The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY
Nelson, B.C. Canada
April 16, 2009
Title: Mountain Valley Farm II (Kootenay Alpine Cheese)
Producer/Host - Jon Steinman
Transcript - Sarika Narinesingh
Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner, produced in Nelson, British Columbia at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY. This show is broadcast on radio stations around the world including CIDO Creston, BC and CHUO Ottawa, Ontario. I'm Jon Steinman.
On last week's episode, we ended up at Mountain Valley Farm - a dairy farm in the Creston Valley of BC and an operation that maintains a keen interest in the topic that precluded that brief farm visit - and that topic was the University of Guelph's Organic Agriculture Program whose future remains in limbo over the next 12 months. Mountain Valley owners Wayne and Denise Harris have three children, one of whom is enrolled in that organic program at the University.
What was introduced as part of that show and what will be expanded upon today, is how, Mountain Valley Farm, is a working example of an organic dairy farm that is quickly recognizing the economic potential of tapping into the growing public interest in organic and locally produced food. And so, as last week's show suggested, it leaves one to question just how the University is unable to recognize the economical, social and environmental potential of maintaining an organic agriculture program.
As for Mountain Valley Farm, well, they're one of many models of Canadian farms who are indeed moving in a much different direction than most of the industrial food system. For the Harris's, this 'direction' is already proving itself to be socially and environmentally rewarding, and as they've gradually begun to recognize since the launch of their Kootenay Alpine Cheese business - economically rewarding too.
On today's show, we'll continue with our tour of the farm, including their new cheese making facility, and we'll hear from Wayne Harris on the challenges and opportunities found from operating a small-scale organic dairy.
Also at the end of the show, a segment from a talk recorded in October 2007 of Mark McAfee - the founder of Organic Pastures Dairy - the first raw milk dairy with certified organic pasture in the State of California.
increase music and fade out
Wayne Harris: This is basically just winter housing for all the cows. The lactating herd is on this side. These cows here are cows that are going to calve within the next three weeks now. They get moved up into this area and they are on a little different ration.
Jon Steinman: So what's the herd size?
Wayne Harris: We're generally milking about 80 cows. We've got a lot of heifers right now. The total herd will be about 160 heads, something like that.
Jon Steinman: That's farmer Wayne Harris and a segment from our farm tour - first introduced at the end of last week's broadcast.
Wayne Harris: The farm, they built it as a dairy in 1973, I think it was, and we've been here for about 15 years now. We're originally from Creston and my grandparents dairyed here, and that's kind of where I got my interest in dairying. We came back and started here 15 years ago. My dad and step-mother had been here for about 8 years prior to that, something like that.
Jon Steinman: What was learned from our time spent at Mountain Valley Farm, and what will likely come as a shock to many, is that in spite of six dairies operating in the Creston Valley, for any resident of Creston, the milk produced on those six farms is not available to Creston residents and the closest dairy legally processing milk is 435km away (that's 270 miles) - but that particular dairy 435km away is pretty small, and what's more representative of the situation for Creston residents, is that their fluid milk is either coming from processing plants in Alberta - about 500km (or over 300 miles) away, or, from the lower mainland of BC at 740km (or 460 miles) away. And again those are minimum distances.
We'll be learning more about these perplexing circumstances on today's broadcast and just how Mountain Valley Farm has begun to respond and what opportunities might also lie ahead.
I should also mention that a number of photographs from the tour of Mountain Valley and Kootenay Alpine Cheese are posted on-line at deconstructingdinner.ca and posted under today's April 16th episode.
Now I did, as part of my visit to the farm, discuss with Wayne Harris a number of these challenges and opportunities that currently present themselves to Mountain Valley Farm and are likely similar to those presenting themselves to the remaining small-scale dairies still operating in Canada. To introduce these challenges, Wayne shares where the bulk of the milk produced at their farm ends up.
Wayne Harris: All our milk gets shipped. We aren't processing anywhere close to all our milk at this point. There are 7 or 6 other dairies in the Valley and it gets loaded on the truck with their milk, and that milk gets directed to whatever plant needs it. The closest plant probably is Abbotsford. And other than that it gets on to the prairies. It goes as far as Saskatoon. There's some being hauled to Edmonton, some to Red Deer. It really depends on where they need the milk.
Jon Steinman: Now the reason as to why Mountain Valley and the other dairies in the Creston Valley ship their milk so far away is not because they're not allowed to process their milk locally, but is instead due, in part, to the way in which the industry has long been structured around past economies of scale. Now I say, "past economies of scale" because today, we live at a time that is gradually being identified as the tail end of our oil-fueled food system.
Whereas in decades past, the environmental cost of fuel was never factored into the actual cost of our long-distance food system, and as the supply of oil was once easily accessible, plentiful, and cheap, that too is now changing.
Wayne Harris shared how, when it comes to the dairy system in BC, transport costs for farmers might change. As it stands today, within each Canadian province, the rate farmers pay for transporting their milk is set so that regardless of distance, farmers pay the same price.
