthful benefits of rich, fresh milk from grass-fed, pastured dairy cattle can stop by the farm once a week to pick up a gallon of unpasteurized milk. That’s because Ohio law forbids the sale of raw milk by state dairy farmers except to people who have an ownership stake in the herd.
In other words, to sample Otworth’s cows’ unprocessed milk, you agree to shoulder part of the cows’ monthly boarding costs, which entitles you to a percentage of the cows’ milk production for that month.
National trends play out in the Tri-State
Across the country, Americans are searching for direct-from-the-farm produce, meat and poultry, eggs and cheese, and other dairy products. Throughout the Tri-State, people like Cheryl Spriggs seek farm products that recall the superior taste and nutritional quality of the more natural foods they ate as children.
“I have been searching for raw milk in this area for years,” said Spriggs, an Ashland resident who grew up with raw milk on the table every day. “I wanted to experience it again and was pleasantly surprised to find the Otworths’ herd-share program right in my own backyard.”
Spriggs is deeply committed to community gardening, community-supported agriculture, and other direct-from-the-farm initiatives that are cropping up (pardon the pun) in this area.
“It’s healthier to eat closer to the earth,” she said. “I grew up that way, and I think it’s a terrific way to support local farmers, such as the Otworths.”
Spriggs is not alone in her natural-food passion, but even most farmers don’t want to take on the job of keeping a dairy cow, which requires milking twice a day.
For Jim and Cindy Yancy, who raise grass-fed livestock in Scioto County, it is simply easier to support the Otworths through herd-shares than it would be to keep and milk a cow of their own.
“We stop by the farm twice a week for milk, which is probably the healthiest thing we eat,” Cindy said. “We simply drop off the empty glass milk jug and pick up another.”
Cindy also makes yogurt from the two gallons a week she brings home, and she freezes whatever is left over.
“Some people complain that raw milk from the farm is more expensive, but we feel fuller and more satisfied, so we snack less,” Cindy said. “I think, overall, I’m saving at the grocery store, thanks to the milk.”
Husband Jim believes his joint pain has been significantly reduced since the couple began drinking the Otworths’ raw milk about three months ago – and other aficionados make similar restorative claims for milk and other grass-fed farm products.
If you want to sample raw milk “straight from the farm,” the ease of buying raw milk straight from the farm depends on the relevant agriculture regulations in your state.
In Ohio, consumers today must buy a share of the dairy herd to drink raw milk, which can cost as much as $12 a gallon according to the Wall Street Journal. Surrounding states offer other options. West Virginia currently outlaws the sale of raw milk to consumers, whereas Kentucky dairy farmers are not required to use a herd-share system to sell their raw milk directly to consumers.
In the wake of a multi-year legislative battle to keep raw milk available in Ohio, Dwight Otworth joined the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which protects the rights of Ohio farmers to sell their products directly to consumers. After a 2006 ruling that established the legality of herd-shares, Otworth stepped into the dairy business to expand his back-to-organic efforts on several hundred acres of farmland along the Ohio River in Scioto County.
“My farm isn’t really a dairy farm per se,” said Otworth, who still works in the construction industry to support the enterprise. “We also raise grass-fed hogs and beef cattle and sell eggs from pastured chickens because I want to raise and sell healthy products grown without chemicals.”
After purchasing his land in 1987, Otworth worked tirelessly to take the farm back to organic grain crops and livestock. By 2006, his 25-acre farm was certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a process that takes a minimum of three years. He also had his father’s land, a farm of 113 acres adjacent to his own, certified organic, and he refrains from using chemicals on tillable acres he rents along Goose Creek.
“Dirt is a living organism, or it should be,” Otworth said. “The longer you go without chemicals, the better your milk and all of your other farm products will become.”
Otworth was moved to limit, then eliminate, chemical use when he saw his young sons playing out in the fields he and his father had just sprayed with insecticides and fertilizers.
Living on an organic farm is not an easy life, however. Controlling weeds is a challenge on chemical-free acres, and yields are lower until the soil recovers sufficiently – which is why organic products generally cost more than those grown on conventional farms. With limited output, Otworth sells primarily right at the farm and not at area farmers markets.
