By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
The dairy gray market lives on in Riverton.
Fremont Foods LLC fell under the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s scrutiny this month for offering raw milk to shoppers. The shop, a perpetual farmers market in downtown Riverton, sells frozen meat, canned goods, produce and treats.
Store owner Jessica Lee Fritz told Cowboy State Daily that the store has agreed to get a vendor’s license to continue to sell its frozen meats – including yak and lamb.
“We are back in business with selling all our frozen meats,” said Fritz on Tuesday.
An employee of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s Consumer Health Services had just visited the store, said Fritz, and checked the meats to ensure that they’re “perfectly acceptable.”
But raw milk is a different animal.
Under Wyoming law, home-grown products can be sold without a vendor’s license generally, but products that aren’t shelf-stable, such as raw milk, the producer must sell directly to the customer. No third party can conduct the transaction.
Dairy farmers Tim and Bobbie Thornburg rent refrigerator space to offer their raw milk in the store, but Fritz can’t process money for the Thornburgs under the law. Doing so would make her an illegal “third party,” she said.
As a workaround, the Thornburgs have left a “milk money” pail in the refrigerator next to their milk. Customers drop their cash into the pail and carry off a jar of milk and buoyed cream – all on an honor system.
The Thornburgs also rely on their customers to return the jars.
Tim Thornburg said it’s not feasible for him or for his wife Bobbie to remain at the store to sell milk throughout the day because Bobbie has a job, and he works on their farm in the tiny neighboring town of Pavillion.
Neither the shop owner nor the Thornburgs were certain the method would pass state inspection.
But it did.
Derek Grant, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, told Cowboy State Daily in a Tuesday email that the state is leaving sale methods to the Thornburgs’ discretion.
“Venmo, scheduled pick-up dates and honor pail were all options that were discussed with the producer,” said Grant. “It is up to the producers’ discretion of how the transaction takes place.”
Tim Thornburg and Fritz took away differing impressions from their discussions with various department representatives. Fritz said she believed the pail method had been approved.
Thornburg said he had the impression that Venmo was approved, but the pail was not.
Fritz said she was pleased with the department’s patience toward her fledgling operation, which opened in early October.
“I think it’s going pretty well, and honestly the Department of Agriculture, Consumer Health has been very patient with all of the questions we’ve had and everything we’ve been doing,” said Fritz.
‘Not Changing A Thing’
Still, Thornburg and Fritz both said they’re hoping that the Food Freedom Act, the law addressing home-grown food markets in Wyoming, would soon be made more permissive.
State Sen. Tim Salazar and Rep. Pepper Ottman, both of Riverton, have voiced interest in changing the law, Thornburg said. Wyoming’s lawmaking session begins in January.
Thornburg said regardless of what happens in January, he will continue offering his milk at the market’s refrigerator.
“I’m not changing a thing,” he said.