Wayne Harris: I was very involved, 6 or 7 years ago, with freight issues. Now all the milk in the province is moved on a provincial pooled freight rate. So, every producer in the province pays the same amount for freight. At the time, there were some appeals happening that would have been a compensatory freight rate. In other words, you would have paid what it costs you to move the milk from the farm to whatever processor plant they choose. It basically would have wiped out the dairy industry in Creston. The freight rate would have gone up so high that would have been it, so I was really involved with that. That partly drove us to this too. The pooled freight rate I can't see lasting forever. You know, our fuel costs are growing crazy. There are those issues, and should we be shipping it that far?
Jon Steinman: And so holding back any dairy operation (or really any sector of the food system) from better localizing their distribution and retail markets is really consumer demand and the high cost of constructing a processing plant.
Wayne Harris: We could process fluid here. Gort's Gouda in the Okanagan is just starting to produce some fluid and they've talked to us about getting some of our milk, because he's concerned about his volume. So we're discussing with him the possibilities of initially us shipping him some milk and having it co-packed, and then retailing it here, but it is a bit of a bastardization of the system if we take an organic product, ship it to the Okanagan, and then ship it back. It's certainly not where we want to go as a farm in the long haul, but I guess right now we are kind of grappling and considering that as a means to an end if we could establish that there is the market here. We would feel, for us to do it with our processing plant, it would probably be another 4 or 5 hundred thousand dollar investment to go to fluid. And you can see we have already extended quite a ways a bit with the cheese.
Jon Steinman: The option to send their milk to the Okanagan to be processed is indeed far... at 465km (or 289 miles) away, but as Wayne suggests, it's a step in a more responsible direction. As is clear from Wayne's comments, Mountain Valley places environmental responsibility at the top of their concerns.
Wayne Harris: Well, we have always been interested in taking our product further or closer to the consumer. I have issues with where the industry is going and where the economy is going in general. At some point, as a business, you have to decide whether you are going to just try to maximize your profit or whether you're going to do what you think should be done too. Obviously, if we didn't process this milk and sell it here in the Kootenays there's a lot less carbon footprint than if we are shipping it to Edmonton and hauling it back, or shipping it even to Salmon Arm and hauling it back, but maybe if we do that for a while, we can seriously look at processing fluid here. When we bought the farm, there was a fluid plant in Nelson, and that's where the majority of the milk from Creston went, was to Nelson to be processed. And that seems like an odd place, but because of the history of the industry, at one time, again, there were a lot of dairies in that Nelson area. Unfortunately, like the last guy on that side of the mountain is, at the end of February, he's done milking-he's sold his cows and quota.
Jon Steinman: This is Deconstructing Dinner. Now until Mountain Valley Farm can economically justify processing their milk locally into fluid milk products, they have in the meantime been successful in keeping some of their milk in the local food system through turning that milk into cheese. In 2008, Mountain Valley began retailing the first of three types of cheese under the name - Kootenay Alpine Cheese. As Wayne suggests, the outpouring of support for the new product is a promising sign that more of their milk might be able to remain in the region instead of being shipped hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers away before being consumed.
In February of this year, I was taken on a tour of their new cheese making facility, and to introduce this next segment, we'll first hear a short clip recorded back in November 2007 when Wayne Harris shared his cheese making plans with delegates at the Future of Food in the Kootenays conference.
Wayne Harris: Our farm, when we purchased it, would have been considered a conventional farm. The cows were strictly in confinement. Shortly after we purchased it, we moved to rotational grazing, which, grazing dairy cattle in Canada, is very uncommon now. That is just more or less what led us down the road to organics. In fact, next year we'll be certified organic. That's led another challenge to us, in that in this area there is no processing of dairy products- conventional or organic. But certainly if we want to put them into an organic stream we have to process those ourselves. So, we are currently building a fromagerie on the farm where we'll take at least a portion of our production initially and start to produce some cheese. Certainly, as we have gone down the road towards organics it has been more and more interesting. It really awakens you up as to the potential of the land to go organically and certainly awakens you to that agriculture isn't headed down, necessarily, the right road strictly staying conventional.
Jon Steinman: Do we need to put anything on here?
Denise Harris: I just wouldn't mind if you fit any of these. Somebody can wear these.
We bought most of this equipment from an Italian lady in Alberta. This is basically our transition room where we get out of our dirty and put on whatever. So, it smells like fresh cheese. This is the make room and this is the Italian vat.
Jon Steinman: What makes this unique?
Denise Harris: Most cheese vats are rectangular. This is a traditional Italian or an Alpine cheese vat, and most have a drain and everything. The idea of this is for it to fall. What you really want to see, though, but nobody can.
Jon Steinman: Smells great.
Male Voice: Wow, smells excellent.
Denise Harris: We are having some problems. The cheese is not meant to look like this.
Jon Steinman: No, what should it be looking like?
Denise Harris: It should be looking like this. This is the Nostralus that's ready now. It's nice and even and hard. These are the ones we made this winter without the right culture in it and there's puffing up, see what they're going to look like inside-they're going to have slits in them, so they're all defective, this whole row.
Jon Steinman: So what's happening to make that happen?
Denise Harris: It's got clostridium bacteria in it and that's from silage, so that's why you don't want to make this cheese while the cows are on silage. And we knew that, but we thought we'll put this special culture and it's supposed to bind the clostridium bacteria, but it didn't work.
Jon Steinman: So this is a good example of the learning curve that really is required.
Denise Harris: Exactly!
Jon Steinman: And then these ones here that look a little fresher, this is even more recent?
