There’s nothing “plain vanilla” about Straus Family Creamery vanilla bean ice cream. Animal products such as dairy are typically not associated with sustainability, but Straus Family Creamery makes strides to go above and beyond to be good stewards of the environment. This family run farm is located in Northern California and prioritizes creating high quality products that are minimally processed, and not harmful to the environment. They have implemented practices to create a sustainable farming system to protect organic integrity, reduce their carbon footprint, preserve natural resources, conserve biodiversity, enhance soil health, and improve water quality. They are transparent about their farming practices, and their sustainability reports are public and posted on their website. Straus has collaborated with twelve other independently-owned, certified organic dairy family farms in order to expand their production while still maintaining their high standards and values. In terms of sustainability, they really are setting a high bar for dairy farming, and there really isn’t much room for improvement, and their products truly have quality you can taste!
The ingredients of Straus Family Creamery vanilla bean ice cream are cream, milk, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean, all of which are organic. The creamery’s products are processed as little as possible for “the best taste and culinary performance.” This ice cream is never ultra-pasteurized, and no preservatives, fillers, artificial ingredients, or coloring agents are added. Sometimes simple is best! The milk used for this ice cream comes from cows not treated with antibiotics, that are free to graze on the wild coastal grasses in Northern California. Their diet is supplemented with organically grown feed when it is not grazing season and wild grasses are not present. It has been found that Grass-fed dairy and organic dairy cows actually provide milk that is significantly higher in beneficial fatty acids and lower in omega-6, so not only is this grazing method better for the cows but it is better for the consumer as well! Typically, grazing cattle can be an issue because overgrazing can damage habitats, destroy native plants and cause soil erosion. When livestock eat native plants, invasive plants often replace them. However, to avoid overgrazing, Straus Farm uses rotational grazing techniques in which the cows are moved to different pastures every few days which actually improves pasture productivity, stimulates plant growth, allows the pastures time to regrow and produce more nourishing grasses. This regenerative method is actually beneficial to the natural surroundings.
One significant issue in dairy farming is the resulting methane emissions from the cow’s manure. Straus Family Creamery has made efforts to combat this issue, and significantly reduce the emissions coming from their farm. The founder demonstrated a dramatic climate change solution that has the potential to reduce dairy cows’ enteric methane emissions an average of 52% and up to 90% by supplementing the cows’ diet with a specific red seaweed (Asparagopsis taxiformis) in the first U.S. commercial trial on a dairy farm. If this red seaweed receives regulatory approval and becomes available as a supplement for all the Straus dairy cows, this has the potential to reduce cows’ enteric methane emissions up to 95%. This is accomplished by feeding the dairy cows roughly one ounce of red seaweed as part of their regular 45-pound diet. (science is SO COOL!)
Straus Family Creamery has goals to create a carbon neutral dairy farming model on the Straus Dairy Farm by 2023, and they really have implemented projects to steer them towards this goal. The only part of this statement that makes me skeptical of greenwashing is the fact that the Creamery sources their dairy from 12 other farms as well while this statement may lead a consumer to believe the entire creamery is approaching carbon neutrality. However, these other farms are listed on the Straus website, are all family owned, and certified organic, and I am hopeful that their values of sustainability are in line with those on Straus Dairy Farm. One project Straus Dairy farm has implemented to get them closer to their goal of carbon neutrality is their Methane biodigester that collects methane from the cow’s manure and transforms it into electricity, and it provides enough renewable energy to power the entire dairy farm, and farm vehicles. The farm’s feed trucks are fully electric and the motor is charged from electrical power generated from methane gas produced by the cows’ own manure- talk about a closed loop system. Straus goes even further to achieve a sustainable system by using the solid waste from the cow’s waste as compost, and using the heated waste water from the methane combustion engine to clean the barns on the dairy farm! Not only does this system generate renewable energy to power the farm, but it greatly reduces the farm’s overall methane emissions. Straus Dairy farm also practices carbon sequestration farming methods, to help offset the inherent emissions associated with dairy farming. They do so through the use of regenerative farming techniques such as rotational grazing, as well as the use of compost on managed pastures which improves soil organic matter, enabling more water retention in the soil and the farm’s ability to sequester carbon. Straus Creamery also implements a reusable glass milk bottle program in which consumers pay a deposit when they purchase Straus milk, and get the $2 back when they return the empty bottle that can be refilled again. However, their ice cream is not packaged in something as sustainable. They do not report what the packaging is made of but typically ice cream cartons are made of a special type of paper called wet-strength paperboard, which includes a plastic lining of polyethylene, and is unfortunately not recyclable.
Overall, I am very impressed with Straus Family Creamery’s ability to create a product that is inherently not very sustainable, and do everything they can to go above and beyond in their farming practices to approach carbon neutrality. They are environmental leaders in the industry and I hope that other dairy farmers will follow their lead. They are transparent and truly are determined to create quality products, and not at the expense of the environment. Also, when they advertise that their products have “quality you can taste,” they really mean it and it is definitely worth the extra money to buy their products for both the sustainability and the taste!