The American Dream Farm: Days 67-70
June 25-28 (Days 67-70)
Close your eyes and imagine the picture perfect organic dairy farm. If you drink milk or eat cheese imagine where you’d like it to be coming from. Go on, take a moment, and close your eyes.
Now open them. What did you see?
Did you imagine children running happy and free all over the farm?
Did you imagine chickens picking up the scraps and keeping the farm clean?
Did you imagine a cheerful family sitting around the dinner table together holding hands and giving thanks for the food on their table?
Did you imagine a dinner table that is full of food, grown right there on the farm?
Did you imagine a place where the farmers eat the very same food that is sent to your table?
Did you imagine vast fields of grains, wheat, barley, alfalfa, clover, where the cows are let out to graze each day?
Did you imagine playful dogs keeping all the creatures on the farm in their place and the creatures out that don’t belong?
Did you imagine trees full of cherries, pears, plums, and apples and bushes full of raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries?
Did you imagine a spring fed farm pond hidden in the woods with a home made wooden diving board sitting ten feet above and a boat made out of a 55 gallon grain barrel?
Did you imagine a hand pump well sitting in the yard where fresh clean water comes from thirty feet below?
Did you imagine a pleasant house full of love, education, laughter, and fun?
Did you imagine a lush green garden full of all sorts of vegetables form spinach and kale to corn and potatoes, to beats and Lima beans, all surrounded by vines full of concord grapes?
Did you imagine honeybees flying freely around the farm pollinating the flowers and creating honey to sweeten the farmer’s meal?
If you imagined all of that then you might be at The Stoller’s Organic Valley dairy farm where I just had the pleasure of spending the last four days. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Rob Greenfield, I am cycling off the grid across the United States from San Francisco to Vermont and eating only locally grown organic food along the whole journey. It hasn’t been easy to find this food over the last 3,400 miles of riding so my time at the Stoller’s farm, where 80% of the food on their table is grown right there on their farm and everything they eat is organic, has been pure bliss.
If I were asked to sum up to someone what this farm was I would call it the farm that every company tries to depict on the milk carton. The farm where every American imagines that their dairy comes from. The American dream farm in short. Sadly there is a lot of dairy in the supermarkets in the United States today that doesn’t come from family farms like this. Much of the cheap dairy on the shelves today comes from farms that don’t look like so much of a farm but more of a factory. The dairy at these farms is often of inferior quality and full of growth hormones. Profit is the main bottom line on these farms and nutrition, health, environment and the animal’s welfare often take a backseat to profitability. But here on the Stoller’s family farm they consider themselves stewards of the land and take great pride in caring for the land, the cows, the consumer, and themselves. They understand that we must coexist with our earth and when creating food we are at the mercy of the environment around us.
I came for one night with the intentions of leaving the next morning and I found myself there still four nights later. It wasn’t just one thing that kept me there but a combination of the food, the company, the nature, and the opportunity to learn where good food comes from. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better farm experience.
The kids were all super heroes. They amazed me with their physical strength and how each one was capable of any task they tried. They could climb anything, hang from the rafters in the barn, and swing higher than any city boy I knew. They all had a thirst for knowledge that at times could be quite exhausting for me. One kid with endless questions is enough to wipe me out but the six here kept me busy for nearly every waking minute. Each of the Stoller children are home schooled by their mom, Charlene, and each seemed to be very intelligent not only in the way of the books they read but also in understanding the earth around them. Each of them had their chores to do on the farm and they all had an invested interest in making sure that things ran smoothly. Doyle, now married and living off the farm, was there every day doing the hard work from fixing tractors to bringing in the cows for milking. Lynelle, also married and off the farm, had a garden of her own on her dairy farm down the road. Nelson, age 18, was in the barn milking the cows every day. Warren, age 14, seemed to do a little of everything such as bringing in round bails to feed to the cows during milking. Toby, age 12, was the question asker and I’m sure when I wasn’t there he had a lot of jobs to do but I think while I was his job was to ask questions and learn. Clark, age 9, was in charge of bringing in the chicken eggs every evening. Rosemary, age 7, set the table for supper. The youngest girl, Melody, was only about 4 and I guess I’m not sure what she did but she sure was good at jumping on the trampoline. The work of everyone made it possible for them to live a mostly self-dependent life at home. Together they made a family and a community.
Even with all the work these kids did they still got to be kids here on the farm. Even more then the children I know that live in the city these kids really got to have fun and enjoy life as it should be enjoyed while young. They had all sorts of time to play before, after, in between, and during chores. They had time to jump on the trampoline, to go swimming in the pond, to play board games, to compete at everything there was to compete at, and to play any game they could make up. These were certainly happy children, occasionally crying from rough play, but never complaining.
I learned a lot while I was on the farm and helped out with some of the daily chores. And Scott, the father, taught me all sorts of things. Most of the time when I was lending a hand I was actually slowing him down but he was happy to have me helping out. He had his system and could have done it faster without me but I think he was excited to teach me. He went about milking the cows with ease and everything was very smooth and convenient both for him and the cows. I pitch forked hay to each one of the cows that knew exactly where to go get their food and to get milked. They were in and out of the barn very quickly and it seemed minimal effort was needed by the farmers. The cows new the system as well as the farmers and didn’t cause a fuss or stir. I learned how to put the milkers on and for the first time in my life I got to milk a cow by hand. I even drank milk that came straight from the cow. Earlier in this trip when I was riding through the desert I had been dreaming of cold milk straight from the cow and someone pointed out to me that it comes out at body temperature. I found out first hand today that it is indeed 101 degrees when it comes out of the udder. What I like most about the cows at this place is that 100% of the food they eat is grown organically right here on the farm which means it doesn’t have to be trucked in and it’s not that GMO junk that a lot of farms are feeding the cows.
