29. June 2008 22:56
So I've gotten really behind on my blogging, my current project schedule isn't very conducive to blogging. I often blog on my lunch break, but I've only been taking a half hour lunch lately so I can leave work early enough to beat most of the evening traffic rush.
Anyway, the second farm we visited on our Urbana trip was Prairie Fruits. We were super excited to see their operation as they were the first farmstead goat Grade A certified goat dairy in Illinois. They sell their cheese at the Green City Market and also some Chicago cheese shops and restaurants. We got to hear a lot of stories about the travails of getting a small dairy certified, the current USDA system is just not built to really address the smaller sustainable farming operation. This is something that is ultimately going to need to be fixed if this country is ever to move away from the factory farm system.
Here's a prime example. Typically you have your large factory farm dairy operation with hundreds of cows. The milk is supposed to be tested for antibiotic residue, but due to the volume it really doesn't happen. They just do samples. And yet an operation like Prairie Fruits has to test every batch of milk they do and they don't really use antibiotics in the first place. They ended up getting their own license and certification as a lab so they can do their own testing because it's such a hassle for a small producer otherwise. Another bit of weirdness, you have to have a license to transport milk. So normally, a milk tanker truck pulls up to the farm and carries it off to wherever, sometimes a cheese factory. Since they do everything in the same location, they need the same license to move the milk from the milking parlor to the cheese make room and the two rooms can't share a wall. It's just ridiculous. That's Illinois, who has little experience with farmstead cheese making. Not sure if it's quite that bad in other states.
Visiting this farm was a pretty big deal for us, with a lot of firsts. First time to milk a goat for both of us. First time Kristin got to bottle feed baby goats. First time to use an automatic milking system. We also learned about small batch pasteurizers and some of the other necessary equipment. It gets pretty expensive. So I think we figured out a couple of things on this trip. One, we do really like dairy goats and a lot of the work involved with raising goats. Two, it's a huge time and money investment to get a real artisan farmstead cheese operation off the ground. So we need to do a lot more thinking about that. I've told a couple of people I feel like we learned more from that one day than from reading a book. There are a lot of practical things you really just have to see, like how goats are fed and housed, how long things take to do for a particular herd size, that sort of thing.