Posts filed under 'Sustainability'
Times are tough for many these days. We want to do what we can to help members of our new community here in Oregon and we’re inviting you to help too. It does not take much to make a difference and we can’t think of a more worthy organization at this time than the Oregon Food Bank- a wonderful and effective organization that helps hundreds of thousands of people throughout Oregon and southern Washington. The Oregon Food Bank supports a network of food distribution centers throughout the state and works to eliminate the root causes of hunger through advocacy, nutrition education, learning gardens and public education.
As the economy slides the number of people relying on the programs supported and administered by the Oregon Food Bank is steadily rising. Many of us are consumers committed to supporting local growers, producers, and chefs because we believe not only in agriculture but in the importance of healthy regional food systems. Organizations like the Oregon Food Bank work to ensure that none of the food produced goes to waste- every day they are out there recovering and redistributing food from individuals, wholesalers, retailers, and also gleaning from regional farms- this work honors the value of food and the resources that go into producing it. This is an important time to support this part of our food system and those in need. If everyone does a little bit (or a lot!) we can have a huge impact during these challenging times.
Help us reach our goal to raise $5000 for the Oregon Food Bank! To donate you can click here or on the Blog for Food logo above. When you make your online donation please enter ‘blog for food’ in the tribute section of the Oregon Food Bank page so that your donation counts toward our campaign. You can also send checks directly to the Oregon Food Bank at PO Box 55370, Portland, OR 97238- be sure to mention the Blog for Food campaign!
February 1st, 2009
Most cheese enthusiasts in the U.S. are familiar with the impassioned debates about raw milk and raw milk cheese. Considering the massive amount of press time spent covering food safety issues I am doubtful that this issue will be resolved in the near future. Basically the laws within the U.S. prevent the production or importing of any cheeses made from raw (unpasteurized) milk that are not aged for 60 days or more. So all fresh cheeses and the majority of soft, gooey ones are made from pasteurized milk. Most cheesemakers have accepted this and developed cheeses accordingly- some masterful enough to create bloomy rind and pudgy washed rind cheeses that can clear the 60 day mark and still showcase flavors other than amonia. This is a real triumph considering that most cheesemakers here are learning affinage from scratch- not learning from their predecessors like producers can in Europe.
But there is still a lurking risk that at some point the FDA will decide that cheeses aged beyond 60 days should also be made from pasteurized milk. Thankfully we have a band of producers who are proactively working, with the FDA I might add, to prevent this from happening. A small, producer-run organization called the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association has formed quietly and is working to support raw milk producers in developing their cheeses and also to develop plans called HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). HACCP plans focus on examining the production process and creating many checkpoints and safeguards throughout production rather than relying on post-production inspection for food safety so that if/when the day comes that the FDA moves to strike raw milk cheese completely, the producers can present a united, organized front and show what they do make their products safely.
I spoke with Helen Feete of Meadow Creek Dairy recently about the development of the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association (RMCA) and also the Slow Food Raw Milk Cheese Presidium. She has been involved with both efforts extensively as she believes strongly in protecting raw milk cheese production here in the U.S.
Before you listen to the first bit it is important to understand a bit about Slow Food and how the RMCA relates to it. Slow Food International and Slow Food USA both have been instrumental in fostering the development of this group. It all began with the formation of what Slow Food calls a “presidium” for American raw milk cheeses. As Slow Food puts it,
“Slow Food Presidia work in different ways, but the goals remain constant: to promote artisan products; to stabilize production techniques; to establish stringent production standards and, above all, to guarantee a viable future for traditional foods.”
In the case of raw milk cheeses, Slow Food wanted a group of producers to work towards protecting the right to make cheese from raw milk- the most obvious approach being to methodically prove that these products can be produced safely. The American Raw Milk Cheese Presidium has developed protocols or rules that define specifically how raw milk cheese must be produced if they want to be part of the presidia- similar to production requirements of AOC or DOP products. The cheeses included in the Presidium are also representing American raw milk cheese at events home and abroad. Out of the work done by the presidium came the development of a related group called the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association. This group is intended to be more of a working resource for raw milk cheesemakers to help them develop their products and practices.
