Idaho dairy sells raw milk despite health concerns

As officials caution against the product, the operation struggles to keep up with rising demand.

THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEWFebruary 19, 2014 

PILGRIM'S FARM DAY

Four-year-olds Noah Rinehart, of Sawyer, Kan., and Tyrel Miller, of Moyie Springs, Idaho, enjoy glasses of raw 1 percent chocolate milk from Springs of Hope. Miller is the grandson of Sam Wray, who bought the ranch in 2008 and started the creamery in 2010.

COURTESY PHOTO — COURTESY PHOTO

MOYIE SPRINGS — Springs of Hope didn’t set out to become an in-demand dairy specializing in raw whole milk.

When Sam and Danielle Wray bought the North Idaho ranch in late 2008, their vision was to start a German Baptist Brethren youth ministry on 196 quiet acres of timberland and pasture at the base of Goat Mountain.

They had one cow, Bessie, to provide the family’s milk.

But neighbors — the closest one lives 2 miles away — took an interest, and soon Springs of Hope was supplying Sharon’s Country Store in Bonners Ferry with 10 to 15 gallons per week.

The creamery has been expanding ever since.

“People are not very happy with us when we run out of Springs of Hope products,” says Michal Bennett, marketing and events coordinator at Pilgrim’s Market, which was the first store in Coeur d’Alene to carry them. “They made a name for themselves in (just over) three years.”

Since obtaining its license in 2010, Springs of Hope has grown its herd to some two dozen cows, expanded its distribution throughout North Idaho, and increased production. Though raw whole milk remains its top-selling product, Springs of Hope also makes raw 1 percent chocolate milk, yogurt — plain, vanilla, raspberry and huckleberry — and, when there’s excess milk, raw cream.

The Grade A dairy plans to continue to grow and diversify while remaining small and family-owned. Income from the business goes back into the creamery and helps support the ministry, a Christian nonprofit that gives boys ages 12 to 15 a time and place to grow in their faith.

The dairy gives them work.

“It teaches them responsibility,” says Sam Wray, 57, director of the ministry and owner of the ranch.

He’s also the family patriarch, husband to Danielle, father of six — three boys, three girls, ages 17 to 36 — and grandfather of 13.

Originally from California, Wray moved to central Washington in 1990 with dreams of raising cattle and growing hay. When that proved difficult, he started a plumbing business to support the farm, eventually selling the farm. He also helped found the German Baptist Brethren church in Ellensburg, where he served as a deacon.

After 19 years in Ellensburg, he moved again — down gravel roads and past signs warning that this plot of land northeast of Bonners Ferry is grizzly and black bear habitat.

To the Wray family, it’s God’s country, and they believe they have an obligation to protect it.

Springs of Hope isn’t a certified organic dairy, but it uses sustainable agricultural practices, such as recycling manure and refraining from giving soy, corn or genetically modified feed to its animals. Wray also says he doesn’t use hormones, chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides on the property, which includes 50 acres of pasture surrounded by woods.

Last fall, to accommodate growth, the ranch completed a barn addition, more than doubling storage space for hay and compost.

While Springs of Hope yogurt is pasteurized — it must be to be sold — all other dairy products at the creamery are not, providing “an alternative to drinking processed milk,” Wray says.

Springs of Hope raw whole milk is “completely unprocessed. It goes from the cow into the tank into the jug to the stores,” he says.

Advocates prize raw milk for its probiotics, enzymes, antibodies and rich, fresh taste.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Washington Department of Health caution against the consumption of raw milk.

“While it is possible to get foodborne illnesses from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all,” according to the Department of Health website.

Raw milk made headlines last month when the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed a nationwide ban on the sale of raw dairy products in a policy statement.

Pasteurization — heating milk to a temperature that kills bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria — began in the late 1800s and became standard practice by the mid-20th century.

Today, Idaho is one of 11 states that allows retail sales of raw milk. Most states allow raw milk sales in a limited capacity, such as at farm stands.

Still, its popularity is growing, despite the higher price. The cost of a gallon of pasteurized milk is about $4, compared with more than $10 for a gallon of raw milk. It’s not unusual to see half-gallons of raw milk for $6 or $7.

Fans, such as 28-year-old Spokane Valley mother Teresa Webb, believe that raw milk is worth the higher price.

“It’s rich, wholesome, fresh. It’s a lot healthier. All the good bacteria and enzymes are not pasteurized out of it,” says Webb, who toured Springs of Hope last fall.

She buys the creamery’s whole milk at Pilgrim’s Market in Coeur d’Alene and wanted to see where her food comes from.

Most of the herd at Springs of Hope is registered Brown Swiss.

“They’re hardier. They’re able to handle the cold weather better,” says 36-year-old dairy manager Brad Miller, Wray’s son-in-law and the only salaried employee at Springs of Hope. Everyone else is a volunteer, including church members who come from around the country to help.

The creamery produces about 80 gallons of milk per day.

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