Denise Harris: That was just yesterday. So these are the ones that I just put salt on, and put on the racks.
Jon Steinman: So when you come across these kinds of problems or going along this learning curve do you have someone you can go to?
Denise Harris: Yes
Jon Steinman: Who's that?
Denise Harris: Neville McNaughton. He's a consultant that we hired from Missouri, he's a cheese maker down there and that's sort of what he does is he helps trouble shoot. He helped us design the building and stuff, so we're on pretty steady email and phone calls with him
Jon Steinman: That's interesting. Why Missouri, do you know why you had to go so far away to find someone?
Denise Harris: He's just very well respected, he's originally from New Zealand and he's just very personable and we hit it off and that's important, right? Now that we're into it and we've met more people, there's lots of really nice people out there, but you really have to have a good rapport with the guy-he's very laid back.
These ones are all that we have left of the Alpindon and they're pre-sold to those people that are on there.
Jon Steinman: Who are these people?
Denise Harris: We're entering that one in a competition. Old Bauernhaus in Kimberley has been a really good customer.
Jon Steinman: Is that a restaurant?
Denise Harris: And Ellison's and Kootenay Co-op. This will be our first competition! We actually wanted to enter our oldest cheese, but we had to core sample all our older cheese, and we didn't realize that until, and we can't enter one that been core sampled.
And this is one that hadn't been core sampled and it has no cracks. So I mean I may look through them and decide a different one, but basically this is all that's left of the Alpindon.
Jon Steinman: Has demand really exceeded supply even so soon?
Denise Harris: Well, we weren't sure what to expect. That one has a bit of a crack. I won't enter that one. We honestly, we were flying from the seat of our pants-what to expect; that's why we made a whole bunch and then we stopped, and then just said oh, and then start and then stopped.
Jon Steinman: Is the music that's playing-is that for you or the cheese?
Denise Harris: That's actually just part of the video, but it's for me. Normally I don't listen to that one I'll listen to whatever.
Jon Steinman: Some people are producing food and like to play music for their food as it's aging.
Male Voice #2: What do you normally like to play?
Denise Harris: I like Ray Charles a lot! It's my favourite.
Female Voice #1: Music to make cheese by.
Denise Harris: I don't know why. I guess I can belt it along with him.
Jon Steinman: You were saying something earlier about core sampling- what was that?
Denise Harris: I'll show you one. I don't know that we have any of the core sampling. So I'm going to show you another reject cheese and it has a core sample in it, but it's really a reject cheese. This is a core sample, so you core in and you take out a sample, send it away and then you just put the plug back in.
This is the Grana that we made just the other day. And it sits in the brine for 10 days. Again, it's very empty in here. When we first started we had shelves in all these rooms.
Jon Steinman: So Grana what is it similar to - a Parmesan?
Denise Harris: Yes. They just get turned everyday in this for 10 days and then they'll get put on the shelf.
Jon Steinman: Is the core sampling something that's done by the health inspector or is that you doing it internally?
Denise Harris: Well, once a month we have to send off whatever cheese is ready to sell - a sample of.
Jon Steinman: For each round?
Denise Harris: Yeah, for each vat. We have to send a sample for salmonella, e-coli, whatever, so we send about 125 grams out of each cheese has to be sampled.
Jon Steinman: This is Deconstructing Dinner. That's Denise Harris of Mountain Valley Farm and the newly launched Kootenay Alpine Cheese. Mountain Valley is located in the community of Lister in the Creston Valley of British Columbia.
In a moment we'll hear once again from Denise on the learning curve and process they went through in learning how to make alpine cheeses, but we can first come back to my conversation with Wayne Harris who can expand on this inspection process required by a start-up cheesemaking facility in Canada. While both Wayne and Denise support the process of ensuring their product is safe, it sounds as though some of that process is a little more appropriate for large-scale industrial cheese production.
Wayne Harris: It would probably be as easy to get a nuclear power plant started in Lister here than it would be a diary processing plant with the parade of inspectors that come through. In fairness, some of those guys have been pretty helpful too, and you run into some that you kind of shake your head at. The one thing cheese has is shelf life, fluid milk doesn't have any shelf life, so that was a consideration. We didn't know anything about marketing when we started, and probably the best places in the world to start something like this is the Kootenays, I think. We've had really good support. If we had known how good that support might be, maybe we would have more seriously considered fluid. But as soon as you go with fluid, you're really up against the big bones, right, like Saputo, the Dairyland, and the Beatrice's of the world. They could really put you out of business quickly if they wanted to dump cheap product into market. With cheese, you can produce a kind of specialty product that they don't really want to do and really can't do, so you can kind of separate yourself a little further from them. Now, I'm not a 100 per certain that you can't do that with fluid too. If you have a fluid organic product in a glass bottle and possibly avoid homogenization, so you had a cream line product, maybe that would differentiate your product enough that you could build a loyal clientele on that kind of product.
Jon Steinman: What was the learning process for you? Where did you learn? What was that like?
Denise Harris: On the fly - on the fly.
Jon Steinman: Was there no school you had to go to?
Denise Harris: Wayne took a five-day course at Washington State. And I took a three-day course at Portland, and then we had Neville come out for a full week and teach us. And we've read a lot. And then we went to Vermont and took an aging course; what happens during the aging period, and stuff. We went to France and toured cheese places. We've just been learning on the fly. But Neville is our lifeline.