“The water our poultry and livestock drink is clean and uncontaminated, and the dirt is finally returning to a good yield,” he said. “Our products are getting better and better.”
In addition to raw milk, visitors to the farm can purchase eggs, whole-hog sausage, and grass-fed pork and beef. Any milk not sold is fed to the livestock, so nothing goes to waste. As the soil at Five T Farms continues to improve and consumer demand grows, Otworth will add grass-fed chickens and organic vegetables along with more dairy cows.
Is a herd-share right for you?
If you are interested in the healthful benefits of raw milk (see sidebar), you will pay a one-time share fee and monthly “boarding” fees for the right to buy and drink unprocessed milk.
At Five T Farms, members pay $50 for a full share or $25 for a half-share, a one-time fee with rights to the milk from a specific animal. Every month, a boarding fee of $26 entitles members to about four gallons of milk. Members who come to the farm from a distance usually take turns, as do those who split a share.
Around the country, share fees range from $40 to $50, and boarding fees range from $20 to $30. Some herd-share programs involve the share members in semiannual “shareholders meetings” at the farm, and most require milk pick-up at the farm. Goat herd-shares are also available for those in search of raw goat’s milk. In some regions of the country where demand outstrips supply, consumers may be placed on a waiting list for a herd-share.
At Five T Farms, milking is still a family affair accomplished by hand, and you can’t get much more small-scale or “natural” about your milk than that.
Although there’s a social benefit to knowing the farmer from whom you buy your milk, taste (which has been described as “like melted French vanilla ice cream”) and nutrition are the primary reasons people seek out direct-from-the-udder raw milk.
As Otworth sums it up, in his opinion, “Organic raw milk is the best way to go!”
What you should know
Is raw milk healthful? Yes! People have been drinking raw milk since sheep and goats were domesticated in the Ancient Near East approximately 9,000 years ago, largely without harm. But pasteurization – a commercial practice since the late 19th century – is now the norm.
Raw milk is a nutrition-rich food full of healthful fats and proteins. But, if not handled properly, it can spoil quickly and harbor disease-causing pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria.
Unfortunately for today’s milk consumer, rather than legislating more careful treatment of raw milk, agriculture regulators responded to health concerns by requiring pasteurization, a process invented by Louis Pasteur in the 1860s that involves heating the milk quickly, then rapidly cooling it. Pasteurized milk can be shipped more conveniently from the farm to supermarkets and stored for a longer period of time than untreated milk can, making it a commercially profitable product.
In the opinion of those who favor raw milk, pasteurization destroys a perfectly healthful and safe natural product. Raw milk enthusiasts believe that heat-treating destroys beneficial bacteria along with harmful ones, degrades the protein, and eliminates healthful enzymes useful for digestion. For example, patients with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes periodic cramping, fever, fatigue and watery diarrhea, find that drinking unpasteurized milk can improve symptoms.
There is no national law against drinking milk obtained directly from a cow or goat, but the Food and Drug Administration banned the interstate sale of raw milk in the 1980s. About half of all states prohibit the sale of raw milk for human consumption, as West Virginia does. Consumers in Kentucky and Ohio have more options.
When looking for raw milk sources, inquire about grass-fed dairy cows whose milk has fewer pathogens naturally than does milk from cows fed on grains, soybeans, or cottonseed meal. In general, experts agree that well-fed, pastured, healthy cows will produce healthy milk – which people can consume without risk and with major benefits.
Barbara E. Cohen is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer who writes about regional foods and nutrition, local history, travel, and the arts throughout the Midwest.
To learn more about raw milk, visit the following websites:
For more information about raw-milk availability in your state, consult: http://farmtoconsumer.org/raw_milk_map.htm
If you go . . .
Most organic farmers welcome visitors to their farms to show off the clean, healthy conditions where their livestock roam and the vegetables are nurtured because it boosts consumer confidence.
If you want to visit Five T Farms, contact Dwight Otworth at 740.574.2938 or firstname.lastname@example.org for directions, hours, and milk availability.