I visited some organic dairy farms last month. I came back 99.9% an organic evangelist haha and I want to share with you what I learned from this experience. Every year Stonyfield hosts a few trips to organic dairy farms with a handful of selected food bloggers to teach them more about where their dairy used for Stonyfield product comes from and share behind the scenes of the production process.
Three main things I learned from the tour
- Organic cows are happier and healthier
- Organic farming is more sustainable for the environment and more profitable for the farmer
- Organic food is not just a label. It’s preventive healthcare
What I learned from the dairy farmers
This trip wasn’t just farm tours on a tractor. We visited with these family farms in person and had meaningful long conversations with them. These farmers educated us about what it means to be organic and why they made the switch when they did.
Unfortunately, the number of farms are decreasing in the U.S. But the percentage of those farms that are organic is growing. The number one reason these farmers switch from conventional to organic? Profits. And these organic farms can make more profits with as little as 25 organic cows, as compared to more than 100 cows in the far less profitable conventional farms!
Why don’t more farms become organic?
It has to do with commitment, resources and doubt.
- Many of the conventional farmers don’t want to let go of antibiotics they depend on for their cows’ health.
- Some just don’t have the pasture and fields configuration.
- Others don’t have the time or patience to switch their mindset and learn about grazing, proper pasture and breeding for organic farming.
- And a lot of others unfortunately don’t believe in the organic philosophy or benefits.
There’s so much resistance to change, especially given that it takes 1 year to convert a cow to an organic one and 3 years to convert a farm to an organic one.
Benefits of switching to organic
- Profits are higher.
- Lower healthcare costs for taking care of the animals: one farmer told us that their vet bills for their family dog and cat outweighs that of their 20 cows. These organic cows rarely get sick!
- No pesticide concerns: one farmer mentioned that the fact that he can go into his home during his breaks and after a long day of farming and hug his children without worrying about pesticide residue on his clothes was such a small, but fulfilling reward of switching over.
- Less contaminated water system. That is due to the lack of nitrogen fertilizer.
- Healthy soil maintenance: some mentioned cost savings from the cows helping to mow and manure, and build better soil through rotational grazing.
What I learned from the cows
- The cows were so happy! Some parts of the farm tours were just for bonding with the cows. I mean we literally just hung out in a field with cows, petted them and watched them graze on pasture. I saw so much love from the farmers for their cows; and these cows seemed to really love all the attention we gave them.
- Lack of antibiotics doesn’t affect their health. When the cows are allowed to roam on the pasture, it’s like a salad bar for them with tons of nutrients! They have a wide variety of grass with essential fatty acids, a mixture of clover legumes that provide lots of protein, plants with medicinal properties and even flowers, like dandelions which have diuretic attributes.
- The dairy they product is higher quality. The cows roam the pasture, pick and choose what they want to eat. All that fresh air, all that quality natural nutrition and being part of a healthy ecosystem gets transferred to the dairy they produce. And that all becomes a part of our own nutrition and that of our families.
So Why is Organic Better?
I know there is a lot of confusion with consumers about what organic really means and is Non-GMO label the same thing? Is it good enough? Can we even trust these large companies that say they’re serving us organic product? And we don’t have all the answers yet. But I believe that organic shouldn’t be food for the elite. And I know that the answer to lower cost is to scale. It’s already scaled up so much, and it will continue to scale up as more customers buy organic and basically place a vote for it at grocery stories.
Organic food is nutrition that is free of toxic and synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, and other harmful chemicals. I never realized how important it was to truly understand where our food comes from. But just the simplicity of a cow feeding on pasture has a long chain of effect from impacting the type of milk it produces to impacting biodiversity.
I’ve always believed that we get what we pay for. And with organic food, I know more than ever now that I’m getting my money’s worth. Just the peace of mind that I’m eating food without toxic chemicals helps alleviate the burden of the higher price tag. So I recommend, start small. Start with organic produce. Work up to organic dairy. And slowly switch out the conventional products you eat most often with organic ones. It’s little changes that impact our bodies and our ecosystem big time!
Bottom line is, cheap food isn’t cheap.