Where Does Michigan’s Complicated History of Raw Milk Crackdowns and Romance Leave Us?

Michigan farmer Richard Hebron in 2007. Sometimes, it’s important not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. 


One of those times is occurring in Michigan right now, where there seem to be a lot of trees—in the form of different people with different understandings about what is and isn’t “legal” for the assorted raw-milk herdshares that have taken hold around the state. Overlaying the trees is a complex history, and different views of what it means, as is evident from some intense discussion following my previous post about what people think is and isn’t allowed in Michigan for herdshares. 


The history goes back to the late 1940s, when Michigan became the first state to require that all milk sold at retail be pasteurized, in effect banning the sale of raw milk. However, as in many states, there are no laws relating to private contractual arrangements covering raw milk, including herdshare arrangements.


Fast forward to October 2006, when the Michigan Department of Agriculture (as the agency was then known) executed a “sting” and confiscated some $8,000 worth of raw milk being delivered by farmer Richard Hebron to herdshare owners in Ann Arbor. The MDA then went to a county prosecutor, Victor Fitz, urging him to file charges against Hebron, in hopes hitting the farmer with a severe enough penalty that he, and others involved with raw milk, would see the error of their ways. 


Instead, members of Hebron’s herdshare mounted a campaign to persuade the prosecutor that not only were they doing nothing illegal, but that they were doing something very positive by drinking raw milk. They inundated the prosecutor with their personal stories of healing and good health from raw milk. 


Fitz carried out an extensive investigation, in Indiana, where an Amish farmer provided the milk for Hebron’s herdshare, and even in Pennsylvania, where another Amish farmer provided raw milk cheese. 


Eventually, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would become involved, and issue the Indiana farmer a warning letter for sending milk across state lines. 


In the end, though, the case blew up on the MDA. Fitz concluded in 2007 that no crimes had been committed, and gave the case back to the MDA. To save face, the MDA worked out a deal with Hebron: he would pay a fine of $1,000, obtain a retail license, and the Michigan attorney general would sanction his (and other) herdshares. 


But there was more. The MDA also agreed to sanction a working group of regulators, agriculture experts, farmers, and others to develop information and recommendations for dealing with raw milk going forward. The result was the Michigan Fresh Unprocessed Whole Milk Workgroup. Little did anyone realize that the workgroup would need six years to complete its mission. Two years after its launch, in 2009, it provided the first inklings that its orientation was entirely different than anything of an official or semi-official nature ever conceived on raw milk. “Milk fresh from the cow is a complete, living, functional food…the full benefits…are only realized when all of these components function as a complex interdependent and balanced process,” the workgroup stated. 


When the Michigan workgroup finally issued its full report last year, it included as an addendum the now-famous policy statement from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development governing herdshares. 

In the meantime, a number of herdshares took hold in Michigan besides the one run by Richard Hebron. One of those was operated by dairy farmer Kevin Hicks and his then-girlfriend, Jenny Samuelson. The Detroit News carried an article about the 350-member herdshare in 2009….when things were going well. (Samuelson says the two dated initially, but she "was never romantic with him.")


Things stopped going well between Hicks and Samuelson in 2012, however. Had their relationship simply ended, that would have been the end of the story as far as Michigan raw milk drinkers were concerned, but there was more to it. In a he-said-she-said falling out, Samuelson moved the herdshare to a different herd, at High Hill Dairy. 


Herdshare members were left to figure out whether to stay with Hicks or move on with Samuelson. Most seem to have moved on with Samuelson, which left Hicks with lots of milk and not many raw milk drinkers. 


Hicks, though, resolved to re-build the herdshare, and thanks to the growing demand for raw milk in Michigan, he says he has built up a new herdshare and recovered financially. But in a conversation a couple days ago, he told me he is upset with Samuelson’s actions in running her current herdshare. He contends she was warned by the MDARD months before the raid on her truck last month, to discontinue producing cream and butter, per the MDARD policy statement. 