One final important point: Membership in the Presidium happens only when a cheese is evaluated and accepted because it meets a set standard of taste and quality. The guidelines or protocols set by the Presidium for raw milk cheese production can be met over time but the producer must show a commitment to the protocols. Membership to the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association is open to all- and that group exists to offer education and support to cheese producers in the U.S.
Here is Helen talking about getting the RMCA started:
RMCA purpose and development
Next Helen talks about the FDA focus on raw milk cheeses. She mentions Cathy Donnelly, a food safety expert at the University of Vermont who has been instrumental in creating a bridge between raw milk producers and the FDA.
Scrutiny of raw milk cheese in US
Helen on partnering with the FDA rather than fighting against them… Partnering with FDA
There have been some complaints about the protocols or guidelines set by the Presidium- some cheesemakers feel that the requirements are so stringent that they are unattainable for most small producers. Here is what Helen had to say about this:
Debate over protocols
Here are two other clips from my conversation with Helen that I find interesting:
Do producers agree about why raw milk cheese is important?
What can consumers do to support these groups?
July 14th, 2008
Some interesting things we’ve stumbled on recently that discuss or report on agriculture in our country. First up- this group I had never heard of which looks like they are doing great work- called Food and Water Watch. They’ve put together a great interactive map and accompanying report on all kinds of factory farms in the U.S. Check it out here.
That is just one of the interesting things to explore on their website- they’ve got all sorts of campaigns related to dairying in the U.S.- one of which is targeted at getting Starbucks to stop using milk with rBGH hormones.
There was also a great piece in the NY Times Monday about food miles and the public discourse on carbon footprints. The author raises many interesting questions and points out that issues of agriculture in the global economy are much more complicated than we’d like them to be. Rather than glomming on to one specific term or concept he is encouraging consumers to think holistically about our larger system of agriculture.
Double whammy in the NY Times yesterday with a piece about rising prices for agricultural real estate as a result of the ethanol boom and an article singing the praises of raw milk. Curious to know what you think about both of those topics- I’ll post my thoughts on them in the next couple days but wanted to point you to them now.
August 9th, 2007
I go to the farmer’s market here in New York City’s Union Square a couple times a week. Wednesdays are the best because it isn’t as crowded as Saturday and some of my favorite vendors are there: Tamarack Hollow Farm (selling pigs and chickens) and Three Corner Field Farm (selling all things sheep- mutton, lamb, yogurt, cheese and milk). Not only are their products excellent but I almost always walk away from their stands having learned something about farming or about their experiences.
It is one thing to think about farming conceptually- farmers work the land, care for the animals, then they bring them to a central location and we pay them for their work- and quite another to consider what the farmer’s day is actually like. I know that since returning from our tour, and watching the temperature drop (finally) over the last couple weeks, when I walk out my front door and that first gust of wind blows through my jacket into my bones I often think about the farmer who got up earlier than I did and went to work outside. They aren’t the only ones who do this… cops, construction workers, garbage men, landscapers- all of them are up and outside too it’s just that I’ve had farming on my mind.
A couple weeks ago, on a particularly frigid Wednesday, I stopped by to see Karen Weinberg (owner of 3 Corner Field Farm) and shortly after I arrived she got a phone call that she absolutley had to take. I hung around her stand to field questions from customers while she paced in the patch of sunshine between her stand and the neighboring apple booth. As soon as she was on hold she explained that she had been waiting for this call for months- it was from the USDA.
The basics of the situation Karen was discussing with the USDA are this: Months ago there had been a problem at one of the slaughterhouses Karen uses for her lambs. Meat from another farmer had been tagged as potentially contaminated and the USDA had done an investigation. No conclusive evidence of actual contamination was found but the USDA put an indefinite hold on the any meat that was in the slaughterhouse during the time that the allegedly contaminated meat was there. Indefinite holds and perishable products don’t go together so well.
Karen had taken fifteen lambs to the slaughterhouse, watched them go in the front door and then never saw any trace of them after that.
