Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the Rebuild From Depression blog back in December of 2006. With few opportunities to laugh about milk politics, I am moving it here to provide a better home for it. It is a classic originally written in three parts, all included here. It includes a previously unpublished
riveting confession. It is so action-packed that it might actually help you fall asleep tonight. Consider this a piece of raw milk Americana.
Originally published December 20, 2006
We are no strangers to tagging here in Central California. The custodians at the local high schools, parks, and shopping malls keep their gallon of paint handy to cover up the evidence. The gallon of paint is usually a slightly different color from the original wall paint, which remains the only evidence of the tagging until night falls again.
Tagging isn’t usually political but this week was an exception.
Back in August the “Milk is Milk” campaign put up a billboard just south of Pixley, California in the Central San Joaquin Valley on Highway 99 (about one hour north of Bakersfield). The billboard read: “Claims on the outside do not change what’s on the inside. Why pay more? Milk is Milk.”
In October the billboard was tagged with some swirls of silver spray paint. That was the usual sort of tagging in these parts.
But sometime between December 15th and 19th a ne’er-do-well tagged that “Milk is Milk” sign with a very big “RAW” in red paint. My husband took the picture included here.
Central California is home to many lactating cows, most on conventional dairies. A key exception is Organic Pastures dairy, the largest producer of raw milk in this country. It is not surprising, then, that this billboard tagging would happen here in Central California. Many people strongly agree with the original message of the billboard but a small rogue group of consumers probably chuckle as they drive north through Pixley.
Originally published January 15, 2007 in the “Rambling Raw Milk” Series
Crime Scene Photos
Few towns are much smaller than Pixley, California. Pixley’s claim to fame is that it is the headquarters of the Cal-Bean co-op, provides a gas station or two for those traveling Central California’s Highway 99, had an honors-system gas station until about thirty years ago, and just narrowly escaped educating my father who lived in Teviston, a community just south of Pixley. Teviston is one of those few places smaller than Pixley. Teviston, in fact, is one of those places that do not make conventional maps.
As we drive through Pixley a time or two a week, we usually do not take notice but Thursday, January 11th, I took the exit off of Highway 99 in Teviston, saw the old family estate, and drove north to Pixley to get a close-up look at the Milk is Milk billboard that got tagged sometime between December 15th and 19th.
I wanted a close-up look of the billboard and I wondered if I would face a “No trespassing” sign between the main road and the billboard. I decided that with my preschooler in the car with me, I would remain law-abiding.
Billboard Close Up
As it turns out, the day did not offer me any difficult decisions. The road to the billboard could not have been more accessible. Paving would have been nice, but the county did provide me with an “End” sign on that dirt road. The End sign is there apparently to keep people from driving through the fence and onto the Highway 99 by accident.
When I got close to the billboard, I saw that the billboard offered no challenge for a person with a can of spray paint or a bucket of latex. Those billboard companies make billboard maintenance and tagging very easy by providing you with a comfortable platform to stand on. The platform was only six or so feet off the ground, making it straight-forward for anyone with any kind of upper body strength to pull themselves up. An out-of-shape person could have hopped on their car and onto the platform.
I took a few pictures and headed back to the main road.
As I got to the main road, I noticed a local farmer making note of my presence.
“Perhaps he thinks I’m lost,” I decided.
I headed into Pixley, passed the decomposing location of the former honor-system gas station and the Cal-Bean co-op. I noted the location of another old family estate and of a good Mexican restaurant. I headed to preschool.
Billboard is Noticed
What I did not realize is that possibly on that same day, Alex Avery, director of research for the Milk is Milk campaign, was only just informed that the billboard had been tagged. He issued a press release the next day. In the press release Avery states that “We have reported the defacement to the billboard company, as well as to the local police.”
I wondered if the farmer I saw as I left the area of the billboard had been asked to keep a look-out for unscrupulous characters like me in the area of the billboard.
At first I thought “ah-ha, preschool moms sure do get away with a lot these days!”
My second thought was “Pixley doesn’t have a police department.”