“I’m not big on a lot of rules,” Hicks told me. “But sometime you have to have a few rules.” By defying the MDARD, Samuelson runs the risk of encouraging a further crackdown on raw dairies in Michigan and “of ruining this for everyone,” Hicks argues. 


Samuelson confirms that High Hill Dairy was warned some months ago about the cream and butter, but contends that the agency has no authority over whether members receive such products. After the warning, she says, “The members let the state know this was their milk and they have a legal contract that they gave the farm the right to make products with their milk….Remember they seized my items and ILLEGALLY searched my truck because of a food license issue, correct?”


Samuelson says she knows of other Michigan herdshares producing raw cream and butter, “yet we are the one being targeted because a POLICY IS NOT A LAW that (the Fresh Unprocessed Whole Milk Work Group) came up with! Cream is milk separated. It doesn't make any logical sense!! If (shareholders) want pay that farm to make butter, that is their right!!” 


Samuelson adds that under regulators no longer with the MDARD, she was allowed to have both dairy and non-dairy products on the same truck; now, different regulators are saying raw milk can’t be delivered in the same truck as other foods covered under a retail license. 


“It seems every time we get new people in charge, I have something to deal with. This time, they really over stepped their authority. I been doing this for 6 yrs and 8 months, and nothing has changed besides growth.” 


There is obviously a lot of confusion about what Michigan allows and doesn’t allow. And that is part of what the authorities want, especially if they can get farmers and other food producers fighting among each other, rather than fighting the authorities.

There were references in the comments following my previous post about Michigan’s laws covering herdshares, but as Samuelson correctly points out, we are talking about herdshare policies, not laws, in Michigan. There are no laws governing herdshares, except as there are laws governing contracts of all goods and services.  There is no raw milk permit process enacted into law, as there is in Pennsylvania, Vermont and Massachusetts, providing for safety inspections and testing. 


The problem with policies is that they can be interpreted differently by different regulators. That is exactly what has happened in Michigan—some regulators turned the other way on the production of cream and butter, while some now want those restricted. Some regulators didn’t object to delivery of herdshare milk together with licensed eggs and meat, while others now say such combinations are illegal. 


I wish I could agree with Kevin Hicks, that if Michigan’s raw milk producers just “behaved” themselves, everything would be okay. I am not sure it would be. I have little confidence that the current crop of MDARD regulators truly backs herdshares, and I fear that they may interpret everyone “behaving” themselves as weakness, requiring ever more regulation. 

If you go back to the beginning, when Michigan enacted laws requiring pasteurized milk for retail sale, you will likely find nothing in the laws restricting the private contracting for food. It may be the state's dairy farmers need to go back to the beginning to find their way out from among all the trees blocking their view. 

David Gumpert's picture

I should point out that since I posted this, Jenny Samuelson took severe exception to my characterization of her relationship with Kevin Hicks as a "romance." I made a change in the text to include her denial, but in an email, she suggested it wasn't strong enough. She stated: "I did what I did because I cared about the farm and the animals. People assume we where a couple because what I did for the farm. I cared and had love for Kevin but like a family member. I wasn't in love with him. Big difference . I know people do not understand but the farm just had my heart, I fell in love with the simpleness of life!"

I can certainly respect the distinction she makes. While the distinction is important to her personally, for the purposes of my report on the history of raw milk in Michigan, it is the internal conflict within the food rights movement signified by the relationship and its aftermath that stands out. 

This is about standing up for our rights we have. We should be supporting each other to make positive change here in Michigan. If we let them do this to me who will be next? This shouldn't be about Mr. Hicks and myself but about raw milk and supporting local farms. We have Constitution Rights if we don't use them they will take them from us!! Stand up and make a change it starts with you!

mark mcafee's picture

I write this post with caution....but I just want to keep the raw milk community here in the USA and Canada in the inside loop about progress.

Yesterday our OPDC team responded to an invitation by one of the largest store chains that sell organic
Food in CA with more than 100 stores. It was not Wholefoods. We met for nearly two hours to discuss all matters related to raw dairy products. Food liability risk was a major topic. At the end of the very positive meeting, the offer was extended to OPDC to offer RawKefir for sale in their stores. One thing that really stood out in the discussion was the comment made by the buyer....that "conventional milk is dying at 5% per year". She shared with us that consumers are wanting organic and less processed food. She said she was not going to be caught ever again missing the trend. She saw raw organic raw dairy as a trend who's time has come....or is emerging now.

