Happy News for Organic Milk Drinkers

When you pay for organic milk, what are you paying for?  I pick that bottle off the shelf imagining cows grazing in lush pastures, a breeze ruffling their top knots, as they gaze off into the distance thinking calm and cowish thoughts.  Those are the cows whose milk I want to drink.  One glass of fresh, frothy contentment, please!

...You know these cows make milk the milk you've always dreamed of drinking. (photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mbgrigby/2564474613/)

I don’t want to be drinking a substance wrested from hurried, hassled animals enduring dreary lives in huge confinement units on a mega farm, pushed through the milking apparatus every eight hours day or night to maximize their productivity.

Do you?

The USDA just made a huge step forward in the National Organic Program.  It will take affect this fall.  The new rules state that animals must get to graze outside during the grazing season, which must last at least 120 days per year.

Most family-size organic farms already graze their animals on pasture according to these guidelines.  What this new step provides is the teeth to try to make sure that everyone – including the big guys who like to bend the rules – will all be governed by one consistent pasture standard that applies to all dairy products.  To learn how the concept of organic milk has been abused by big business, check out Maintaining the Integrity of Organic Milk.

According to Mark Kastel, of Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute, as quoted in Lancaster Farming , “The organic community has been calling for strong regulation and its enforcement for much of the past decade.  Cheap organic milk flowing from the illegitimate factory farms has created a surplus that is crushing ethical family farm producers.”

I learned about this last weekend in LaCrosse at the 21st annual (and my second) Organic Farming Conference organized by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) .

More than 2000 people gathered to learn, talk and eat organic.  I met people from as far away as North Dakota who come to learn how to farm sustainably.

The workshops (three Friday and another three Saturday) covered each topic in 90-minute presentations that have time to get comprehensive.  Most of the presentations I attended teamed someone in research with people who are putting that research into practice on their farms right now.

In some ways, I learned as much at meal times when you sit down next to a stranger and find yourself conversing (as I did) with last year’s MOSES farmer of the year, or Bud Markhart , University of Minnesota professor of horticultural sciences, or Anu Rangarajan , New York State Specialist for Fresh market Vegetable Production through the Cornell Department of Horticulture.

..Wouldn't you like to live in a world of happy cows? (photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/ewanrayment/2825173460/)

This conference is a heady combination of practical advice on topics like how to deal with pests in your organic orchard to visionary oration about how and why to create a new way of feeding our country and the world – food production that goes past profit to provide its consumers with authenticity, meaning, community and connection to nature.

The most useful classes I took were “Organic Seed Production Basics,” co-taught by John Navazio , Seed Specialist for Washington State University, and Don Tipping of Seven Seeds Farm in Williams, OR, and Getting Started in Organic Farming co-taught by Laura Frerichs of Loon Organics, l and Nick Olson of Land Stewardship Project.

If you were there, what were your favorite classes?

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