25 July 2010

raw milk dairy unique to rural berks county.

some notes. i probably should have posted this long ago. i wrote one story about wholesome dairy farms for bctv.org last fall, but the edits to the copy in its online version were ones i found very disappointing, with my voice leeched out of it. so to give it some life in its original form and to throw some education out there, here is my first and intended version of the story.


Raw milk dairy unique to rural Berks County
By Jennifer Hetrick

Raw milk is making a name for itself in today’s world as an increasingly consumed dairy product valued for its many benefits which are not always evident in the pasteurized, homogenized gallons of milk sold in chain grocery stores.

Berks County became the home of a raw milk dairy in the early months of 2008. In Douglassville, farmer Mark Lopez operates Wholesome Dairy Farms with the help of five employees. The first milking on the farm took place April 15 just two years ago.

Before moving back to Pennsylvania, Lopez ran a veterinary practice for dairy cows in Texas. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003 with his degree in veterinary medicine.

Lopez’ Ayrshire cows and young stock graze on 90 of the farm’s acres, with ten of those acres new to the cows this year, Lopez said.

These Ayrshire cows, a breed from Scotland distinguished for their higher cheese yield, are grass-fed, with the original animals coming from farms in Berks and Montgomery Counties as well Central Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture places strict regulations on raw milk dairies, requiring a license and mandating that such farms have their milk tested bimonthly for bacteria. Raw milk dairy farmers must pay for this independent lab testing out of pocket, Lopez said. Each cow’s health must also be checked annually.

“By law, they allow me 10 coliforms (bacteria) per milliliter in the milk,” Lopez said. “My tests consistently come back with less than one—so none detectable.”

Lopez proudly acknowledged his raw milk’s absent bacteria count, while he said pasteurized milk usually has coliform levels per milliliter in the 100s; but such high levels are widely accepted in mass-produced milk because of the pasteurization process.

As stated in the 2008 PowerPoint Presentation ‘A Campaign for Real Milk’ by the Weston A. Price Foundation, “Milk’s anti-microbial properties have been detailed only recently, but the destruction of protective properties was recognized as early as 1938 in studies showing that raw milk did not support the growth of a wide range of pathogens.”

In accordance with the Price Foundation’s view, Rikki Caroll, who resides in New England and is a prominent figure in cheese making, said on her instructional website, “Unfortunately, one of the downsides to pasteurization is that fresh milk naturally contains healthy bacteria which inhibit the growth of undesirable and dangerous organisms.”

“Without these friendly bacteria, pasteurized milk is actually more susceptible to contamination,” Carroll stated.

“With [most] pasteurized milk, you’re getting milk that has cooked manure in it,” Lopez said. “Everything’s been killed, but it’s still cooked manure.”

“Now, if you have an irresponsible raw milk producer who is unscrupulous and isn’t meticulous, I think that can be dangerous—I’ll be the first to admit that,” Lopez said.

In many states, raw milk production is illegal, which makes Pennsylvania unique in allowing more choices for its residents with milk purchasing options.

Throughout the national health community, a serious resistance exists in supporting the idea of consuming raw milk.

Lopez said that the reason he thinks major health organizations are in opposition to raw milk consumption is because of a lacking safety net. “I do have a safety net—the relationship that I have with my customers.”

“They come in with their families,” Lopez said. “There’s a trust; there’s a relationship that’s established there, and that’s a safety net—what we have together.”

“They [major health entities against raw milk consumption] can have their perspective, but I’m grateful that they allow me to do what I’m doing,” Lopez said.

Lopez noted that since opening his dairy, he has never once heard of any instances of customers becoming sick from drinking his raw milk.

“A healthy cow on a good diet is going to make the highest quality milk,” Lopez said, elaborating that a comfortable cow that is not stressed out, in good overall health, and feels at ease in a clean environment is more likely to milk without difficulty.

The cows are milked twice per day, Lopez said, with the machines connected to them for no more than five minutes per milking.

Beforehand, the cows undergo udder prep. This is a process of cleaning the teats in an iodine-based teat dip which has detergent and skin conditioners in it, Lopez said.

“You want the teat skin to be supple, soft, and smooth,” Lopez said. “If you get overly dried teat skin, you can get flaking, and it’s uncomfortable for the cows.” Of course, cows in distress can lead to complications during the milking process, so comfort is essential.

