After two great days learning about the Burroughs family’s grass-based, organic dairy in Denair, Calif. we packed up the trailer and headed 90 minutes south to Fresno to visit another food forward dairyman–Mark McAfee owner of
Organic Pastures. Organic Pastures is a raw milk dairy, one of only two in the state. Mark is a former paramedic who took over his grandparents’ 650-acre farm just west of Fresno. He says he spent the first half of career treating people who were sick and in the second half now helps prevent them from getting sick by producing raw milk.
If there ever was a man to sell the country on the virtues of raw milk it’s Mark. He’s a fast-talking, passionate advocate for raw milk and after spending a few hours with him at his farm, I’m convinced if more people knew the real story about raw milk it would transform the dairy industry.
Raw milk is simply milk that hasn’t been pasteurized or homogenized. The milk goes from the cow straight to the bottle. Given our industrial food system that process freaks some people out. It used to freak me out before I started drinking raw milk. Isn’t milk from a cow kinda dirty? If it comes from the typical confinement dairy operation where the cows stomp around in mud and feces all day in crowded conditions you better believe it’s dirty. It’s positively teeming with pathogens and nasty bacteria. That’s what the pasteurization is for. Heat the milk to about 145 degrees and you’ll kill most (but not all!) of the nasty bugs living in the dirty milk. The process also happens to kill any of the beneficial bacteria and enzymes.
Raw milk, on the other hand, is alive with beneficial bacteria and enzymes. It’s hypoallergenic. It doesn’t produce lactose intolerance (pasteurized milk does). It promotes digestion. And it contains beneficial ratios of fatty acids.
“Raw milk has the kind of bacteria you want for your kids for a healthy immune system,” Mark says.
The way he describes it there are two kinds of milk: raw milk fit for human consumption and raw milk not fit for human consumption. The latter kind is the milk that gets pasteurized and is what most of us drink.
Mark’s cattle live their life eating grass and also happen to live about four times longer than the typical dairy cow because they’re fed a healthier diet (i.e. grass) and not milked as frequently. And they don’t need antibiotics to keep them well.
All the confusion and fear about raw milk benefits big industrial dairies, milk processors (the guys who do the pasteurization and homogenization) and the Food and Drug Association (the guys who regulate the industry). However, the confusion and fear do not benefit consumers or cows. Of course there are dairies who sell raw milk that should not because of poor practices, but a Grade A certified dairy like Organic Pastures, which is certified organic and accredited by Animal Welfare Approved for its humane treatment of its livestock, should put your mind at ease. The state tests the dairy’s milk, but Mark says he does his own testing 20 times a month.
While it’s often seen as hippie food, I think raw milk is going to hit the mainstream as more people discover the facts about where their milk really comes from. Mark’s business is growing about 20 percent a year and he’s about the launch the Raw Milk Institute (no web site yet), an industry advocacy group, to help other dairies go raw.
“We see this really exploding,” he says.