It’s been a hot topic lately in the farming and homesteading Facebook groups and even across dinner tables lately.
IS THE SALE OF RAW MILK REALLY BEING LEGALIZED IN ALASKA?
Short answer: It’s true.
As of March 26, you can legally sell raw milk in Alaska without a herd share.
But before you go buy some goats and a milk cow to start your dairy empire – there are some things you should know.
There is a 46-page document of regulations put out by the DEC surrounding the sale of raw milk and raw milk products, including cheese, that holds several points for legalizing the sale of raw milk. In other words, there are some hoops to jump through.
The purpose of this article isn’t to share my opinion of these regulations but to encourage potential future dairy farmers to read the regulations carefully and make an informed decision.
Some of the aspects in this document include:
First, you must apply for a permit by submitting several bits of documentation. These include:
- a plot plan of the entire premises
- a facility plan that includes the location of the buildings and property boundaries
- a plumbing plan that shows hot and cold water, both potable and nonpotable
- a floor plan including the finish materials for all surfaces (floor, walls, ceilings
- proof that the drinking water is safe, the wastewater disposal is up to standards, and the solid waste disposal must also comply.
Once approved, you will need to make sure your labeling is compliant. This includes stating where the milk came from, including the address.
Also, any ingredient used for milk or products must have good records kept for two years because the DEC could request verification of them, including the name of the supplier, the product and amount purchased, and the date of purchase.
Here are some further regulations:
- You must own the goat, sheep, or cow yourself.
- You must get routine medical exams from a licensed veterinarian
- You must have a working knowledge of the health of each animal
- Products must only be distributed in the state
- Containers must meet state requirements, and products must be maintained at a temperature of 40 degrees or lower.
- You must have a sign that states that the product is not subject to routine state inspection.
- You cannot sell or donate to a food service establishment.
- The milk processing area must be separated by a floor-to-ceiling wall from any contact with animals and have at least two designated sinks, one for handwashing and one for cleaning of the equipment and utensils.
- Containers must be filled in a sanitary manner and must be made of food-grade material.
- Lids may not be reused.
- They must be labeled as raw milk products and include a health warning to consumers.
Here is a direct copy/paste from the document: the statement “ATTENTION: This product has not been pasteurized
and, therefore, may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness. Infants,
children, the elderly, women who are pregnant, and persons with weakened immune
systems are at highest risk, KEEP REFRIGERATED TO 40°F OR BELOW”, the word
“ATTENTION” must be in letters at least one-quarter inch tall, and the remainder of the statement must be legible;
- Labels must also state the product must be consumed within four days of the production date.
- It must also include the physical address and registration number, the animal it was produced from (cow, sheep, or goat, and all ingredients.
- The product must be cooled to 40 degrees within two hours of the start of milking.
I’m going to stop here simply because I’ve only gotten through summarizing to page 12 of the document (direct-to-consumer sales), but you get the picture.
If making cheese or selling through a market, there are more detailed regulations and requirements, one of which is keeping a 4 to 6-ounce sample of each milking for at least 14 days, labeled by date and time.
Although raw milk is soon to be legalized in Alaska, it’s not going to be easy to get registered, nor will it be cheap to get started. This is not an easy process, nor is it quick.
I like that we’re working so hard toward food independence in Alaska – and I understand regulations will come with all things as we dig deeper into how we can grow and supply more food for Alaskans.
But maybe we don’t need all of this to have food freedom – have you heard of raw milk shares?
WHAT ABOUT RAW MILK SHARES?
A raw milk share is a pretty cool system – and it self-regulates really well. Basically, the livestock owner (sheep, goat, or cow) offers you a “share” of their herd for a price, meaning you are now part owner of the herd. From there, you are required to pay a certain amount for the upkeep of the herd. In return, you receive milk as a benefit of being part owner of the animal.
Here’s a hypothetical breakdown:
Farmer A sells her cow shares for $100/year. So you would pay her $100/year for your portion of her herd. Then, you would pay her a certain amount for upkeep. Maybe the upkeep is $12, and in return for your payment, you receive a gallon of milk or a cube of butter. You can buy two shares, pay $24, and get 2 gallons, etc.
This is perfectly legal. And farms that aren’t clean and well-kept don’t typically stick around long because the product is substandard, and it’s pretty easy to tell!
I had the opportunity to talk with Suzy Crosby, a well-known goat farmer here in the valley. Suzy and her husband Mike are the owners of Cottonwood Creek Farm, and 2023 marks their 20th year of supplying raw milk in the form of goat shares. It was interesting to hear her thoughts on this new legislation.
Food sovereignty is a passion for Suzy, which is why she works so hard to provide a premium milk product for her goat herd share clients. In her opinion, this legislation is very different than legalizing raw milk sales under a food freedom law. She referred to Wyoming, where their locally grown food industry is wide open. Cottage producers can sell homemade foods without a license, raw milk included. You grow food, you make food, and you sell food. It’s that simple.
Besides the new regulations making raw milk sales completely out of reach for most small dairy farmers both in infrastructure and financially, Suzy takes issue with the labeling requirements implying that the product could make you sick, whereas so many other fresh foods that have been implicated in repeated outbreaks are exempt from such labeling.
I understand Suzy’s point here. In my mind, Doritos and gummy bears should carry a label stating that they could make you sick, not nutrient and mineral-rich raw milk!
One more labeling requirement Suzy expressed concern over is that the label must state that the product must be used within four days of production. Raw milk easily lasts for at least a week – and if properly handled, is still very usable and good at days 10-12 and sometimes beyond! Her herd share customers are typically pick up weekly, so to require labeling instructing consumers to throw out their good milk and get more mid-week is unrealistic at best and if followed, incredibly wasteful at worst!
Of course, with raw milk shares, you can’t pick your milk up at the Farmer’s Market when you are grabbing your veggies and honey. You do have to visit the farm for pickup in most cases which can be inconvenient. But in visiting the farm, you get to see the herd that you own a share in. You get the visual of what’s going on and how things are being managed. Isn’t that a much richer experience? Plus, your kids get a much better understanding of where their food comes from. What a huge win!
FINDING OUR WAY TO FOOD INDEPENDENCE
I think a major part of finding our way to food independence is being fully informed in what is legal, what is on the horizon, and what is being implemented, both here in Alaska as well as in the lower 48, where not less than 36 states have enacted laws pertaining to food freedom. I would encourage everyone to check out the state website and read more. Let’s have some real and deep conversations about this.
I still believe that for Alaska to be food independent, we are going to have to find common ground and work together as a community which is going to require some uncomfortable talk. We all agree that food security is important in Alaska, but we don’t have to agree on everything to be on the same side. However, we do need to keep our eye on the ultimate goal, which is Alaskans feeding Alaskans and how best to accomplish that.
For more information, you can check out the state website here: https://dec.alaska.gov/eh/vet/dairy/raw-milk
If you’re curious about raw milk shares, we interviewed Elijah Lockwood of Bucket Creek Homestead about how herd shares work and the legalities of them. It’s a great chat!
Also, note that the ONLY commercial farm insurance company operating (willing to insure) in Alaska is Country Companies and they have a strict policy of no raw milk or milk product sales allowed. If you are licensed and insured (by them) as a legal farm, they can cancel your insurance at any time. Very important problem that producers face to provide healthy, fresh milk and milk products to fellow Alaskans.