Jon Steinman: Is that mostly over the phone that you do that or is he coming here?
Denise Harris: He came here the once, and we may get him back again this summer, but that was the main thing. And we made two vats a day for five days, it was constant and I was so mentally exhausted by the end of that. When he left, it was a big step to do it on our own. I have so much more to learn.
Jon Steinman: Were you part of the process choosing the style of cheese that you were going to choose?
Denise Harris: Yes, actually. When Wayne took the cheese course, at that point, he didn't know what. This was like five years ago, he got this idea in his head that maybe that might be somewhere we want to go, and so he took that cheese course and Mike Gingrich's cheese was there, Pleasant Ridge Reserve. He was the American Cheese Society winner and Wayne just loved the cheese, he brought it home, and I loved it and everyone we gave it to loved it, and it's what we're emulating and actually we did go to Wisconsin too, and meet with him and toured his place and got some tips from him, but it's pretty proprietary secrets. And anyway then we went to France and brought back a bunch of cheese and again we bought the cheese that looked similar to Mike's and that's what we liked the best, and we had a party and had everybody do a questionnaire which one they liked the best and that one came out on top. Luckily, the one we liked everybody else liked, so that's what we went with. And it's very well suited to what we do-grazing.
Jon Steinman: The kind of milk
Denise Harris: The kind of milk and the grazing, and we're not alpine here, but we are high up. We've got a lot of similarities to that, so it's a natural fit. And that's the cheese we love. We don't really like the real stinky soft cheese. And it's a pretty safe cheese to make. Some cheeses like Camembert is a little bit riskier. Whereas this is cooked at a pretty high temperature and it's aged quite long. So it should be a pretty safe one. So that was kind of my key too, because I'm kind of a bit of a chicken.
Jon Steinman: Denise Harris. That last segment wraps up the segments from the tour of Kootenay Alpine Cheese, but there were a number of other subjects I discussed with Wayne Harris that lend insight into the direction in which Canada's dairy sector might choose to head.
One of those subjects is supply management and as we've discussed here on the show before, Canada is unique in the world in that it maintains a system of controlled production and pricing through this supply management system. And as the principles of supply management have indeed helped to ensure that a number of agricultural sectors in Canada are able to ensure farmers are fairly compensated for their product, there does seem to be a growing question of whether or not the current structure of the system is in need of reform. Certainly, that's a hard task to approach given supply management itself continues to be under threat by world trade agreements that view supply management as a threat to the principles of free trade.
Mountain Valley Farm's Wayne Harris is one of those concerned farmers who supports the principles of supply management, but nevertheless believes the system is in need of reform. As was also shared by Wayne in an earlier clip as part of today's show, the dairy sector as a whole is, as he believes, heading in the wrong direction.
Wayne Harris: Well we're consolidating farms at a break-neck pace. And we've consolidated processing with that. That's really happened and it's still happening. There's really a handful, not even a handful, just two or three processors processing probably 80 or 90 percent of the product in Canada. And certainly that's not healthy for anybody- consumers or farmers. And we really have to sit back and look where supply management started and what it was intended to do. Don't get me wrong, I'm actually a big supporter of supply management, like it's been good for the dairy industry. But I guess it's kind of lost its way a bit, or at least I feel it has. It was designed to try to support farmers and it's still doing that, but the farms keep growing and growing and growing. It's going beyond supporting small sustainable farms. Like dairy farms' main function right now is really to lobby hard to sustain supply management, it's always under threat. And I think that's valid.
But why are we doing it? A lot of guys are doing it because of the value of those quotas. On our farm, our farm would have 2 or 2 and a half million dollars worth of quota. And our count at the end of every year says it's time for you to cash it out, because you could retire and that might be true, but once it's gone it's gone forever and it just becomes another bacon dairy farm, right. So supply management should be for the guys staying in the industry and wanting to get into the industry, not for the guys retiring from the industry, is I guess is what my argument would be. So supply management in the form of produce enough for our domestic market. Somehow, we have to get away from some of the values on quota, because it's not healthy for the industry. Still the industry is profitable, but farms our size keep falling by the wayside, because the larger farms keep buying them up. And for us to buy quota, and we don't want to buy quota, but for us to buy quota, it wouldn't actually cash fold? You'd have to be milking a lot more cows. So somebody milking 300 cows will go out and buy an 80 cow herd and the rest of the herd they'll carry they until they get their debt reduced somewhat. And then they'll go and jump again. So we got farms in the Fraser Valley milking a couple thousand cows. And from an environmental perspective, I don't think that's sustainable.
Jon Steinman: Some of those comments did help inform my own comments that I shared only a week later at the annual policy conference of the Dairy Farmers of Canada held in Ottawa. You can stay tuned for the end of today's show when we'll hear segments from that talk.
One of the topics I brought up at the conference was the controversial topic of raw milk. Certainly my mention of it concerned some of the farmers in attendance, who view raw milk as a hazard to human health. And certainly, who could blame them, just like most of the centralized and industrial nature of the food system, processing a more vulnerable food product like raw milk within such a system is certainly one to be cautious of, but as was suggested years ago here on the show when this topic was first introduced, raw milk can safely be consumed if the distance between the farmer and the consumer is minimized.
