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.
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.
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.