Family Farms' Cooperative

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This article is part of the Food Rights Network, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. Find out more here.

Family Farms' Cooperative is a cooperative, founded in 2002, and managed by Richard and Annette Hebron and Chris and Michelle Hebron.[1] It serves an area spanning across Detroit, Indiana, and Chicago. In its first four years, the cooperative grew from nothing to nearly 1000 members. In 2006, it was the subject of a sting operation by the Michigan Agriculture Department and the Michigan State Police because it sold and distributed raw milk and various raw milk byproducts, including cream, buttermilk, yogurt, butter, and kefir.[2] As of 2011, the cooperative offers beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork, eggs, seasonal produce, maple syrup, honey, and "other types of healthy foods" that the website instructs customers to ask for more information about.[3]

Raising Animals "The Old Fashioned Way"

Family Farms' Cooperative says it raises animals "the old fashioned way." On its website, it says:

"We are raising our animals in a way one might have done so fifty years ago. Back when animals were raised outside in nature. There they can enjoy green grass, fresh air and plenty of room for exercise. The Cooperative is a group of small family farms that supports environmentally friendly farming. The animals are to be considered pastured raised and maintained.
"Diversified grass based farms that are rotational grazed. Multiple animals are raised in unison, with each doing there part to help improve the soil. We do not use chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides on our fields. Our animals are raised on a naturally grown salad bar of green grasses without antibiotics, hormones or steroids."[4]

Government Crackdown

Herdshare Program

In 2006, the co-op was run by three farm families who sold their products in one outlet in Ann Arbor, MI, two in Detroit, and seven in Chicago. At the time, one of families, an Amish family with eight children, and they produced raw milk with their 70 dairy cows. Because retailing raw milk is illegal in Michigan, "the co-op leases cows from the dairy farm and then sells shares in the herd to co-op members, each of whom pays $20 a year for their share. The co-op members purchase milk for $6.50 a gallon, which goes back to the dairy farmer in the form of a boarding fee for the cows."[2] Under Michigan law, people who own and board dairy cows can consume their cows milk. The co-op set up its herdshare arrangement in order to lawfully distribute raw milk.

2006 Sting Investigation

In the spring of 2006, a public health department in Michigan reported to the Michigan Agriculture Department (MDA) that some children who had consumed raw milk had become sick. However, the illness was never traced back to raw milk "or any other specific food."[2] Following that report, MDA began an investigation of Family Farms' Cooperative. For several months during the summer and fall of 2006, an MDA inspector joined the co-op and purchased raw milk, enabling him to collect information about Richard Hebron and Family Farms' Cooperative.

2006 Raid

On the morning of October 13, 2006, Richard Hebron was just outside Ann Arbor, MI, on his way to make a regular weekly delivery when a police officer pulled him over. After showing Hebron a search warrant, several agents (state police and agriculture inspectors) confiscated $7000 of meat and dairy products, including 453 gallons of raw milk, 35 lbs. of raw butter, and 29 qt. of raw cream.[5][6] They refused to let Hebron make a phone call home.[2]

"Back home in Vandalia, a state trooper accompanied by four plain-clothes agents knocked on the door of Hebron's home, presented Hebron's wife, Annette, with a search warrant, and fanned through their small three-room house, removing their computer, business records, and product samples. Later that afternoon, in Ann Arbor, four additional agents, also armed with a search warrant, rummaged through a warehouse that was Hebron's destination when he was pulled over, seizing more business records."[2]

Hebrom said of the raid, ""They treated us pretty much like we were drug dealers."[2] It was not clear at that point whether anyone would be charged with a crime or when the co-op would be allowed to continue distributing raw milk (if ever).

In an October 19, 2006 article, Katherine Fedder, director of the Michigan Agriculture Dept.'s food & dairy division was quoted as saying:

"Our concern is that there's a violation of the Michigan law to distribute misbranded products and unpasteurized dairy products out of an MDA-licensed food establishment," Fedder says, adding that the investigation of the computers, records, and milk products confiscated will likely take "a few more weeks before we have a clarification." Then, Hebron and/or the co-op could be charged with "a whole variety of things" under a Michigan food law and a dairy law."[2]

In the meantime, the farmers were left without their computer, fax, or business records, and the dairy farmer had to throw out all of his milk. Additionally, the co-op lost business from three Chicago retail outlets.[2]

Hebron was able to resume his regular deliveries two weeks later, on October 27, 2006.[5] In February 2007, the FDA issued a warning letter to Forest Grove Dairy, the farm that supplied the raw milk to the cooperative.[7]

2010 Food Poisoning Investigation

In 2010, 12 people who drank raw milk from Family Farms' Cooperative fell ill. The FDA and the Michigan Department of Community Health warned consumers that drinking the raw milk may cause campylobacter.[8]

The cooperative stopped delivering raw dairy products upon the first illness complaint, which occurred on March 1. The dairy tested the milk but found "no significant levels of campylobacter."[8] As of March 31, the state had not yet completed its tests of milk samples collected from those who became ill.

Articles and Resources

Related Sourcewatch Articles


  1. Contact Us, Accessed July 12, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 David Gumpert, "States Target Raw-Milk Farmers," Business Week, October 19, 2006, Accessed July 11, 2011.
  3. What's on the farm, Accessed July 12, 2011.
  4. Raising Animals The Old Fashioned Way, Accessed July 12, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 David Gumpert, "Whew! The Raw Milk Gets Delivered in Michigan and Richard Hebron Makes It Home Safely," The Complete Patient, October 28, 2006, Accessed July 13, 2011.
  6. Wendy Cole, "Got Raw Milk? Be Very Quiet," Time, March 13, 2007, Accessed July 13, 2011.
  7. FDA Warning Letter to Forest Grove Dairy, FDA, February 8, 2007, accessed July 13, 2011.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Aaron Mueller, "Raw milk from Vandalia farm possibly linked to illness," Niles Daily Star, March 31, 2010, Accessed July 13, 2011.

External Resources

External Articles