Organic Valley Field Trip: The Other White Milk
Posted by by Bea James, senior manager of organic, natural and sustainable programs
Thursday, June 30, 2011
In June Organic Valley loaded up our dairy managers on a tour bus and took us to the Grimm family organic dairy farm in River Falls, WI. The day was perfect; sunny, breezy and slightly overcast. Everyone was ready to get out of the stores and be outside in nature.
On the bus ride out to the farm we were entertained and educated by Dr. Paul Dettloff, a doctor of veterinary medicine. Paul has worked with Organic Valley for over ten years to ensure the health of their livestock. His secret: healthy soil makes for healthy cows.
Happy Cows grazing in pasture.
Dr. Dettloff tells us “Good soil is like chocolate cake: rich, dark, crumbly and aromatic.” Apparently the better the soil the more it invites a diverse assortment of grasses and plants. “Pasture should be like a salad bar for cows with 60-100 varieties of plants to graze.” insists Paul. The cows need to get a full spectrum of nutrients that only come through a variety of plants. Each plant offers its own unique nutritional boost, since each plant varies in its nutritional compounds. Having the diversity of grasses and plants for the cows to graze is kind-of like offering a multi-vitamin in their diet.
When we arrived at the Grimm farm, the pastures looked vibrant green, luscious and peppered with colorful clover and wild flowers for a well developed, biodiverse meal for grazing cows. It all seemed so romantic and wonderful, as it is. “The cows do all the work for us, all we have to do is make sure the soil stays healthy so it will grow the diverse plant life the cows need.” Says Matt Grimm, CEO of the Grimm Organic Dairy Farm.
Meeting a couple hard working organic dairy farm sisters
Matt explained how the cows rotate through the pastures with a simple roping off system that he does weekly so the fields can regrow and stay healthy. “It’s a natural cycle, the cows eat all this good stuff then put some of it back, so to speak, in the form of fertilizer, which in turn has such a healthy bacteria count that it helps keep the ph of the soil healthy.” The circle of life, literally, in action.
Organic dairy farms have to have organic pasture for the cows to graze. “Many of the surrounding non-organic farms spray pesticides so we have to make sure we have a buffer zone to keep our pastures clean.” Matt tells us. We enjoyed the clean air during our breezy tour since no pesticides are every applied to the Grimm pastures, plus the soil is so healthy pesticides are not needed. “Pesticides are generally used on soil when the soil has an unhealthy ph so it grows too many weeds. We don’t have that problem on organic dairy farms.” Dr. Detloff proudly confesses.
Happy Dairy Managers learning about the soil from Dr. Dettloff
We learned so much about organic dairy farming on the Grimm farm. The importance of healthy soil, the biodiverse organic plant life in pasture, the natural cycle of keeping the soil healthy with rotation and natural fertilization, and the TLC that organic dairy cows receive from family farms like the Grimm’s. I think I can confidently say that organic farmers are silent hero’s doing good for the earth and our food supply. So, next time you reach into the cooler to buy milk, think about choosing the other white milk, the organic one.