This is Part 3 in a series on raw milk, looking at the claims and controversy around it, the dedication and loyalty of its advocates, and whether the growing movement in Hawai’i can help lead a turnaround out of the ashes of a once-thriving state-wide dairy industry.
As awareness grows about the health benefits of raw milk, the market for it continues to expand, despite the illegality of sales in many states, including Hawai’i. Necessarily underground due to the raids and harassment carried out by governmental agencies, it includes cow and herd-shares, private buying clubs and coops – all models of consumers voting with their mouths and dollars outside of the mainstream, in an effort to retain self-determination in their food choices. All, by design, manage to circumvent technicalities in current law.
Cow and herd-shares operate on the community-supported agriculture model, where consumers purchase a share in a cow or a herd, making them part-owner, and then paying the farmer to maintain, feed and milk the cow. Since the consumer is considered the owner, the sales issue becomes moot. In recent years, some states have passed laws allowing the shares, while others do not have laws addressingit specifically. Private buying clubs and coops are other community-based models used by raw milk consumers. Others resort to costly or extraordinary measures: shipping milk from California to Hawai’i, driving long distances, or, on the mainland, driving across state lines. In the most extreme cases, individuals and families are going DIY, buying and maintaining their own cows, and becoming first-time farmers. In Hawai’i these new cattle farmers are just the latest in a long line.
Interestingly, Hawai’i has an incredibly rich cattle heritage dating to the late 1700s, when a small herd was gifted to King Kamehameha. Due to a ban on killing them, they multiplied and ran wild until the ban was lifted some 30 years later so the unruly herds could be thinned. The timing coincided with the rapid increase in whaling traffic, leading to a demand for beef, which would eventually become Hawai’i’s number one export. Meanwhile, a young sailor from Massachusetts, John Parker, would land in the good graces of King Kamehameha, and play an integral part in the creation of the ranching industry. In exchange for services to the king, he received a small land grant, which he would parlay into what would become the oldest and largest cattle ranch in the United States. He would further secure his place in Hawai’ian ranching history by encouraging the recruitment of Spanish vaqueros from California to help contain the wild cattle, and impart their expertise to the local cowboys. Called “paniolo” by the locals, they arrived with their trained horses and accoutrements, passing on their Spanish traditions, style, and skills to the Hawai’ian cowboys.
Hawai’i’s first commercial dairy was established in 1869, and by 1953, the dairy industry was thriving and outpacing beef production. But starting in the 1970s, the industry gradually and slowly succumbed to price pressures, mainland competition, a changing marketplace, and lack of local support. In the years since, Hawai’i has gone from having more than 40 dairy farms to less than 5. And where Hawai’i was once able to produce 100% of its own milk needs, it now produces less than 20%. But that may be changing.
Anecdotal evidence in Hawai’i shows a growing demand for cow-share programs, and a growing group of first-time cow owners. Even though much of this activity is underground and thus unmeasured, it is still part of Hawai’i’s dairy industry, contributing to the positive signs of a dairy resurgence. According to a local advocate, current governor Neil Abercrombie is said to have friendly views on the raw milk issue. And in December, 2011, a consortium was announced to develop new, sustainable, grass-fed dairy farms and facilities in the state. No word yet on whether they’ll be selling any of that milk raw.
For more information on organizations working on raw milk issues in Hawaii, check out the Hawaii Alliance for Raw Milkand the rawmilkhawaii.ning.com/”>Raw Milk Association of Hawaii.
A word of caution: Our advice if you’re interested in raw milk? Do your research so you can make an informed choice about acceptable risk for you and your family. Make sure you are procuring from a trusted, reputable farmer and educate yourself about their practices, and finally, tour the farm and facilities.
This is one of the inaugural posts for The Saloniere. Thanks for stopping by. We hope you will find what we have to say interesting enough to return regularly. Happy reading and welcome to The Saloniere!