The New Home Economics


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Milkapalooza!

Yes, there is an event called Milkapalooza, and yes of course we went to it this weekend. It was a blast. Anneke, it turns out, is a natural at milking cows:

The event featured tours of the Minars’ farm, and I eagerly soaked up every minute. This was our opportunity to see where our milk comes from! And considering how much yogurt, butter, and ice cream we make with their milk/cream, a fair amount of our family’s daily calories come from this patch of grass and cows near New Prague, Minnesota. Here are some of the highlights from the tour:

Here’s the winter hoop house (not sure if that’s the right term) — it’s a simple structure where the cows go in cold weather. There is no barn for them to sleep in — this is it.  The bedding at the bottom is turned frequently, and as it decomposes, it heats up (this is all part of the process, as those of you who compost know). The heat is plenty for the cows, even in Minnesota winters.

The milk parlor was a little dark, so sorry for the low quality.  I’ve only seen a handful of milk parlors, including my Grandpa Rensenbrink’s very low-tech one, so this was very impressive. They can milk 32 cows at once!  Looking at the picture, basically cows would be facing you. The person goes down a set of stairs into a galley where they have easy access to all the udders to hook up the machines. It was pretty neat and efficient, and very clean.

The family raises pigs and chickens too, but not for commerce necessarily (that I know of anyway). Those were some darn happy pigs. Anneke naturally thought they were completely adorable and said that one in particular looked exactly like Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web.

Finally, the cows themselves. My, what beautiful girls. The milking herd is about 150 cows, which seemed like a small number to me (not really sure on that though). They have several different breeds including brown jerseys like this one. So, Cedar Summit Farms is different from conventional and even some organic dairies in several key ways:

1. The cows eat grass, and stored hay in winter. Quite a bit of acreage is required to grow that much “pasture salad,” as the tour guide called it.  Apparently when they switched from grains to grass, milk production went down.  But so did costs, so things balanced out in the long term.

2. Calves get to stay with their mother for 4-6 weeks after birth. Apparently you get much healthier calves this way.

3. The cows live a bit longer than they would if they lived on concrete, inside, their whole lives.

4. The cows still become hamburger, after 5-6 pregnancy and lactation cycles.  Sorry, but it’s true.

I know very little about dairy farming. But I liked everything I saw and heard at the farm this weekend. There were so many things to think about — and I’ve already gone on and on about how much healthier grass-based dairy products are.

This is going to sound a bit melodramatic, but I looked at this farm and saw a way to save the rural America I grew up in and love.  By making farming a bit less efficient, you instantly need many, many more farmers than we currently have.  Farms get smaller again.  Families can be supported by a smallish farm.  Rural communities have an economy again.  Everyone wins.  You can set aside the health, environmental, and animal welfare implications of “agribusiness” as we know it, and the bare economic facts point to smaller, greener farms being much better for people and communities.

Now the challenge: how to talk people into making the switch to milk that costs twice as much. And, how to get the government to subsidize farm programs that actually benefit real farmers instead of corporations — because conventional dairy farming, like so much else in our society is partially a product of subsidies both to corn and oil. It’s not sustainable. Things have got to change.

[ Blushes, thanks you very kindly for reading this far, and steps off soap box ]


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A complete takedown of the USDA guidelines

Interested in nutrition, and the new USDA dietary guidelines?  This is a must-read, study-by-study breakdown of the new eating rules the USDA has decided are good for us.  Here’s a quote that spoke to me:

A recent Dutch study showed that full-fat fermented dairy was inversely associated with death from all causes and death from stroke. A large study of Australians, published in 2010, showed that full-fat dairy appears protective against cardiovascular death. Yet another study, this one from 2005, showed a significant inverse association between full-fat dairy consumption and colorectal cancer. Another study still linked vitamin K2 from full-fat cheeses to reduced risk of death from all causes, as well as a reduction in aortic calcification. And a review from 2009, examining 10 different dairy studies, noted that some types of saturated dairy fat have a neutral effect on LDL, and full-fat cheese—compared to other dairy products—seems to have the strongest inverse relationship with heart disease.

And that’s just the section on whether fat-free/lowfat dairy products are your best choice.  Read the whole thing; it’s spectacular. (via Michael Pollan)


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Updates

As it turns out, starting a new job takes a lot of energy out of a person.  I have so much I want to share with you but I need to condense it all into one marathon post here tonight.  So without further ado, I think I’ll start with two books I’ve just [sorta] finished:

Food Politics
How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health
by Marion Nestle

I started this book, but just didn’t finish it.  It was interesting, but much of the information is similar to information on the author’s blog.  In many ways, this information is well-suited to a blog because she can point to what the government, the USDA, and food corporations are doing RIGHT NOW to influence nutrition and health.  I highly recommend the blog, and I recommend the book if you’re really interested in policy, politics, and getting really depressed about the effects of lobbying on America’s government.

Bones
Recipes, history and lore
by Jennifer McLagan

The pictures in this book would have completely done in the vegetarian Jennifer of yesteryear.  I found them highly entertaining, now.  Most of these recipes look really amazing.  But the amount of effort involved for many of them is a little more than I or even SuperDad Adam can really handle.  First of all, they involve going to a butcher and ordering special cuts of meat that have — guess what? — bones in them.  Big bones.  Little bones.  BONES BONES BONES.  As it turns out, cooking meat on the bone imparts extra flavor and nutrition into the meat.  Good stuff all around.  I copied down a couple of the recipes in here that I hope to get around to trying:  Millennium Rib Roast (if I can find a 4-rib standing rib roast), Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic (really!), and Grilled Quail with Sage Butter (this one makes me feel a bit squeamish because it calls for breaking each bird’s breastbone, yet it looks really delicious).  I think I’ll leave the pigs’ feet recipe alone for now, thanks.

