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Michael Schmidt: A Modern Day Canadian Hero

Our Raw Milk and Food Freedom Advocate

(Photos taken with my i-4 camera as that is what I had on hand.)

Aka: From Manure to Milk to Music (the title of Michael’s future book, should he ever write it)

Slow Food Edmonton hosted an Evening with Michael Schmidt at the downtown Edmonton Public Library last night and this is an accounting of that evening. Dear readers, you are aware that while I have been known to write lengthy posts, they are not politically charged. This one is. Please read every word. Slow Food International’s position on raw milk can be found here.

Where ever you are in the world, what you eat and your right to eat it is critical to the quality of your life.

Michael Schmidt has it all figured out. Amongst the insanity of a system that once stripped him of his life’s work, he has found his place. And his place is one that few could find. Or stand in.

Engulfed in his open welcoming hug, it was impossible not to be affected by the positive passion of this big, strong farmer who has become the Canadian advocate for raw milk.

He was in Edmonton on February 23, 2011 to provide support to Judith Johnson and business partner Eric Pudlow as she faces the charge of selling raw milk laid October 26, 2010. In our country, the penalties for the sale of raw milk are serious. I would equate them to that of a serious drug dealer. This day, Schmidt not only came to show his support, but he presented information to the court about raw milk and the current dairy farming industry in Canada. He is not here for Judith, per se, he is here to support and advocate for “œfood freedom” and the right for people to choose what they buy and eat. He asks that we do the same.

March 23 is the next court date, and Michael Schmidt will be here again, from his Ontario home, to show that same support.  Slow Food Edmonton will host his presentation at the Edmonton Public Library from 7 to 8:30 that evening. Michael will again present information about this issue to the public.

I left this first meeting knowing I had met a Canadian hero. Michael Schmidt is a hero in modern times as he has created profound change and provided undying support and commitment to this cause with wit, humour, passion and most definitely a song in his heart.

One year older than I, born in 1954 in Germany, he determined his destiny at 16.  “œThere will be thousands of great positions in the future, but hardly any great farmers. “was his impetus. It was farming, or music. He also had his first orchestra at 16. At 23 he owned his first farm, at 24 he acquired his master’s degree in agriculture and organized his first cow share.

Moving to Canada in 1983, he started his own biodynamic farm. In Germany, there were raw milk dispensers in the schools. But he found in the “œfreest county in the world” the most severe laws against the most natural and wholesome product. Why?

He has an explanation. It is the same as our governments, and it makes sense for the industry in general, but not for the small dairy farmer. In brief: from 1918 to 1933 over 700 people died from a cause determined to be acquired through pathogens in their milk. In 1938 pasteurization was mandatory and in 1981 a Canadian law. In Michael’s words, “œ”¦is still absolutely necessary for their milk.” And who are “œthey”? The dairy industry.

He explains. About 10% of milk produced from industrial dairy farms today is infected with pathogens that can be destroyed through pasteurization. Because the milk from industrial farms is mixed together, pasteurization works in this situation for that purpose. But not all dairy farms are “œindustrialized”. Yet, this law is a blanket law.

Michael provided a chart where he estimated the following totals:

1.     At the beginning of time

  • 1500 liters of milk was produced by a cow to raise a calf in a year

2.     Humans developed a relationship with the cows

  • 2500 liters of milk was produced by a cow for the calf and the people in a year

3.     Through breeding and husbandry

  • 3500 liters of milk was produced by a cow in a year

4.     Production now is 3 times more than it was 20 years ago

  • 20 000 liters of milk is now produced by a dairy cow in a year

How is it possible to get so much milk from one cow? Through science and technology man learned that changing the natural diet of a cow (feeding a cow dense proteins) would produce more milk.

What are the consequences of this? If the life energy of one cow only supports an output of 4500 liters of milk a year and is then “œpumped full of proteins” to enable greater production, this creates poisons within the system of the animal. “œThe organ becomes detoxified and that activates pathogens because of the stress on the system.”

