Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Tale of Two Dairies

Our last field trip for my Agroecology class took us to visit two dairy farms: a conventional and a small, natural dairy farm. For comparison - also check out the organic Eldridge Dairy.

The first stop was to Veen Huizen Farms, LLC in Lynden, WA, a conventional dairy. I really liked their view of Mt Baker.

A quick introduction to the dairy farm: "Veen Huizen Farms LLC is a dairying partnership of the VanderVeen and Van Weerdhuizen families in Lynden Washington. Together, they produce milk from 1300 Holstein cows* on 700 acres. Veen Huizen Farms have worked with the USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to sustain healthy air, water, and soils. Some management techniques include the planting of filter and buffer strips near waterways and manure injection to the pastures (as opposed to surface application), thereby decreasing runoff and air pollution. Veen Huizen is a portmanteau of the two family names--and a fitting title to express their soil conservation efforts. Veen is the Dutch word for ‘peat’ and Huizen is the Dutch word for ‘home’—literally, home is in the peat. “Good healthy soils produce great milk”—Debbie VanderVeen." source 

*They are currently transitioning to Jersey cows - they are a more desirable breed insofar as they produce a higher protein milk that is sold at a higher premium ever though they produce fewer gallons of milk.

Look, I got to milk a cow!

It was quite the experience - soft, squishy, and warm. I have never had the opportunity to milk a cow before, though I know this might be old hat for some.  

Then, since we stimulated her, she needed to finish being milked, so they brought out the milking machine, which worked a lot faster than the majority of my class. Yep - technology taking over human power.

We fed the milk we milked to Mary, a three month old calf. 

So while I hope that made you all feel warm and fuzzy inside, there were a few things that didn't make me feel so warm and fuzzy. I'm biased, I realize that, but I wasn't the biggest fan of this dairy.

For instance, most of the farm workers were sporting these snazzy Monsanto jackets:

Veen Huizen is essentially a closed system farm - they grow all their own feed in the form of corn and grass - but the corn is only for cows, not human consumption because they are Genetically Modified crops, which means that every year they have to buy new seed (not on farm) and corn in too great a quantity makes a cow sick.

GM crops snapshot from Jenn: I think they are dangerous to human health, the environment, and I don't think that corporations should have so much control or sway over agriculture or the FDA/USDA. Click here for a balanced reading on GM crops, or I would highly recommend watching the documentary The Future of Food. Make up your own mind - but personally, I never buy products made with GM ingredients if I can help it.

Here's an awesome app for your iPhone or Android that you can use in the grocery store to help you dodge GM foods.

These cows also will get injections to stimulate their milk production.

They use the manure to fertilize the fields, which is a great way to recycle nutrients on farm. However, as Debbie mentioned in her publication, "good healthy soils produce great milk," but I'm not really sure how healthy a soil is once it has been sprayed with herbicides and pesticides like RoundUp. However, in the end they get the three things they need to most from these cows: milk, manure and babies. 

All their cows live in these barns for their entire lives; they never see pasture. In the picture below, the barn houses some 400 cows; the left side is empty in preparation for the jersey cows that will be joining the operation. And this barn smelled awful - I know there are 200 cows living in there, of course, but Eldridge Dairy has nearly 150 cows and did not smell bad. Imagine 400 in there - and that's only one of their barns! I think this operation is too big for these animals to be well cared for. 

The only place they ever get to go outside of this barn is the milking parlor.

To conclude, I would not buy milk from this farm because:
1. GM crops
2. Not pastured
3. Too big

Our visit to Twin Brook Creamery was a much more pleasant experience. A mere stone's throw from the Canadian border, this dairy has been family owned and operated since 1910. Today Larry and Debbie Stap are 5th generation farmers with their daughter Michelle and husband Mark. 

As they have grown they needed to expand to find more room and pasture for their jersey cows, and due to the cold weather (it's been below freezing and snowing here - which is unusual for this area!), we ended up only seeing the processing side of the farm. They currently have about 200 cows on 180 beautiful acres. 

Me and Larry 

First, we took a peek into the 100-year-old barn built without a nail. 

Then we explored the processing process: after the cows are milked the milk goes into this cooling tank.

Then it is pasteurized in these vats to 145°F for 30 minutes - however, typically milk is ultra-pasteurized through a process called HTST (high temperature short time) where the milk is heated to over boiling point. Larry believes that the gentler processing allows the milk to be as close to its raw state preserving the nutrition and quality, yet it kills any harmful bacteria. 

Additionally, the milk is not homogenized (an alteration of the milk by forcing it through small openings at high pressures), so Twin Brook milk will have cream that floats naturally to the top of their glass bottles.

Glass Bottles?!?!? Yep, just like when the milk man used to deliver. All their milk is bottled in glass for many reasons: it's more environmentally friendly because when you buy their milk you pay a refundable deposit on the bottle, therefore it you bring it back then they will reuse it. The glass bottle does not alter or affect the taste like plastic or cardboard will. And they have many other uses - wouldn't they make nice flower vases?

The bottles are cleaned and sanitized in an industrial kitchen.

Then filled up here - look at that chocolate milk!

The milk is stored in a cooler - typically only for 1 or 2 days -  before it gets shipped out the about 60-70 stores between here and Seattle. In Bellingham you can buy their milk at both the Community Food CoopHaggen, and many more places!

Then we were invited into their home where Debbie greeted us with fresh chocolate milk and homemade cookies! They were both so very gracious and welcoming, I got a good warm fuzzy feeling inside that stuck me the rest of the day. And it was so very warm inside!

Twin Brook, though not certified organic, follows very sound farming practices that align a great deal with my values. For instance, their cows are pastured throughout the year except in the winter. They raise all their own calves on farm, never giving them hormones to stimulate artificial growth or to stimulate milk production. They use no pesticides or herbicides on their fields. 

Larry was very adamant that he would not go organic because of a few stipulations. Prevention is key to animal health - so they take really good care of them, but if one gets sick he will give them antibiotics, just like he would do for himself or his family. He does not milk a cow while she is on antibiotics or a time period thereafter, and no milk will have antibiotics in it when it reaches the stores. His other stipulation was that he would rather take the crops and feed from his neighbor than to have to hunt for certified organic feed from eastern Washington, or Oregon. Larry is trying to keep it local. None of their feed is GM.

And while I did not post yesterday on Food and Faith, I was experiencing it! I don't know how well you can read this bit from their flier pictured above, but their mission statement is:

"We are a family owned and operated dairy that exists to glorify God through the stewardship of the soil and animals that He has entrusted to our care, in the best possible way."

Amen! Raise a glass of (well, they offer heavy whipping cream, whole milk, half &half, 2%, 1%, fat-free, chocolate milk, and eggnog (in season)) to that!


Michelle - Blessed Mom of 4 said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Thanks for your kind words! I know my parents had fun visiting with everyone!

~Michelle Tolsma~