A Eulogy Written on a Country Pasture: Rest in Peace Vander Eyk Organic Dairy

I live in the dairy capital of the world, Tulare County, California. I have become obsessed with all things dairy as you can see from my Milk Shenanigans posts.
In my obsession, I have spent many hours this spring taking photos and video footage of an organic dairy so mammoth that it is mind boggling. Even though I see dairies around here all the time and though I was a member of the Future Farmers of America in my youth, I was still shocked by this particular dairy. The shock fed my obsession.
The Vander Eyk Dairy is not the only 10,000 cow dairy in the area, but it is the only one that sold part of its milk as “organic.”
Organic standards require lactating cows to have access to pasture unless the ground is frosty. The Vander Eyk cows apparently got trucked to 10,000 acres of pasture land “near Ducor” for their grass fix. I happened upon that reference in an old local newspaper and it was that phrase that began my obsession.
I live near Ducor too.

Pastured Holsteins
Many cattle graze in these mountains but it was only in the late 1990s that the black-and-white spotted types showed up. The Vander Eyk Dairy was certified in 1999.
The strange thing about the black-and-white Holsteins was that they were only around on occasion. The grass is green and abundant here in the winter. Snow is fairly unusual in the lower mountain elevations. It is a good place to graze. The Holsteins lived in cattle paradise in those winter months. But come late spring when the grass dries, the local cattlemen move their cattle high into the forest. Each summer the Holsteins seemed to disappear.
“They are only around now and then,” one local commented.
When I realized that I lived near the infamous Vander Eyk cows, ojects of litigation by the organic milk watch-dog group, The Cornucopia Institute, and after I confirmed their ownership, I planned an excursion by air with a food reporter to conduct a Vander Eyk herd census.
About a week ago our plans took a turn when the last of the Holsteins left our neck of the woods and some locals reported that “the Holsteins went back to the dairy.” An official source told me they were not in the forest. No one has apparently seen Holsteins grazing in the forest before. It is difficult to do a census when you do not know where the animals are.
The story got more interesting as it appeared that not only were the cows on the dairy given no access to pasture, but no dairy heifers appeared to be on any of the local lands. I was in the process of ruling out some alternative locations when I heard the news that the Vander Eyk Organic Dairy was the first ever to lose its certification. As it turns out, the dairy was no longer organic when those heifers disappeared.
The story broke yesterday on the Chews Wise blog and made the San Francisco Chronicle this morning. The Cornucopia Institute issued a press release today.
Mark Kastel reports that the dairy lost certification

for serious questions surrounding the record-keeping such as assuring that cows are actually managed organically (without antibiotics and hormones), fed organically produced feed (without toxic pesticides and herbicides), and are allowed to graze rather than being confined in a feedlot.

Carol Bess in the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

A major issue has been when, if ever, the cows feed on pasture.

Samuel Fromartz in the Chews Wise blog follows up today with the question:

Why did QAI certify the confinement dairy in the first place? Did it ever meet the organic regulation?

So many questions about the Vander Eyk Dairy.

All Dressed Up
When I heard yesterday of the impending news in light of all of my photos and video, I had that feeling of “all dressed up and no place to go.”
What would I do with all of the footage I collected?
Journeys around a dusty dairy, drives through back roads in the foothills, and playing hooky with a preschooler would surely have a better ending than our personal computer archives.
So just like back in school, my husband and I burned the midnight oil and present to you a video. In this video you will see exclusive footage of the dairy and of the pastured portion of the herd.
To view the video, simple click on the triangle on the image that looks like a “play” button on your VCR or DVD. For optimal viewing on a slow connection, let the video play as you do something else. When it has played once, play it and watch it. It will not have the same impact if it is chopped up from a slow connection. (Then again, it might be more interesting.)

You can go to the YouTube link directly. That’s where you would rate the video. :)
The Importance of Pasture
There are many reasons we should value milk from cows who are actively feeding on growing grass. I expect the cows themselves prefer pasture to confinement. The ecological footprint of a smaller dairy with pastured cows is smaller than a large industrial dairy. But from the perspective of food nutrients, there are powerful reasons to value milk from cows on pasture.
When cows feed on pasture, their milk has higher levels of fat soluble vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
In this article you can see the dramatic difference in CLA content of milk across different feeding systems. Beef liver is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids if it comes from cattle grazing on grass. Beef tends to be leaner and higher in beneficial fats if the cattle is raised on grass.
Grass is good for the cows (and steers) and that’s good for us.
Visit The Cornucopia Institute website for information on how your dairy ranks, including the cows’ access to pasture.
Tell Some Friends, Get the Scoop
Before I became obsessed with the Vander Eyk cows, I began another Milk Shenanigans project that will hit the blog later this summer. This is a Milk Shenanigan never before seen on the world wide web or on any of the rest of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Well, it’s hard to speak for other planets, but it is my understanding that they have no milk there.
If you liked this video and would like to get the scoop on the next project coming down the pike and on other Milk Shenanigans, tell three friends about this video. Or visit later this summer. You will not miss it.
- – > > Tell some friends, get the scoop.

11 Responses to A Eulogy Written on a Country Pasture: Rest in Peace Vander Eyk Organic Dairy
  1. Cynthia

    Very intresting. Patrick learned some good info form your blog.

  2. Jennifer S.

    Oh my gosh! Ave Maria! I am cracking up! That’s too bad about their business practices…Great job!
    Jennifer S.

  3. Jennifer,
    The back story on the song is that my son wanted to listen to Christmas music on the way to the dairy. So I have some footage while driving with the Ave Maria playing. That drive was the inspiration.

  4. That’s a sad thing to see, tho I’m glad this dairy was exposed..I remember when we drove out to the SW a few years ago and passing thru TX, I hated to see all the cows herded in commercial stalls..I hated to think of their fate …:(

  5. Return of the Zombie Cows? Vander Eyks in the News

    Samuel Fromartz, author or Organic Inc., reports at the Chewswise Blog that our favorite former organic dairy is seeking recertification. This is really the problem with eulogies. You write a eulogy and it turns out the thing wasn’t dead after…

  6. I think if I had to be a cow, it would be a beef cow. There are some up here that summer in the Sequoia National Forest. :)

  7. Local Scuttlebutt on the Vander Eyk Dairy: Pasture Violation

    It is probably not a big surprise to people who have been following the Vander Eyk Dairy news that the local rumors are that the dairy lost its certification because its cows did not have access to pasture as required…

  8. Diane Coe

    Thanks Amanda for your great investigative work!!! Not bad for a mommy. As I sit here and suck on my CLA yellow butter it almost made me sick to my stomach to look at the conditions those cows were living in. Our amish farmer in PA has picnics for all of us to come and visit his farm. It’s a night & day comparison.

  9. Home on the Vander Eyk Range: A New Organic Herd?

    I love this time of year in cattle country. The pastures have been empty for months because cattle summer elsewhere, typically high up in the forest. In those months, moms have had babies and they all return to their lower…

  10. On the occasion of the inauguration, a cupcake

    Not a lot happens here on the the southern edge of the Sequoias National Monument. The local beef cattle population far exceeds the human and the local dairy heifer population is by far more notorious than any human inhabitant….

  11. Portrait with a Vander Eyk Dairy Heifer

    Alastair and I pose in front of the backside of one of the Vander Eyk pastures. This generation of heifers appears to get far more access to grass than their predecessors ever did. Hundreds of heifers are scattered between…

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