When was the last time you went on a field trip? If you’re like me, it’s probably been awhile. So when I got the invitation to attend a Farm-to-Table event in New York wine country – complete with a tour of a state-of-the-art dairy farm – I jumped at the chance.
The event was put on by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council (ADADC). If you live in NY, northern NJ or northeastern PA and purchase milk, chances are your milk comes from a farm that is a member of the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council (ADADC). It doesn’t matter if it’s whole milk, lower fat milk – organic or not.
The ADADC’s sole purpose is to market and promote the use of dairy products. This nonprofit association is funded by dairy producers’ checkoff dollars. What are checkoff dollars? Dairy producers realized a long time ago that they needed to create a collective organization that would promote their products. They agreed to allow a portion of each dollar they earned go toward this effort. It’s kind of like paying union dues. The Got Milk?™ ad campaign is an excellent example of dairy checkoff dollars at work.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I was married to a farmer. When we met he managed a large, several hundred acre produce farm in NY’s Hudson Valley. He grew up, however, on a dairy farm. I spent more than my fair share of time on his parent’s farm covering for them when they went away. We eventually moved to Pennsylvania where I spent even more time working the farm – milking cows, cleaning the barn, feeding the cows (and calves!). I became familiar with all aspects of what was involved with a small dairy operation.
I was, therefore, very interested to see how a large dairy operation functioned. Boy was I impressed! We toured Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, NY. The farm is a FAMILY farm. Our tour guide, Kitty Noble Rudgers (expecting her second baby), is co-owner of the farm.
A few things that stood out to me:
- The farm is huge. Noblehurst grows around 2500 acres of corn, alfalfa and wheat.
- They milk 1700 cows a day – three times.
- The farm is immaculate. No smell at all.
- Over and over again they stressed to us how important it is to them that their cows aren’t ‘stressed’. A happy cow is a productive cow.
- The cows produce about 15,000 gallons of milk a day.
- And, the thing I learned that impressed me the most was this: THEY HAVE A NUTRITION CONSULTANT FOR THE COWS! Seriously. Todd Ward, the nutritionist, makes sure the cows have feed that they like and is good for them.
After our tour, we had lunch and the opportunity to ask a number of questions. Someone raised the question, ‘What common misconceptions do you think people have?’ Here’s what they told us:
Farmers mistreat their animals. Frankly, it would be counter-productive for a farmer to mistreat the herd which is their livelihood. Duh.
Large farms are not family farms. Some are and some aren’t.
Organic farms usually have less of a carbon footprint than conventional farms. This isn’t necessarily true. Noblehurst, for example, uses an anaerobic digester manure management system. This system converts the manure’s methane into energy. Noblehurst’s digester produces enough electricity to power 108 American homes a year.
Farmers are uneducated rednecks. Not that I met. Both Kitty and John received their BS degrees from Cornell University.
Farms are not regulated, especially when it comes to manure. Chad Stoeckl, certified Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) Planner for NY spent a lot of time explaining to us the rules and regulations related to waste and ground water management.
Thanks Noblehurst Farms!
PS – As an ADADC guest, they graciously provided our hotel accommodations, covered travel expenses and gave us a beautiful goodie bag. Thanks ADADC.