|Features - Farmers and Markets|
|Written by Kyle Alspach|
When you buy milk from a Massachusetts grocery store, you probably have a good idea what it’ll taste like year round. But that’s not the case for the raw milk produced at Terri Lawton’s (pictured right) dairy in Foxboro. There, the cows feed on different grasses depending on the season — and the change in grasses changes the flavor of the milk, which is not pasteurized. “In May and June, the grass is really growing very well, and the nutrients are very dense in the grass,” says Lawton. “When the cows eat that, the milk has a smoother, creamier taste.”
Lawton’s Family Farm, home of Oake Knoll Ayrshires, is one of 25 raw milk dairies in Massachusetts. Located about a mile off Route 1, the farm is a neighbor of Gillette Stadium and the closest raw milk dairy to Boston. But what is raw milk, exactly? Lawton sums it up this way: it’s the milk people drank up until about the 20th century, only today, it’s highly regulated and proven to be safe for consumption.
The process works this way: after a cow is milked, the milk is filtered, bottled and cooled. That’s it. At Oake Knoll, the cows feed only on grass or hay — no corn or soy. And no additives, antibiotics or hormones are used. “We work really hard to make sure our product is as close to what came out of the udder as possible,” Lawton said this month, standing inside the 18th century barn that serves as her farm store.
If you’ve never heard of raw milk, that’s probably because under state law, it can only be sold on the farm where it’s produced. Raw milk advocates such as Winton Pitcoff believe this is unfair — the result of a now-outdated concern about the safety of un-pasteurized milk. “Historically, pasteurization came about at a time when people were getting sick from all kinds of food-borne pathogens. Milk was singled out because there wasn’t good refrigeration or transportation,” said Pitcoff, coordinator of the raw milk network for the Northeast Organic Farming Association, Massachusetts chapter. “Today we’re talking about very different farming practices, very different handling practices,” he said. “Now it actually is possible to produce and distribute raw milk so it's a safe and healthy product.”
And it’s a product that consumers are seeking more and more each year, creating a badly-needed new market for local dairy, Pitcoff said. In the past five or six years, he said, the number of raw milk dairies has doubled in the state even as dozens of traditional dairies have closed.
In 2008, the last year NOFA surveyed raw milk dairies, 80,000 gallons of raw milk were sold in Massachusetts. Pitcoff expects sales were higher last year. The market for raw milk, he said, “has really grown pretty dramatically.”
But that doesn’t mean you’ll see raw milk in stores any time soon. The state Department of Public Health opposes the sale of raw milk altogether, Pitcoff said — and at most, many raw milk farmers would like to sell their product at farmers’ markets. At Oake Knoll, however, Lawton says she’s happy with the status quo. Since starting the raw milk dairy on family-owned land in 2006, Lawton has expanded from two cows to 25. Customers pre-order the milk, which costs $5 per half-gallon.
The 30-year-old said she’s not counting on ever being able to sell her milk off the farm — and she’s OK with that.
“I’m really grateful for the ability to sell raw milk at all,” she said. “I’m really grateful that I can provide people with options.”
About Kyle Alspach:
Kyle Alspach has been a newspaper reporter in Massachusetts for five years, who cites "growing food and learning how to cook it, store it and share it," as his main interests outside of writing. Kyle's blog, Local is Better, features interviews about the future of local food in New England.