As we left the meeting, the team was totally impressed with the knowledge, consumer sensitivity and market awareness that this buyer clearly appreciated.

So more news will come soon. No names for now. We will have the official blessing in a couple of weeks.

So...take this as a market sign and watch this closely. As areas arround America and Canada resist this emerging market...out here in CA the broader markets are embracing change and looking forward.

LOVE it Mark! Thank you for all you do for raw milk in this free world!!

Ora Moose's picture

I second the sentiment: Thank you Mark, in the name of all who favor freedom of food choice regardless of if it involves raw milk or not.

Mark, you might want to reach out to Dr. Mercola who has a huge platform and following, to include even a small mention of the raw milk cause and benefits when he publishes articles like this about what real food is:


Richard Barrett's picture

Yes, Canada is resisting this emerging market. Real Agriculture which is internet site would not allow my comment when I responded to article, "Who is Responsible to Educate Consumers". I told them who is teaching: Parents, Teachers, Weston A. Price Foundation, Joel Salatin (he was in Calgary), and on the internet www.rawmilkinstitute.org which gives the milk tests results of the farms that are Certified. Also www.rawmilkconsumer.ca with more information for consumers.
Mark, If you are ever in Calgary, we have a bed for you (Queen) and your wife is welcome too.

We are definitely going through a soul-searching time here in Michigan. It's pretty clear that the herdshare policy acknowledges the milk as being the property of the herdshare owners, as it states that "FUW [fresh, unprocessed, whole] milk is not for sale or resale." If herdshare owners then choose to have the farmer (or anyone else) turn their milk into cream and butter, paying for the labor involved, it is their private business.
When I think of what Richard Hebron, the most pleasant, mild-mannered man you could ever hope to meet, went through in 2006, I could just cry. He was pulled over on the side of I-94, patted down like a criminal, had his phone confiscated, and ordered to drive his truck to Lansing so state agents could confiscate shareholders' privately-obtained food. At the same time, agents came to his house where his wife was home alone, and took their computer and personal and shareholder records. I can only imagine how terrifying this must have been for them.
While perhaps slightly less traumatic, the "inspection" of My Family Co-Op that took place on July 15 and subsequent order to dump the food is equally as disturbing, because it represents unwarranted (in both senses of the word) intrusion of the state into the private distribution of food.
The workgroup report was a wonderful leap of progress - I hope we can get back to the same cooperative state of mind and work toward the ultimate goal - ensuring that Michigan citizens can freely and safely exercise their right to obtaining foods of their choice.

mark mcafee's picture

Dear Michigan Cow Share operators. If I were you...I would assure very close regulator relations. I would make sure that I was connected to principals inside the working group and act in lock step with policies and procedures. All legit....as they say. Then I would build and group....teaching and producing exceptional fantastic raw milk. Over time....I would go about to change the backward laws. But...this takes consumer votes and a track record of excellence. Being sneaky is counter productive to progress. I would invite regulator testing, inspections, build relationships...what ever it takes.

It is intolerable to think that one of our states can be so backward about raw milk!! Look at the big picture. Pasteurized fluid milk is dying off in they market. In 2013....a loss of 4.3 % nationally. DeansFoods closing 12 of its 80 fluid pasteurized milk plants. No wonder Michigan processors are scared that they are losing out to raw milk. What I do not get is why Michigan processors can not produce raw milk and Glab this market. It is not rocket science.

David Gumpert's picture

Mark, there was a lot of what you are talking about in the six years of the Working Group. It came out with some truly amazing information, and from what I understand, regulators, educators, and farmers got on grandly. Maybe they should have figured out a way to keep it going beyond 2013. But one problem was that some of the old regulators retired, and new ones came in....and seem to have reverted to the same-old-same-old. Not sure if that old spirit can be re-kindled...would be neat if it could. 

mark mcafee's picture

I am not a conspiracy theory kind of guy.....I really am not. But....Tonight I was on a live blog talk radio show all about moms and raw milk. When after 30 minutes of really great discussion the Internet radio systems all went dead. The technicians could not figure it out....it was something jamming their ability to access the Internet. Something they could not track down or understand.

