RAW AND REGULATED
Mark and Leesa Robinson own and operate Marlee's Creamery out of their farm in Carthage, Mo. They're only allowed to sell their farm's raw milk direct-to-consumer — the same as any other raw milk in Missouri. Yet, they're the only raw milk farmers in the state who have maintained their Grade A retail permit.

To maintain this permit requires the Robinsons to jump through a lot of hoops. After every use, Mark has to disassemble the closed-system machinery that transports milk from the cow to the bottle. This makes it easier for the surprise biweekly inspections from state authorities. Since raw milk is not heated during pasteurization, it is also held to higher standards regarding bacteria and coliform counts. Raw milk sellers without a retail permit don't have to follow any of these restrictions.

The FDA cites an increased risk of food-borne pathogens and outbreaks as reason not to drive raw milk. But Robinson says the outbreaks come from unsafe practices, not the milk itself.

"We're up against decades and centuries of old information," Robinson said.

This story was published by the Columbia Missourian with an accompanying story by Emily Wolf.
Mark Robinson shovels manure Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, on his dairy farm in Carthage, Mo. Robinson typically sells his raw milk out of a small storefront on his property, but when production is down in the winter months, all the milk is sold out of Wholistic Pathways Family Center, where Mark works as a chiropractor and his wife Leesa as a natural health practitioner. Local demand for raw milk is often so high, Robinson said, that the line can stretch down the driveway before the farmstore opens for the day, and Robinson has had to set a two-gallon limit for all customers.
Large-animal veterinarian Paul Gautz accidentally dripped cow's blood, gathered for a brucellosis test, onto his paperwork. "At least they'll know it's authentic," he joked.
Mark Robinson looks up the identification number of one of his cows during a veterinary exam. Each cow has a name, though Robinson, a self-proclaimed "numbers guy," rarely uses them. "When your daughter at seven years old looks up at you and says, 'Daddy, can we name them?'" Robinson said. "You can't say no."
Each of the cows at Marlee's Creamery sport an identifying tag — either an official metal one from the state or a large plastic one made by Mark Robinson. Robinson also tattoos identification numbers on his calves' ears in case the external tags fall off.
Ninth-grader Laura Thorn, left, and Mark Robinson escort cows out of the barn after they have been milked. Robinson switched his dairy farm's operations from milking twice a day to just once a day, in large part because local afternoon and evening help was easier to find than early-morning assistance. His overall milk production has gone down slightly as a result, but he no longer begins his workday at 3 a.m., milking two dozen cows on his own.
LEFT: A gallon of raw milk is filled to the brim during a bottling session. Owner Mark Robinson organized his machinery to run as a one-man operation, in a closed system with minimal exposure to the elements. His raw milk is held to higher standards by the state when it comes to bacterial count and other signs of a food product's potential dangers.
RIGHT: Mark Robinson sanitizes pieces of his milk-bottling machinery. Robinson has to disassemble his machinery after every use for the surprise biweekly state inspections required to maintain his Grade A retail license.
Dr. Paul Gautz, center, performs a pregnancy check on a cow at Marlee's Creamery. Mark Robinson, right, spoke in January at a public hearing regarding a bill in the Missouri House that would legalize the retail sale of raw milk. This is the second bill in as many years that has attempted to address this issue.
Mark Robinson writes out expiration dates on milk labels at his dairy farm. He listed the "best by" date as two weeks from bottling, even though his customers say the milk lasts for about three weeks on average.

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