Here's Wayne Harris.
Wayne Harris: So our cheese is a raw milk cheese, so we try to get those attributes that raw milk has in our cheese. Raw milk fluid is trickier. You need to be careful. A dairy product is a perfect medium to grow a lot of things. Denise and I went on a cheese course in Vermont this fall and there's about 40 farms that cheese places in the whole State of Vermont if you could believe it. So then we went on a whirlwind tour around the state to try to catch all of them and just about everybody's little shop, like ours, that we walked into there's a fridge in the corner and you'd open up the fridge and there's every kind of container of milk in there you can imagine. We asked them and they're allowed so sell I think it was 15 or 20 percent of their milk is raw milk if they wanted. There were some conditions, people had to bring their own containers, but all those farms were selling at least some raw milk. I guess you would really have to have a really good connection with your customers. I would be concerned about selling raw milk through some stores if the product's just put on the shelf and people don't really understand what they're buying. You would want to make sure the consumer knows the fact that this is a raw product. As I say, homogenization for instance, really came about to extend shelf life and now it's kind of consumer acceptance, because they don't want that cream rising to the top. An unhomogenized product is much healthier for you than a homogenized product.
Jon Steinman: Wayne's comments are an ideal illustration of the many benefits to be found from shortening the distance between the farm and the kitchen... in this case, a shorter distance food system can allow for less processed and more nutritious products to be accessible to the public. Instead, Canadians are now faced with hearing how the industrial food system inserts vitamins and nutrients into food after it's been processed and now we even hear more and more from the biotechnology industry how they can manipulate the genes of plants to produce as they say, more nutritious foods when all along the model for delivering more nutritious foods is right in front of us and has been for quite some time.
Another one of those working examples of shortening the distance between the farm and plate has of course been the Kootenay Grain CSA that's been featured here on the show as part of the Local Grain Revolution series. Of interest to today's topic is Wayne Harris' interest in that CSA (of which the grain is being grown in his neighbourhood). Wayne has been attending CSA meetings since the first one back in December 2007, following which he later went on to even plant some of the Heritage Red Fife Wheat that was first introduced at that meeting. Those heritage grains were fed to his animals. Wayne shares why the grain CSA has been of interest to him as a dairy farmer.
Wayne Harris: In a way it's a little bit of a spinoff of supply management, right there's dedicated consumers. Supply management's main thrust was just to provide a livable income to the farm, like a reasonable return on investment and that's the main test of supply management. Well that's really what this grain CSA is about, providing a livable, manageable return for those farmers, so that's a really good thing to see. As far as agriculture in general, if your neighbour's doing well, you're doing well. It's just nice to see. I've enjoyed seeing that take off.
Jon Steinman: In closing out these segments featuring recordings from Mountain Valley Farm and Kootenay Alpine cheese, we'll leave you with some final comments from Mountain Valley's Wayne Harris.
Wayne Harris: A dairy is a perfect thing to run organically if you want to, because there's so much nutrient recycling. Basically the only thing we're shipping is our milk. Everything else is staying on the farm. So we have the nutrients. And we're land based it's the perfect way to generate a lot of protein for the market, for the consumers. We really have to look at our size of farms and make sure they're sustainable and environmentally friendly. And if you start importing a lot of feed whether it be from 10 miles down the road or from 500 miles down the road that's not sustainable in the long haul. You're depleting land over there and you're loading this land up with too many nutrients. Organic or conventional, most farmers, I think, have the best interest of their land at heart, or at least I hope they do. Denise and I, my wife and I's plan has always been that if one of our kids didn't want to farm, somehow we would try to bring somebody else into the industry, because we would like to see the farm carry on as a unit, rather than get split up into country acreages. The industry as a whole is going to have to start thinking about that. If you go to a place like New Zealand, they have milk share programs where young people, or get into the industry on a graduated entry and eventually they make their way to farm ownership. Somehow, we're going to have to develop some system like that here because somebody has to farm this land when we're done and produce food.
Jon Steinman: So their food over the winter how much of this being grown on your farm?
Wayne Harris: We bought some hay this year. Generally, we grow all our own feed, grain and forge. This year, because of the drought we purchased some, mostly standing crop from a neighbor who had some certified land, so that's where we picked up the rest. Our idea is we would like our farm to be on a, well 100 mile diet is too far, we'd like our farm to be on a 2-3 mile diet, versus hauling grain from Alberta.
Jon Steinman: If not from your own farm, at least from your neighbours.
Wayne Harris: That's right, we want to keep it as close as we can. And we do have some mineral ingredients that come from a long ways and we feed things like kelp, but in the whole scheme of things, it's a very small percentage of the diet.
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Jon Steinman: This is Deconstructing Dinner a syndicated weekly radio show and podcast produced in Nelson, British Columbia at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY. I'm Jon Steinman.
Today's broadcast has taken us to the Creston Valley of BC where Mountain Valley Farm and its Kootenay Alpine Cheese call home. You can learn more about the operation on their website at kootenayalpinecheese.com and as mentioned earlier we have posted a number of photographs from our farm and cheese making tour on-line at deconstructingdinner.ca under the April 16th, 2009 episode.
