This post is not just for my regular blog followers but also intended as a source of accurate and first hand information for members of the Illinois Raw Milk Alliance Facebook page. Specifically I'll be addressing the business practices of Golden Guernsey of Illinois.
Keep in mind, that by doing so, some people will take issue with one raw milk farmer dressing down another. Farmers, like doctors, have unwritten codes about such things. (I am also an RN) If the code was written, it would look like this: We'll patrol our own profession, thank you very much. But, I'm not calling to task another raw milk farmer, instead I am publicly holding the feet of two Raunchy Raw Milk Brokers to the flame and although my husband and I and several other residents of Livingston County, Illinois have been greatly damaged by them financially, it is my concern for public safety, that is my number one priority and motivation for this post.
In April of 2015 we sold our then certified organic dairy farm (house, barn, equipment and cows) via a contract for deed, to Kelly and Rick Boge. We then moved here, to The Poor Farm. In June 2016 they asked for lower payments on this contract. We said no, it was not affordable for us to do so. On July 4th Rick Boge said to my husband "We're not going to be able to make this work." But then agreed to pay us "something." This "something" never arrived, so on July 11th we visited again and he agreed to vacate the premises by July 31.
We asked to inspect the property but were told it wasn't a good time. "I'll call you and you can come at the end of the week." We respected his wish. This was a mistake. He did not call us and in fact, it was the last time we saw Rick Boge. He fled back to Arizona leaving two young, untrained women in charge of milking the cows. Most were our cows, only a handful were his as he had been removing his cows from the property for several weeks. (So much for their website claim "Guernsey Milk $12") These employees had been instructed to continue milking our cows, to continue bottling the milk, to continue distributing the milk to their two drop sites in Carol Stream and Barrington.
When we realized both the Boges had returned to Arizona, (his employees told us this) abandoning the farm, the care of the livestock, the supervision of their employees I texted Kelly Boge to tell her we were inspecting the property. We were appalled by what we found. The details of structural damage to our property was extensive but the conditions of our milk parlor, milk room (where the milk was being bottled) and the Farm Store building where the milk was stored, were horrendous.
The milk room was coated in manure. On the floors, on the walls, on the hand sink. On the milking inflations .The hand sink was in fact so filled with garbage and debri, you couldn't wash your hands there if you wanted to. The garbage can was overflowing and flies swarmed everywhere. I am not talking a few flies, we sold raw milk for years, operated a Grade A dairy for years, all dairy farms have flies, no, this was of grotesque proportions. Liquid fly traps set up who knows how long ago, were bulging with dead insects. The smell was putrid. Empty boxes, empty plastic gallon containers littered the floor. The milk tank (meant to immediately cool the milk) was not working and the employees were still emptying milk into it, letting it sit in 90 degree summer heat, for more than an hour, while they finished milking the cows. There was no cover on the floor drain.
Please recall I said these young women were not trained well and we do not fault them. They were just doing as they were instructed. One mentioned that Rick had not milked the cows in over 6 weeks. (So much for the website claim about well-cared for cows...how would he know?)
In the parlor, the room where the cows are milked, more manure was caked on walls and grain was evident on the floor and in the stanchion troughs.
In addition a 40 pound bag of conventional grain, "sweet feed" bought at Big R, was on the floor. (So much for their website claim of only feeding Non-GMO grain) On the shelf in the parlor were multiple bottles of antiseptic sprays, and ointments, antibiotics were in the refrigerator. (So much for their web-site claim of following organic standards and not using antibiotics.)
In the Farm Store we discovered the freezers, which obviously never been defrosted or cleaned, had huge mounds of ice encasing old, torn open packages of meat from various farmers.
Also, 20 or so gallons of frozen solid milk. On the store floor was layers of manure and dirt and 15 cartons of eggs delivered by another farmer, unrefrigerated. Since the single refrigerator was full of very warm milk there was was no room for the eggs. (So much for their website claim of eggs coming from Golden Guernsey Farm.) On the stores front porch, clotted, rotted milk swimming in more clotted, rotted milk.
