“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” We’ve all heard that expression before, but, I’m not sure that’s even true. I don’t know why I started with that.
Let’s start again…
Dairy farming. Oh yeah, that’s why we’re here. Most folks know the conventional dairy-farming industry to be highly controversial. As an organic family and conscious buyer, I have made it my quest in life to make better choices for my family (it all comes back to family at the end of the day, but I’m getting ahead of myself here). When you know better, you do better, right? Well, unfortunately, it isn’t always the case. While there are different ways to run a dairy farm, they aren’t all created equal, and they all certainly won’t be able to survive…
I was recently invited to tour the Stonyfield Farms and learn about their organic dairy practices. Well, I got a whole lot more than I bargained for. I signed up for the New England fall foliage and walked away with a wealth of knowledge, a ton of inspiration, and a hankering for some yogurt. We spent three days immersing ourselves in the Vermont culture and even walked in the rain, up a steep hill, (get where I’m going with this?), and met with the families that live and work alongside Stonyfield to provide organic dairy to organic families just like mine.
Organic farmers in general, focus on natural pest control, open grazing, and planting certain breeds to discourage pests from eating their crops. Their responsibility is first and foremost to the animals and helping to create a happy, healthy, and stress-free environment for them. Organic soil has 26% more CO2 storage and improves soil health and mitigating climate change. Enter carbon sequestration! The more CO2 that stays in the soil and out of the environment, the better off our planet is. The NRCS has reported that planting cover crops improve soil structure, and provides greater moisture retention. Cover crops also reduce soil erosion and runoff. You can see more on cover crops here.
Have you ever met a person so very present and connected that they immediately raise your own vibration? Yea, that’s Julie Wolcott. We started our farm tour at Green Wind Farms. Julie is one of Stonyfield’s conventional recruits. Stonyfield has created a program to work alongside and help “groom” young and experienced farmers alike to become a successful organic dairy farm. Providing resources, information, and on-site assistance in some cases to ensure each farm gets the best product possible. Stonyfield Farms currently gets 80% of their dairy from Organic Valley. Direct supply from local Vermont farms now provides 20% of their total supply.
Again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to Julie, and her faithful sidekick, Coltrane.
Julie currently owns 25 cows and lives in a charming cottage on her dairy farm. While she also has a sugar house and sells homemade Vermont maple syrup, dairy-farming is her bread and butter (pun intended). She names all of her cows and knows each family and their specific traits. She has quite possibly the best naming technique I’ve come across, naming each family according to famous musicians, poets, writers,etc.. Julie is a warm spirit with two lifetimes of experience to share, and she opened up her heart and her home to us.
Since converting to an organic farm, (a process that takes up to three years) Julie has greatly reduced her veterinarian bill (down to almost nothing) and increased her profits to the point where she is ready and able to retire. We later learned that conventional dairy-farming is rather erratic and wouldn’t otherwise afford Julie this opportunity. You can read more on that here. Her cows graze on a rotating system on land she has sectioned off into ‘paddocks.’ This allows maximum grazing time for her cows (even some in winter months), and include naturally grazing the locally grown plants to aid in digestion and even cure common illnesses. There is a science to this sort of grazing and it works to not only provide optimal nutrition for each nursing cow, but also the proper types of nutrition. Cows need to graze at a certain height, so grass needs to be maintained at a regulated height, all made possible by the natural process of open grazing, and manure pads left by her cows. This cycle of life, once harnessed for the power of good, can only mean success for everyone; including the cows. We watched as these beloved Jersey cows grazed at their leisure, and chewed on some cud. Cud, we learned is partly digested food returned from the first stomach of ruminants to the mouth for further chewing. A process that brings these cows joy and comfort. They are at peace and enjoying their chew time. Which made me wonder if this is a right denied to cows on a conventional dairy farm.