The slaughterhouse wants her to take it up with the USDA because they had imposed this unending hold on the products and the USDA wants her to hold the slaughterhouse accountable because they had been in possession of the product at the time it disappeard.
Karen broke down what losing these lambs meant for her in financial terms- which is not insignificant. Retail pricing on the various cuts of lamb that she sells range from $9-15.50/lb. I looked at her and immediately thought of the emotional value of the animals. I remembered what she said to me this summer (we visited her this summer on the tour) when I asked her about the first time she took animals to slaughter. She said that the first time had been so chaotic- she was so worried about them escaping or something that she had not been able to be completely present to what was going on… and then she said that over time, as she felt more confident about how to transport them, taking the animals to slaughter had actually gotten harder.
And then I thought about all the time and care she had put into those lambs to then have to think that they were slaughtered and wasted. Not sold, cooked, eaten, and celebrated but wasted.
Here is the thing about this entire situation- most of us, even meat eaters, don’t like the idea of animals going to slaughter. And yet the reality of cheese is that one of its byproducts is young animals that are born for the purpose of kicking off the cycle of lactation in their mothers. Dairy farmers cannot afford to keep all of these young animals and let them live out their years on the farm. If they do keep them around, like Karen does, many of them have to be raised for meat because only a handful of the females are needed each season as replacements for milking ewes that are being retired.
Just for a minute lets put all the feelings we have about this situation aside and look at the slaughterhouse situation for non-industrial dairy farmers. If a dairy farmer wants to be able to sell meat from their animals in cuts (not as whole animals- the rules are different for this) then they have to have them slaughtered at a USDA regulated facility. Doesn’t sound so bad except that these facilities are more expensive and not necessarily the closest facilities to a given farm. The end result can be that the farmer pays more, might have to transport their animals farther (which creates more stress for the animals), and can have a difficult time finding such a facility that is willing to take a small volume of animals at a time.
Karen is left wondering why she paid more for this facility when the USDA doesn’t seem to be offering an incredible level of service to either the slaughterhouse or its customers.
Small slaughterhouses are going out of business all over the country because they cannot afford to build new facilities or upgrade existing ones to meet federal standards that have been developed with industrial animal processing plants in mind. This is a major problem for farmstead artisan cheesemakers or any other small dairy farms. Part of maintaining a network of sustainable agriculture and cheese production is ensuring the existence of regional slaughterhouses to support it. We absolutely want the animals from these farms to have the best possible experience throughout their lives- even at the end.
If you care about preserving small farms, the existence of these slaughterhouses (with acceptable sanitation and animal treatment practices) is mandatory. If you enjoy cheese, milk, butter and yogurt from these farms- even if you never eat the meat- this is still an issue you that needs your involvement. I don’t know how to fix this problem but I bet that a great next stop would be to talk to the farmers that provide you with great animal products (this includes dairy) and ask them if they need your support.
January 31st, 2007
Unfortunately we are not on the road again. Just back on the proverbial cheese trail. Given the upcoming debate of the 2007 Farm Bill I’ve been reading a lot in various papers about the state of agriculture- something I have been thinking about often since we returned from our trip.
If you are interested in learning more I would recommend the “Harvesting Cash” series in the Washington Post that has run over the last few months- many interesting pieces there, a number involving the dairy industry.
And, of course, I also recommend that you take a look at Dan Barber’s Op-Ed piece that ran in the New York Times last week. I’ve seen references to his piece on many a food blog- just in case you didn’t see it- here is a link to make sure you do. “Amber Fields of Bland“
January 20th, 2007
There was an excellent opinion piece by Nina Planck in the NY Times last week about the e. coli 0157 outbreak caused by contaminated spinach. What does this have to do with cheese? It is related to cheese in that Ms. Planck makes a connection between the spinach problem and the current commercial dairy and feedlot situation. I thought the piece did a fantastic job at outlining some of the serious issues happening in agriculture and the importance of understanding the root cause of an outbreak like this.
