What began with a single cow in her back yard has now erupted into a legal and personal headache for operator Alice Jongerden.
“I have nothing to hide,” said Jongerden, seated on a bale in her hayloft. “Our intent was never to be in the black market or to be under the table.”
The Fraser Valley Health Authority initiated a cease and desist order after an inspection at the Chilliwack dairy farm two years ago. The authority concluded that Jongerden was violating the provincial Public Health Act by packaging and distributing a hazardous product: raw milk.
Provincial Supreme Court Justice Gropper in March determining that the Public Health Act did not require proof of a specific health hazard.
“There is no dispute that Ms. Jongerden, doing business as Home on the Range, has breached the Public Health Act, and its regulations,” wrote the judge. “The remedy for the petitioners (Home on the Range) is to convince the government to change its legislation.”
Home on the Range “is community-supported agriculture” said Jongerden, pulling at straws of hay as she spoke. “It’s just a group of members that cooperatively come together, own these cows, pay me to take care of them, and they get the dividends (milk) from the cows.”
Jongerden continues to provide approximately 1,800 litres of raw milk to nearly 400 shareholders on a weekly basis. In order to respond to the health authority’s concerns, Home on the Range now marks its unpasteurized milk as “not for human consumption.”
The raw milk community
“The raw milk thing has turned into a political battle, but its only part of a larger issue,” said Sophia Baker-French, who is in charge of University of British Columbia’s , a program that coordinates student access to transparent and enduring local food systems.
Baker-French said people search out whole foods or raw milk for diverse reasons including health concerns and interest in supporting local farmers.
“When your food system is kept local you can see the consequences,” said Baker-French. “Our population can see it, feel it and change it.”
Jongerden said that people have the right to choose how their food is produced.
“On commercial dairies they (the cows) are being constantly pumped with food and (are) constantly working, so they’re producing high quantities,” said Jongerden. “We don’t push them. We just let them live their life in their environment.”
Gordon Watson, a whole foods activist and original shareholder of Home on the Range said there is a huge demand for raw milk.
“They are ,” he said. “They have come to find this stuff by themselves. That it is really important, that they seek it out.”
Watson takes exception with the health authority and the legal system interfering with his access to the food he wants.
“The milk will keep on flowing,” said Watson, explaining that he plans to appeal the latest court ruling. “I am confident that we will find a legal way.”
Fraser Valley Health that unpasteurized milk can be tainted with disease-causing bacteria including E-coli, salmonella and campylobacter.
Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall cautioned against the continuation of the dairy’s production.
“From the public health perspective, it’s unwise,” said Kendall, explaining that it’s difficult to force adults to change their actions. “I do have a problem with that milk being provided to children who don’t have the ability to make decisions for themselves.”
Sui Ryu, Chilliwack resident and mother of three, decided to drink raw milk after visiting several local dairies.
“Sometimes eager people tell me how my parenting can be improved,” said Ryu. She acknowledged Kendall’s concern but explained that her decision to serve her family raw milk came after diligent research, and that she has a genuine desire to consume milk from “the original source.”
Jongerden said that independent food production is at risk.
The ruling “means that any farmer in his community that has a commercial dairy farm, puts milk in a jar and brings it to his house, can be charged with causing a health hazard,” said Jongerden, before heading back into the dairy parlour to help her son finish up with the evening milking.