Now as mentioned last week the overwhelming success of Kootenay Alpine Cheese was briefly introduced to the Dairy Farmers of Canada at their annual policy conference in Ottawa held on February 5th, 2009. I arrived there only a week after my visit to the farm on an invitation to share with the Dairy Farmers my thoughts on the changing perspectives on agriculture among Canada's urban populations. The overarching theme of the talk was that Canadians are understandably losing trust in our industrial food system and that there is clearly a notable population willing to get behind and support what they see as being more ecologically and socially responsible models of food production. Now we'll be hearing the full talk that I delivered on an upcoming show, but here's a quick segment about the end of the talk when I introduced a number of examples of ways in which Canadians are indeed supporting shorter-distance food systems. I of course introduced the Kootenay Grain CSA which we've been covering here on the show and as we'll hear right now, I also introduced Kootenay Alpine Cheese to conference delegates.
Again, this was recorded on February 5th at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa.
Jon Steinman: I'm going to quickly just talk about dairy, I want to give one quick dairy example of what's happening in my neck of the woods. In Nelson BC, just as an example, the closest fluid milk producer from Nelson is over 320km away. The closest organic fluid milk producer, certainly a growing market, is twice that distance away in the Lower Mainland of BC. In terms of cheese, as an example, within a four hour radius around my community there is only one cheese maker or there was one cheese maker up until just recently. Actually, we can go to the next slide.
This was just constructed last year. This is Kootenay Alpine cheese in Lister, which is also in the Creston valley owned by the Harris family. And the herd here on this farm numbers around 160 and the food for the herd is almost entirely grown on the farm. In fact, Wayne Harris has been coming out to the CSA meetings, because of how inspiring he finds the CSA meetings to be as almost a small scale supply management system, as he calls it. And if you sit down with Wayne he's incredibly optimistic; he's seen his cheese sales over the past few months and he doesn't hesitate to say that the reason his cheese is becoming so successful is thanks to this growing interest in supporting farmers, supporting local food, supporting, in his case, organic. People are craving local food.
I sat down with Wayne before I left for Edmonton where I just came from this morning and I sat down with him and talked with him about why and how he got into this. And he had said that he's interested in producing fluid milk, but for him the cost to construct a processing facility in the community is just far too high, but the demand is clearly there. So he instead opted to construct a cheese making facility that you're seeing in this picture here in order to keep his milk in the community. And that was his intention, to keep the milk in the community instead of transporting it to whatever processing facility was taken at that time. And for him that is either 600km west or 1,100km to the east. And one thing that I've observed that is certain and I think it's an important point here with this growing interest from urban populations especially with the environmental impact with their food when they hear statistics like this they will become much more interested not only to support local producers in keeping their product in the local community, but maybe even looking for alternatives instead of supporting those products if they don't exist. When they do find out that the miles are attached to this and most consumers, again, don't understand the supply management system they don't understand how milk can be cooled and go from one place to another, but consumers are starting to understand these things.
That was recorded on February 5th, 2009 in Ottawa, Ontario. Again, the full recording from that talk will be airing on Deconstructing Dinner in the near future.
Jon Steinman: Taking us to the end of today's broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner we'll remain on the topic of dairy and expand on one of the issues raised earlier and certainly one featured here on the show before, raw milk - a food that is illegal in every part of Canada, unless it's used in certain cheeses aged for more than 60 days. Yet when looking south across the border, raw milk is legal in many states, including California. Located in Fresno is one of the most vocal proponents of raw milk, Mark McAfee, the founder of Organic Pastures Dairy Company. Since the 1950s, McAfee Farms has advocated for what they call, "nature-friendly farm practices." In 1988, the family established an organic farm and by 2000, Organic Pastures Dairy Company became California's first raw milk dairy with certified organic pasture. In October 2007, Mark was invited by the Health Action Network Society (HANS) to speak in Burnaby, British Columbia and his talk was recorded and made available on a DVD titled Is Real Milk Raw Milk? The DVD can be accessed through the HANS website at hans.org. In this segment extracted from the DVD, Mark speaks about some of the very topics discussed on today's and last week's broadcast - and most importantly, how North Americans and our food system appear more interested to challenge natural systems than to work with them.
Here's Mark McAfee.
Mark McAfee: So when you pasteurize milk these are destroyed. If you get a pathogen in afterwards it goes like crazy. That's why you see back in the 80s, there was a 197,000 people sickened by salmonella in pasteurized milk in the eastern seaboard. There's been 512 recalls of pasteurized milk in the last 15 years in the United States. 512. You don't hear it in the news, but it's all over the place. In fact, if you look at pasteurized milk and you take it to the lab and you test it, you find a significant number of samples that actually come up positive with pathogens, but they're very very low levels. In California, it is against the rules, not the law, but the rules-the code- to test pasteurized milk for pathogens. The State never tests them. They don't test them. It's against the rules. You don't test pasteurized milk for pathogens, because it's been pasteurized and we trust the pasteurizer.
