In an effort to preserve dairy farms in Massachusetts, the NOFA/Mass Raw Milk Network has written and published a manual for raw milk producers. The manual details best management practices and explains clearly what farmers must do to meet the state’s regulations for the sale of unpasteurized milk to consumers. This manual provides the 27 existing raw milk dairies with a set of guidelines they do not currently have, and gives dairies and individuals considering raw milk production a clear roadmap for how to approach the processes they will need to follow.
Massachusetts’ regulations allow for the sale of raw milk to consumers, but many of these regulations are complex and some are vague. This publication helps alleviate the problems some farms and consumers have had by clarifying these issues. Raw milk sales are a proven tool to help dairy farms survive in Massachusetts. The demand for unpasteurized milk is growing, and more and more dairies are considering stepping up to meet that demand. This manual will play an integral role in the expansion of the raw milk industry in the Commonwealth.
Our overall goal was to publish a manual, reviewed by both farmers and staff at MDAR, that would compile all of the issues farmers face when navigating the regulations regarding producing, handling and selling raw milk in Massachusetts. We met our goal — the book was published, and all of the partner farms were fully engaged, as was the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR).
Thanks to the partner farmers whose contributions to this publication were invaluable: Bill and Tom Coutu, Paskamansett Farms, Dartmouth; Pam and Ray Robinson, Robinson Farm, Hardwick; and Sean Stanton, Blue Hill Farm, Great Barrington. Thanks also to farmers John Dymon, Donald Ela, Sorrel Hatch, Amy Klippenstein, Lucy McKain, and Derek and Maribeth Ritchie for their review and input, and to the staff at the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources for their review.
We reached out to existing raw milk farmers in Massachusetts for guidance as to what questions the publication should address, and spent time visiting each of the partner farms to observe their operations and chronicle the process of producing, handing and selling raw milk.
Since we are in regular contact with raw milk farmers throughout the state, reaching our target audience was not difficult. Farmers who are considering raw milk sales contact us on a regular basis, so this audience is also relatively easy for us to reach. We are reaching out to additional people through our Facebook page and email lists, as well as through allied organizations and their newsletters (UMass Extension, MA Farm Bureau, etc.).
The project stayed true to the plan, with a few minor delays simply due to indivduals’ schedules.
Our visits to farms were particularly productive, with farmers being very generous with their time and patient as they explained every step of the dairying process. Partner farmers put in a great deal of time editing drafts of the manual, and a number of non-partner farms also stepped up and offered to review the manual and offer feedback.
It was not surprising to discover that farms employ a range of different practices when producing raw milk, rather than a single, rigid formula. As a result, the book’s language needed to emphasize the overarching goals – cleanliness, consistency, etc. – while at the same time reflecting the fact that there are many ways to attain those goals.
After the first draft, a list of questions emerged that we needed clarification from regulators at MDAR on. We presented the list to MDAR staff and received excellent, clear, concise answers that contributed greatly to the final revision of the manual.
Existing raw milk farmers now have a clear, concise guide that gives them a step-by-step understanding of what MDAR inspectors expect of them when they visit the farm to inspect and take milk samples.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
We printed 150 copies of the manual and put it online at http://www.nofamass.org/programs/organicdairy/pdfs/2012_producers_handbook.pdf. As publication was only completed a week before this report, effectiveness can’t be gauged yet. We have sent announcements about the availability of the publication to a wide range of agricultural organizations in Massachusetts, such as UMass Extension, MA Farm Bureau, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, and MDAR.
This project doesn’t lend itself to such a quantifiable analysis. Over time, we hope to see new dairies begin selling raw milk and using the manual to navigate the regulatory process. Such new endeavors often take many years to get started, though.
The farmers who read drafts of the manual were pleased with the direction we were taking. Those who have read the completed publication have universally said that it is a valuable resource for them as well as for new raw milk dairy farmers.
Areas needing additional study
No matter how comprehensive this publication tried to be, there are certainly additional questions that will arise as new farmers go through the process of licensure for selling raw milk in Massachusetts. We hope to compile those questions for future revisions of the manual.