Michael Schmidt: Raw Milk Warrior
Michael Schmidt was in Viroqua, WI for the regional biodynmamic winter conference this past weekend. He told us about his raw milk campaign and showed us the new documentary about his work. -David Kennedy
Michael Schmidt’s grandfather was part of the Agriculture course with Rudolf Steiner in 1924, his family fled their ancestral biodynamic farm in Germany in the middle of the night from occupying Russian troops at the end of World War II, and he has fought tirelessly for the rights of farmers and consumers in Ontario for the better part of a generation.
In November 2006, Michael Schmidt’s farm in Durham, two hours north of Toronto, was raided by over 20 armed officers. They weren’t looking for drugs or guns.
They were looking for milk.
Michael’s crime: Selling and distributing raw milk.
Schmidt, a graduate of the Waldorf school in Stuttgart, has seen his share of trouble with the government over his fight for consumer freedom. He saw his farm threatened and his livelihood disintegrate as a result of the first “Milk War” in the 1990s. He had to sell 500 of the 600 acres of his family farm to pay his legal bills. The toll on his family was immense, but he built his business back up by parterning his customers with his cows (he actually “sold” each teat for $300) in a cow-sharing program. His customers owned the cows and he took care of them. However, it was still illegal in Canada to sell or distribute raw milk to consumers.
Michael Schmidt’s opposition to the raw milk ban put him on a collision course with the Ontario government, and has set off a public debate that touched upon a whole host of issues: the immense power of Canada’s $12-billion dairy industry and the challenges facing small, independent farmers; the increasingly controversial nature of large-scale factory farming methods; and a growing public unease about the way most of our food products are processed before they reach us.
After the raid in 2006, government pressure continued and after $80,000 in legal bills, Schmidt decided to represent himself in court in the second “Milk War.” In his own words, his goal had always been to be “a happy farmer.” The most recent court judgment acquitted him of any crimes and allows him to continue his farm’s raw milk sales in Ontario.
Despite a government appeal to try to overturn the judgment, Michael and his supporters remain confident that their freedom to drink raw milk will not only be supported in Ontario, but will spread to the rest of Canada. A group of highly respected constitutional lawyers has taken up Michael’s case in the appeal, leaving him free from fighting the legal battle against the appeal himself.
Michael, whose son Markus is helping with the cows on their farm in Durham, is busy travelling across Canada and the US to support the many initiatives and farmers who are trying to enshrine their right to drink raw milk in a vast array of proposals that are coming before legislative bodies this year. Many of these farmers remain under constant threat from the government and the dairy industry. Schmidt insists that this fight is about more than just milk; it is about the fundamental right “to eat what we want.”
In September 2010, a film about Michael Schmidt’s courageous battle premiered in Toronto. “Milk War” was co-produced for the ichannel by Stornoway Productions and The Path to Gimli and features an award-winning production staff.