Well pathogens and bacteria are heat resistant sometimes and they can get by the pasteurizer just like they get by antibiotics, just like they get by heat, and they get by all kinds of things, because they adapt and overcome. And adaption and overcome is what's been going on for billions of years with bacteria in this world as they adapt and overcome their environments. And pasteurization is just another hurdle they've come to overcome. That's why pasteurization temperatures are no longer 140 degrees, now they're 165 degrees, 172 degrees, and now 282 degrees for each HUHT. We're creating our own worst enemies here by not following Mother Nature's design. You know, when I was a paramedic there was a guy by the name of Jim Segerstrom he died last year of a stroke. He was a Swiftwater Rescue 3 instructor. We had become certified to rescue people in rivers. We had these big rivers in California, like you've got up here, but they have rapids in them. They really are a manifestation of Mother Nature's great strength. I mean she's in charge. That river just moves and incredible forces you can't stand up to her or it'll knock you over it'll drown you quickly. And he said this is a river, you better respect her, because she's in charge. But if you learn how to play in the river, you understand the hydraulics, where the river flows, the green water floats you, the white water sinks you, you understand how to do it you could easily play out here and you'll be fine if you're trained and understand how Mother Nature works. But if you don't work with Mother Nature she'll kill you in five minutes. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to try to work against Mother Nature, but if you work with her it's just easy as it gets. So my job as a swift water technician was to understand Mother Nature and work with her so I could rescue someone without dying myself and get out of the river and work with Mother Nature.
Well, this is a great example what we're doing today. Because we can't pasteurize milk effectively and bacteria getting by it, they're trying to invent new ways of pasteurizing. And one of them I think is just great, it's called HPP. And it's not been broadly accepted yet, but it's been approved by the FDA from what I understand. It's called HPP, high pressure processing. Now homogenization is destruction of butter fat cells by 6000 pounds of psi, or 5000 pounds of pressure per inch. Can anybody guess how many pounds per square inch we're gonna put against milk to try to kill bacteria that is resistant to heat?
Any thoughts? 6000 pounds is what we use for homogenization. 85,000 pounds per square inch. Our trucks in California can't go above 80,000 pounds. Gross, ok. 85,000 psi on one square inch of milk. Can you imagine what kind of destruction that's going to cause? Unmeasurable. Microscopic unrecognizable disaster. And we thought pasteurization was bad but I'll take pasteurization any day compared to that. 80,000 pounds on one square inch. That's incredible when you think about it. It's also a measure of the madness of mankind trying to force that river with just everything he can, because it's going to take everything he can, because you're not going to win. And that's really kind of crazy.
In fact, what was Einstein's definition of madness? Doing the same thing over and over and over again expecting different results. What's the definition of intelligence? Any thoughts on that one? My definition is see the problem out in the distance and doing something today about it- go around it, over it, through it, disassemble it, whatever you got to do, but do something today about it so you don't get hurt by it when you get there. That's my definition of intelligence. There's not a lot of intelligence going on in this world. We do the same damn thing over and over expecting different results or it's not going to affect us, right? That's madness. We are going to be collective victims of our circumstance. Unless we change it, we will be those victims. So, if you look at what happens here in the pasteurization it's brilliant today. On the call-in show, what's his name Bill Good was there. It was just amazing to hear the nutritionalist column that was supposed to be the big bad person that made me look bad and she said I have no problem with raw milk, it's ok. It's the distribution of raw milk that I've got such a hard time with it. And I said I agree with you. I have no problem with that at all, because it doesn't fit the industrial model, because you have to have a known-source where it comes from. It's got to be grass-fed or taken care of. You don't want to culminate it with 15 other dairies that could cause it to be bad altogether.
It was more of a challenge, with not the food safety. She said she'd even drink raw milk, as long as it's certified and she knew where it came form. And that is what I would expect everybody to do. So there was no challenge here about food safety, it was about the industrial system in which the milk was supposedly going to be plugged into. So that I think really changed my political view of the challenge here, which is it's not the safety of raw milk, it's we can't exploit it. And that's kind of neat, because that means the money goes back to the organic farmer or the natural farmer, not the food system.
So the convenience for producers was proven today by the testimony of somebody who called in on the news show, excuse us Bill, it extends the shelf life this can't be underestimated. Heating up milk extends the apparent freshness of milk for a longer period of time. Raw milk only has about a 12-14 day shelf life before it starts to turn into yogurt, tries to sour itself. That's a natural process, it's what it's supposed to do. So you have to keep it continually cold, which means it's more intensive to manage. But all these things causes a toxicity in consumers, so the producers aren't really focusing on what's good for consumers, they're worried about what's good for distribution and money, and the brand. Causes lactose intolerance, makes people allergic, all this kind of stuff. And, after all, pasteurization actually doesn't work anymore, because we know that PARA TB and Bacillus spore formers all get by past pasteurization all the time. PARA TB is strongly correlated with Crohn's disease. We have an endemic Crohn's disease in our country and PARA TB is one of the things that is believed to be the causative pathogen for that. Dr. Cindy Daley who runs the Chico State Organic Dairy Program, one of the only organic dairy programs that actually has a functioning dairy to study organic dairy, PhD, said pasteurization is past its useful time. There are thinkers that are saying, hey listen we need to get beyond this, there's better ways.
This is the kind of conditions, which you would want to steer away from if you were interested in raw milk for human consumption. A wet set of conditions, with lots of manure, concrete, cows standing there, eating lots of grain, hormones being used, which thank god in Canada you don't do, BST is not legal and I think that's great, you guys are awesome but it's all over the United States, it's really insane. High grain use, pastures in confinement, all that kind of stuff together. In California, the expected life expectancy of a cow is 42 months. It's almost like a computer program. You got this set of protocols that go through on a factory farm with 10,000, 15,000 cows and you plug in this you get that and you don't get that. She's hamburger. You know. It's just numbers, it's like a call thing, it's a shoot. Where do you fit. You got a little FRID computer chip and it's just a number. That's not the kind of place you want to get raw milk from for human consumption.
