Monday, April 23, 2012

April Conservation Tip

Know your Farmer

After bread, vegetable and fruits, dairy is probably what our family eats the most. In trying to go organic on most, if not all of our dairy products we usually get either Clover or Straus milk. I personally like Straus the best, but the kids don't really appreciate the cream top...;-), although they love their yogurt and call Straus ice cream "heaven in a cone".

I always wanted to see behind the scenes of a working organic farm here, knowing all to well from my Veterinary studies that not everything is what it seems to be.

A couple of weeks ago an email from Marin Organic arrived in my mailbox announcing a Straus family farm tour, here was my opportunity!

Last week then, I headed up to the Point Reyes area, one of my favorite spots anyway. I went a bit early to do some photography. The weather was not really cooperative, but nevertheless Point Reyes is wonderful in any weather....and I even caught a glimpse of the Straus Farm across the Tomales Bay:

After a delicious treat from the Bovine Bakery it was time to head over to the farm. Kerry from Marin Organic gave us a warm welcome and then ushered us through a shoe sanitizing mat before "handing " us over to Gary, our very knowledgeable farm guide.

While watching the cows munching on the lush pasture overlooking Tomales Bay, we got a thorough introduction to the farm and it's history. For more info on the Straus history and today's mission, please  check out their website as it describes the history as well as their mission very nicely.
It is really fascinating what the Straus family has accomplished over the years and how much foresight went into the development.
After the introduction we moved on to the food storage area. About 600 Strauss cows live on 600 acres, so that should be plenty of pasture, but only in spring. With water in short supply, pasture is not enough to give the cows enough energy to produce sufficient milk. Hence their food gets fortified with organic flax, rye and silage.
 Passing the freshly cleaned "bad weather" stall, where the cows can freely go in and out,

we reached the nursery:

Bill Straus started in the early 1940's with 23 Jersey cows, known for their delicious milk due to the high fat content, and later added on and crossed in Holsteins for more quantity. So all cows here are either one or a mix of both breeds. He gave all his cows a name, a tradition that continues to this day!

As at any working dairy farm, the newborn calves get separated from their moms right after birth. To make the transition as easy as possible, the staff at Straus makes sure the calf gets the colostrum from it's own mother and then is kept with other calves in cozy, straw decked stalls. Even better, to feed them properly, a part of the daily milked milk goes right back to this stall and with the help of a special machine and the yellow chip you see here on the calfs' ear, every calf gets the right amount of milk everyday in the same fashion as it would in nature, a sip at a time.
Especially for the younger participants, the visit to the nursery was definitively a highlight...

Continuing on we met the ladies on their way to the afternoon milking.

Relaxed and in orderly fashion they waited for their turn, probably enjoying the view over the peaceful pastures as much as we did.

Last stop on our tour was this contraption...anyone a guess?

This is a methan digester, which captures naturally occurring methan gas from manure and converts it into electricity. Again, on the Straus website you find out how it works and how much electricity it actually produces, check it out...mind-boggling!

After this fun filled and informative tour we got together in the hay barn for a special treat, for one we got to try Straus' newest ice cream concoction, caramel ice cream with salted toffee pieces and best of all, we got to met the man who converted the Straus farm to the first certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi and founded the Straus Family Creamery, Albert Straus.

He patiently answered questions and and urged us to take action in a project he is very much involved in at the moment : The labeling of GMO food. An appeal I would like to extend to all of you. Even though the deadline for the signature collection to get this on the California Ballot ends today, the fight to make food companies label their products will continue. For more information how you can help, please check out the following links:

Label GMO'
Non GMO Project
Center for Food Safety

Thank you to Kerry, Gary and the whole Strauss Farm for having us at the farm, giving us insight and leading the way to a better future. I think you all have your heart at the right place ;-)

*not a Straus cow...I just loved the heart...

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