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Posted at 8:38 AM ET, 02/ 4/2011

Story Pick: Amish Milk Smugglers

By Brigid Schulte

This one comes thanks to my colleague Ian Shapira from a new iPad site called the Amish milk smugglers. Author Jordan Heller uses the slang of the underground drug trade, the streets and black market contraband to describe the latest craze: Raw Milk.

Heller rides along a smuggling run from rural Pennsylvania Amish country to the wild and woolly streets of Manhattan, where yuppies sold on the superiority of raw milk eagerly wait for the next shipment, ready to pay through the nose for something that some states ban outright and the Food and Drug Administration warns may lead to salmonella or other bacteria poisoning and even death.

Listen to Heller describe the scene in Chelsea as well as the dangers the smugglers face as some overzealous authorities seek to crack down on raw milk.
The final destination was an unmarked converted factory on the eastern edge of Chelsea.

Upstairs, the milk deals went down in an unadorned room teeming with a crowd similar to what one might find at a Michael Pollan book signing.

Samuel is well-aware that he’s breaking the law. I asked him what he thought of a 2008 raid on Manna Storehouse, a Mennonite-run co-op in Lorain County, Ohio. According to reports, the family was held at gunpoint while agents searched the premises for unpasteurized dairy products. I also asked him about an incident last summer, when authorities busted Rawesome Foods, a raw milk-share in Venice, Calif. The police had arrived with guns drawn, as if they were raiding a meth lab. The security footage was uploaded to YouTube, alarming many in the raw milk community.

“Yeah, I heard about that,” he said. “It’s not good.”

Does he worry about the same thing happening to his Pennsylvania farm?

“Not too much,” said Samuel. But as he looks around at all the milk jugs changing hands like so many nickel and dime bags, he reconsiders.

“I mean, it could.”

I do wish Heller had explained more just what the craze is about and what drives the raw milk junkies. He also uses fake names to protect the smugglers' identities - a controversial move in journalism - and obscures faces on the accompanying video. But he exposes this weird and wonderful smuggling world and tells the tale briskly and energetically. And that makes for a great story.

By Brigid Schulte  | February 4, 2011; 8:38 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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