In my first contact with Bansen, I'd posed the clichéd organic question: What makes organic better? Seeing his farm was all the answer I needed, however. But Bansen, being the enthusiastic and well-studied dairy farmer that he is, went into discussion of his preference for organic farming anyway.
"To me, it's just common sense," he said. "When you feed your cows nutrientrich foods without chemicals, your cows are nutrient-rich, and so is your milk. You could cite this piece of research or that piece of research, but I really do believe it comes down to common sense." He explained how he made the decision to convert his farm to certified organic--which was in practice almost entirely organically anyway, but without certification--seven years earlier. "Switching to organic farming has actually made it easier for me to take care of my cows," he explained. "I don't have to worry about spending all of this extra money on feeds or medication, and I don't have to worry about side effects or bad batches of meds."
We moved on to a different part of the farm: the vacation spot. The cows at Double J-Jerseys are given two months off a year in what Bansen calls a dry period where they spend their days simply grazing and wandering the property before bearing calves again. It gives them time to recover and refresh. I notice all the birdhouses hanging around and ask Bansen if he is raising birds as well. Sort of, he says with a chuckle. Bansen explains how, as an organic farmer, he has to come up with alternatives to pesticides. Those birdhouses are for swallows becuase the swallows eat the flies that bother his cows. This man is all about taking care of his cows, and it shows.
These cows are, and I know it is a strange thing to say when describing a heifer, beautiful. They look healthy and aware, not drugged up and overweight, and they walk with a certain pride I have never seen in a cow before. "Cows were meant to eat fresh grass. An animal is always going to remain healthy and happy when it does what it was meant to do," Bansen says as he watches his cows graze. We pass by them once again, noticing that instead of numbers tagged to their ears, Bansen has given them all names such as "Alixer" and "Dixie." He says when he runs low on names, he reverts to a name-your-baby book kept in his office. I ask him if he ever plans on getting more cattle. "This is as big as I ever want to be. Working with a co-op has allowed me to produce good milk that receives a premium price, giving me a great livelihood, so I don't have any reason to want more."