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“Know your farmer, know your food.”

With standard practices today, few people (outside of farmers) have any idea where their food actually comes from. A trip through the local supermarket with its overwhelming bounty gives little clue as to its healthfulness and safety, the actual origins of that bounty or the conditions of the farm that produced it.

Recent food-borne illness outbreaks have resulted in 29 people dying from eating tainted cantaloupe, and even more dying from eating contaminated ground turkey. Perhaps it would be in our best interest to pay more attention to where the food that we rely upon to sustain us originates.

With that thought in mind, we enjoyed a recent “field trip” to Organic Pastures dairy—the largest raw, organic dairy in the world. That’s where we get our milk, teeming with happy bacteria and enzymes—and that’s the way we like it. And it was very reassuring to see just how much care Mark McAfee (CEO and founder) and his team put into making sure that our milk is safe.

Mark is also president of Raw Milk Institute, formed in 2011 to aid and educate farmers as well as consumers. He is a retired paramedic and Health Department medical educator who has lectured on raw milk production, food safety and nutrition at Stanford Medical School, Rutgers University, in over 30 states as well as internationally. So in addition to his being overqualified to be our tour guide, we can be pretty confident in the quality of his milk.

Our visit began where it all begins: in the pasture. The value of making sure ruminant animals are grass-fed and pasture raised is in the health of the animals and the quality of the products. That, in turn, affects the health of the consumer as well.

Steve discusses bovine methane with a very pregnant Bessie

But the benefits are even more far-reaching. Taking care of the soil is essential for sustaining life—not only what grows on that soil, but everything that comes from the soil, including our food, our water and our air. Pasturing cattle actually helps sequester carbon in the soil, offsetting their methane emissions. Their grazing turns sunlight and grass into food for humans while the cows amend the soil through fertilization and tilling with their hooves. Mark explained that bacteria and enzymes from the saliva from the cattle, left on the stubble after grazing, benefit the other animals and make their way into the soil, benefitting the soil as well. This does not happen when the grass is cut and transported for feeding.

Bessie listens intently in the background as Mark describes the benefits of pasturing to Elaina

California has a distinct advantage in this area, as the weather permits the cows to remain in the pasture year-round. Another advantage of this is the increased exposure of the cows to sunlight, raising their vitamin D3 levels, which in turn increases the amount of fat-soluble vitamin D3 in their milk. Recent research on the subject shows the importance of this prohormone in health. Beyond the problem of rickets, deficiency of vitamin D is associated with osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, kidney disease, respiratory ailments, diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, immune function, cardiovascular disease, and even cognitive issues. Natural animal sources are by far the best source of vitamin D3, but animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) often lack the exposure to sunlight necessary for the photosynthesis of adequate D3 for themselves and for their products. Although many foods (including pasteurized milk) are fortified with vitamin D, and the source is usually from an animal (cow, sheep or pig), synthetic vitamins are usually not as readily bioavailable as the natural form.

In the heat of the summer, the cows at Organic Pastures actually need an occasional respite from the sun. New shade structures at the farm provide weather protection for the cows and the mobile milking barn. At the time of our visit, this one was recently completed and was ready for landscaping and the finishing touches.

In the next post, I will describe the milking procedures and more of our visit to Organic Pastures Dairy.

Until next time~