The key to this natural rotational pattern is the fact that the cows are able to provide the best fertilizer to help this lush grass grow back so quickly and so hearty. I mean, look at this lush landscape! I’m obsessed with Vermont in the fall.
After walking these lush paddocks, getting to know these “bossy cows” and learning the benefits of natural grazing techniques, we were invited to break bread with Julie and her lovely family. That bread came with a whole lot of dairy. We sipped on hot coffee (a nice respite from the cool rain we endured on our walk. Uphill. Did I mention it was raining?), with delicious fresh cream and enjoyed fresh homemade bread with delicious butter. The spread was phenomenal and fed our bellies after feeding our hearts and minds all morning. It was charm overload in this cozy cottage, only matched by the amount of love that is weaved into the fabric of this farm, and it’s family.
When I asked Julie, what her “why” was. “Why move your family in the middle of nowhere and start a farm without any experience?” She responded warmly with, “for my family.” She went on to explain that she wanted to live a simple life and pass on these profound experiences to her children. Live off the land and find a way to make a home here with her livestock. Julie is deeply connected to this farm and every animal who graces her presence. Family is at the heart of every ask connected to Stonyfield Farms, you’ll see why later.
The partnership between Stonyfield and farmers like Julie is possible through their program, and with help from folks like Kyle, who grew up on a farm, eventually purchased his own, and learned firsthand what it takes to run a successful dairy farm.
We heard from Sarah Flack, an expert in grazing and author of “The Art & Science of Grazing: How Grass Farmers Can Create Sustainable Systems for Healthy Animals & Farm Ecosystems. Sarah has lived on a Vermont farm her entire life, and works with Julie and countless others to spread knowledge not just about the benefits of this type of farming, but the NECESSITY for it. In sitting down with Gary Hirshberg, owner and CE-Yo of Stonyfield Organics, and author of “Stirring It Up,” over dinner at Philo Farms (more on that later), we learned that by honoring the organic farming process and working with our own eco-system (in its current state), we can overcome soil degradation and re-build literally from the ground up. By the way, if you ever want to be inspired I recommend having a sit-down conversation with Gary Hirshberg. Few CEO’s harbor as much passion and dedication to their craft as he does in such a humble manner. He commands the room in a way that isn’t overbearing and steers the conversation toward common-sense practices that almost have you feeling as though you invented them yourself. It’s an admirable trait and the reason Stonyfield is so successful today.
Yes, while it’s true we may have hit the point of no return and too much damage has been done, it isn’t feasible to turn back the hands of time and erase the damage that factory farming has done to our planet. But we can work with what we’ve got and make that profitable AND inhabitable for all living creatures to co-exist. THIS is the future ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to our next farm, Windy Hill Farm.
Meet Brenden Schreindorfer, owner of Windy Hill Farm. Married (sorry ladies) to his lovely wife Marcy Schreindorfer, and father to two adorable kids. They took us for a walk on their farm, a bit larger scale than the previous farm, driven by the same “why.” Brenden houses about 100 Holstein cows, slightly different demeanor as the Jersey cow, same great dairy. Brenden was raised on dairy farms all his life and got into the business pretty organically (ha, ha, get it?).
Windy Hill Farm is one of the latest farms to go from conventional to organic with the help of Stonyfield, and they are hoping to grow in terms of production. Brenden is looking into robotics as an option to help increase milking time for his cows. He can spend up to 5-6 hours a day milking all of these hot Holsteins. Did I mention they need to be milked twice a day? That’s an average of 10-12 hours a day just milking, not including any of the other farm chores that demand his attention. Robotics is the future in dairy-farming, allowing cows to walk up to be milked as many as four to five times a day. That nursing letdown is real, am I right ladies?
The Schreindorfer family lives in an adorable house on the farm and hopes that with the investment of robotic engineering they will be able to spend more time as a family. There goes that “F” word again. They adhere to the same organic grazing rotation, allowing their Holstein cows to live 80% grass-fed and 20% on grains (typically during cold winter months).