Pixley Doesn’t Have a Police Department
Indeed, Pixley is such a small town that it is not incorporated as a city and falls under the authority of the county sheriff’s department.
I wondered how I might get information from the county sheriff’s department about this crime and then I thought “Oh, ask Scott.”
Scott is a deputy in another area of the county, overseeing all of the communities competing with Pixley for “small town” status. The winner may actually be the community I live in. Few people would even call it a “town.”
Somehow over the years, this little burg has managed to have a live-in county sheriff’s deputy. Back in the 1980s, a deputy named Mike came over to shoot a rattle snake sunning on a rock outside our house. Another came by in the 1990s to intimidate a ne’er-do-well out of our house.
Scott is the deputy now and is best known for almost arresting my three-year-old son.
The alarm at the local school went off one sleepy weekend and the school’s superintendent/principal/teacher and a volunteer deputy showed up to find my three-year old son and my husband looking rather sheepish. My son had tripped the alarm.
The next week we walked into the post office, ran into Deputy Scott, and Postmaster Dean said “that’s the boy who broke into the school.”
My three-year-old son responded, unprompted, “I plead the fifth.”
And now you know why I am trying to be a good example to him by not passing “No trespassing” signs. Apparently, he needs some good examples but I digress.
Back to the point that Pixley has no police. The investigation of the billboard is a county matter and when it’s a county matter, the go-to person here is Deputy Scott.
Scott surely has many opinions of the miscreants here in Tulare County. Some of those opinions may even be stated on the record. I’ll give him a call.
This part was originally posted on February 20, 2007
Red Hot Police Investigation
My visit to the one-room school house here in California Hot Springs led to some critical information about the raw milk billboard crime.
Sheriff Deputy Scott was at the school that day to help celebrate his daughter’s birthday with four large pizzas.
I helped myself to a piece of pizza and said “Scott, let’s talk about that Pixley crime involving the Milk is Milk billboard.”
“Scott, this crime was reported to the Pixley Police Department, haven’t you heard about it?”
“Mandy, there is no Police Department in Pixley,” Scott responded, using my name from my younger years.
“But surely it’s been reported somewhere. It’s an important crime.” I added.
“Well, let me make a call and find out.”
Scott called the ladies who input the Sheriff’s Department reports. Neither remembered such a report.
“It was some sort of billboard just south of town,” he added.
Neither even seemed to remember the billboard.
He called the deputy assigned to the area.
“What?” the deputy asked.
I wondered if people in Pixley even knew about the billboard, much less the crime. So I asked Sander to interview some staff at Pixley School. In his sample of two, one had never noticed the billboard in any form. The other saw it but had no idea why it would be tagged with the word “raw.”
A third person, a traveler through Central California, noticed the billboard and thought it was an advertisement for raw milk. She had heard of raw milk before.
So few locals noticed the tagging which explains why it took nearly a month for the Milk is Milk Campaign to hear about the tagging. Even after they heard about it, the billboard remained as-is for another two weeks.
Outside of Tulare County, interest in the billboard include Richard Morris at Bread and Money (who calls the Milk is Milk campaign “political astro-turfing” — a fake grass-roots movement), about five hundred people who have seen my rambling series, and the Milk is Milk campaign itself.
Graffiti is Covered
About two weeks ago now, one week before 100,000 farmers would gather at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, the billboard was painted black. The original Milk is Milk vinyl sign is still there, it is just covered in black paint. You can see the seams from the original sign if you drive up to the billboard and look (that is, if you have too much time on your hands and are apparently the only person in the county interested in the billboard).
I saw the black billboard and thought “This billboard is screaming to be tagged.” I wondered if it would be tagged again before the World Ag Expo. It would have been quite the discussion in the dairy pavilion there, had anyone actually noticed it but the farm show (as the locals call it), has come and gone.
Current Status of the Investigation
I asked Scott what was to come of the billboard investigation. He looked at me like I was nuts. “There is no report.”
“Scott, can I report the crime? Sander is a key timeline witness after all.”
“Do you have some standing in the crime?”
“Yes, it brings people to my website.”
