For 18 years, Phil Haynes has been selling his ranch’s buffalo meat through a store at the ranch, Rocky Plains Quality Meats, outside the northern Colorado town of Dacono.
Over the years, he opened a second store in nearby Loveland and added pork and chicken from other area producers, along with locally-produced fish. And a little over three years ago, he added raw goat’s and cow’s milk, produced by a nearby farm under Colorado’s cowshare law implemented five years ago.
Everything was going fine, until early December, when a feature article appeared in a local paper, profiling the raw milk supplier, Jon Erickson, owner of R Patch O’Heaven Dairy. The article quoted Erickson as saying that raw milk isn’t necessarily for everyone, and noted that demand for Erickson’s milk has been growing. The article also mentioned that Erickson’s milk was available at Haynes’ farm store.
“It was a beautiful article,” says Haynes.
A beautiful article, except that it appears to have unleashed the wrath of local and state officials on both Haynes and Erickson.
Within days of the article, and with no hint of illnesses, both of Haynes’ stores were visited by county health department regulators. They noticed that in addition to milk, Haynes offered yogurt, kefir, and cream cheese from Erickson’s dairy. That led to an investigation by the county planning board.
Within a couple weeks of the article, Haynes’ Dacono store was shut down for allegedly selling non-USDA-inspected meat and for operating a retail store in an area zoned for agriculture. He was also ordered, in the Loveland store, to move the milk out of the public area of the store, to a back area. A cease-and-desist letter threatens him with criminal charges if he doesn’t resolve all the problems within thirty days.
As for Erickson, he received a cease-and-desist order from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, demanding he discontinue making raw milk products like yogurt, butter, cream cheese, and kefir; only raw milk was allowed under Colorado’s cow share law passed in 2005, the letter indicated.
Moreover, it seems at least two other Colorado dairies have been served with similar cease-and-desist orders in the last few months.
I spoke with an official of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, who said the actions against Haynes and Erickson don’t represent a new campaign against raw milk and other nutrient-dense food. Patti Klocker, assistant director for the Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability for the Colorado DPHE, told me, “A number of things were going wrong here (at Haynes’ stores), so we did collaborate on this” with county public health authorities in going after Haynes.
As for Erickson’s raw dairy, she said Colorado’s law allowing cow share operations only sanctions fluid milk. “It does not allow access to raw milk products.” She said three dairies have been asked to “please discontinue this practice” of making other raw dairy products available to their shareholders. She said her department has “always intepreted the law in that fashion” and goes after dairies in violation “when it’s brought to our attention”–whether from county health officials or newspaper articles.
As for the requirement that Haynes, in the Loveland store that is still open, place raw milk in an area of the store out of view of shoppers, Klocker said that is necessary so it “is not getting mixed up with pasteurized products.”
She suggested that Colorado public health officials have become more watchful of raw milk producers in light of two outbreaks of illness attributed to raw milk in the last two years.
Haynes says he has inquired in past years about any possible zoning problems for his Dacono farm store, and been told he was in compliance. He also says the health inspector got the facts wrong on his meat, that it is from a USDA-inspected facility, and packaging stamped as such. He thinks that’s all beside the point, in any event.
“This is a small piece of what’s going on in the U.S.,” he told me. “I can no longer buy a product that is good for me…The biggest thing they are taking away is my rights. I no longer have the right to purchase what I want to. It’s not about zoning. It’s not about raw milk. It’s about freedom.”
His customers are quite upset, he added. “We have almost 200 families picking up their milk here. Raw milk products are fixing their children’s illnesses. We have people on chemo therapy using it to re-build their immune systems.”
Some of his customers say they can’t tolerate commercial meat, as well. His store’s closure “is frightening to them,” and a few have been “in tears…I had a woman last week who started crying when I told her she couldn’t get meat here. And another one wondered about the yogurt. I said the yogurt is gone, it’s not coming back.”
Erickson is a member of the board of the Raw Milk Association of Colorado, and argues that because the law on cow shares doesn’t prohibit raw dairy products besides milk, they must be allowed.
Neither Haynes nor Erickson wanted to discuss what steps they’ll take to deal with the clampdown by Colorado officials.
There are obviously a number of things occurring here. Public health officials, who are highly suspicious of raw milk under any circumstances, are putting producers under heightened surveillance, and tightly enforcing their view of the existing law. But the word also seems to be going out to local public health and planning/zoning officials to get in on the act, much as they did in Minnesota with the shutdown of a farm store and Minneapolis buying club in light of illnesses attributed to the Hartmann Farm.
What are producers and distributors to do? Trying to fight regulators intent on putting you out of business can be a losing battle, since there’s always another regulation or requirement to fulfill. ?That is the question for these and a growing number of other producers and sellers of nutrient-dense food.
A commentary on the times: One of my articles on Grist last year, about the increasing number of farm raids, was ranked among the ten most popular for the year (actually, #7).