When I was hired by Stonyfield almost a month ago, I expected my first week to be filled with a barrage of on-boarding paperwork, instructional pamphlets, and informational slideshows. Without question, understanding a company’s policies and procedures is very important, especially one that prides itself on providing people with tasty, wholesome products… but I think we all can agree that’s not the fun stuff!
Imagine my surprise when Cindy, my manager, reached out to me just a couple days before my start date to make me aware of an opportunity to take place on my second day – a trip to tour some of the organic dairy farms that source directly to Stonyfield! I jumped at the chance since my personal knowledge of dairy production was minimal and because, wow, I never anticipated being invited along on something so fun during my first few days!
The purpose of the trip, of course, was not merely to enlighten and entertain the recently graduated new hire. Mairead, who helps manage Stonyfield Bloggers, is in the process of planning Stonyfield’s second Blogger Farm tour, which is a unique opportunity for members of Stonyfield’s Clean Plate Club and YoGetters Club to witness firsthand how Stonyfield’s delicious yogurt is produced.
Kyle, Stonyfield’s Farmer Relationship Manager, led our intrepid trio as we met on the border of Vermont early Tuesday morning. Kyle helped pioneer Stonyfield’s Direct Milk Supply program and dedicates a lot of his time to forging mutually-beneficial relationships with organic dairy farms all over the northeast. I could have picked his brain about cows and organic dairy all day (and I just about did).
The farms we visited were located all over the state, in Cabot, Jeffersonville, Enosburg Falls, and North Ferrisburgh. Without spoiling anything for the lucky bloggers who will be attending the official tour later this summer, I will say that the farms provided a comprehensive snapshot of what it means to be an organic farm.
When we arrived at the first farm, I was instantly impressed by the size and amount of pastures surrounding the barn. In addition to being picturesque, I quickly learned that this was both regulated and purposeful to ensure the highest well-being and productivity for the herd. All three farms practiced Management Intensive Grazing, which employed tactical pasture rotations. These rotations help to preserve plant health and prevent overgrazing.
I also learned that cows, like people, have food preferences. They aren’t out in the pasture eating indiscriminately – one farmer told us that his cows particularly liked clover – and that cows prefer shorter grasses. As the pastures mature, the grasses can become tougher and less palatable. Ample pasture is also important because Organic standards require cows to have year-round outdoor access. For many farmers, meeting this standard also requires barn modifications, guaranteeing lots of fresh air and ventilation.
Techniques of milking ranged from a traditional milking parlor to a high tech robotic milking arm. That process, too, really wowed me. I never would have thought I’d see cows line up so patiently to be milked, although if the cows are anything like me, the incentive of a bit of organic grain might have had something to do with it. Otherwise, the organic dairy cow’s diet is heavy on grasses out in the pasture and hay in the winter. Organic dairy farmers are required to rotate their pastures, so cows never have the chance to strip a pasture of the green stuff while grazing.
The size of the farms, along with the individual passion that each farmer had for their profession, seemed to lend itself to a very close relationship with the cows. One example that stands out in my mind was from when we were visiting the farm in Cabot. We were headed down from the pasture when some cows greeted us at the foot of a hill, having just exited the barn. They approached us inquisitively, and as I held my hand out to one, Jen, one of the farmers, was quick to identify her by name. With about 100 animals on her farm to tend to, I was seriously impressed.
I arrived back at my apartment that night exhausted, with a distinctive farm perfume, and maybe with a little manure on my pants (curtesy of an incredibly sweet and excitable farm dog), but after a full day of witnessing the organic dairy milking process, I felt even more connected to Stonyfield’s mission. It’s a good feeling to be able to know exactly where your food is coming from. Being informed in this way can only improve my quality of work, my understanding of Stonyfield’s mission, and my ability to serve Stonyfield fans.