Lopez uses a milking machine which sits under a regulated air vacuum. The milk travels into a stainless steel pipe and runs by gravity into a bulk tank where it is chilled to approximately 36 degrees Fahrenheit. It remains there until it is containerized and stocked in the milk store’s fridge.

The cows’ udders are then treated once more with the cleansing and moisturizing teat dip.

According to Denise Mullinax, Assistant Director of the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program at  the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis in ‘Evaluating Concentrated Teat Dip,’ “Teat dipping post-milking helps to decrease bacterial invasion of the teat-end as cows return to outside corrals and freestalls.”

“The opponents of raw milk say the safest thing is to get pasteurized milk,” Lopez said. “ It’s a shame that they take that view because I say the safest way to protect yourself from getting a foodborne disease from your milk, if you get your milk from a place where the cows are kept clean and they’re cared for, and they’re milked in a meticulously clean way—that’s the safest way.”

“Start with a clean cow, and then clean and healthy milk, as opposed to taking manure filled milk and then cooking the manure in the milk,” Lopez said. “You need to start with the source.”

With limited widespread research on the health and wellness advantages of raw milk from grass-fed cows, Lopez said that there is evidence suggesting that it maintains higher concentrations of linoleic acids (CLAs), which are thought to be anti-carcinogenic.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ll get people who tell me, ‘I was lactose intolerant, but I can drink your milk,’ and I have to tell them, ‘Hey, there’s lactose in there,’” Lopez said.

“Customers tell me that it lasts two and even three weeks in their refrigerator,” Lopez said, “and that’s because of initial low bacteria counts.”

“I believe our society needs to take a large step toward knowing our farmers on a more personal level,” said one of Lopez’ regular customers, Dane Miller of Reading. “These people provide life, and their product quality is tremendous.”

“If consumers are educated and understand food production, they can make a sound decision on their food consumption,” Miller added.

Carol Wise of Birdsboro, who learned about Wholesome Dairy Farms from her neighbor, said she knew of a woman whose baby could not and would not drink regular milk. “When introduced to raw milk, the baby loved and consumed it regularly without ill effects,” Wise said.

“I found that raw whole milk (from grass-fed cows) contains more vitamins and minerals and is better absorbed by the human body,” said Jody Hulber who lives just outside of Macungie and has been buying raw milk from Lopez for about a year and a half. “Buying fresh raw milk from Wholesome Dairy Farms also reinforces my belief that it’s better to buy locally, get fresh healthy food, and support small, independent farmers.”

Tracey and Jeff Lightner of Zionsville commented, “Even though milk is pasteurized, it may come from sick, unhealthy cows that never chew a blade of grass.” The couple has a family member who is lactose intolerant but loves raw milk because he can drink it without any gastrointestinal difficulties.

“There is a dairy down the road from us that will sell us raw milk, but those cows aren’t grass-fed, and we believe they may receive rBGH,” said the Lightners who drive 35 minutes one way to pick up their milk at Wholesome Dairy Farms.

“Raw milk still contains an enzyme to help the body break down lactose,” Miller said, as the process of pasteurization kills many beneficial nutrients in milk, especially milk made from grass-fed cows.

“The ignorance about real [raw] milk is astounding, both from the fear of disease and the fear of fat,” said Jerry Silberman of Douglassville who initially started drinking raw milk years ago because he wanted milk from a healthy source, knowing it was sustainably handled.

“If we follow commonsense rules of cleanliness, we don’t need to worry about high-tech chemistry to keep our food safe and our bodies healthy,” Silberman said, adding that he hopes other farmers see Lopez’ example, then following it for themselves.

Lopez participates at the Farmers’ Market at Great Valley in Malvern and the Boyertown Farmers' Market.

His raw milk is also for sale at Echo Hill Country Store in Fleetwood and at the Douglassville location of Kimberton Whole Foods.

Lopez sells his raw milk for $5 per gallon and $3.50 per half gallon. Also for sale are Manatawny Mild Cheddar and Gouda, with a Monterey Jack soon in the works. These products, along with grass-fed beef, are available in the milk store at his farm, which is located at 136 Camp Road off of Route 562 in Yellow House.


  1. My friend Tracy from Boyertown is being visited by channel 69 out of Allentown on Monday. she just launched a blog of her own: http://www.homegrownonahobbyfarm.com/

  2. Very interesting article! I had an uncle who was a dairy farmer when I was young. We spent many pleasant summers around that farm...