POCATELLO, Idaho — When he first started selling raw milk in May of 2012, Michael Busselberg feared he’d routinely dump his product for lack of customers.
Instead, he typically sells out within the first hour at the Portneuf Valley Farmers’ Market and has a waiting list for weekly raw milk pick-ups. He said he’s already outgrown the old dairy he rents, located 16 miles west of Blackfoot, for his Desert Wind Farms.
Demand for raw milk — unpasteurized milk straight from the cow — has steadily increased throughout Idaho since the state Legislature legalized its sale in 2010.
According to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, there are now five cow and two goat facilities in Idaho that have the infrastructure to qualify as Grade A raw milk producers.
Another 60 cow and 70 goat operations sell raw milk under the state’s small herd exemption, which allows commercial sales by producers milking no more than three cows or seven goats or sheep per day without meeting Grade A standards. Routine testing of small herds is required.
Raw milk sales have also made steady gains at the Pocatello Co-op, where customers special order 20-30 gallons per week at $9.39 per gallon.
“Every month, we’ll get a couple of more customers when they know that we have it,” said general manager Destiny Lynch, whose store buys the product from Fall River Farms in Chester, Idaho.
Busselberg’s full-time job is overseeing hay acquisition for a Utah exporting company, but he anticipates eventually making his farm a full-time job. His quarterly sales, which were no more than $2,000 last year, have grown to $15,000, and he anticipates topping $25,000 next quarter. His milk brings in a whopping $81 per hundredweight. His customers insist it tastes better and contains natural cultures and nutrients that help with everything from asthma to autism.
“We have one lady who had brain cancer. She drinks raw milk and feels that helps to build her immune system,” Busselberg said.
Officials with the mainstream milk industry refute such health claims and believe raw milk poses an increased risk of spreading food-borne illness.
Chris Galen, a spokesman with the National Milk Producers Federation in Arlington, Va., argues producers of raw milk expose themselves to liability by selling it.
“It’s a form of Russian roulette, and if you pull the trigger and nothing happens, it’s all fine and good,” Galen said.
Busselberg, who also sells pork, beef, chickens and eggs touted as naturally produced, said raw milk represents 60 percent of his revenue. He said conventional milk producers also shoulder risk, and he takes precautions to ensure a safe product.
“People need to be able to have freedom to make that choice,” said Busselberg, who graduated from a dairy program at Utah State University.
Commercial raw milk sales are legal in Idaho, Washington and California. Licensed Oregon producers with a bottling plant on site can sell raw goat or sheep milk commercially, but raw cow milk sales are limited to on the farm where the farmer has no more than three producing cows.
“It’s growing at 25 percent per year,” said raw milk activist Sally Fallon Morrell. “It’s a niche market that’s poised to become mainstream.”