Sustainable Farming

The House Cow and Her Economical and Ecological Value.

We used to have a small dairy herd and raised our 7 children with fresh milk and some homemade dairy products. After immigrating to Canada we all missed the taste of fresh milk and since we had room in our old bank barn we started searching for a suitable animal to provide for us.

At that point we were spending about $4 for milk, $3 for butter and $3 for other dairy products a day. This makes $10 a day or $3650 a year. Plus 8 plastic bags, or wrapping or containers a day adds to 2920 pieces of plastic in one year.

We found a young Jersey not measuring up to high standard breed specification, but good enough for us. We named her Gretel and she soon became a family pet. Now we have plenty of milk, rich enough to make cream and butter all we needed, even surplus to experiment with cheese making. And not enough, today’s cows production even at the low end is above 10 litres a day so she nursed a calf besides being milked by hand. Calves that provided us with our first home raised beef. The cow had cost us $500 to purchase, had 3 calves (value $400 each, after being weaned) and we milked her for about 4 years. To keep one cow doesn’t require any extra set up. There was room to tie in the barn, plenty of grass around the barnyard for her to graze on a long lead, no need for a fence. A stainless steel milking bucket and a wheelbarrow was about the only investment required.

The time to go shopping and to go for a workout in any of the fitness centres is easily recaptured with time spend milking, feeding, cleaning, together with our children who love to play with the calf and sing along the tune mom is singing while milking or walking from the barn back to the house with a bucket of warm milk.

One might think if one cow is such a benefit then a larger number must surely be an easy and profitable venture. Let’s see.

If I had ten cows I would need to make improvements in the barn and to the fence.

$5000 easily, add a milking machine and cooling system for min. $20000; milk quota because I would need to sell it, is about $25 000 per cow, times 10 equals $275000, not including the purchase of cows. A big investment for a little farmer milking only ten cows. No, the milk truck would not even bother to drive up the lane and the bank would not lend any money. It is better to milk 50 or 100 cows to make it worthwhile but would I still have time to make my own butter and cheese? Or to sing with my children? Or to give to this animal any personal attention ?

Let’s face it, small is beautiful and farming is a life style where we win or loose with the way we choose.

Food For Thought on Who Your Grocery Dollar Supports

There is currently little information in the media on the devastating low income situation of farmers in the past year all across Canada. Grain, incl corn pays less per bushel then 50 years ago, beef sells for as little as $100 a head after being fed for one year but the consumer gets no benefit at the retail end. Who harvests the profit ? published some interesting facts about organic brand names.

Small Brands, Big Owners

What have organic brands Health Valley (cereals), Bearitos (corn chips), Bread Shop (granola) and Celestial Seasonings (tea) have in common? These apparently independent companies are all owned by the Hain Celestial Group

Even though Hain Celestial is an organic giant in its own right, it has even bigger owners. According to research by Paul Glover and Carole Resnick of the Greenstar Food Coop (Ithaca, New York) the company’s investors include Philip Morris, Monsanto, Citigroup, Exxon-Mobil, Wal-Mart and aerospace military contractor Lockheed Martin. And in September 1999 the H. J. Heinz food conglomerate bought a 20% stake in Hain Celestial.

Hain Celestial is by no means a unique case:

* Cascadian Farms is a subsidiary of Small Planet Foods, which is a division of agribusiness colossus General Mills. And General Mills’ main shareholders include Philip Morris, Exxon-Mobil, General Electric, Chevron, Nike, McDonald’s, Monsanto, Dupont, Dow Chemical and PepsiCo.

* Silk Soy Drink is part of the White Wave corporation, itself a Dean Foods subsidiary. And according to Glover and Resnick, Dean Foods’ main investors include Microsoft, General Electric, Citigroup, Pfizer, Philip Morris, Exxon-Mobil, Coca Cola, Wal-Mart, PepsiCo and Home Depot.

* Odwalla, makers of organic orange juice, is owned by Minute Maid, which is in turn a division of Coca Cola.

* Boca Burger is owned by Kraft, which is part of Philip Morris.

* Arrowhead Water and Poland Spring Water, are Nestle subsidiaries.

* Organic Cow, founded by small New England organic dairy farmers, is now part of the Colorado-based Horizon, whose sales just topped $200 million annually and which controls 70% of the American organic milk market . Horizon Holding company was itself was acquired by the Dean Foods conglomerate in 2003