Therefore, “œtheir” milk must be pasteurized, as this is what industrialized dairy farmers are doing to their animals.  But, Michael does not do that to his animals, and many small dairy farmers do not, either.

The life span of one Holstein under this kind of pressure to produce this much milk is 2.5 production years. Michael has cows that produce an average of 10 years. Some are 15 years old and still producing.

The thousands of breeds of dairy cattle that once existed now numbers about 5. Diversity no longer exists in the industry. The kind of beautiful cheese that the milk from a Holstein used to be able to produce is no longer possible with this milk from this breed of Holstein. There are now only about 10 000 dairy farms across this vast country. In Michael’s words, “œAn entire [way of life] has been destroyed by this corporate culture.” Michael’s own cows now produce about 3 500 liters of milk a year, and that is enough. His milk should not be classified in the same manner as that of an industrialized farm. The consumer should absolutely have the right to decide if they want to drink raw milk or industrialized milk. We need to stand together to fight for food freedom.

And there are definitely politics involved as our industrialized milk is still contaminated. Johne’s Disease is of grave concern to the dairy industry and the best kept secret from the public, according to Schmidt. Johne’s is a Tuberculosis bacterium that destroys the large intestine and creates diarrhea in the dairy cow. The cell membrane of this pathogen is too thick to be destroyed through pasteurization so even industrialized government sanctioned milk contains this live and dangerous pathogen. There is mounting evidence of the rise in Crohn’s disease in humans and Johne’s disease in cattle, though some Bovine Veterinarians will argue it has not been proven. And, Schmidt adds, the veterinarians are very closely working with industrial dairy farms. In Canada, did you know that veterinarians are not allowed to test cows for tuberculosis? What could possibly be the reasoning behind this? Schmidt explains it is because this test would reveal Johne’s disease and if the herds infected with Johne’s disease were destroyed in Canada, our dairy industry would collapse. This is a very serious issue. He adds, “œIf the truth comes out about how bad (industrialized] milk is the dairy industry would collapse. The milk we now buy that is government sanctioned is not safe.”

Michael Schmidt has developed Cowshare Canada and accompanying it is a set of standards that must exist to enable the safe sale of raw milk.

How did Michael find this place from which he stands? In 1994 Michael’s 600 acre biodynamic farm was raided. He had over 40 cows shared with 150 families. “œAt that time, we were lost in the wilderness with zero support”¦. We lost 500 acres of land with legal fees and crooked lawyer. In 1995, we had 3 cows left, 100 acres and did not know how to pay our bills. We had food because we lived on a farm.”œ

Not being able to appreciate a gorgeous sunrise, head down, emotionally devastated and thinking, “œMy life’s work was completely destroyed.” He was literally struck by his own ferocious bull and thrown thirty feet in the air. His life saved by his dog, and screaming wife, Michael climbed out of his hospital bed and rose from the depression and helplessness that had engulfed him. He saw himself in the horns of his own bull as the sun between the horns of the Egyptian Bull God, Apis that symbolizes rebirth. “What do I do now? I start again. Of course.”

And he did. With his three cows and his 100 acres. His entire herd now is completely inbred. For over 20 years, no new blood has been introduced to his herd. This is how local breeds were originally developed eons ago. This kind of strong breed has enabled him to “œmake my milk medicine. Food must be medicine. “œ

Through “œthe tragic reality out of the first milk war in 1994 most would have given up, and in 2006 we had our next raid. This time we raised 100 000 dollars within weeks. The support was there. We only missed one shipment of milk during this entire process. We were back to work immediately. I received a fifty five thousand dollar fine and four years later was cleared of all charges.” This was ground breaking and in Ontario, Michael Schmidt carries on his cow share business now without the worry of another raid on his farm.

But he takes no credit for this victory. He gives the credit to his judge as he claims that this man understood him and when the judge read his verdict in court he stated repeatedly that this was a man that is honest with integrity that has remained constant in his struggle.

