A warning by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture has forced the temporally suspension of Rural Vermont's series of Raw Dairy Processing classes. The agency's warning included the threat of legal action against Rural Vermont and participating farmers, according to the farm advocacy group.
According to Jared Carter of Rural Vermont, the non-profit organization has been holding classes since Act 62-the so-called Raw Milk Bill-was enacted by the Vermont House in 2009.
"Not wanting to place farmers at risk, Rural Vermont has put the classes on hold while pursuing discussions with the Agency of Agriculture," Carter wrote in a news release dated Feb. 17.
Rural Vermont said the suspension of its raw-milk classes came as a result of obtaining a "notice of warning" from the Agency of Agriculture.
The state alleges that by teaching consumers how to make butter, yogurt, cheese, and other products at home, Rural Vermont and the farmer hosts are in violation of Vermont law which regulates the safe production of dairy products under controlled conditions.
"The warning centers around the agency's interpretation of the
2009 Raw Milk Law, in which they claim that it is illegal for farmers to knowingly sell raw milk to customers who plan to do anything with their milk besides drink it," Carter wrote.
"The raw dairy processing classes are an important part of Rural Vermont's campaign to educate consumers on raw milk and to gain exposure for farmers trying to sell raw milk directly to the community.
Not wanting to put our farmer members at risk, Rural Vermont
has temporarily suspended the classes until we have solid understanding of the agency's official policy," he added.
In the news release, Carter wrote that "the Agency of Agriculture should be engaging farmers in ways to expand markets. In the past month, Rural Vermont testified to the legislature's Committees on Agriculture that in 2010 raw milk generated approximately $1 million in revenues directly to Vermont farmers.
"Farmers are already faced with enormous pressures from the commodity milk market that the Agency should be looking on ways to expand on-farm sales," Carter wrote. "A 'renaissance' in agriculture does not start with a 'prohibition' in agriculture. Vermont should focus on achievable steps to meet the demand for safe, healthy local food and farm products. While we cannot change the global economy in which Vermont must operate, we can open markets to Vermont farmers."
The Rural Vermont news releases ended with what sounded like a hint of further public and legislative action on behalf of organization's the raw-milk philosophy and instruction.
"Rural Vermont stands ready to open a new chapter in the history of farming in this state," he wrote. "Whether doing so requires protesting in the streets, advocating in the halls of the legislature or litigating in the courts, we are prepared to work tirelessly for economic justice, a strong local agricultural system and vibrant communities in Vermont."
(Editor's Note: Officials of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture did not return our telephone calls or respond to several e-mail messages about the raw-milk controversy at press time.)