You’ve got to have a cow – or a loophole – to drink raw milk.
Raw milk is illegal to buy or sell commercially in Michigan since it does not adhere to normal pasteurization standards. However, it is not illegal for farmers to drink raw milk produced by their own cows, including cows owned in part through a herd-sharing program, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture policies. Therefore, Michiganders may purchase a share of a cow at a local farm and then drink raw milk from that cow, as part owners.
“That’s the loophole,” Tyler Stutzman says. “That’s what our lawyers tell us, anyway.”
Stutzman owns and operates Moo-nique Dairy, in Vandalia, with his wife, Nadine. Through their program, herd share owners pay an annual fee of $10 and a monthly fee of $26 to receive a gallon of milk per week. The fees cover the cost of raising the cows, feeding them, maintaining them and housing them. The milk produced by the cows is then free to the share owners and delivered to three locations in Kalamazoo and locations in Paw Paw and Portage for pickup.
One of the first questions most people have about raw milk is whether it’s safe, since it’s not pasteurized. The Food and Drug Administration says it’s not, stating on its website that raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause food-borne illness, resulting in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products.
But Nadine and Tyler, who say they are well-versed on the safety issues, are decidedly in favor of raw milk: They drink it themselves, and so do their four kids.
“Our own beliefs about raw milk and its health benefits influenced us to start offering it to consumers,” Tyler says. “And the share program is more financially viable too because it eliminates the middleman, so we’re able to produce milk that’s cheaper than store-bought organic milk.”
The Stutzmans are adamant about health safety. Neither believes that raw milk should be distributed to stores on a wide scale, since it would have to be combined with other farms’ milk, making it impossible to trace the source if there were a contamination problem. One of the reasons raw milk shares work, Tyler says, is that they are small-scale so consumers get to choose where their milk comes from by developing relationships with local farmers.
“With only 30 acres, we couldn’t have the 60 to 100 cows we’d need to gain financially and also pasture the cows,” Nadine says. “We’d have to confine them, which we don’t want to do. This way, we can have 30 cows on 30 acres and direct-market the shares.”
“Because our cows can be on the pasture, they’re very healthy,” Tyler adds. “Not all raw milk is created equal, and that’s why you want to make sure you know where yours comes from.”
The Stutzmans say that their shareholders claim they can feel the difference when they drink raw milk.
“It’s such a super food,” Nadine says. “Raw milk is teeming with good bacteria, which is so important for our gut and immune systems. We hear stories continually of people with leaky gut syndrome or lactose intolerance, which are so prevalent today, and they can drink raw milk and feel better.”
Because probiotic-rich foods are becoming more popular due to research on the benefits of “good” bacteria, according to the National Institute of Health, raw milk and raw milk products, like raw milk cheese, are increasing in popularity as well.
In fact, while the sale and consumption of pasteurized milk has been on the decline nationally for almost 40 years, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the sale of raw milk has increased in the last three years in states that offer it commercially, particularly in Arkansas, California and Pennsylvania, according to their respective state agriculture officials.
Raw milk may not be new (Parmesan-Reggiano, which has been around since the Middle Ages, must come from raw milk to be called Reggiano), but the awareness of the difference between raw milk and pasteurized milk has caused a spike in the raw milk market, which the Stutzmans have noticed, since their business continues to grow quickly.
One satisfied customer, Kelly Zajac, owner of Tudor House Tea and Spice, is also a local chapter representative for the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping American consumers find local, healthful whole-food options based on the research of Price, a noted nutritionist and dentist. As part of its mission, the foundation helps educate consumers about raw milk.
“It’s been wonderful getting our milk from the Stutzmans,” Zajac says. “I go out to the farm every year, so I’m familiar with how their farm is run and kept, and I see them every week for pickup. I have a relationship with Nadine and Tyler, and I know that their family drinks the milk too. I know exactly where my milk comes from.”
Zajac has noticed the raw-milk trend is picking up, not just nationally but locally. “More and more people are dissatisfied with their health and the answers they keep getting to help them,” she says. “People are looking for other alternatives, and raw milk is one of those options.”
Tyler Stutzman says that the interest in raw milk shown by Kalamazooans has fostered his business’s growth, noting that Kalamazoo is the perfect market for this back-to-the-farm movement.
“Kalamazoo has been fantastic for us – it’s a college town with a lot of farmers’ markets, local restaurants and breweries, and great food programs. It’s a town that cares about local, healthy foods.