It took the 2017 failure of our retirement dairy goat operation and an additional 17 months of research, hard work, and public advocacy, but it all paid off yesterday when Delegate Isaac Sponaugle formally introduced our WV Farm Fresh Raw Milk Act bill for consideration in this 2019 Legislative Session. I wish to extend our greatest appreciation to Delegate Sponaugle for having the courage to introduce our bill and to Delegates John Hott, Scott Cadle, Daryl Cowles, and Pat McGeehan for agreeing to co-sponsor the bill, which ensures that we have bi-partisan support for it in the House of Representatives. I am eager to work with each of them to prove that their confidence in the design of this bill will not be misplaced. You may view a printable HTML copy of the bill by clicking on the link below.
We now have a chance to repeal the lingering legal remnants of West Virginia’s outright prohibition on direct farmer-to-consumer unprocessed milk sales. As I noted in my previous January 14 website post, the drive and battle for adoption has only just begun. Now we must survive potential committee meetings, deliberations with public officials and opponents, and legislative action in both houses, before we will know the outcome of this process. We are actively building a groundswell of support for it, as can be seen in the public comments attached to our January 14 website post. The last drive to change the law spanned seven consecutive legislative sessions, so we can’t even be confident that we will have a decision this year. However, the group of supporters we will bring to the table may be more thoroughly informed of the issues and capable of firmly defending our position than was present for the prior debate. All we know for certain is that we must persevere whatever the process may dictate. As any farmer will tell you, hard work does not guarantee success in farming, but you cannot succeed at it without hard work.
While I have outlined a very rational, documental defense of the bill, I want all our followers to remember that there are other less tangible reasons to support our effort. Dairy farming once had a very visible footprint on the West Virginia landscape. Small, family-owned and operated dairy farms with herds of 50 or fewer cows could be seen clinging to the river valleys throughout the state. Even today, I can take you on a tour along the South Branch River valley in Pendleton, Grant, and Hardy Counties and show you the deteriorating remains of more than 50 dairy barns that are among the most recognizable and photographed landmarks of our rural environments. The last of them, the multi-generational Keller Farm ceased commercial operation in December 2017, only months after our own start-up dairy goat operation was abandoned.
Dairy farming is more than a job. For all who lived it, it was a lifestyle choice—one that forged and reflected West Virginia’s traditional self-reliant lifestyle folkways and values. West Virginia and her people have been stereotyped, exploited, and marginalized by outsiders since before she became the 35th state. Few have made the effort to truly understand that our state represents one of the last vestigial remains of a time-honored way of life that will always be an important part of our shared heritage. You don’t have to trace any genealogy back more than 100 years to discover ancestral links to someone who farmed. It is a part of your own heritage. No casual attempt to rewrite history or to avert one’s eyes can ever purge our national heritage of it. However, we only need to open our eyes and acknowledge it to realize that it is an important element of our national identity and values. While you may not have lived that lifestyle for yourself, you cannot deny that you have much to learn from it. Our legislative effort is one way that you can honor that heritage and demand that it should not be allowed to die. Small family dairy farms cannot be successfully operated under our current laws and regulations. It is those laws and regulations that have driven the dairy industry into the mechanized mega-farms that dominate it today.
West Virginia needs small, start-up dairies to give that lifestyle a meaningful presence on our landscape. It is also the only way that an emerging market of consumers who desire farm fresh, unprocessed foods can be served in our state. These people understand the issues surrounding their food choices and want to know where and how their food is produced. They seek a natural and healthy alternative to store-bought packaged foods. We hope you can value their informed consumer choices and your own family heritage enough to support our bill and, in doing so, help preserve and promote our traditional rural landscape in West Virginia. The choice is yours, at least until the last of it disappears forever. That is what we stand for here at Peeper Pond Farm.