We had 30 more minutes to go and we had just gotten started talking about the FDA, NIH, Human Genome project and the immune system when everything went quiet.

Makes you really wonder. I know my friends in the Canadian raw milk movement really believe they are being bugged with phones and emails being watched.

If the FDA spends $5 dollars of tax payers money on any phone taps or email bugging....I will be so pissed. There is not one single thing that I would not give them immediately. If the FDA wants something....why dont they just ask? I will send it via next day air or email it immediately. I would consider it an honor and an offer to communicate. I say this because I can not seem to get the attention of the FDA by any emails, phone calls or any other activity. I would seem that I do not exist. They just ignore me.

In this world of cloak and dagger...what ever happened to just plain old fashioned talking to find out what you need or want to know. I guess it isn't good or real information unless it is from some weird illicit channel.

Ken Conrad's picture

There is nothing theoretical about a conspiracy; it’s a fact of life in this “cloak and dagger” world where the powers that be work in camera or furtively in order to pervert the course of justice.

As a counterbalance, one has to do exactly as you stated. Be assertive and forthright!
Thank you David for keeping this movement on the straight and narrow.


Shelly-D.'s picture

You are not paranoid if someone actually *is* out to get you. And in Canada, we know they are, because the Big Dairy cartels pull a lot of weight. Financially and politically, these monopolies are very powerful - no government dare disband the milk marketing boards. Even our Conservative federal government dare not disband these communist monstrosities.

And lest anyone forget: "An employee of the Schmidts’ surprised three men who were in the process of breaking into the cheese house. The employee was forced into a van and made to tell them where Michael Schmidt was at the time. Then they drove to that house, set up infrared cameras and listening devices, and stayed for half an hour. After this, employee was pushed out of the van and told not to tell anyone about the incident or “he would be sorry.” The Schmidts called the OPP for investigation but without results. Local farmers told the Schmidts that they had been asked if they would house surveillance teams. For a period of several months, vehicles were parked on the road close to the farm both day and night. Whenever farm personnel approached these cars, they took off. License plate numbers were recorded and passed on to the police who said they were unable to trace them." - http://rawmilkconsumer.ca/farmers/michael-schmidt

And remember, the Harper government has already officially labelled environmentalist and green groups as officially being terrorists (along with white supremacists, socialist, and animal rights groups) - http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/14/canada-environmental-... - Don't think for one second that libertarians and raw milk activists aren't on their list as well.

ingvar's picture

Administrative Law, nee absolute (or prerogative) power, is the topic of Scott Johnson’s post “Gary Lawson: The Return Of The King” on August 17 at powerlineblog.com. This is his 7th posting on this topic starting on July 2, 2014. It follows the publication of Columbia University Law Professor Phillip Hamburger’s book on the topic.
From Scott Johnson: “Professor Lawson has now posted his review of Philip Hamburger’s Is Administrative Law Unawful?” And, “Profesor Gary Lawson is the Philip S. Beck Professor of Law at Boston University School of Law. He is one of the country’s foremost scholars and critics of administrative law. He has written six editions of a textbook on administrative law and cowritten two books on aspects of constitutional history. When it comes to the serious issues that beset administrative law, Professor Lawson knows what he is talking about.”
These posts can be found in the “Specials” search box at the bottom of the page, under “Books.”

