Jen Greenberg and her husband David farm one hour from Halifax in the Avon River Valley. They run a CSA from their farm, Abundant Acres.
I have a personal story to tell about milk, cows, and dairy farming. When I was 21, I got an opportunity to work on a dairy farm in Cumberland County. For a couple of summers I helped in the barn, and in the fields, and learned about the kind of life this particular dairy farm offered. We fed and milked about 40 Jersey cows, and when spring came along, we got to see the cows go out into the pasture for the first time after a long, messy, cold winter. Seeing cows flowing through that pasture, kicking up their heels, tails in the air, was an experience of what I thought was pure joy. I was making an assumption, of course, but they looked pretty darned happy.
We noticed the milk changed once they got out on pasture. I, along with the farm family, got to drink milk straight out of the milk tank, before it had been picked up by the milk truck to be processed. The cream got thicker and a little darker compared with the winter. It was so sweet and good! In the Magdalene Islands, where many people have a milk cow in their back yards, they have a celebration of ‘the first cream of spring’. With great revelry they dig into the most delicious, simple desserts featuring fresh-from-the-cow cream, and play music late into the night. This overlaps with the celebration of the lobster where men in fishing boats sing as they pull up their lobster traps into the boat. We could hear them from the shore. What a wonderful place to be, and a fabulous way to be.
I learned that dairy farming on a 40-cow scale is a lot of work. Two people were needed twice every day, 4:45 am and 4:45 pm to feed and milk the cows. On top of that there are calvings to attend to, which could happen at any time of the day or night. Every single nice day in the summer was spent cutting and gathering hay or silage to feed the cows. Growing and harvesting grain, farm maintenance, and attending to heard health issues takes up most of the rest of the family’s time. My favourite time was always getting up at daybreak to go out to the pasture, and bring the cows into the barn for milking.
Fast forward 23 years and now I have my own farm. I caught the farm bug BAD at that dairy farm. Last summer a friend and mentor, Phil Nunn, at Parkside farm nearby asked if we could take some of his dry milk cows and pasture them. My husband and I jumped at the chance! We knew we were in for a lot of work, on top of our vegetable operation, but we both love to see cows grazing on lush green pasture. There is a little magic to getting up at sunrise every morning to let the cows into the next fresh paddock of grass. Silently we open up the gate to let them in. They are pretty excited, but they move in their slow cow kind of way to the fresh grass, and start sniffing and grazing. Even though we are busy, we stand back and watch them grazing, filled with satisfaction. Our moment of joy before the busy day descends upon us.
Dairy farming can be a beautifully ecological process. Cows graze pastures and eat other forage grown on the farm and fertilized by their composted manure. They are also fed grain and minerals to complete their diet. In this system, the soil is enriched and built up by the dairy manure and grass roots, and it is mostly kept covered by the grasses and legumes dairy cows eat. The good news is – no, the fantastic news is – we now have several certified organic dairy farms in Nova Scotia.
Although many modern dairy farms have confinement systems (meaning the cows stay in the barn), organic dairy farms must allow their cows to graze outside when conditions permit. The milk from these organic dairy producers is available everywhere in Nova Scotia under the label East Coast Organic. This business is run by a co-operative of dairy producers, and it is processed in this province by the locally-owned Cook’s Dairy.
My dear mother was down at the Halifax Seaport Market asking people why they bought East Coast Organic. Here is what they said:
“I am making the switch to organic. I am a vegetarian because of the way animals are treated. I realized if I don’t eat meat, it doesn’t make sense to by milk from companies who are mistreating cows as well as the whole agricultural system.”
– Hilary Rancourt and Kate Rancourt (Kate feels the same as Hilary)
“I like to stay local” – Jean Baker
“I buy organic for my grandson” – Anonymous
“It is very exciting to have local organic milk! It is good for the sustainability of agriculture. I used to get organic milk from Ontario but I stopped because it is not as sustainable. I am so happy to have it here.” – Victoria Shipman
“It is hard to think of the most important reason I buy organic milk –from the feed to the treatment of animals it makes a big difference. I use this milk to make yogurt and Kefir for our catering business because it is higher in probiotics. The kefir is like yogurt but easier to digest. East Coast Organic Milk is the best choice available in Nova Scotia.” – Anke Kungl
“We like it for our daughter because there are no antibiotics. Dairy is such an important food for children.” – Valerie McBride
“Cattle are raised properly —no hormones. It is better for you.” – Niki