I do feel like a little extra information would arm consumers with a more complete picture about the use of grain on dairy farms. Every dairy except one that we visited this summer feeds their herds some percentage of their diet in grain. Because I wanted to have my facts straight before I started blabbing on the blog, I emailed one of the herdsmen I interviewed this summer with my questions about cows and grain and he sent back a response that I found incredibly useful. Below is a link to the NY Times piece and also the information I received from Andy Kehler at Jasper Hill Farm where they milk 35-40 cows.
Andy Kehler’s email to me:
“While Nina’s piece about ecoli and its connection to the dairy and beef industry was informative, I believe that there is crucial distinction that needs to be made. As a dairy farmer that does feed grain, I was disturbed that I am being lumped into a category of farming where I don’t feel that I belong. There was no distinction made between herds that are fed grain as a supplement to balance a ration and herds where the majority of their diet is grain based. Nina says turn your attention to the dairy and beef industry,but I believe the culprit is actually corn. It wasn’t until farms started feeding large ammounts of corn that 0157 started becoming a problem. It is cheap and easy to grow and the government will pay you to grow it. You have to feed enough corn to create ruminal acidosis in the animal- the ph in the rumen drops creating an environment where 0157 can can exist- this also leads to laminitis (where layers of the hoof start separating) and other metabolic problems in dairy cows.
Dairy cows have been bred over the last 100 years to produce more and more milk. They have gotten farther and farther away from their “natural state” where they could calve in the wild and forage. Most dairy cows can’t consume enough grass to meet the energy demands that their bodies require after they calve. This is when they are under the most stress- recouperating from calving, growing if it is their first or second calf and producing the milk that they are genetically predisposed to make. As a dairy farmer I feel that it is my responsibility to formulate a healthy ration for my herd and I believe that grain is a very important part of a healthy diet. As a farm we are lucky that we have been able to get away from pressures that fluid milk producers have, and can put the health of my cows and the quality of my milk at the forefront of what we do. I also have a herd where I can treat each cow as an individual and adjust each cows diet on a daily basis. This is impossible do on a large dairy.
The real problem here is that as a society we have made the choice that cheap food is more important than food safety. If we look where agricultural subsidies go, most of them go to the production of corn. In order to take advantage of these a farm must be of a certain size, for handling corn takes a lot more equipment. It is hard to justify the investment in equipment if you are milking less than 80 to 100 cows. Nina is asking us to look at the culprits- dairy and beef farmers. Comercial dairies need to squeeze as much milk out of each cow as possible in order to remain competitive. What ends up happening is they are trying to get as close to ruminal acidosis as possible- feed them as many calories as possible, without crossing that line where the rumen becomes too acidic. The industry creates a scenario in which a farmer has to push their cows as much as possible to produce more milk per animal.
There are around 3000 large farms in the U.S. There are tens of thousands of small family farms that are really struggling right now to stay alive because as a society we have chosen to ecourage and subsidize cheap milk and cheap beef. This is why this distinction is so important. I applaud Nina for shedding light on this issue, for I do feel that there is a serious threat to food safety here. I do, however, think the issue is more complex than she alludes and that the last thing that our small family farms need is to be blamed for making people sick.”
October 3rd, 2006
Shepherd’s Way which we recently posted about is actively looking for investors of all sizes. As you may remember, this farmstead cheesemaker was a profitable business- supporting multiple families- before they had a serious setback a year and a half ago. They have a transition plan in place and are actively raising capital to get back to the business they know so well- producing award winning, farmstead cheeses. If you are interested in being an investor (or donating), please send an email to Steven at email@example.com OR you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can forward you specific information about the transition plan and small loan program.