Walking along these paddocks (again, in the rain) and watching as these cows were naturally just grazing together and chewing the cud, I’m not sure if anyone else noticed but it didn’t feel like we were walking amongst manure. It didn’t reek the way I’d remembered other farms smelling. I can only imagine this natural and organic lifestyle lends to the health both inside and outside of these cows.
After leaving Windy Hill Farm, we retreated back to our hotel room to prepare for dinner at Philo Ridge. A quaint farmhouse built in the 1840’s, and completely restored by Diana McCargo and Peter Swift. Diana, friend and former student of Gary Hirshberg, hosted us for dinner that evening. We dined on an incredible feast, all completely organic, and completely grass-fed beef. We sat and talked about the state of our food sources today, and learned all about how Philo Ridge is looking to help change the game.
It’s true that many people still do not understand the need for organic farming or production. This is true partly because of society’s disconnect from our food and its source. When is the last time you had to look your dinner in the eye? The running joke is that if you’d ever seen your food before being packaged, you’d never eat it. Our planet is not set to sustain the current conditions of factory farming, and it’s no longer the profitable business people are banking on it to be. With the market as unstable as it is it seems we can’t possibly survive living and eating this way much longer. The difference in organic farming is clear, the science is there, and yet; it’s still a mystery to some folks.
With companies like Stonyfield paving the way and working with the small farm families to bring quality organic dairy to your table, there is hope for a future free from disease and financial destruction. Inspiring large and small companies alike to adopt the same practices and develop new innovative practices all with the same goal in mind; sustainability.
Philo Ridge Farm has opened a fully organic farmstand and looks forward to creating a community center and even tours on this lovely farm. Braving the wilderness and willing to be a beacon of light for this community in hopes of inspiring others to think about our future as well. It seems it’s contagious folks…We sat for hours gaining insight into conventional farming methods, their rise, and their inevitable fall. Learning what we can do to change the tide and help create conscious consumers.
Family is the word that seems to tie it all together. What I’ve learned from our time on these farms is that we’re all looking to create the best life possible for our families. When we can all work together towards that common goal while respecting our planet and all living animals, incredible things can happen. The foresight and innovation born from necessity and the will to live freely can fuel our ability to overcome factors such as greed, political agendas and such… it can save our planet.
My time on the farms in Vermont with Stonyfield was profound and something I will treasure for years to come. I look forward to the future with forward-thinking companies willing to break through conventional barriers and share the secret to success. Not only is organic dairy-farming better for people, and our planet, but it’s better for business. If there is one thing that will convince the world that it needs to get on board the organic train, its good business. The answer can’t be found in looking back and wishing we had made different decisions or knocking each other down for the decisions that have long been made, but on looking forward and learning to work with what we’ve got.
I was very fortunate to spend time with these inspiring women: Bev of Bev Cooks, Claire of The Kitchy Kitchen, Emily of Small Fry Blog, Gabby of Design Mom, Julie of Peanut Butter Fingers, and Sonja Overhiser of A Couple Cooks. Of course, we didn’t go away without some pretty inspiring swag as well! You should definitely check out the newest work to come from the Hirshberg family, Ethan’s flavored Apple Cider Vinegar Shots & Peak Organic Beer.
Enter below to win a one month supply of Stonyfield yogurt!
One of the largest misconceptions about natural laundry detergent is that it doesn’t work. I’ve tried many different laundry solutions over the years (including my own homemade soap), and have experienced just about every fail you could imagine. There are so many factors when deciding on which non-toxic laundry detergent is best for your family.
One of my most recent struggles has been to find a company that isn’t taking part in “green-washing.” That’s when a company says they are an all-natural detergent, but still using toxic chemicals that would rival that claim.
A laundry detergent that uses only the purest of ingredients without carcinogens or known human toxins. On this quest, I’ve discovered Molly’s Suds, who as a company strive to be good stewards of the Earth and give back to our community and those in need. Win / win, huh?