Moving on, I have been linking to the Cornucopia Institute just about every week, haven’t I?  I am so glad that I added them to my RSS reader.  Today they released a report about manure digesters on factory dairy farms, written by a Wisconsin dairy farmer, that includes this gem:

Numerous studies by Tom Kriegl of the UW Center for Dairy Profitability have shown that the most efficient dairy operations have less than 100 cows, mostly outside and eating grass — yet, such a family farm is not large enough to qualify for taxpayer support and does not create enough manure to require a methane digester.

As long as my tax dollars and those of other organic sustainable farmers are being used to bankroll schemes that just increase pollution for more corporate profit, there will be no economic recovery. Indigenous communities developed “earth-friendly” farming methods that kept our planet healthy for thousands of years. Many of these practices are being incorporated into family farming today. In fact, a recent 2008 study by 400 scientists for the United Nations International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development concluded that small-scale organic agriculture is not only the best means to feed the world, but also the best response to climate change.

(Emphasis mine.)

On the homefront, I am closing in on a 100% whole wheat, Nourishing Traditions-friendly version of my easy, no-knead bread recipe.  Should be able to post it this weekend or early next week.

Finally, I am also picking up two new books at the library tomorrow and will attempt to actually read both of them in their entirety!  They are:

Deeply rooted: unconventional farmers in the age of agribusiness by Lisa M. Hamilton and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, the latest by local foods movement hero Michael Pollan.  His Omnivore’s Dilemma, and especially, In Defense of Food, really impacted my life and so I am looking forward to this one especially.

OK that’s all I’ve got for tonight.  Sorry for the randomness…


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Buyer-beware: ultra-pasteurized milk

I stopped by Kowalski’s the other night; usually I get groceries at the co-op but the only thing we were out of was milk so I just picked some up there.  Wish I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry: I accidentally brought home ultra-pasteurized milk.

This stuff is useless.  You can’t make cheese or yogurt with it because the proteins have been discombobulated (my technical term) so much that they are unable to act normally.

Why do milk producers, even from Organic Valley, ultra-pasteurize?  Simple!  Longer shelf-life.  The milk I bought earlier this week won’t expire until the middle of April.  In fact, I noticed the expiration date before I noticed the “Ultra Pasteurized” part of the label.

Yesterday I went to Target and took a look at their organic milk, and I couldn’t even find organic milk that was NOT ultra-pasteurized.  Those two for some reason seem to go hand in hand at Target.  I’m guessing this is the reason: people who are paying a premium price for organic milk don’t want to have to throw it out if it goes bad.  So they like the longer shelf-life.  Could that be it?

I don’t know, but I wouldn’t make a habit of drinking this stuff.  Worst case scenario: it’s potentially-toxic junk.  Best case scenario: it could be a greener alternative to milk because it doesn’t require refrigeration.  I lean more towards the former: milk was meant to be drunk with its live enzymes — they are part of what make milk healthy.  Standard pasteurization destroys some of these enzymes, but not enough to completely change the protein structure of the milk.  Destroying them completely — sterilizing the milk — is a waste of a good live food.

Update, 1/24/2011: This continues to be a very popular post, and I know the whole raw milk vs. pasteurized milk issue is very contentious right now.  Let me be absolutely clear: I would not drink raw milk unless I or a close friend owned and hand-milked the cow.  However, I do think there is a qualitative difference between standard pasteurization and ultra-pasteurization, and I much prefer standard.  If you live in or near Minneapolis, MN, you have access to what I consider to be the gold standard for pasteurized, non-homogenized milk: Cedar Summit Farms.  One taste of their milk brings me right back to the milking parlor on Grandpa Rensenbrink’s farm.

Update, 2/27/2013: FINALLY! A study proves that milk from grass-fed cows is better for you.


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New rules for organic dairy farmers

Hopefully this move will help smaller organic dairy farmers compete with the big guys (Dean Foods – Horizon Organic Milk and Aurora — private label organic milk for Target, WalMart, etc.).  Those two producers, who sell 70% of organic milk in our country, were following the letter of the law to be labeled organic, but were pretty far from the spirit of the law.  Now cows will be required to be pastured for at least 120 days of the year, with 30% of their feed coming from grass.

This is great for a number of reasons, one of them being that cows who eat primarily grass produce milk that has a much better ratio of essential fatty acids — more 3’s, fewer 6’s.  Not to mention that an animal who is allowed to act the way it evolved to act will likely be less stressed and [theoretically] get ill less often.  Any dairy farmers out there that want to weigh in on that?

Here’s the whole article in today’s TC Mix.  I buy milk from 100% grass-fed cows, it comes from a farm in New Prague called Cedar Summit Farm.  It’s also non-homogenized so you have to give it a good shake to incorporate the cream.  It reminds me of drinking milk right from the milk parlor on my grandpa’s farm as a kid.  After years of drinking pasteurized homogenized skim milk, it was a little challenging for me at first.  But I’ve gotten used to it pretty quickly and our kids don’t know the difference.

I’m starting to realize that skim milk isn’t all it’s cracked up to beA little fat can be a good thing.  Moderation is the key, as in everything.


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Whole milk, the whole foods milk

Cynthia Lair’s got another great post over at Cookus Interruptus, this time about the sacred cow of American so-called health food:

“…when you eat a food that is not whole, you will crave the missing parts.  In my 25 years of working with food, nutrition and people, I continually find this to be accurate.  When you drink skim milk, your body will likely go looking for the missing nutrients.  And that doesn’t just mean the fat.  Fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K have no way to shimmy into the system without the fat buddies.  But there’s more.”

Read the whole thing here.