I am taking an online course on real food nutrition and part of this week’s lesson was on the benefits of eating pasture raised, or grass-fed meat and dairy products verses confinement raised or factory farmed meat and dairy. It was a very interesting lesson and I found the assignment very enlightening so I thought I’d share my “homework” with you.
Our assignment was to write 5 questions we would ask a local grass based farmer and then find a farmer to interview. We could either visit a farm or use the directory at www.eatwild.com to find a local farmer to interview. I went with the phone interview option:
I interviewed Nature’s Sunlight Farm owned by Mark and Maryann Nolt. I spoke at length with Mark Nolt regarding his farm operation. They have been farming for around 20 years. As luck would have it Mark has a unique perspective of traditional farming and commercial/modern farming because they started out as commercial farmers and used confinement methods with their animals. They have been raising their animals pastured for around 18 years.
The farm profile is as follows: (taken from www.eatwild.com and verified during our conversation)
Nature’s Sunlight, located near Newville, provides certified organic raw milk from pasture-fed jersey cows. The milk is tested regularly for bacteria and meets the same standards as milk after it has been pasteurized. The cows test negative for brucellosis and tuberculosis. Yogurt, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese are available. The cheese has its own natural golden color because of the high-carotene content of their pasture-based diet.
Eggs are available from free-range hens, housed in a mobile hen-house. The birds are fed free-choice, organic grain with no antibiotics or hormones. This produces large eggs with deep orange yolks. Pastured broilers, stewing hens, and turkeys also are fed the organic grain mix.
Freezer beef from pasture-finished cattle is sold in late September through early October. Pastured veal comes from calves that are raised on whole organic cows’ milk. Orders are taken in the spring only with delivery in June. Our milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, burger patties, and frozen broilers are available anytime. The beef, veal, and poultry must be ordered.
Nature’s Sunlight, Mark and Maryann Nolt, 401 Centerville Road, Newville PA 17241. (717) 776-3417. (No calls on Sunday, please.)
Danielle: “Why have you chosen to farm traditionally versus using more modern feeding/farming practices?”
Answer: “It just makes sense to do so.” Mark explained that the animals have a much richer meat profile. They used confinement farming methods years ago and found that when they switched to pasture raising and finishing that their animals were much healthier. He also stated “We feel it is the way people should eat.”
D: “What is your biggest challenge that a commercial factory farmer does not have to contend with?”
A: “That’s a good question! I’d have to say we cannot just focus on production we also have to focus on marketing the product as well.” Mark went on to explain that time management has been the biggest difference because the milk truck does just pull up and take the milk and they get a check. They must market their products for sale. He also said weather can be a bigger factor in pasture raised animals.
D: “When talking to friends and family one thing cited as a reason for not purchasing grass-fed or organic products is the big cost difference. Have you ever been met with that question and how do you respond?”
A: “Yes, we have been asked many, many times about our prices.” Mark mentioned several factors in cost. First and foremost the quality of the product is much better richer nutrient profile from a healthier animal. He also mentioned that the production phase is more costly and gave two examples.
First the bottling of milk is a much harder process. It costs 10 times as much per unit sold for him then for a large milk factory set up to mass produce gallons and half gallons of milk. Every unit it handled where as in a processing plant they may never be handled individually.
His second example was his free-range pastured eggs. Each egg is handled at least twice; once at collection and secondly upon crating verse eggs that are never touched by human hands until they reach the consumer.
Mark gave an example of his butter being $12.00 (US) per pound. Mark elaborated on the marketing claims of “low-fat” being healthy. He said “When we make cream, we feed the skim milk to the pigs. Our pigs fatten nicely on skim milk and nothing else. Skim milk is not healthy for us (people). The claim of low fat being healthy is all in the marketing, you see.” I found it very interesting as he explained that when “they” (milk processors) want to make butter or bottle cream the resulting left over product is unfatted milk. If they had to send the unfitted milk back to the farmer to use for their pigs or dispose of it through waste water treatment they would never be able to sell butter for $3.00 per pound due to the cost of getting rid of the unfatted milk. So they sell it as a “healthier low-fat” alternative to full fat milk. He backed into his $12.00 number stating if he sold skim milk for $2.00 per half-gallon and since it took 3 gallons of milk to make a pound of butter he could practically give his butter away.
(If skim milk is given to pigs to fatten them up for butchering why is it marketed to us as a way to lose weight. Remember the commercials “Milk your diet, lose weight?” At www.whymilk.com on their timeline and milk consumption recommendation they consistently recommend low or fat-free milk through the website.)
Mark further explained that when you look at the whole picture pasture fed prices are far more cost-effective than commercial raise prices because all the cost is in the product. The cost of commercial farming gets spread across the subsidization of the grain (used to feed the animals and paid for with tax dollars) the runoff and pollution problems, again with tax dollars and the high healthcare cost from consuming substandard products.
Additionally he spoke of the high fat grass-fed meat having a much denser nutrient profile then its confinement raised counterpart.
D: “Do you know how your yield of milk per day per cow compares to that of a farmer that does not grass feed?”
Answer: “I have a very good idea because I used to farm that way. We get about 1/6th the production because we do not push our cows to capacity.”
D: “When you have the opportunity to interact with your peers (other farmers) do you find there is any resistance or stigma associated with traditional farming verses commercial farming?”
Answer: “Not as much as there used to be.” Mark elaborated saying most farmers ignore that grass farmers are “out there” saying they don’t think it could work for them.
I found my conversation with Mr. Nolt very informative and felt I could have talked to him at great length about his farming practices and the higher quality of food. I had heard some of the things he said regarding skim milk and feeding it to pigs but was not sure if it was true. I do a good deal of research online but am often chastised by family and friends for “believing everything I read online.” It was nice to have some of the things I suspected verified by a real, live local individual. I acknowledge that the internet is somewhat of a Pandora’s Box of information and one can easily get lost between fact and fiction. Actually hearing that the Low Fat concept was all a marketing tool from the lips of a real farmer not more than 30 miles from my home was confirmation to me that the claims against mainstream media and health claims are not all the work of some crazy conspiracy theorist sitting behind a keyboard but rather legitimate issues that we should all be aware of.
I believe more and more that we must be responsible for our health and not rely so much on main stream media and the “newest, latest greatest” that comes along. Tried and true traditional foods and food preparation seem to be much healthier for us.
Would you pay $12.00 for a pound of butter? What about drinking raw milk; do you drink it or would you try it?
Until next time, be blessed!