Schmidt told his judge that music saved his farm. To raise some of the money he needed, he held two symphonies in his barn. His orchestra preformed Haydn’s Creation interwoven with the creation music of a First Nations band. “œThis judge understood that food is more than just about eating. This is not a battle with which I won. The issue is truth. I didn’t need to have any legal strategic argument. Truth runs through consistency in one’s life. The judge saw this in mine.”


And we all saw it as we listened to Michael Schmidt on Wednesday evening this week. This is not only a man who walks his talk; this is a man who flies across the country at his own expense (expenses clarified in the comments below) to fight for food freedom.

He asks that we stand together to fight for food freedom. “œPeople need to come out in the open and be seen in Alberta to get this passed.”

Please mark March 23rd 2011 on your calendars. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Michael Schmidt is a very honourable place to be.

NOTE: Most photographs for this post were found online from various sources.

More information about Michael Schmidt is available on his website The Bovine.

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About Valerie Lugonja

Educator, Writer, Gardener and Traveler who believes in buying and eating locally, and most importantly cooking at home!

Join The Conversation!

  1. Fantastic. Look forward to March 23rd!

  2. I belong to Slow Food in Atlanta also but haven’t been to a meeting or gathering in a while. It’s such a wonderful movement and I wish more ppl would be involved. What a great article. I got really sick the 1st time I had raw milk and then it took me 4 days to settle in again. Definitely tastes much better and clearly healthier considering the process and diet of the cows. Congrats on your native hero!

  3. Thanks for this post and sharing Mr. Schmidt’s story with us, Valerie. I have never thought much about this subject. This was an interesting and very informative read for me. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    • Hey, LQ, this comment might be considered as this post “leaving you almost speechless”. You have very little to say. That is so not like you! So, I must believe this is the first introduction for you into the realm of raw milk and industrial milk and the importance of food security and food freedom. It is something you really need to invest some time thinking about. :) IMHO
      XO
      Valerie

  4. Thank you Valerie,

    Kudos to you for spreading important awareness and THANK YOU Michael Schmidt for fighting for OUR rights!

  5. What a great write up! Of course as raw milk cheese producers we are in high support of raw milk. We get asked the odd time for milk but always refuse as we do not want the trouble. It’s true – it feels like a drug deal were to go down if we allow someone to take our milk. Granted off of a sheep we don’t get much milk anyways so we couldn’t really supply people. But I must say that it did wonders for my digestive system to be drinking that milk and I look forward to the supply again this spring! We will be at the March 23 date as we were unable to make the other night. See you there!

    • Rhonda!
      I am so happy to hear you will be out March 23rd! If you can possibly come in for the day and offer your support to this cause… not specifically this case – but this cause, that would be so appreciated. I will definitely be planning to spend the day supporting the cause and spear heading a great day for those willing to assign their time to it.
      :)
      valerie

  6. Danke, Herr Schmidt!
    I don’t think these days there is still raw milk dispensers in the schools…well, I could be wrong. I wish I could easily get some raw milk here….I guess the only place one can find raw milk might be from the farms.
    “Food must be medicine.” I like the concept (we Chinese also believe in food as medicine or “food has better healing powers than medicine” )…while they must be medicine, they don’t have to taste like medicine.

  7. I think we probably have the same restrictions in the US, but I wonder if they really enforce it. I feel like you sometimes see raw milk at farmers markets, and I’m fairly sure I’ve seen signs selling it out in the country. will have to investigate.

