Charlotte Smith: Champoeg Creamery

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Editor’s Note: We found out about Charlotte Smith and her Champoeg Creamery from a Mother Earth News Facebook post. She was to appear at one of the magazines’s ag fairs that are held in various states and because we liked what she had to say we thought an interview was in order. The farm is run by Charlotte and Marc Rott near St. Paul, Oregon where they raise pastured poultry, eggs, pork and, of course, raw milk. Ms. Smith is an strong advocate for her cause. You can read her eloquent responses below.

You run your own dairy. You champion the goodness of raw milk. What prompted you to become a dairy farmer?

Charlotte Smith: My kids both had developed eczema when they were six years old. A family member mentioned he’d heard that people were using raw milk to control their eczema, allergies and asthma. I’d never even heard of raw milk at that point, but as a mom desperate to try anything to relieve my children’s suffering, I set out to find some. Two weeks after adding a glass of raw milk to our daily diet, my son’s eczema went away completely. My daughter’s took about 6 months to completely subside, but it did, too. We lost our source a couple times those first few years drinking raw milk due to them going out of business, and also, I could not find the quality of raw milk I wanted, so I got this great idea to get a milk cow of my own!

Talk to us about your operation. What kind of cows are you milking? Tell us about your pasture rotation.

CS: I milk Jersey cows because I have a great source nearby of organic, healthy Jerseys. I like them because they are smaller, very curious and therefore great family cows, great mothers, and their milk is very rich with lots of cream. I have 3 acres of lush green irrigated pasture. We rotate the cows to a new grass paddock daily. They do not return to that paddock for 4-5 weeks, thus insuring that it’s been naturally sanitized, the fly larvae is gone, the grass is grown back up tall and nutritious.

On the hardest of days, someone shows up and says our milk saved or changed their life. That’s incredibly motivating and fulfilling!!

Raw milk is occasionally in the news getting an undeserved bad rap. Talk a little bit about how producing and selling raw milk has benefitted you and your customers.

CS: The health benefits my customers report is endless!! Many people report eczema and allergies going away, arthritis pain lessening or going away, recovery from Crohn’s disease and colitis, and most common, a strengthened immune system evidenced by our family’s rarely getting sick anymore.

My family is extremely healthy – up until 10 years ago we could expect at least one round of antibiotics per person. Now I’ve not had antibiotics in 10 years and rarely get even a sniffly nose. Our health is near perfect!!

Here’s a quote of yours: “This is the most fulfilling job that I have had in my career.” Tell us what is behind that quote. Why do you feel that way?

CS: This job is incredibly fulfilling due to the fact that in just trying to keep my kids healthy I produce a product that is changing people’s lives. I have people at least weekly in tears in my farm store telling me about how some terrible illness they used to have has subsided since starting on raw milk. I have a woman who lives on our raw milk after doctors told her many times she would not make it through her cancer treatment. On the hardest of days, someone shows up and says our milk saved or changed their life. That’s incredibly motivating and fulfilling!!

Plus, I love and connect with all our animals, so just being able to provide an amazing home for these animals we raise, even our hogs and beef cows and meat chickens, knowing they serve us with their lives so I can serve them by giving them the best life possible. Knowing that by being on our farm they are not in some CAFO somewhere – here they connect with us and get to live the fullest expression of their lives.

Tell us about the procedures you go through to produce the freshest, healthiest milk possible.

CS: We set up each day to milk our cows, bring them in the barn one by one to get milked, pour the milk through a filter into sanitized jars in between milking each cow, and put the jars of milk on ice water for one hour minimum before putting it into the customer fridge.

We have hundreds of safety protocols, too many to list here. Some of the basics, though, are that I use a milk machine, I sanitize with proper dairy chemicals in the proper amounts, I use teat dip to sanitize our cows’ teats, I test our milk monthly for bacteria counts. Additionally, rotating our cows to fresh grass daily is part of our safety protocol.  As is sanitizing all the jars and lids prior to milk being poured in.

After milking we clean our barn and equipment thoroughly. We are constantly vigilant making sure the cows are healthy, flies are kept at a minimum, wounds are cared for immediately, and food and water is always available and the highest quality.

