Billie & cows Bend Bulletin 1505-15

Joe Kline / The Bulletin

Billie Johnson, owner of Windy Acres Dairy, looks over her cows Thursday afternoon in a field northwest of Prineville. Windy Acres sells raw cow milk through a herdshare program. Johnson also sells raw sheep milk to cheesemakers.

Raw milk advertising restrictions lifted

By Beau Eastes The Bulletin

After years of what they say was a raw deal, Oregon raw milk producers can finally hawk their products out in the open.

On Wednesday, Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill that allows dairies to advertise the sale of raw milk. One of 30 states that permits the sale of unpasteurized milk, Oregon had a law on the books from the 1950s that banned farms from advertising raw milk. In 2013, though, Christine Anderson of Cast Iron Farm in McMinnville filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Oregon Department of Agriculture after officials told her to take down milk prices from Cast Iron’s website. Anderson and the Department of Agriculture negotiated a settlement in February 2014 in which the state stopped prosecuting farms that advertised their raw milk and promised to change the law in the future. Anderson in turn dropped her lawsuit.

“This lends some validity to the benefits of raw milk,” Jeff Severson, a small-acreage farmer who owns and runs Hope Springs Dairy in Tumalo, which sells raw cow and goat milk, said Thursday. “It might help some people start the research and see if raw milk is the right decision for them.”

Supporters of raw milk claim it has a higher nutritional content than pasteurized milk, helps with digestion and tastes tremendous. Critics counter that unseen bacteria and parasites can make the milk unsafe. Raw milk cannot be sold in stores in Oregon.

“More and more people are learning about raw milk,” Severson said. “They’re discovering for themselves that the facts and statistics don’t add up in favor of the scare tactics.”

Severson and other local raw milk advocates say they appreciate the change in the law and its protection of their First Amendment rights, but that they’ve done just fine without much of an advertising budget.

“We make a pretty good product and so word of mouth works for us,” said Travis Kalebaugh of Kalebaugh Family Farm, a small farm on Deschutes Market Road between Bend and Redmond. “We have a waiting list all the time, sometimes with as many as 20 or 30 names on it.”

“I go more on my reputation,” added Billie Johnson of Wind Acres Dairy northwest of Prineville. “My word is spread from current herdshare members to the next herdshare members.”

While onsite sales of raw milk sales are allowed in the state for farms with fewer than “three cows, nine sheep, or nine goats,” most farms, including Hope Springs, Kalebaugh Family Farm and Windy Acres, utilize herdshares. In herdshare programs, consumers typically pay a monthly fee for raw milk produced from cows they own collectively with other herdshare members. What consumers do with their own milk is entirely up to them.

The bill Brown signed into law Wednesday only changes the advertising restrictions on raw milk and does not lift Oregon’s limited direct sales ordinances. The regulations surrounding raw milk, though, have done little to wean Central Oregon consumers off their love of raw milk.

“When I first started, I didn’t know anything about the laws,” Kalebaugh said. “I put a sign at the end of the property before I got cows, advertising fresh, raw Jersey cow milk. In the first week I had 52 calls. Two were from the county saying I couldn’t have the sign, but I was off and running after that. I took the sign down, got the cows and have been going like mad ever since.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, beastes [at] bendbulletin [dot] com