  8. What a fantastic article, Valerie. I love what this man stands for and hope that many, many more stand up alongside him. Maybe he has a few friends in the US who will do the same thing. :-) I’m so excited about moving to the country where at least I have the freedom to drink my own raw milk from my own cows/goats. :-)

    • Krista!
      We can do that in Canada, too. If you live on your own farm, or own your own animal, you can drink your own milk. You just cannot sell it to anyone.
      This needs to change. Even now, we have cowshare programs where off property people buy shares in a cow to enable the legal drinking and picking up of the milk and still people get arrested for that here.
      :)
      Valerie

  9. This is a very complex and emotional subject, especially since milk is associated with so many things that people feel strongly about like children, motherhood and our national identities. It is sad that the laws make a blanket decision that leaves no room for exceptions. I suppose “regulating the exceptions” would cost more money for inspectors, etc. and governemnts everywhere are broke these days. Hence, they don’t bother with it. Great story!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing the story of Michael Schmidt, the event sounds very interesting, wish i could be there.

  11. I did not know that sale of raw milk was restricted before I read this.It looks that sale of raw milk is as controversial as drug sale.A very vivid post on how a common farmer who paved his path.
    But on a slightly offbeat note coz we are talking milk here,I am amazed at the fact that the canned milk that we get in stores in USA has a shelf life of weeks and that too without boiling.Back in India, if we dont boil the milk within half a day of getting it home, it turns bad.And I remember we are refrained from drinking unboiled milk in India..so is it the raw milk that we get there..maybe.Anyhow I learnt so much in your post.
    Re: The fenugreek leaves you are talking about in yellow and green box is actually the dried variety known as “kasuri methi” in Indian [Hindi] language.You can feel free to use it..coz ultimately its the flavor that matters in the dish. If you feel enthusiastic, you van get a bunch of fresh fenugreek leaves in produce section of any indian store for a couple of dollars…It looks quite similar to fresh watercress leaves.
    Have a nice weekend my friend and you look great in the first picture :)

    • Tanvi,
      When milk is pasteurized it is, in essence, boiled. Thus, many of the wonderful nutrients that you could get from it raw, are killed. Of course, raw milk can kill you, like raw meat can. But, it is legal to eat sushi and steak tartar. So, why all the fuss about raw milk. Raw meat is every bit as dangerous if the proper precautions are not adhered to. We are just asking for the freedom to buy and sell it with the proper precautions in place. I think that is something we should not have to “fight” for.
      :)
      valerie

    • Tanvi,
      I do know for a fact that Raw Milk here kept refridgerated with a tight lid with no air in it will last two weeks without spoiling. Only one week if there is air on top. I wonder if the conditions and freshness in India are very different?

  12. Thank you Valerie for sending this out. I wanted to mention that Michael’s flights have been paid by the kind donations of people who believe in what he is doing. Michael had a generous donation of airmiles given to him as well as the taxes paid for. Alberta Agriculture is watching to see how far the public will support this issue. Looking forward to March 23rd.

  13. This is a powerful post Valerie; I have taken a passive attitude to this important issue since moving to the US, figured there was not much I could do to fight these government regulations that are so invasive they are choking people in every little aspect of their existence; I mean coming from a small country where chaos and freedom are widespread and extreme and no regulations are ever applied, this is the other extreme. Still I am awed by people like him who take the bull by the horn, so to speak and fight back. Good luck to him and my support, in thought.

  14. This is an interesting and thoughtful post. As someone who lives in Ontario, I have followed Michael Schmidt’s journey, but I can’t remember reading such a powerful and informative story about him. Thank you for sharing!

  15. Great post, Valerie, and Michael’s struggles really resonate with this reader since my family owns a small, family-run organic dairy farm. The flavor of raw milk is such a revelation, and we drink it. However, despite much bureaucratic hoop jumping by my brother-in-law, it cannot be sold as is. Thus the origin of our family’s artisanal cheese business.

    • Barbara!
      You have an artisanal cheese business! Incredible. Cheese making is a goal of mine and cheese is a passion. Does your family have a website for this cheese?
      :)
      Valerie

  16. I learned a lot this morning, Valarie. Thank you for sharing this with me. I’ll be with you all in spirit. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  17. Finally a judge that had common sense!

    Honesty, integrity and determination has to be encouraged.

    We should always speak up for what we believe!