You offer cheese-making classes. Talk about how that came about and how your community has responded.

CS: Cheese classes evolved out of selling raw milk and people asking what all they could do with it. I invited a couple people over to make cheese with me a few times, then turned it into a formal actual class on a Saturday. In the early days it was a great way to market our farm and sell our products and augment the milk income, since the amount of raw milk we can produce is so limited in Oregon.

Tell us about your involvement in the recent Mother Earth News Fair. What was that like and how was the response?

CS: I LOVE Mother Earth News Fairs!! I’ll be speaking in Pennsylvania and Kansas, too. They are so welcoming and the crowd is so into sustainable, humane farming and really great food. I had many people in the audience come up after I spoke and tell me they were meant to be there – they were going to seek out a safe source of raw milk after my talk because they had colitis, or their child had autism, or someone had eczema. I LOVE sharing the benefits of raw milk.

Here’s another quote of yours: “Raw milk is becoming the poster child for food freedom.” Give us your take the political implications as regards raw milk.

CS: This is such a multi-faceted question with no simple answer. For one, the health benefits of raw milk are drastic and very real. But researchers can’t get studies funded to scientifically report on this, for many reasons, many times because if it’s not a drug that’s curing illness then it won’t be funded.

Also, researchers and scientists will lose their jobs or get funding pulled if word gets out they are researching the health benefits of raw milk. So we end up with anecdotal evidence that “experts” can tear down and claim as non-credible. (however, if your Crohn’s disease goes away with raw milk and your kid covered in eczema heals in two weeks, then that anecdotal evidence is all the science you need).

So back to the freedom part of it. The authors of our constitution never considered that food choices would ever be limited, so that wasn’t addressed in the constitution. Now we have judges telling us it’s not in the constitution therefore it’s not a basic right of ours to choose what food we eat.

Then there are people that abuse freedom. With freedom comes responsibility – the responsibility to produce safe raw milk. There are people out there not producing raw milk responsibly. We cannot legislate ethics, so without regulation it can be a free for all.

Another point is financial. The processors make the money in the dairy business and the subsidized farmers make very little (relatively). With no processors processing raw milk, they stand to lose lots of money if our country heads that way. Dairy lobbies are wealthy and can squash us so quickly.

But if we want to maintain the inches we’ve gained, we must be responsible in our freedom to produce raw milk and produce it with the utmost of safety in mind.

Your farm offers more than raw milk. Tell us a little bit about the other real foods you offer.

CS: We produce grass fed, grass finished Angus beef cattle, also rotated on fresh, tall green grass. We produce hogs pastured on a hazelnut orchard, eating GMO-free feed. And just a few free rangechickens, turkeys and eggs. Our food is amazing – there is nothing like it anywhere, and you can’t buy it in stores. It nourishes, heals, and builds community.

Any last words? What was I not clever enough to ask you?

CS: I’m often criticized publicly (not by my customers, though) about the cost of raw milk. Yes, it’s far more expensive then milk in the store. It is far more costly to produce, too. When a farm milks 300+ cows they receive all sorts of price breaks we don’t receive because we have just a few cows (by law). We pay full retail on everything. Plus, we get no farm subsidies, so the customer must pay the real cost of the food.

Also, there is a huge risk in producing raw milk – we take on this risk and there’s a cost for that built into the milk. There is no insurance available for someone who gets sick from chicken, but the health department claims that since they had raw milk in their fridge it must have been the raw milk. The farmer is sued, loses everything, and that’s that. Raw milk producers take on much more risk than other farming due to the negative politics we discussed earlier.

Therefore, customers need to be educated that if they want to consume raw milk they must support their farmer in a way that makes it sustainable for her (or him).

Charlotte, thank you for your time. We enjoyed learning about your healthy, happy operation out there in Oregon.

CS: Well, thank you. I appreciate being able to talk about things I care deeply about. The more we talk about raw milk and healthy foods the better.

Do you have a source for raw milk where you live?

Photo credit: Marc Rott