Our family took another step this week in healthy eating when we purchased a cow share, a move that gives us weekly access to raw–as opposed to pasteurized–milk. Cow sharing is the only way–in Michigan at least–to get your hands on this rarity. On Monday we picked up the first installment from our friends at Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy in Lowell, MI, but not before enjoying a delicious dinner of grilled barbeque chicken, raised on pasture just outside the front door of the farmhouse.
After dinner, we joined our hosts, the Belprezes (Dan, Whitney, and their daughter Cecilia), in the barn. There Polly, the heritage Guernsey cow, works twice a day to provide us (and our neighbors) with fresh, nutrient-dense milk. The Belprezes stressed the importance of following strict protocols when running a raw-milk operation. Immediately before milking, Polly’s utter is given a disinfecting bath and then rinsed with an iodine solution. Foreign objects like dust and dirt cannot find their way into the receptacle into which the milk is pumped, owing to the fact that the milk passes directly from each of Polly’s four teats–a phrase I never thought I’d “udder”–through a tube and into the closed, sterilized container. The raw milk is then cooled to 40 degrees within a specified amount of time.
This milking brought an end to Dan and Whitney’s farm day, and we retired to the living room for root beer floats (or “Brown Cows,” as we called them growing up). Whitney explained that raw milk is living food, filled with healthy bacteria and probiotics, integral to intestinal health. In this way, raw milk is like beer which, too, is alive with living things (yeast). As their strict sanitizing procedures reveal, however, sloppiness can lead to contamination which is why it “behooves” all farms involved in raw milk production to heed the same standards as those employed at Two Sparrows. The carelessness of even one farm would unfairly effect public perception of the entire industry.
One will notice that raw milk from Polly has a beautiful–but very faint–yellow hue. This is because the cow is raised on pasture. Perhaps this is why butter is yellow in color. One often notices a similar phenomena in the fat of grass-fed, grass-finished beef. Whitney also shared with us that in the conventional milk industry, milk is dyed white to create a uniform color, necessary since one gallon of milk, she said, may contain milk from as many as 1000 cows. The dye delivers a consistent, uniform appearance.
Because the Belprezes raise pastured beef, our conversation naturally drifted to the subject of cattle. Dan shared a story of how their neighbor, a farmer who raises corn, alighted on a most interesting discovery concerning GMOs. Last growing season, the farmer–who raises GMO corn–found it necessary to plant some non-GMO corn. Half the field sprouted the former variety, and half the latter. To his consternation, deer ate up about 25% or more of the GMO-free corn, leaving the other variant completely untouched. Having heard stories like this before, we marveled at the innate ability of animals to detect food sources that provide their bodies with the highest levels of nutrition before moving on to less desirable sources.
We pulled away from Two Sparrows after 10:00 P.M., light still lingering in the western sky–one of the marvels of a Michigan summer. In the ice chest, snug in the trunk of the car, the bottles of farm milk lightly bounced on the country roads and the voices of frogs swelled in the warm night air. As in the days when milk delivery was common, the glass bottles eventually made their way, under the cover of dark, to our neighbors’ back porches.
For those interested in a cow share at Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy, visit their “Cow Share Program” page under the FARM PRODUCTS drop-down menu on their homepage.
Two Sparrows is hosting, this Sunday, June 8, a farm tour at 2:00 P.M., where they will provide cookies and refreshments.