    Interesting read Valerie…thanks for enlightening us a little more today.

    Ciao for now and flavourful wishes,
    Claudia

    P.S. referring to my Limoncello recipe…the original had 100gr more sugar and was also made with 90% vodka…the rest was the same as mentioned in my post. Hope this answers your question. Let me know if you make some ;o)

  18. BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT…, thank you so much for these types of posts Valerie. Although not as powerful & politically protected industry here in Oz., the same applies. I’m a huge fan & advocate of buying locally & buying naturally grown food & do so wherever & whenever I can.
    Sing the message from the rooftops Michael Schmidt – your voice is heard across the world. Thank you :)

  19. Good for him and good for us. I find the rules regarding food almost oppressive. Even the rules for a farmer’s market are so strict and without basis.

  20. Another phenomenal post, Valerie! It is chock full of fantastic information. I’m grateful to people like Michael for all they do…and to for sharing this with us!

  21. This is a fabulous post! Here in the US, cows are treated equally as poorly and it’s really a travesty what has become of the nation’s food industry. Hopefully Michael’s message is heard and listened to and the right to raw milk will be reinforced!

  22. Hey Valerie! What a wonderful post…
    You know, you’re right. Michael Schmidt is a true hero, and I really feel for him and all of the stress he’s been through in his life. Stress he’s been through while not letting it take him down with it. Which would have been understandable even if it did, but somehow he managed it. We can all only hope for such drive and bravery…!
    And outside of this ridiculous control over people, it is amazing how industrialized farms treat cows-absolutely shameful and Godless! If someone treats a dog that way in their home, they would possibly get fines and jail time. But if one buys a bunch of land and cattle, one can treat them horribly and without consequence. My Mom loves cows and whenever she sees or reads about stuff like this, she says ominously under her breath ‘there will be a day of reckoning’. I don’t like it when she talks like that normally, but somehow it gives me some comfort about what you’ve written here.
    Oh, and people should know about the health hazards of conventional and industrialized farms. And small farms that do it right should certainly be judged by different standards and laws. A farm like Schmidt’s has nothing to do with those factory farms.
    Anyway, this is a brave, great post, Valerie. Ooh, and I love politically charged stuff;-)

  23. p.s. we have to buy raw milk under the name of ‘pet food’ here in Florida!

  24. I remember as a child growing up in Sothern Ontario being able to buy milk directly from our local dairies. Milk trucks still delivered milk dorr to door.

  25. I Loved this post too–yes I did read it –and I can literally taste the warm milk that I had when I was a kid on the farm–taking care of the cream seperator was my job–and it was CLEAN –XXXOOOO

    • Helen (aka Valerie’s Mommy)
      Tell me about your job. What did you have to do to take care of the cream separator? I have no idea what that would be, and am very curious.
      XOXO

  26. What a great story and thought provoking post! We need to be more informed about our food and where it comes from. I think I lot more people would voice their opinions and concerns if they were paying attention.

  27. There is a farm in Virginia right by me that sales cow shares, so they are everywhere if you look for them. Fantastic post Valerie.

  28. production is 3 times more than twenty years ago, that amazes me, that we as humans can demand so much from our animals, milk, meat…thank you for sharing Michaels’ story..a brave man to be so down and remain strong enough in his beliefs to continue to fight..thank you for sharing valerie, a wealth of information..

    sweetlife

  29. Vl..I always had this dream of living on my own farm and eating off my land, along with egg laying chickens and ducks, and the great option of milking my own cows. Naturally, it’s not possible at this time unless I hit the lotto, but this article was definitely an eye opener, and something to look into, as I don’t have to own my farm, cows and chickens to take this route. Fabulous write up!

  30. Interesting post Valerie! I didn’t know that raw milk was such a hottopic in Canada. I am in fact not even sure if it is in issue in Europe, but I do know that milk and everything you mentioned above is also a hot topic here in Europe!
    It must have been truly inspiring to meet this man!