I spent time in the garden where delicious and nutritious food was growing. Carrots, beets, radishes, dill, peppers, tomatoes (yellow, green and red), watermelon, musk melon, kale, three types of lettuces, spinach, corn, potatoes, strawberries, pears, plums, pecans, apples, rhubarb, green onions, garlic, asparagus, zucchini, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash were a few of the things growing in the garden. Best of all, the garden was surrounded by two kinds of grapes and honeybees were flying all over pollinating the garden.
I spent time in the kitchen with Charlene helping to prepare some of the meals. Breakfast was at 9:30 each day and supper was at 3:30. They only eat two meals per day here on the farm but there was plenty of snacking on healthy homegrown and homemade foods in between and after meals. Some of my favorites were the granola bars, ice cream, popcorn, raspberry cobbler, and popsicles made of raspberries, strawberries, grape juice, and maple syrup. Imagine a popsicle that is delicious, super nutritious, and made completely from food from outside your door! There was no shortage of healthy food on this farm and I stuffed myself at every opportunity. Every meal we had was made from scratch, delicious as food can be, and even healthier. I would have imagined huge servings on the plates of each of the kids but that was not the case at all. I assume it is because the food is so nutrient dense that a little goes a long way unlike the fast food and processed food that most Americans are eating today that only leaves them craving for more of the chemically synthesized flavors. Also they had meat at most meals but it made up a small portion of the meal compared to the grains and vegetables.
My favorite dinner was venison tenderloin cuts marinated in basil and thyme with potatoes, salad, and beets for sides. The vegetables all came fresh from the garden that morning. For desert there was raspberry cobbler made with wheat from the fields and berries from the garden and topped with maple syrup ice cream made from milk from the barn and syrup from their trees.
My favorite breakfast was waffles made from their own wheat covered in fresh yogurt they produced and peaches and blueberries from the yard.
Of course there was fresh milk from the cows on the table for every meal as well and there was plenty of Organic Valley cheese to go around. Before most meals someone would walk out to the barn to fill up the metal milk container. Fresh berries were always on the table too.
80% of the food the Stoller’s eat comes straight from the farm and everything is organic. Scott and Charlene and all the kids are proud to eat the food they produce and proud to be drinking the same milk that Organic Valley picks up and puts on the consumers table. I’ve learned over the last few months that the farmers on some farms won’t even drink the milk they produce because “they know what’s in it” and they see what they are putting into the cows that unquestionably ends up in the milk.
The pantry had enough preserved food to last a few years. Hundreds of jars of applesauce, green beans, tomato sauce, plums, beets, maple syrup, chicken, and venison were in the cupboards. The freezers and refrigerators were stuffed full of organic cheese, eggs from the coop, meat grown and butchered right there on the farm, berries, cherries, and more. They had barrels full of all sorts of grains too. If they were unable to produce food for a season or two I think the Stoller’s would be just fine.
It felt amazing to be on this farm and know that I could eat anything here and feel good about it. Even the delicious cake, pie, and ice cream were full of health and nutrition. They don’t buy much in packages, which means they produce very little garbage and they don’t waste food here on the farm. Any waste goes to the chickens that turn the nutrients into eggs to eat or manure to spread on the crops that the cows eat and then turn into milk. It’s all a circle of life here and everything has its place and purpose. The farmers understand nature and let nature do its thing. They use their knowledge to help nature along in certain places. For example they favor the Purple Martin birds that eat up to 2,000 mosquitoes per day. They use hybrid crops, just as it occurs in nature, in order to produce higher yields. They provide water from the ground below for the plants and help to create healthy soil. Everything stays pretty natural around here and they depend on the earth to create the bountiful yields they receive.
In the kitchen there is a photo of Scott and Charlene from when they were 20 and 19 respectively. Now they are just a tad above 40 and look but a few years older than they do on the photo on the wall. In my mind this is proof that a life full of healthy food, pure water, fresh air, and physical activity will keep the body and the mind happy and healthy. They are certainly doing things right on the farm here and living a life that I admire and respect. Obviously not everyone can live a life like they do and not everyone should. Not everyone can grow their own food and we need people in the cities making things happen. What we can all do is pay attention to where our food is coming from and only support food that we can be confident and proud to eat. We can buy food that has ingredients that we can pronounce. We can buy foods that have only a handful of ingredients or less and not a list so long our attention span doesn’t allow us to make it to the bottom. We don’t need to all grow our own food but we should know our farmer and support local farms and companies that are transparent and sustainable. On some of the products such as the soy milk you can even follow the label to see exactly what farm the food came from. On Organic Valley’s website you can “Meet your Farmer” and simply by typing in your zip code you will see a profile on the OV farmers near your home. Organic Valley doesn’t have secrets and has a transparent business model. Their co-op of 1,800 farms across the country are all family farms like the Stoller’s and they all own a part of Organic Valley. Everything you want to know about your food is right on their website (www.OrganicValley.coop) and if it’s not I’m sure they’d be happy to answer any questions if you called in to their headquarters in La Farge, Wisconsin.
My experience on this farm was absolutely incredible and put a great taste in my mouth and mind for organic farming and the network of Organic Valley farms. With that being said I want to make clear that there are 1000’s of great farms out therw that are not in the Organic Valley co-op. There are also 1000’s of conventional farms in the USA that are farming responsibly and mostly sustainably. And for me personally I don’t care if my food is certified organic. I’d rather ask the farmer myself and if he says it’s organic that’s what matters to me.
When I get back home I doubt that I’ll have milk at every meal like the Stoller’s do but I can say for certain that if there is milk on my table it will be Organic Valley milk.
View the photo album: http://goo.gl/169OV