And still, with all that, it was only the tip of the iceberg, but enough I hope for customers of Golden Guernsey to ask some serious questions.
But wait. How would one do that? When you call their contact number you often get the "Sorry this mailbox is full" recording. I suppose you could write them but, wait again. Their web site lists no address. So where exactly is the farm of Golden Guernsey of Illinois? Are they in Arizona? Wisconsin? The only thing I know for sure, is they are not in Chatsworth, Illinois any longer.
Up until yesterday their web site still contained pictures of our farm and directions to their drop off sites. Now the web site http://www.iloverawmilk.com/
is "under construction." Hopefully, if it presents again, it will contain factual information about breeds of cows, locations of cows, grain usage, antibiotic use, etc...etc...Transparency is the key for strong, honest, farmer to consumer relationships, and one can't be very transparent if they are always hiding out on other peoples farms.
So, in the future, how can a raw milk consumer protect themselves and their families from a Raunchy Raw Milk Broker whose intention is not the sale of a healthy product produced in a healthy manner, but rather just plain sales? Start by asking just five simple questions. Any hesitation, side stepping, stalling or inconsistencies when answering, should send up some red flags.
1. When can I visit your farm?
All farmers are busy and drop in visitors can be disruptive to farm chores but setting a date
and time to visit two or three times a year should be welcomed by a Real Raw Milk Farmer. They
are generally proud of their livestock and their farm. A Raunchy Raw Milk Broker may not even
own their farm. They often keep cows on other peoples farms, spreading livestock all over several counties or states. They will make numerous excuses not to take you on a farm tour like, "My
insurance won't allow it."
2. Why do you want me to make my check out to "cash"?
A check made out to cash prevents the bank or IRS from tracking the recipient of the check. I'm
not a huge fan of our over-governing government but if you work and pay taxes why doesn't your raw milk provider have to? And what if the Raunchy Raw Milk Broker loses your check? Anyone can cash it and you might be blamed for non payment.
3. How often can I expect to see you ?
I love this question if I do say so myself. A Real Milk Farmer greets you when you come to the farm, thanks you for your patronage, and if you're a regular, calls you by name. A Raunchy Raw Milk Broker hires lots of employees who work and quit or get fired because they cut into his/her profits. Often you will see different people with each visit. Therefore a customer will rarely see "their farmer" because they are too busy spending your hard earned money.
4. Can I watch how you milk the cows, bottle and store the milk?
Sure, the Real Raw Milk Farmer will say. It will give him the chance to show you much he
cares about selling you milk that has been carefully collected and IMMEDIATELY cooled.
DING DING DING will be the alarm bells going off in the Raunchy Raw Milk Brokers head, warning him. The last thing he wants is witnesses.
5. Why does your milk only last 5-7 days?
A Real Milk Farmer will smile at this because he knows FRESH raw milk will last 2-3 weeks
in your refrigerator if it was properly cooled, if the milk containers were very clean, if he washed his hands before bottling your milk. In fact many prefer to have you bring your own containers and
access the milk with your own two clean hands from the bulk tank. A Raunchy Raw Milk Broker will blame the cow, the weather, the tides, the weeds in the pasture, the floods, the drought for that
his milk tastes funny. Accepting responsibility is not part of his skill set.
There you have it, The Rest of the Story, as well as a few tips for avoiding the notorious Raunchy Raw Milk Broker should they enter YOUR county as they did ours. We raw milk farmers who served on the IDPH's raw milk committee in 2012-2013 always said we didn't need IDPH to inspect us, the consumers would do it. It's extremely ironic that Golden Guernseys of Illinois was granted the first Raw Milk Permit in Illinois, two weeks after the Boges fled back to Arizona and based on false information.
I guess we here on The Poor Farm have something in common with IDPH after all. Neither of us did enough due diligence on these people. But you, the raw milk consumers of Illinois, now have way more information than we had, so I place the ball in your court. Be a good detective, investigate your applicant farmer, ask for references, and then choose your raw milk provider carefully. Your health and your families health depends on it.