Administrative Law is clearly relevant to much of what concerns us here at TCP, in the long term. Obviously I don’t think this is a “flip the switch” and everything will better sort of situation. The matters discussed at TCP are relevant to what we eat, so at the core they are a matter of life or starvation, a matter of good health or chronic less-than-good health. It begs the matter to say to someone “Well, just choose to eat something that has been declared (allowed) legal for you to eat (by corrupting legitimate governance into a commercial bludgeon).”
So time IS of the essence of this matter. There is no good faith shown in starving someone in order to allow the “wheels of justice” grind at their “normal” pace. It is only a short second step to point out the tyrannical economic consequence of what was done, for one example, to Morningland Dairy in Missouri under the administration of Governor Nixon.
This country was founded in such a way as to bring about the end of an existing evil- slavery, and constituted in such a way as to prevent absolute power from taking root, but it has taken root.
If I may add: the argument that we need to be ruled by an elite trained to rule doesn’t cut it with me because (truth be told) the “elite” are cut from the same cloth as the rest of us and if allowed unaccountable power, then when evil takes root at the top, the effects are amplified. One person may lie their one life to ruin but a “ruler” can lie multitudes into unremitting misery. The opposite of evil is needed at every level and in every endeavor of society. Every day.

Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard

David Gumpert's picture

Interesting article about advances on behalf of food rights in Virginia, via an ongoing task force (VA Food Freedom Task Force). Seems to include everything except raw dairy. I appreciate this quote: "“The real issue here is the definition of ‘potentially hazardous foods,’ and who controls that definition.” Right now controlled by FDA. 


rawmilkmike's picture

Tuoli: China’s Mysterious Milk Drinkers
"Let’s take a close look at what he China Project data has to say about these Tuoli folks. In terms of macronutrients, the Tuoli consumed an average of 185.6 grams of fat, 172.5 grams of protein, and 322 grams of carbohydrates per day. Average energy intake was a whoppin’ 3704 calories, and average fiber intake was 17.9 grams per day—only slightly more than your run-of-the-mill American."
"Tuoli isn’t significantly worse off than the near-vegan counties in terms of chronic disease. Total mortality rate is lower, cancer rates are lower or similar, heart attacks aren’t more common than usual, stroke rates are average. From this data alone, we’d have no basis for claiming that eating two pounds of dairy per day (and minimal vegetation, aside from wheat flour) is less healthful than consuming a mostly vegetarian diet. For sure, this data fails to support Campbell’s claim that chronic disease rates climb when animal protein intake rises."
"We have plenty of evidence showing hormone-pumped dairy, grain-fed meat, pasteurized and homogenized milk, processed lunch meats, and other monstrosities are bad for the human body. No debate there. But we do have a woeful lack of research on the effects of “clean” animal products—meat from wild or pastured animals fed good diets, milk that hasn’t been heat-zapped, antibiotic-free cheeses and yogurts, and so forth."

mark mcafee's picture

I just want to reiterate a huge and very compelling 2014 Cornell Study about increased risk of death from increases in pasteurization temps post 9-11 time period. See link.

\\opdsbs\RedirectedFolders\MarkM\My Documents\Responding to bioterror concerns by increasing milk pasteurization temperature would increase estimated annual deaths from listeriosis barfblog.mht

Right up front in the abstract ( I have the PDF study as well as the link )....it says that the researchers bench mark the risk presently at 18 deaths per year from pasteurized dairy products and that it is estimated that the death risk will increase to 670 deaths per year.

Now the biggest question of all....where the hell did Cornell PHD's get 18 deaths per year for there peer reviewed and published research study. It is a criminal activity to suppress data on death from pasteurized milk!!! Is it buried data? How did it pass peer review if this was not true or back by some data or evidence? Is the CDC that corrupt? Where are the bodies? Cornell University PhD's do not publish and become peer reviewed with out defensible data. They are no slackers.

What is happening here! lets keep our eye on the ball and not be distracted by media shiny object syndrome as other raw milk issues come up. Our raw milk issues do not come in 18 body bags per year!! We need to force some transparency on the assumed safety of pasteurized milk products. Cornell basically says....increased temperature pasteurized milk is darn dangerous!!! Where is the outcry?

The abstract gives an email address of ms984@cornell.edu for Stasiewicz, Matthew J., the lead author. Why don't you write and ask him about the 18 deaths per year?

mark mcafee's picture

The link won't post. David has it from previous story.

David Gumpert's picture