- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - At Casper’s Food for Thought Summer Market on a recent Tuesday evening, Kacee Thacker chatted about her rhubarb-ginger ricotta.

“This is naturally cultured,” she told customer Michelle Lookhart. “It is still considered a raw product. Usually, ricotta is heated to about 200 degrees. But I have found recipes because 30 to 40 percent of my customers are lactose-intolerant.”

Thacker keeps six cows and 40 chickens at home in Riverton and sells her products at farmer’s markets across the state, reported the Casper Star-Tribune (https://bit.ly/29Eyfbh). Like other farmers and ranchers at the markets, Thacker has benefited from a law the Wyoming Legislature passed in 2015 that allows producers to sell their goods without the required labeling, licensing and other rules, as long as the sale is direct between the producer and the consumer. It’s called the Wyoming Food Freedom Act.

Last year, before the Food Freedom Act was on the books, Thacker sold raw milk products through a herd share program: Customers paid for a share of her animals - essentially paying to board her cattle - and received a weekly supply of milk. To comply with state laws, they had to sign long contracts. That meant customers were committed, even if they didn’t like her raw milk products, she said.

The Food Freedom Act changed her business. Customers can buy pomegranate yogurt or a half gallon of milk, and if they don’t like it, they can pass on buying it again - just like shopping at a grocery store, Thacker said.

“It made my life so much easier,” she said.

The demand for farm products is on the rise in Wyoming.

Lookhart tried a spoonful of Thacker’s rhubarb-ginger ricotta and bought a half gallon of raw milk. She said she planned to drink it and cook with it.

She’s been longing for raw milk for a long time. Lookhart use to drink raw milk growing up when she visited a relative’s farm, she said.

“We had fresh strawberries, fresh milk and fresh eggs,” she said.

It’s been hard to find raw milk in Wyoming, since grocery stores cannot carry it, she noted.

Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, said the Food Freedom Act has been successful. He sponsored the bill after late Rep. Sue Wallis tried to get it through the Legislature but died before it passed.

“It’s really blown up - especially in areas in the Big Horn Basin, Jackson, Star Valley and Evanston,” he said. “There’s a guy in Evanston who quit the oil field to milk cows and he’s making more money. Now they’re selling milk and cheeses and type of thing.”

Wyoming now has the best local artisan food law in the country, Lindholm said, and lawmakers in other states are trying to pass similar legislation.

“Last year we had four states that tried to emulate us,” he said. “Colorado was successful but they took the milk aspect out of it.”

Critics of the so-called food freedom movement worry about health and safety of products made from people’s farms. The act eliminates requirements for commercial kitchens or inspections as long as the sale is direct between the producer and consumer.

Lindholm said there have been no reports of being getting sick from the products in Wyoming.

“I personally think it’s a lot safer because you have these small town producers who live in tons of 1,100 to 5,000 people. You make someone sick, you’re done forever,” he said. “”Whereas Walmart can absorb the hit over and over.”

Lindholm said grocery stores will still remain in business, even with more farmer’s markets. After all, not everyone can afford to spend $6 on a dozen of eggs from a local producer. And Thacker, the Riverton producer, said local farmers are producing products on such a small-scale, the large, commercial operations will always be necessary. She said she’s grateful to the larger dairy farmers in her area. They’ve dispensed valuable advice when she’s had questions about her cows, she said.

In addition to wanting to respond to the demands of consumers, Lindholm said he sponsored the bill to help agriculture diversify.

“Farms and ranches are different than 40-50 years ago,” he said. “Small ranches and farms diversified (by selling milk, eggs and other products) until they sold the calves in the fall. Over the years, we’ve concentrated it down to where you go to the cattle ranch and they just do cattle.”

With other products to sell throughout the year, the family can receive new streams of income, he said.

Thacker’s husband lost his oilfield construction job recently, like so many other Wyomingites, as prices and production have gone down. The money from the farmer’s markets is essential to the family, she said.

The family sells at farmer’s markets in Casper, Riverton and Lander, and it’s the only income they’re receiving.

“Right now, this is it,” she said.

___

Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com

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