Secret Food Clubs

Have you participated in a Secret Food Club? I first found out about this from the Book, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, by Sandor Katz.

Katz mentioned a secret food buying club that operates under the radar. It consists of a few locals who formed a food club that meets weekly and offers a variety of food products from raw milk (not pasteurized) and dairy products, home baked goods, herbal remedies, and home fermentation products. The food club operates illegally by selling food products produced in kitchens that are not inspected, and in the case of selling raw milk, is illegal to sell in most states in the US in general.

The passage of the Cottage Food Law in Michigan would make some of the products sold at such clubs legal, but this law is barely a week old and not in place through out the country.

The readers of Sally Fallons book Nourishing Tradition, and followers of the Weston Price diet are big fans of the health benefits of raw milk. I had attended a talk by Fallon in Ann Arbor, and soon joined a raw milk club in Ann Arbor.

The idea was that members purchased a Cow Share. That meant that you owned the cow (in part) with the idea that you therefore had the right to legally drink raw milk from your own cow. My share costed $20 which allowed me to purchase raw milk for pick up at $5 per galloon. They also offered raw butter, raw cream, kefir yogurt, and other products like eggs, lard and meat from the farm. We used to meet at Big Ten Party Store (now Morgan And Yorks) for pick ups.

Around that time, Me and Emily moved to  Portland, Oregon. I was surprised to see that the local coop offered raw milk. There was a label on the bottle saying “for pets only” as a way to get around the laws concerning selling raw milk for human consumption. A few weeks later, however, the milk was gone. So I did a little research, and found a farmer who sold raw milk directly on the farm, which was legal to do in Oregon. They offered both raw cow and raw goat milk.

I made my own fresh goat cheese, raw butter, buttermilk, and paneer cheese from the raw milk and cream.

These underground food clubs or direct sell raw milk farms unfortunately often experience armed raid by our federal government.

An article in The Grist talks about armed raids on farms/farmers who sell raw milk. The raw milk issue is double because it is illegal to sell in most places regardless.

I found out that the club that I belong to in Ann Arbor had experienced such a raid (See article: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1732754/posts).

It seems that the farmers take the legal brunt of these raids when they get raided. The members also lose out because they no longer have access to the farm’s offerings.

So why join or start an underground food club?

I guess the idea of being in on an underground food scene has its appeal, and in the case of raw milk, underground is usually the only option.

Until the Cottage food Bill passed, the ability to create a small food product start up was out of reach to most because of the access and expense to the a certified kitchen.

And the expanse of the reach of Farmers Markets is a relatively new thing, so small communities might have opted to start a secret food club to share locally produced food. The range of Farmers Markets is growing all of the time, and it seems that every town that can support a farmers market has/will have one.

Even if there is a Farmers Market, some still might opted to go underground and forgo the expense of renting a space, insurance, or the challenge of getting space at a popular market.

The reason for the armed cracked down (why is it armed?) is supposedly to protect willing adults members of a farm/ food club from getting sick from unregulated food products. I can see the government point. They want to keep us safe. Why they need all of those guns is beyond me…but.

Are these raid keeping us safe? I would like to see data on food illness outbreaks from secret food clubs compared to commerical food operations.

The thing is however that there are plenty of “regulated food products” produced and processed from supposedly a safe big ag system turns out unsafe.

 Today it may be peanut butter, tomorrow it can spinach, and when their is a mess up, it is big. Millions of pounds of product is recalled, and we later find out that our countries regulation arm is under staffed, and under funded, and questionably affected at times.

So am I a fan of secret food clubs?

I favor a system where small local food producers can make certain foods like baked goods in their homes without being certified, which is what we have now in Michigan. I also think that there needs to be affordable access to certified kitchens, and refrigeration, so a wider variety of food products can be produced locally to grow region specialties, and food systems.

I say why go underground when you do not have too. The reality however is that most states do not have a cottage food law, or access to affordable certified kitchens, which means people choose the underground option or not at all. Most choose not at all which results in a massive lost of opportunity.

As for raw milk, I am a big fan of raw milk, and I feel that adults should be allowed to purchase and consume raw milk from a farmer, on the farm if they are willing to take the risk, which from my research is not much of a risk at all.

My only question is why all of the arm raids? Have any of these secret foods clubs, or farm posed any armed threat or resistance.

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One response to “Secret Food Clubs

  1. I think it is greed related. What is not regulated by the government is often not TAXED. Lost revenue. Uncle Sam loves his revenue. Also, private, licensed, regulated businesses don’t want any competition and support wiping out non-regulated entities – or anyone else they can that presents them with competition. They probably are even willing to act as spies to gather needed information to turn in this competition. With patience and determination we can work together to change the laws to favor those that want free choice.

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