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Raw Milk's Direct Market Approach Increases Profits for Dairy Farmers

In the packed gymnasium at Exeter High School, farmer Luke Mahoney is engulfed in a whirlwind of activity, struggling to keep up with the crowds at the monthly winter farmer's market.

Mahoney converses easily with customers while bagging items, weighing them and making change. A small line begins to form at the table, but it's not potatoes and turnips these customers are after; they're eagerly awaiting Mahoney's half-gallon jars of raw or unpasteurized milk, stowed away like buried treasure in coolers beneath the table.

Amy Winans, an instructor in the UNH Hospitality Department, is a regular customer of Mahoney's Brookford Farm.

"It's real; I know where it's coming from," Winans said. "I saw the cow, as opposed to milk trucked in from I-don't-know-where."

Devotees such as Winans have made raw milk a boon to producers, many of whom have struggled to make a living off traditional dairying methods in recent years. With a direct market-selling approach and no processing fees, raw milk producers can greatly increase their profit margin, making dairying a viable business once again.

Winans said that she serves raw milk to her own family, as well as to students in her introductory cooking class at UNH. Though some have initial reservations about drinking unpasteurized milk, Winans explains that the milk has a unique, complex flavor that many students seem to enjoy.

"There's a different flavor profile for each season, which I find fascinating," Winans said. "This means that we are, in a sense, like baby cows nursing. We're tasting what the mom is eating, and we're getting those nutrients."

The United States Food and Drug Administration has discouraged the consumption of raw milk since the1940s, claiming it is more susceptible to contamination by deadly bacteria than pasteurized milk. Federal legislation leaves the sale and regulation of raw milk to the discretion of individual states, and New Hampshire is one of just 26 states where the sale of raw milk is permitted today.

In an official position statement released in 2003, the FDA announced that, according to its research, "the risks of consuming raw milk far outweigh any benefits." But Mahoney said that when care is given to the cleanliness and health of the dairy herd, the danger is all but eliminated.