Raw Milk and the Search for Human Kindness: Overcoming Fear and Complacency
By Michael Schmidt with Beverley Viljakainen Glencolton Farm
Available from: form.jotform.com/201585414305247
It was a dark, cold winter day in Wisconsin. I had taken two flights, with a long layover, traveling to a state I had never been to before. I became instant friends with those who collected me at the airport—folks who happened to purchase their food directly from Vernon Herschberger’s farm. A group of us from across the nation (east, west, north and south) had gone to help with what looked to be the final act of a many-years-long play. After years of harassment, Vernon’s battle with the state had reached a crescendo. Later that day, we gathered at Vernon’s farm: Liz Reitzig from Maryland; Max Kane from Wisconsin; many others from across the U.S.; and Michael Schmidt from Canada.
This was the first time I had ever met Michael. He walked into Vernon’s farm store and spacious packing room, a mixture of immense seriousness and joy contained in a massive frame, gently swinging an old German cow bell. Most of us were new to the war on real food and small farms, having been dragged into the conflict just in the previous few years. Not Michael. His battle was well into its second decade. When he spoke, everyone turned to listen, for his words were wisdom mixed with kindness.
That he has taken the time to put his long tale into tangible form—while still deeply involved in fighting the corruption and abuse of the state—is impressive. His book is a mixture of history and reflection on what it takes (and what it took) to stand up for a basic and fundamental human right: the right to feed one’s community nourishing foods and get food from the farmers of one’s choice. At over four hundred pages, Raw Milk and the Search for Human Kindness is neither a short nor a light read. Spanning 1994 through 2019, it focuses on what Michael calls the three milk wars, with a chapter also discussing the “saga of the lost sheep” (related to the mistreatment of Ontario sheep breeder “Montana” Jones) and then the Finale.
It is not easy to summarize a detailed work spanning three decades, two countries and dozens of people and issues. Even so, I think the book has three main themes. First is the desire to provide nutrient-dense, health-promoting foods and the challenges that such a goal creates. The second has to do with the complicated relationship between modern governments, human rights and regulation in a world full of imperfect—and, at times, evil—people as well as a complicit media muddying the waters. The final theme involves taking a hard look at the modern justice system, specifically Canada’s.
The production of healthful food, and especially clean, safe raw milk, requires hard work. The book describes Michael’s (and others’) decades of struggle to figure out how to make raw milk available while also ensuring that it is produced in a safe manner that doesn’t destroy the fledgling industry. Michael also frequently touches on the various tensions that arise in a world where hucksters in the marketplace and hooligans in government collide with honest (but at times uneducated) farmers and sometimes uninformed consumers. How do we ensure high standards that produce safe and nutritious milk? What do we do when the media and government ignore or invent facts to protect industry rather than engage in honest and open dialogue? Michael urges the reader to consider hard questions—questions that he has had to return to, time and time again, during three decades of fighting for food rights.
Having spent years fighting the same fight in the United States, I experienced the book as a reminder of just how deep the problems in modern politics go. The book displays the immense corruption of the legal and political systems, corruption that benefits Big Ag at the expense of basic freedoms—and especially the freedom to access healthful food. Michael asks, “Why should I be devastated by our failed attempt to change an unjust law when politicians keep creating new unjust laws and defending countless unjust laws affecting thousands of people?” Indeed, while raw milk and food freedom are incredibly important issues, we all need to note that they are symptoms of much larger problems.
Michael’s experience shows that food freedom and full health are two sides of the same coin—and neither the U.S. nor the Canadian governments have any interest in protecting or promoting them. Michael comments, “I mentioned that we had heard many times from the courts that food rights are not protected under the Charter. This means that if we leave it up to the courts to decide what freedom is, we will lose our right to choose our foods, who grows them, and how.”
Where does this leave Michael—and us—decades into the battle over raw milk and real food? Encouragingly, Michael concludes: “When all is said and done, at this the twenty-five year mark in the ongoing process of resolving the raw-milk issue, I find myself comfortable and even optimistic.” I hope his optimism proves correct and that we see, at least in some places, access to real food, responsibly produced, take firm hold. As Michael also says, “the truth deserves a sacrifice and, even if your chance of ‘winning’ is slim, at least you did not betray yourself.” Two thumbs up.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2021🖨️ Print post