In 2009, Tennessee passed a law allowing "herd shares," whereby a consumer could purchase a share in a herd and have access to the products from the animals. The law, as it stands, reads: "Nothing in this part or any other provision of law shall be construed as prohibiting the independent or partial owner of any hoofed mammal from using the milk from such animal for the owner's personal consumption or other personal use."
This was a huge boon to Evergreen Farm. Owners Jan and Walt Haybert use that statute to bring raw whole and skim milk, buttermilk, half and half, cream, kefir, and butter to area farmers markets as well as multiple stops along their Wednesday morning milk route and to the new Trolley Stop Market on Madison. In order to legally purchase these items, customers need only sign a Hoof Share Agreement and pay $5 for a share. If customers do not wish to purchase a share in the herd, they have the option of buying "pet quality" milk, legally designated for pet consumption only. Of course, as Jan Haybert explains, "We're selling it to you as pet milk. What you do with it when you get home is your business."
But even with the statute, Evergreen is coming up against some government reaction. Jan says she recently received a phone call from a Department of Agriculture inspector telling her to suspend the sale of all raw milk products other than whole milk, even to her partial herd owners. "The inspector said he had gotten an e-mail from his boss," Jan says, "and that we were to stop what they deemed to be 'processing' — that it was not part of the new law."
Not to be deterred, Evergreen will continue to sell raw milk products. "If [our customers] want butter from their cows, we are making that butter for them. They are paying us for that labor," Jan explains. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable farming and direct farm-to-consumer transactions) supports this stance, assuring Evergreen Farm that their raw milk sales are perfectly legal under the amended Tennessee law.
Evergreen Farm is located near Bolivar on 400 sprawling acres. There are 43 cows, a mix of Guernsey and Jersey breeds. The facilities are clean and professional: The farm uses industrial-quality washers for the glass bottles, and the Hayberts are busy setting up for a small conveyor belt to make the bottling process more streamlined. They also have picture windows in each of the rooms so that educational tours can watch the cow-to-bottle process unfold.
Even more striking is how conscientious the Hayberts are in running their farm. Evergreen uses an intensive grazing system, so the animals move from pasture to pasture and always eat fresh grass. Mothers stay with their newborn calves for weeks of nursing before they are milked for the dairy. The farmhands are paid well above minimum wage and hang around the farm like part of the Haybert family.
The prices might be steep ($8 for a gallon of whole milk), but if you're interested in raw milk, the quality — yellowish and creamy like real milk — and the security of knowing the farmer make Evergreen Farm your source.
For more information on prices, the farm, and where you can buy Evergreen Farm products, visit utterlyfresh.com or call Jan Haybert at 237-5855.