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Weekly Newsletter – 6/8/10

COWS! Anna and I had a splendid adventure to our two dairies right up at the Canadian border. We get milk from these two dairies that are just across the field from each other—non-homogenized Jersey milk in reusable glass bottles and homogenized organic Holstein milk in convenient plastic jugs. There’s something for everyone!

TWIN BROOK: Larry Stap’s great grandfather established the Twin Brook Farm exactly a hundred years ago. The barn he built is, to quote Larry, “an engineering marvel”—no pegs or nails, just dowels and notched beams. It’s in excellent condition. The herd of 84 Jersey cows is beautiful, clean, happy, healthy. The land is soggy clay there, so in very wet weather the cows aren’t on pasture, but they are entirely grass-fed, silage in winter and open grass for seven months of the year. Larry attributed the cows’ robust health to nutrition. We visited the milk parlor with its machines, which Larry’s dad built in 1972 “when he lost his work force,” i.e. Larry graduated from high school. It’s pretty clear that just about every kid who has grown up in the countryside around Lynden had a lot of experience milking cows and carrying heavy buckets which were hard to pour. Larry’s a good explainer; the most amazing thing was the high point of his explanation of the milking machine. “The cow has to give you her milk; you can’t take it,” he said, explaining how to be nice to a cow; then he described the mechanics of vacuum suction and continuous massage of the end of the teat. He invited us to put our thumbs in the cups and turned the machine on. A nutritionist analyzes the pasture twice a year and the cows get a little balanced grain treat while they are being milked to supplement for whatever might be lacking in the grass. The milking machine gives them relief for their full udders, and the pulsing massage feels good. “The cows enjoy it,” he said. The milk is processed in a converted double garage—pasteurized, separated, bottled, and crated. Sturdy human arms place the glass bottles under the nozzles, two at a time. The crates are stored in a former trans-Pacific refrigerated container. What we saw was our very own milk which was then delivered Saturday! Take note: Larry wants everyone to know that the fridge door is the worst place to keep your milk because it’s the warmest area; the temperature should be 38 degrees to preserve freshness. Check different places with a thermometer. The website is http://www.twinbrookcreamery.com/

FRESH BREEZE: Clarissa Langley, who showed us around Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, is Debbie Stap’s second cousin. She too grew up milking in the “flat barn”—which means a three-legged stool and some big buckets; she rolled her eyes remembering what that was like. She said Grandpa Stap built their existing old barn where the processing takes place and where the calves live; it’s roomy and rough, built with unfinished log posts. The big barn burned down and was replaced by an enormous, well-ventilated metal building where the cows live when they aren’t on pasture. It’s open at the end so they can go outdoors. Surely Grandpa Stap must be part of the huge family that is Larry’s. Clarissa has 130 first cousins, and doesn’t keep as good track of the second cousins—imagine a family as big as a school! Her herd, though very small by industry standards at 230 Holstein cows, requires a processing room, milking room, and staff that are correspondingly larger than Twin Brook’s. Bill and Clary, who have both been working in the dairy business for more than 25 years, were eager to tell us about everything—the testing lab, life in the countryside, experiences in other dairies, home-schooling the children, the virtues of raw milk. The chilling tanks and separators and bottlers are much bigger than those at the other dairy; here we saw the homogenizer, itself a not very big machine that works like a crank shaft. We learned that their slow pasteurization at 145 degrees preserves more nutrients than is common in big processing plants where the milk is heated to 160. We saw rows of many plastic jugs being filled on a conveyor belt and then labeled and dated. Clarissa pointed out a new machine they will soon put into service for using cardboard cartons which some people prefer. Their website: http://www.freshbreezeorganic.com/

It’s really good to know the people who devote their lives to all the hard work that’s behind the food that nourishes us. Memories of my family’s farms are so deep in my childhood, I have to confess I thought then that all those lucky people must be on vacation all the time, enjoying a wonderful leisurely life in the country. Wonderful probably—except for the long, dark, cold winters—but far from leisurely!

THANKS: To all the people who reliably show up on Wednesdays to unload the UNFI delivery. Last week the garden staff from Heritage Farm showed up and our excellent Senator came to lift boxes off the palette. Every week the truck pulls in and it looks like Anna and I are on our own, but right away the elves start appearing. Today we had a very big order and luckily a lot of elves arrived. Many hands make light work, and besides, it’s a traffic jam, but it’s fun!

FRESH: The cooler can hardly hold the produce deliveries, which nowadays include enchanting greens with Asian names and even, finally, some pretty bunches of spring carrots—wow! We have foraged goods coming from Ryan Browne so keep an eye out for interesting special treats to try.

NEW: Notice the yummy locally made nutty granola from Tucker and Harrison House on the front rack and States Inn lavash made with island grown wheat flour among the crackers.

CANDY TAX: Check the right hand column of your receipt for taxed items: in addition to household and personal care products and fizzy drinks, as of June 1 the state collects tax on candy and bottled water as well.

CAR: I’m deeply traumatized by the big change, but I have given up my old worker Volvo and now have a nearly new Subaru. It has wheels and it starts and stops; who could ask for more? It also is reliable, so I’m heading to Coos Bay for nine days to deliver my grandson to his dad so they can spend the summer together—yay, a road trip! The car has an iPod plug, so the kid’s in charge of our tunes. Don’t worry, Anna and some other good people have the milk, meat, and produce covered for the time I’m gone.

HUNTING AND GATHERING: A couple of adventurous people have stepped up and offered to help with pickups on the mainland, so the Honey and Skagit Fresh and Pleasant Valley pickles and sauerkraut will soon be replenished.

Respectfully submitted by Eleanor, 6/9/10