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Illicit, but not illegal

Despite all the bad press, raw milk remains easy to attain. And you don't need to break any laws to get it.

Photograph: Martha Williams

By now, you’ve probably heard everything you want to know about raw milk. You know about the FDA’s warnings of possible campylobacter, salmonella and E. coli in the unpasteurized, unhomogenized, straight-from-the-udder stuff. And you’re either dying to try it because you’ve adopted the natural-food lifestyle…or you want to stay as far away as you can.

But what all the (bad) press surrounding raw milk has failed to convey is that snagging a jar is in fact easier than scoring last week’s dime bag. And more legal. That’s because we’re lucky enough to live in one of 29 states in which sales of raw milk for human consumption aren’t illegal. Not completely, anyway. Getting your hands on a jug of it will take a little more effort than visiting the coolers at Jewel, but not much.

In Illinois, consumers are allowed to obtain raw milk by taking containers directly to farmers to be filled. Since most of us don’t have time to drive out to Abingdon or Carlyle, Illinois, people like Kevin Kosiek of MooGrass Farms in Wheaton have found a way to make it easier. By joining a cow-share co-op or a private farm club, you pay a yearly membership that allows for the services of Kosiek, who will fill up containers and drop them off at a designated spot for you to pick up at a specified time. A milk dealer, if you will.

Kosiek estimates there are between 500 and 600 members in his co-op, which sells other raw-milk products as well, including yogurt, butter and cheese. He’s delivering about 100 gallons of raw cow’s milk every week, in addition to 20 gallons each of raw goat’s milk and raw sheep’s milk.

It’s all completely legal and condoned by the state. And yet there’s still a lingering fear in the farming community about publicizing the clubs and co-ops. One co-op founder who asked to remain anonymous says he’s worried about the FDA finding a reason to shut him down. And that apprehension has apparently caught on with consumers as well, many of whom think they’re drinking something illegal. Dan DeLap, a West Loop resident who has been a member of the MooGrass Farms club for 11 months, was happy to talk on the record about raw milk. But then we asked for his name.

“Sure,” he said. “Just don’t give it to the FDA.”

Co-ops and clubs in the Chicago area

• MooGrass Farms, moograssfarms.com, 1-888-269-5789 $35 for a yearlong membership; $10 for a gallon of raw cow’s milk, $6 for a half-gallon. Pick up: Thursdays 5–8pm, 6857 W Belmont Ave
Fresh From the Farm Co-op, smg9@comcast.net $45 for a yearlong membership; $7.50 for a gallon of raw cow’s milk. Pick up: Wednesdays 6-8pm. Homer Glen
South Pork Ranch, south-pork-ranch.com, 815-635-3414 $4 for a gallon of raw cow’s milk; $2 for a half-gallon. (For info about where to pick up, contact the ranch directly.)