New Jersey Ag News
Schmidt uses hunger strike to vow safety of raw milk
By JANE PRIMERANO
NEW BRUNSWICK — Michael Schmidt ran a successful dairy farm in Germany, where raw milk is allowed, but he was looking for a challenge, so he moved to Canada.
“My farm in Germany was perfect. It was built to feed Napoleon’s army. I had perfect cows. But I can’t live in eternal beauty.”
He found the challenge he was looking for, Schmidt told a packed lecture hall at Princeton University as the closing speaker at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey annual Winter Conference.
He farmed 600 acres initially, but the cost of fighting Canada’s law against selling raw milk caused him to lose all but 50 acres and all of his machinery.
He went from 100 cows to three.
Schmidt spent 12 years rebuilding his farm only to have it surrounded by police and to have his milk dumped.
Schmidt is still fighting to prove raw milk is safe.
“For 17 years, I always kept my optimism,” he said. “I wrote to the premier, health officials to ask how to provide a safe supply of raw milk. I heard silence.”
In his crusade to talk to the premier, Schmidt went on a hunger strike. By the fourth week of the strike, the premier’s office was receiving 300 calls a day plus letters.
Finally, he got an audience with the premier who allowed him to speak to Parliament and the party caucuses.
Schmidt’s fight continues in both Canada and the United States.
His talk at NOFA was designed to inspire raw milk proponents, even though he has not met with success north of the border.
He said he was happy to be speaking near the birthplace of raw milk, the Walker-Gordon Farm in Plainsboro where Elsie the Borden Cow is buried.
In addition, the raw milk movement is credited to have been started at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
Schmidt was optimistic in his talk, which occurred before the New Jersey Assembly approved its raw milk bill and during hearings in the federal Southern District of New York.
A trained symphony conductor, Schmidt conducts in his barn during summer months when the hay loft is free. “I find the same connection in music as in farming,” he said.
Not every farmer has a second profession to fall back on, he said, if not for money then for mental health.
Schmidt said in Germany, school children are taught to maintain gardens. He had a teacher who taught him “soil is sacred, it feeds the world.”
He chose farming as his primary profession because he figured “there will always be good musicians, there might not always be good farmers.”