September 10th, 2006
Name: Pure Luck Dairy
Owners: The entire family- Denny Bolton, Amelia Sweethardt, Gitana Sweethardt, and Claire & Hope Bolton
Location: Dripping Springs, Texas
Animals: Approximately 110 Nubian and American Alpines (milking around 65)
Cheeses/Products: Chevre (plain and flavored), Basket Molded Chevre, Feta, Del Cielo, Hopelessly Blue, Sainte Maure, Claire de Lune
More info: www.purelucktexas.com
Pure Luck Dairy straddles Twin Oaks Trail, we learned this by barging in on Denny Bolton in the Pure Luck Office who kindly directed us to the dairy where we found someone who could find Amelia for us. Many of you who are familiar with Pure Luck know that the farm is going through a large transition with the loss of its founder Sara Bolton last November. Amelia Sweethardt is her daughter and also has been a cheesemaker at the dairy since 1997. She has taken over the cheesemaking reigns. In addition to Amelia, two of Sara’s other daughters Claire and Hope also assisting with multiple aspects of the dairy, not to mention Denny Bolton (Sara’s husband and partner in the business) and Gitana Sweethardt who also helps run Pure Luck. All four of Sara’s girls grew up milking goats and drinking fresh milk from their own farm so they understand the value of what they do let alone the work required to run the dairy.
Of course the day we scheduled for our visit was Amelia’s day off- if there is such a thing on a dairy farm. While we waited for her near the dairy, we were entertained by a sound sampling of farm animals…goats, of course, a couple of dogs and a shameless attention seeking cat. I always see it as a good sign when all animals on a farm are friendly.
Amelia bounded out of the trees- her home is just a short walk from the cheese room- to welcome us. We had arrived on a cheese nurturing rather than cheesemaking day meaning that cheeses made earlier that week were being salted and turned. Pure Luck sells most if not all of their cheese in Texas- the majority goes to markets in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas. In the cheese room we met Juana who might as well be family- there is no one new at Pure Luck because everyone is either blood related or has been around for years. The entire staff is bilingual including the new Pyrenees puppy who goes by Lucy or Lucia. We watched as Amelia flipped the Sainte Maure and Juana salted the chevre in a large mixer. Amelia explained their plans for an expansion of the make room space. Currently all of the cheeses are aged in a cooler on the other side of Twin Oaks Trail, the expansion would bring all aspects of cheesemaking to one place. Of course as soon as I found out that they would have more space I asked the logical question: does that mean you will make more cheese? Amelia was careful to note that they will focus on getting their expansion built before they plan on increasing their output. This is precisely what I would expect from any farmstead cheesemaker because many of them agree that slow, steady expansions are the only way to go and patience is essential.
In my notes from that day I found something about the milking parlor: “maybe the cleanest milking parlor I’ve seen yet”. As we walked through the parlor, Amelia showed us where the goats wait their turn to be milked and then the area where they can snack on some alfalfa on their way back out to the pasture. She explained that the kids are still nursing from their mothers once during the day (after the does go through the parlor in the morning and have spent a bit of time on pasture) and then separated from them in the evenings- it is something they are experimenting with. In the past they noticed that the kids that nursed longer became stronger does so they are considering this in their herd management evaluation. While maintaining the principles her mother set in place for the farm, Amelia is also considering new ways of doing things. For example she is looking at their options for producing some of their own feed and she is also investigating outlets beyond auctions for the kids they do not keep. We finished up our tour of the cheese plant by walking through the bulk tank room- never the most exciting but always an important part of the dairy. They are making cheese 3 times each week which creates a sound workflow given the variety of cheeses they produce and the handling they requires in the days immediately after they are made.
Pure Luck is a stellar example of a small, farmstead dairy that has developed an operation that is sustainable given the land they have and their staff. Amelia said something that struck me as a unique perspective in the world of farming (and she said it matter-of-factly too), “If you need someone to work for you in the high season you have to figure out how to employ them in the low season too”. One example of this is the decision she and her mother made to develop cheesemaking seminars during their off season to keep cash flowing through the dairy. They also have the added benefit of sharing some employees between the dairy and their organic herb, vegetable and flower farm business across the road.
Walking around with Amelia it is abundantly clear that her mother’s vision for the farm runs strong throughout the entire place and for good reason; everything is clean and simple and everyone is on the same page- healthy and well-managed animals produce great milk for cheesemaking. This means that we can count on the continuation of beautiful farmstead cheeses which is wonderful. We can also look forward to ongoing developments at Pure Luck…maybe even more cheese?
June 14th, 2006