You Are What You Eat
You are what you eat. I’m positive you’ve heard this before.
But when you eat cheese, what are you actually eating?
Milk. You’re eating milk. The process of making cheese is so simple, that, in order to get cheese, you simply add rennet (we use organic vegetarian rennet), cultures to your milk and a little salt to top it off.
Very simply put, goat milk is the product of what the goats eat. Milk is the super food that we mammals feed our young. Evolution has favored this miracle because the species that nourish their kin with this magical health tonic thrive, and have done so for millions of years. It just so happens that milk has been proven, throughout the centuries, to be something that’s massively nutritious for humans ― there’s a reason we’ve been drinking milk for over 7,500 years.
But humans have a pesky way of ruining evolutionary greatness. Cows are now bred to make THE MOST milk, not THE BEST milk. They’re fed corn and soy, not necessarily because the farmers want to feed that, but because our government has subsidized these products to a point that it’s what farmers can afford. Why is their feed budget so low? Well, that’s another tragedy. Since the 1930s the government has been setting the price of milk. Not farmers, not consumers, the government. Small commercial dairy farmers (think 60 cow dairies) are a dying breed.
In 2018 more than 2,700 dairy farmers went out of business. My opinion, is that the legislation is moving us towards a model that rewards giant (HUMONGOUS) farms that milk cows bred to maximize milk production even at the expense of the cows health and at the expense of the quality of the milk. Average annual milk production per cow has more than doubled from less than 10,000 pounds in 1970 to more than 23,000 pounds today. The industry will tell you that this is due to increases in nutrition, cow comfort, and selective breeding. What they’re not saying is that the average dairy cow lactates for an average of 2 years. Producing that level of milk is literally leaching away their life force at an exponential rate.
LET ME BE CLEAR. In no way do I want to demonize large commercial dairy farmers. These hard working men and women love their cows, their land, their families, everything. That’s why they’re still on their farms, milking their animals, and fighting, like hell, to pay their bills. I feel confident in saying their perfect scenario would most likely be many small dairy farms, around major cities, providing milk for those cities. This would create a dynamic where a farmer can take pride in the quality of his or her milk, how well he cares for his herd, and the relationship he has with his customers. I can’t think of a single farmer who wants to be part of the only giant farm providing milk for the entire country. Diversification and smaller dairies is safer for our communities, better for our environment, and healthier for everyone involved.
Which is why we are fighting to make our business model successful. Matthew and I are finally selling all of our cheese. After three years we have managed to rustle up enough solid accounts that, even if someone has a low order one week, another account covers it. It’s a delicate, delicate balance and one that forces you to operate under a constant level of anxiety, but it’s working.
And, because it’s working, we’re not subject to anyone’s regulations on what we should charge for our cheese. The government regulates us from a safety standpoint, but they do not regulate us from a pricing standpoint. We are free to do business the way we want.
Believe me when I say I know this is a luxury and we know how lucky we are. Having a direct consumer relationship with our local community is a gift. It’s also what we believe is the future of sustainable farming and we want to be a part of helping it grow (that’s a different post though).
One of the benefits of being a Farmstead goat dairy is that we have absolute and full control of the milk that becomes our cheese. We know that there are different qualities of milk, and we only want the best quality to become our cheese.
The bulk of our goat’s diet is alfalfa. We buy from the same transporter every time, who buys from the same farmer every time. Our alfalfa comes in huge semi-trucks from Ellensburg, Washington which is about 150 miles away. We would love if it was closer but we haven’t found an alfalfa that grows well on the coast. Most importantly, we buy only organic alfalfa. There’s one main reason for this. ROUND UP. I don’t want to argue about whether or not Round Up causes cancer or it’s bad for you or blah blah blah. I don’t want it anywhere near my food. And so we pay extra for organic alfalfa.
Our grain is a custom grain mix that comes from Patriot Farm and Feed in Winlock. That’s just 50 miles from our farm. We know and trust the farmer. He mills us a custom mix that is soy-free, corn-free, and wheat-free. Do we think soy, corn, and wheat are the devil? No, not at all. But we do know that a lot of people have sensitivities to these products and so we’ve chosen to keep them out of our milk. It’s just another step that we’re proud to be able to do for our community in our quest to create food that not just sustains, it nourishes.
You’ll notice that we care about the proximity of our feed source, and that’s for good reason. For one, we’re constantly trying to reduce our impact on the environment. If our goat’s feed is traveling short distances to get to us that’s beneficial for the planet. But also, there is some evidence that eating food grown in your bio-region actually makes you healthier. Plus, we know the farmers we’re supporting when we purchase locally. It keeps the money in our local economy and it strengthens our community.
Do we need to do all this? Honestly, probably not. But if we were farming based on the dollar we wouldn’t be farming. Matthew and I both left extremely high paying jobs to become dairy farmers. We farm because we believe in this planet and we want to be part of the solution to heal it. (That’s also another post!) We make these choices because it matters to us. This is the food we’re putting in our bodies and our children’s bodies.
My friend Lyndsey is a pig farmer in Ohio at Six Buckets Farm. She and I started chasing commercial success as farmers about the same time, and I have loved watching her operation grow into a lean, mean fighting machine. Her pigs are raised on pasture, farrow in the woods (although she would prefer if they farrowed in the barn she built for them), are never locked up, and live beautiful, beautiful lives. She recently posted about consumers digging beyond the “local” sticker. As an Ohioan she is competing against larger confinement operations, where pigs are raised on concrete and made to give birth in crates. As she put it though, the pig may be local to Ohio, but if they never get to enjoy the dirt and trees, the wind and snow then they probably don’t care that they live in Ohio.
It’s a good analogy, and one that, although it may require more responsibility on the part of the consumer, is necessary if we ever hope to change what farming has become in the year 2019.
And maybe you’re thinking…why change it?
Between 60-80 percent of the negative environmental impacts on the planet come from consumers. Our decisions. What we choose to buy, and most significantly, what we choose to eat. If this kind of thing is fascinating to you, read this article >>
Local matters, yes. Always.
Which is why, when faced with two identical products, one which you know the story behind and one which you don't, I hope you’ll buy the one that’s rooted in your community.
Meanwhile, Matthew and I will continue to work towards expanding the missions of sustainable and regenerative farms across the USA, creating a model that empowers others to find success in their communities.
Because guys, farming is hard. Oh goodness it’s hard.
But it’s one of the things I am most proud of doing for our planet.
We are at a crossroads in America. We can keep supporting the monolithic mega farms until they ultimately take over the industry and we have zero control over our food supply or, we can support and nourish smaller farms that emphasize animal welfare, impact on the land, and listens to it’s consumers, constantly striving to meet the demand for the healthiest food possible without sacrificing the earth we rely on to produce it.