The Politics of food, Being an AG-Tivist


Agtivist (ag-ti-vist) n. one who fights for food freedom

A few weeks ago while many spent time using social media and other outlets to raise awareness and fight for marriage equality, Congress passed and the President stealthily signed the “Monsanto Protection Act” (Google it). Meanwhile here at home, March Madness is great entertainment, but most Montanans are completely unaware of the madness called the Montana Legislature, and we need to get our priorities straight. A majority of us are completely unaware of the legislative process, how to be involved or why we should be.

Honestly, unless you have a personal stake in a particular bill, the legislative session is probably not even on your radar. But we all need to realize that decisions are being made for our lives, livelihood and the future of our children, and we can and should use our voices to speak to our core values and beliefs.

One deeply held belief that I have is access to the food of my choosing. I want to be able to support the farmer(s) of my choice and procure the foods that I believe to be healthful for my family. One of those foods is fresh milk and dairy products. Currently in Montana the “sale or transfer” of fresh dairy products is illegal. However, there is a bill in the legislature that seeks to change this: HB574, which creates a Small Herd Exemption, from the existing mandatory pasteurization requirements. Montana is one of only a handful of states where raw milk is “illegal” as shown here in a State by State Review of Milk Laws:

HB574 - Montana Legislation

Many people, including the government, feel the need to protect us from ourselves,  or “protect the innocent children” that might be affected by the choices of their parents to consume unpasteurized milk. You might even believe that pasteurization is imperative and milk straight from the cow (or goat, or sheep) is unsafe and potentially hazardous. Well, you are absolutely right – unpasteurized milk CAN be dirty depending on the conditions in which the animal is raised, what it is eating, how the milk is handled and various other factors. However, properly produced dairy from healthy animals, grazing on pasture as nature intended, and properly and safely handled – is one of nature’s most complete foods and I want access to it! I believe that I have educated myself on the benefits and risks, what to look for at the farm, and the questions to ask of the farmer – why should the government deny me the right for a consumer to consumer transaction of my CHOICE?

So what does the bill allow?:

  • It allows a small farmer to have up to 15 cows and 30 goats or sheep and sell raw milk if they purchase a $5/permit. Milk can only be sold to people coming to the farm to buy it.
  • The bill also allows Grade A dairies to sell raw milk directly to consumers on-the-farm. Since most milk co-ops forbid the sale of raw milk, this would apply, in practice, only to independent dairies like Lifeline Farms and Kalispell Kreamery (currently the only two independent dairies in the state).
  • HB 574 also offers a herd share (or ownership interest) provision that recognizes that part owners of an animal can consume milk from that animal. No milk is being sold, and the part owners are responsible for deciding what health and safety measures they want to take for themselves.

The real impact of the bill:

  • The bill allows the growing underground raw milk market to come out in the open to flourish and provide economic benefit to the state, freeing farmers from continual fear of government harassment.
  • The bill allows direct farm-to-consumer transaction at the point of production (the farm) with warning stating the product is raw and unpasteurized so that consumers can make their own choices.
  • Because sales would be limited to on-farm direct transactions (no retail), any problems would be immediately traceable to the responsible farm and would create no consumer confusion.

Because of overwhelming consumer and farmer/rancher support, the bill made it through the House and the House Agriculture Committee almost unanimously. However, we still have to get it through the Senate. The Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee hearing for HB574 is scheduled for this Tuesday, April 9th, at 3 pm in Room 303.

Whether you personally want access to fresh dairy products or not, a consumers right to the foods of their choosing is a basic provision of the Constitution, and so is the right to vote. Make your voice heard and raise a glass to food freedom!


Call or email the members of the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee to explain why raw milk is so important to you.

EMAIL: Click on this link, and fill out the form to send the same message to each legislator in the entire Agricultural Committee at one time:

CALL: You can leave a voice message for the entire Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee by calling 406-444-4800.

To read the bill and check on its status, go to:

Updates will be posted on the Montana Alliance for Raw Milk Facebook  page:

   Visit the Heirloom Foodie archives.


Kristen Lee-Charlson is recognized for her food consulting knowledge, exceptional menus and passion for the local food system. She has hosted a variety of modern homemaking classes from cheesemaking to butchery. Recently she founded the Heirloom Principles a consulting agency for chefs, institutions and individuals for the sourcing of locally-produced and sustainably-raised products. She is an accomplished chef, caterer and home-cook. As a mother of four, she is dedicated to educating and empowering others about traditional food preparation and the joy and economy of eating local. Kristen is a strong advocate for a more localized and resilient food system. Daily she creates and consumes real food for her family including sauerkraut stomped by her children’s bare feet and eggs from her backyard hens. As an urban renaissance woman her ambition is to eat more local pastured pork.