Although sustainability and the dairy industry seem to be rare as factory farms dominate this industry, I have found a local Bay Area gem that industrial farms need to take a lesson (or 10) from. I’ve rated Straus so high because they’re implementing closed loop systems, offering consumers minimally processed products (as I like to say, “less is more”) all while stewarding the earth and soil well and not only minimizing their greenhouse has emissions, but striving to take in as much carbon dioxide as they can too through carbon farming. They’ve managed to get into easily accessible supermarkets, while also offering their products to more eco-minded shoppers at their local Northern California farmers market. They’ve expanded their production- without compromising their values- through partnering with 12 other local organic dairy farmers. There’s not much else they can do- and their goal is to still strive to do better! The only drawback is the price: with a gallon of 365 Whole Foods Market Reduced Fat 2% milk costing $5.99 compared to Straus $8.99 but I think that the company values, worker treatment, and environmental measures are worth the splurge.
The product I reviewed is the Straus Organic Reduced Fat 2% Milk. If you didn’t know, this means that only 2% of the milk weight is fat. Thus, the milk had to be centrifuged (the milk is whirled really fast inside of this machine, think the Cyclone ride at the amusement park) so that the lighter fat is concentrated in the center and taken out. On top of that, when fat is taken out, vitamins leave the room too. Thus, 2% and skim milk are mandated by federal law to add Vitamin A palmitate (a fat soluble vitamin that dissolves in milk). Why would you want to take out vitamins, only to add more laboratory produced ones in? Although 2% milk has less calories and fat, it is not proven to create more health benefits, and requires more energy input. However, if you’re going to buy 2% or skim milk, I would highly consider buying from Straus. Straus cows are 100% certified organic, but are much more than this pesticide free label. Straus cows are allowed to roam the pastures, graze on grass, and when the night gets cold, come into the barn to sleep. Imagine the old McDonald red barn farm we all pictured as kids- Straus gets as close as you can to that. In comparison to factory farms, these cows are allowed to exercise which increases their health and eliminates the need to use antibiotics or hormones (which Straus never does because they treat their animals like animals, not machines). When the Northern California doesn’t reap grass, the cows are fed with 100% non-GMO organic feed. Health wise, cows fed on grass provide milk that is significantly higher in beneficial fatty acids, and lower in omenga-6 because 50-80% of their feed is organic grass, while other conventional cows are fed 53% forage-based feeds and 47% grains and concentrates. My only wish is that they would be 100% grass fed but weather wise, this is unfeasible and my only concern is that the other 12 farms do not implement as high practices as Straus does. However, given that they only donate to organizations that are directly tied with their mission, I hope that these partner farms also implement similar practices.
Straus milk boasts of having one of the most closed loop systems out there- and I don’t argue with it, but there are some places for improvement. Here’s how it works: almost 4,000 gallons of cow manure are captured in the barn per day and transferred to the methane digester. Fecal waste inherently emits methane which the enclosed digester captures 1,600 tons of carbon dioxide per year and uses to generate electricity (equivalent to 347 cars on the road). This electricity powers the 500-acre farm and some of their electric trucks that transport feed to the farm as well as milk products out brining the loop to a close. From a profit margin, the methane digester even saves the company $40-50,00 per year. I am honestly very impressed by how much thought went into this and how they’ve implemented it for many years.
On top of this, because they implement rotational grazing (they move their cows to different pastures allowing the grass to grow back), the grass and root system continue to grow and conduct photosynthesis. This helps take 320 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year and store it as a very stable form of carbon in the ground. Sequestering carbon into soil, aka carbon farming, is one of the biggest ways we can mitigate climate change.
On the packing side, the milk is packaged in a glass bottle which Straus takes back to sterilize, wash and reuse for an average of 5 more times. Not only does this take 500,000 bottles out of the landfill or recycling per year, but because glass is inert and doesn’t chemically interact with any ingredients, there is no risk of extra chemicals added into your milk- another way Straus is meeting their “minimally processed” goals.
Way back in 1994, Straus Family Creamery decided to make a change and become the nation’s first 100% organic creamery. From that point on, the family run farm only continued their innovation to increase the sustainability and integrity of the farm. Their constant strive to improve their sustainability is what draws me to Straus- sustainability, minimalism and closed loops at the core of their values, and they don’t find complacency in doing good- they strive to always do better. Because the farm only has 280 cows, not enough to supply the consumer demand, they partner with 12 other local organic farms to provide more dairy. My only concern is that although these other farms are certified Organic, and chose to partner with Straus because they have the same values, I have been unable to find transparent information on the operations and structure of many of these partners which leaves me wondering how sustainable their farms are too. Do they also have fully grass fed, free roaming cows? Do they have a methane digester to generate electricity and prevent methane from going into the atmosphere? Straus has set high standards which I am impressed by but I hope their partner farms (which provide a good amount of the dairy considering Straus’ 280 cows are a small percentage of all the farms), have also implemented similar technologies and practices. In addition to environmental practices, the creamery also values their employees as people-not disposable as many factory farms do- and dedicated a page on their website to showcase who works for Straus. These people give testimonies to the opportunities, lived mission, and real joy they have in working at Straus.
About: Organic Dairy Farms:
Mission & Practices: Sustainable Choices
Mission & Practices: Climate + Farm
Deep Green Renewable Program
EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator
2% Reduced Fat Milk
The Difference Between Whole, Skim, 1% and 2% Milk