    • Valerie says:

      Hey, Simone!
      How can it not be an issue, but be a hot topic? What is happening with raw milk in Europe? Fill me in? I know each country is different, but what is your understanding about what is going on in Holland?
      :)
      Valerie

  31. denise @ quickies on the dinner table says:

    Valerie – this is an important post, something I’m sure you feel yourself. Food should be medicine – such a pity that it stopped being so about 2 generations ago. Current health and wellbeing statistics are proof enough of this. I strongly feel we have the right to choose the food we want to eat and should exercise it. It pains me that where I am, there is so little awareness of this, and even less choice, and of course, something like raw milk would send the overwhelming majority running in the oppposite direction. Wonderful post! Wish I could be there to lend my support!

  32. Dear Val – What a read! You are truly to be applauded for bringing this post to us. I am always in awe of how much you educate us and what a service you are doing to society with these posts.

    Wish I could be there to lend my support on March 23rd.

    Brava!

    chow! Devaki @ http://www.weavethousandflavors.com

  33. “œDesire will in due time externalize itself as concrete fact.” -Thomas Troward. Michael’s desire…..March 23rd. Those who dare….dream!

  34. There is nothing more inspiring than people who are passionate about their work. Great post daaahling, as usual!
    *kisses* HH

  35. Wonderful story. Good luck to Michael and who knows what tomorrow will bring? Since I live in The Dairy State it will be interesting!

  36. Amazing man and fabulous write up! My husband (who was in veterinary/food safety journalism for many years) claims that mad cow disease is rampant in American cows but the goverment covers it up. Yep. Remember when they blamed one case on Canada? And the damage hormones injected into cows causes the human population? There is so much horror in our food production system that the world needs more men like Michael to stand up and tell the truth. And show how food should be produced. Thanks for a news-worthy, intelligent, important blog post!

  37. Well Valerie, that was an amazing post! Michael Schmidt is a courageous man to have survived all the obstacles that have been put in his path. And to keep fighting for what he believes is right.
    I know absolutely nothing about raw milk (I don’t drink milk at all…but certainly buy it for cooking) and the reasons behind pasteurization. In these days of Salmonella we need to think about everything that goes in our mouths. And obviously, what goes into a cow’s mouth too.
    I will absolutely do some reading about this.

    Please don’t worry about not posting…..you are a busy woman!! We are proud of all you are doing.

  38. What a great profile of Michael Schmidt and a great awareness-raising post! When I was a child my aunt and uncle had cattle and there was always raw milk and butter in the fridge. What I liked best was running the hand-cranked cream separator in the cellar and seeing the milk and cream come out the 2 spouts. I am always on the lookout for raw milk, but it is hard to come by here, and so clandestine.

  39. Hi Valerie,
    I finally had time to read your post fully today.
    Great Article! Great Responses!
    Connecting all these great people and groups will help us work together to regain and retain our simple human freedoms.
    See you March 20 at Beyond the Supermarket / Seedy Sunday.

  40. This was a necessary read. Thank you for an informative post and introducing me to this courageous man. Have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  41. sean keating says:

    Hello, I’ve just bought a twenty five acre hobby farm and I would like to raise some dairy cattle for raw milk. I intend to attend Michaels Cow Share College. My farm has gone fallow and want to plant the best grass I can to raise healthy cattle. Can someone tell me what gmo free grasses I should be planting?

    Thankyou,
    Sean

  42. Wow! What a wonderfully written article Val. I can feel the passion in this man and his pain. I had no idea that the milk I am buying at the grocery store is not safe. This is a very scary world we live in. Thank you for enlightening me. I will never look at milk the same way again. Just when you think you’re doing something healthy for your body…..it is absolutely amazing how very little the average Canadian knows about what they are buying from the store and putting into their bodies and the bodies of their loved ones. Thank you for bringing this to my attention and sharing it with me. I have a feeling I’m on the verge of yet another life changing moment in my life. oxox

  43. Fantastic article, Val!

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