Molly’s Suds has a “no compromise” attitude towards its ingredients. Their products and suppliers meet stringent guidelines which allows them to be Certified Cruelty Free by Leaping Bunny and their ingredients are Certified Vegan. I’ve used their Wool Dryer Balls in the past and fell in love, but recently had the chance to try out a few of their most popular products.
May I say… I am thoroughly impressed.
These products not only stood up to the stinkiest of odors but passed every test with flying colors. Our clothes looked and smelled clean, and the impressive Oxygen Whitener brought my towels back to life. The laundry detergent comes in both powder and liquid form (equally as effective), and even a concentrated option for the minimalists. The liquid form comes with an easy-to-pour spout and is packed in recycled material.
There are many benefits to using all-natural laundry detergent. Molly’s Suds is safe to use on cloth diapers and any clothing imaginable. I happen to know this rock-star company is developing a bunch of new products to be rolled out next year to the tune of dish detergent, linen / room spray, etc…
If you haven’t used wool dryer balls in place of dryer sheets yet, you are missing out. No, really. You are probably paying way too much for your dryer to work overtime on your laundry. Replacing those chemical-ridden dryer sheets with authentic wool dryer balls (Molly’s Suds has the best I’ve seen, they are wound so tight all the way down to the center and never break apart), knocks your drying time in half.
Here’s the way it works, you can get a 3-pack of wool dryer balls from Molly’s (I use six for added drying effect), they bounce in between your laundry whilst drying – creating more pockets of hot, drying air between items. This dries the clothes faster and tends to make them nice and soft for your pleasure. I usually sprinkle a few drops of my favorite essential oil on the wool ball before starting the dryer and our clothes come out smelling fantastic.
I loved these products so much I’ve teamed up with Molly’s Suds for a special giveaway for one lucky reader! Enter below for your chance to win:
If you don’t win, don’t sweat it! You can still use coupon code ERIKA for 25% off your purchase of Molly’s Suds.
Thanks to prAna for sponsoring this post. As always, all opinions and obsessions with sustainable living are 100% my own.
In hopes that the weather in Florida will cool down pretty soon (a girl can dream can’t she), I’m prepping my favorite Fall pieces that are feasible for the warmer fall climate we’ve become accustomed to. Luckily, these timeless pieces can also take me into a typical Florida winter. So although I’m pulling double-duty with my limited fall wardrobe, I’m a happy camper by practicing sustainable and fair trade clothing from prAna.
prAna has quickly become one of my favorite brands. Conscious buying is important to me, and so is my own personal style. prAna’s wide range of style, hemp fabrics, and sustainable textures are enough to keep me completely satisfied. Their quality fabrics stand the test of time, making this my go-to brand for slowly replacing my previous wardrobe.
Sweater dresses are a wonderful fall staple. Keeping you cozy and warm while allowing you to still show a little leg (one of the perks of living in a warm-climate). This particular dress snaps all the way from a turtleneck to a cowl neck. The openings on the shoulder provide a warmer version of the popular cold-shoulder.
Step by step I have eliminated clothing that I don’t wear often enough to keep around, and now I’m working my way through my closet to replace irresponsibly sourced material lending to the negative impacts on the environment. Climate change is evident now more than ever, so it’s imperative that we start paying attention to where we shop and spend our energy and/or money.
These are my first pair of prAna jeans and I absolutely fell in love! The Kara Jean is lightweight and very comfortable with an almost stretch-like quality. The cuffs can be undone or worn with your perfect shoe boot. The relaxed fit making it a perfect pair for taking a long walk on a crisp fall day.
I love mixing new and old pieces together. I had fun wearing this sweater dress with this vintage leather purse that was a gift from a friend. The pattern brought some of the fabric alive it seemed.
prAna is offering 15% off to my readers when you use coupon code MSF17DH on your purchase.
Happy Fall Ya’ll!