Thursday, August 26, 2010

Local Milk

  We want to continue this week sharing our thoughts on how to get away from the conventional, corporate food system and how to develop a dependable, community-based food system free especially of chemical and pharmaceutical dependency. This week our focus is dairy. Increasingly, dairy cows are being kept (like poultry and hogs) without any access to forage or any fresh feed at all. Fortunately (unlike poultry and hogs), real, significant fresh feed is a part of the USDA organic requirements for dairy cattle. Of course, as with all rule-based programs, there are producers that seek to meet the minimal letter of those rules without following the spirit of the rules in order to gain cost advantages and increase their market share. However, there is one fairly big organic cooperative with farms in Iredell and Rowan Counties (and all over the country) that has really impressed us with their integrity, and that's Organic Valley. If we had to buy milk and butter, etc., in the grocery stores, we would definitely choose Organic Valley. First, so far as we're aware, there is no other government-regulated dairy or cooperative with farms in North Carolina that sells organic milk. Second, we've seen a couple of the farms that sell to Organic Valley and we've talked to some of the farmers, and what we've seen up until now are real family farms with cows on green pastures. If you're going to buy government-regulated dairy products, the Organic Valley cooperative would be, by our recommendation, the best option (and well worth the price compared to the other supermarket options we're aware of.) [However, see here for later thoughts on the declining integrity of the Organic Valley brand.] Of course, even the best milk in stores still leaves a whole lot to be desired in terms of community accountability; dependency on "organic" grain and/or hay from halfway across the continent; dependency on conventional transportation, processing, and distribution systems; and other issues of sustainability.
   At this point we're forced to confront the hot button issue of "raw milk." We wish it hadn't become such a hot button issue. It's an issue that the mainstream food/agricultural system clearly feels threatened by. We would much rather just mind our own business and let the people that want the government to oversee and guarantee the safety of their food supply remain in their own little world. Ideally, we would definitely want to offer milk (and cheese and butter, etc.) from our cows and goats for sale, but as things are, we just want to steer far away from the whole controversy of distributing "raw milk." There are still a lot of things we can actively encourage you all to do, however. We are very happy to share what we know about keeping a family cow or goat, and we would love to help you figure out how to get started milking your own animal, if you're at all inclined. Even if you live in town or can't keep an animal on your own land, there are other ways to keep a dairy animal. We like the idea of a real "cow share" where several families share not just the milk but the actual work, taking turns milking over the course of a week, such that the milk is only ever handled by the consumer himself. In the past, we have milked neighbors' animals when they've wanted to get away or take a vacation. If these kinds of ideas interest you, we'd be more than happy to talk to you and try to help you become more self-sufficient with regards to dairy. Even if you're simply buying all your milk, we would encourage you to learn how to take control of more of the processing, e.g. butter and ice cream and cheese and yogurt, etc. Making yogurt is often a very cost effective thing to do at home. It may be cheaper to simply buy finished butter than to buy cream in the store and churn it, but the more you get away from the industrial food system, the more opportunities you'll find to do these kinds of things and save a few cents along the way, and, of course, enjoy dairy products that you can feel worlds better about. We'd be very happy to talk to you about any of these dairy-related things, so don't be shy!

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