“You’ll get more people to your website if you post that steer slaughter picture on rotten.com.” Editor’s note: do not visit rotten.com unless you are interested in seeing human versions of those steer pictures.
It turns out that it’s hard to write about nothing, even though I’ve managed to fill up Parts I and II of this story with absolutely nothing.
There are rumors of a billboard tagging confession. If a confession materializes, I’ll report back. When the billboard gets replaced with an ad for a gentleman’s club, I’ll report back.
Until then, enjoy a cold glass of milk, raw or pasteurized.
Unpublished until now, I found this letter in the archives slated for the Ethicurean but lack of a police department and then a pregnancy hampered any movement on this case. I did originally ask for a confession as a Christmas present in 2006. I received this confession appeared in December of 2007. Don’t ask me if I know the identity. Wild dairy cows could not drag it out of me.
December 25, 2007
At the Organic Pastures press conference back in October over that new legislation, I overheard you talking about the Milk is Milk Billboard. I believe you said, “What I really wanted for Christmas was a confession.”
I know you were talking about Christmas of 2006, but I thought I would send you a gift a year late.
It was a few days before Christmas last year. My friends and I had driven past that billboard for a few months and shook our heads. Around mid-December we got together over a beer or two and said “Can you believe that billboard?” We made a plan to tag the billboard the next week.
We are all professionals and our jobs could have been in jeopardy had we been caught, so we took some precautions:
We wore our baseball caps and avoided the video cameras in the local K-Mart where we purchased red asphalt paint, a paint brush, a 20-foot pole, some cover-alls, and a box of plastic bags.
We arrived in Pixley at 2 a.m. Two of us had coveralls on and we got the rest of the equipment ready to go. We left our I.D.s in the truck in case we got arrested. The driver dropped us off and made a loop around Pixley while we painted the billboard. We waited for a lull in oncoming traffic and then painted the billboard. The wait wasn’t long because there was almost no traffic on the 99. It took just a minute to paint the word “Raw” up there. We put all of the supplies in the plastic bags, including our coveralls and we waited for our friend to pick us up.
As we waited, we ran into those almond trees for cover until the driver finished his joyride around Pixley.
We left Pixley and threw out the plastic bags in a dumpster in a neighboring town.
Raw Milk Lover
I would like to thank the tagger formally here for the Christmas present.
In terms of the crime, it is hilarious that the taggers went to such great lengths to cover a crime that was never even reported by the Milk is Milk Campaign. Not only was it never reported, Pixley residents could not even remember the billboard, tagged or not.
Had I tagged the billboard (and believe me when I say I considered doing so once it was painted over in black just before the big World Ag Expo), my first concern with tagging a billboard in the country between Teviston and Pixley at 2 a.m. would not be getting arrested. My concern is that it would require going to the Teviston/Pixley area at 2 a.m. Many folks wouldn’t venture there in the daylight. The Rose family homestead is actually located in Teviston, so I know of what I speak and the family connection would likely afford me a bit of protection. However, my hunch is that the raw milk taggers have no such ties in the Teviston and Pixley areas and yet they appeared from the confession to be unconcerned for their safety. Perhaps this was a group of really big guys. Perhaps they have no idea of the rough area they ventured into.
The taggers really dodged a bullet disposing of the evidence in a neighboring town, with the Pixley Police Department being hot on their tails and all.
It is also interesting that the taggers disguised themselves with baseball caps (and perhaps even sunglasses) to stay off the radar of those K-Mart cameras. This reminds me a bit of college when everyone was wearing sunglasses for the first time in their lives. A college friend said:
“Let’s put on our sunglasses so that people don’t recognize us.”
We all laughed, but I expect we were all laughing because some part of each of us thought that we could hide behind those sunglasses. In my case, wearing sunglasses or a baseball cap would really not disguise me. I have other easily identifiable characteristics besides my hair and forehead.
I wonder how long of a loop the area K-Marts have on their video cameras. If the statute of limitations had not already run out on a crime that was never reported, the Milk is Milk Campaign could work with the Pixley Police Department on that issue.
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