As I began exploring this subject, I contacted organic milk producers around the country, trying to get a lead to a farm somewhere in Oregon, where I work and live, that I could investigate. The most promising response came from Organic Valley, a nationwide co-op consisting of 689 certified organic dairy farms located in each region of the country. As a chemically-volatile substance, milk does not travel well, so the people at Organic Valley make sure the milk they sell in your local store is coming from a farm as close to you as possible. Organic Valley put me in touch with one of their members, Jon Bansen of Double J-Jerseys Farm, in Monmouth, Oregon."It's my responsibility to take care of the cows, because they take care of me. I make a good living and get to do what I love, so it's only fair that I treat the animals and the land that gives it to me with respect."
My first contact with Bansen was via email. I sent him a questionnaire with a few broad questions and my phone number thinking that I would get a few simple answers in response and that would be that. But fewer than 2 hours after I sent the questions, my phone rang. It was Bansen telling me that I needed to come out to his farm if I really wanted to understand what he did. At first I was hesitant-the thought of taking an entire day to go hang out with cows did not exactly thrill me. But there was something about the emphatic manner with which Bansen made his case. I could hear the passion in his voice. So, along with one of my coffee industry pals, I soon found myself trekking through the Oregon countryside for a day of organic dairy farming.
After a long Interstate drive and several spurts of suburbia, we were out in farmland. Rolling hills, tractors and some not-so pleasant smells filled the air, but hey, that's what the countryside is all about, right? Curiously, however, the smells disappeared immediately upon reaching the edge of Bansen's property. We pulled up the driveway to a small yellow house,and from the minute I opened the car door I could tell this farm was different than ones I had visited before, in Iceland and in Montana. This farm was so alive, it practically hummed with activity. Bansen's pastures were lush and rich. Everything looked well kept and healthy, and most importantly, I could not smell the cows (which was something I'd really started dreading on the drive out). Bansen appeared at his front door, tall and thin and distinctly Scandinavian. He explained that his family, all dairy farmers, was from Denmark originally, as he ushered us out to start our tour.
"Basically, what my job is here is to convert sunlight to milk," Bansen explained as we headed from the house down to the milking barn. "We have to do that by taking care of the land, first and foremost."
In just the first 15 minutes I'd spent at Bansen's farm, my idea of this visit being solely for research purposes had shifted to an experience of pure wonder. Bansen pressed the point that the only way to maintain healthy and happy cows, which in turn produces a higher quality milk, is to keep the cows' diet in balance with the land. To do this, Bansen uses a method called rotational grazing where he moves his 200 dairy cows to a different part of his 500-acre property every 12 hours. Rotational grazing ensures the cows fresh pasturage and allows the land to rejuvenate itself for the next feeding. The diet of the cows is absolutely critical to developing a rich flavor profile for the milk, and it can be broken down to each blade of grass.
It's my responsibility to take care of the cows, because they take care of me. I make a good living and get to do what I love, so it's only fair that I treat the animals and the land that gives it to me with respect."
organic dairy farmer
32 pounds of grass
+ 8 pounds of grain
1 well-fed and happy cow
x 200 cows
4 tons of food