This is the kind of place you want to get raw milk from, which is a green grass pasture or, in this environment, that green grass may only be green for six months of the year. You want to have a dry set of conditions, one where there's woodchips or straw or bedding or something where the cows can be moved from day to day around an area and the farmers can keep them clean and dry. There's going to be lots of bacteria there, but it's a poly-culture bacteria with competitive bacteria and hopefully you have a translucent ceiling or one of those arched ceilings, classic arched buildings, where there's some light going in there and there's some breeze. And in that set of conditions we've shown all across Wisconsin, Vermont, all those northern very cold climates in the United States, that they do a great job of raw milk production, as long as they don't feed a lot of grain. Stay down on the grain, because it changes the rumen ph in the gut, which makes it more acidic and makes it into a brewery. Cows chew their cud for a reason. They got four stomachs for a reason, because they chew it, the food takes forever to digest. It's a long process, where they're supposed to ruminate. That's why they're ruminants. That's what changes everything, is their nutrition and their environment. And that's the kind of dairy here that you want to see a cow producing raw milk for human consumption and then hopefully you'll have some pathogen tests done to verify that in fact Mother Nature is right.
I do as many pathogen tests on raw milk as I do on manure. I check manure all the time with pathogen tests on the farm. And beginning next year there's going to be a pathogen test available, that in five minutes you can do a rapid test to find out if pathogens are present are not. It's pretty powerful. Very, very quick. The LITMUS RAPID-B. And I think Gordon you were talking about Alicia has some. There's a locally produced system that has that same kind of technology. So, the military has been doing it for a while, testing battle fuel for anthrax and other stuff. We had a conversation about that today. But tests can be applied to food and the environment to make food safe, which I think is really, really great, because that alleviates literally all the excuses that have been hanging around forever that you can't make raw milk safe and assure it to a very high level. Well I never guarantee anybody raw milk safety. Don't do it. What I do is guarantee them an improved immune system by being exposed to a wonderful breadth of biodiversity for long periods of time, that if a bad bug does come along you probably won't even know it, because you, you're going to be robustly healthy. So I don't give food guarantees, although I'm 80 million to zero. So we've got to be honest with ourselves about what we are in this world. We're not ensured to be healthy. We have to be independent individually responsible for ourselves to have a higher level of assurance of health if we so choose to be healthy.
Books, there's great books back here. Weston Price's book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is excellent. The Untold Story of Milk, The Milk Cure, Heather Zimmerman and I actually were to be in that book together actually. We have a neat story, her daughter was very very sick with asthma and she started ordering raw Colostrum from our dairy and she couldn't afford it anymore, because it was all overnight shipping and really expensive. And I told her, I said, go down to a local dairy and get as much Colostrum as you can and just give your kids as much Colostrum as you can for a long period of time. It took about 6 months, but this terrible, terrible case of bronchitis and asthma in her child resolved in several months and no more ER visits, no more doctors visits. She was so compelled by that that she wrote the foreword and actually re-put back into print Dr. Porter's work, Milk Diet way back in the Mayo Clinic in circa 1920s. So pretty powerful stuff that she was so moved as a mom, she went back and said this has got to come to life for everybody. And that book is here available and see Nelson for that. It's a really really powerful book that just cuts out all the crap of the last 80 years and goes right to the foundation of biodiverse healing foods and the milk cure, so that's a good book. And then Nourishing Traditions, which is the bible. Sally Fallon's work about how you can be a super mom and feed your family and these wonderful, nourishing, literally traditions.
Love of all things American is a tragic, tragic problem. These are them aside today. What do they have? Good old Coca-Cola. That's not raw milk in a Coke bottle, guys. It's really telling you something that people look to the West, the culture we have here, kind of envious, because-I don't know-maybe it's a materialism we have or a loss of some spiritual connection with something greater here, but when people start drinking the sugar water and start washing away the good bacteria in the gut, and start getting Candida and all the other things going on and join us, their disease curse will be like ours as well. So actually the leadership begins with us, because people follow us. We in California, what we do, the people in the world follow. So, I have a tremendous feeling of passion and leadership to try and do something really, really good and have 50,000 mothers just going "Yes!" no more ear-infections and asthma gone and all these wonderful immune system things resolved. So then people will get notice and the internet will change everything.
There was a great quote by a guy by the name of Earl Butz and he was the Under-Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon in 1972. His great quote was, "When you hear the word organic, think starvation." That's what he said, that was in 1972. In 2002, Dr. Dan Glickman signed the National Organic Law in a place and now we have a national, united standard. However, weak it is or whatever. Nonetheless, it's acknowledgement that organics is ok, good, and federal standard and there's a law about it. It took 30 years for that transition to happen. The first 25 of those years there was literally no internet. There weren't even cell-phones for the first 20 years of it. But now that we have the internet we can all communicate. We're on even par together. I think the next 10 years, from 2007 to 2017, you're going to see a dramatic change, because the truth is going to be the truth. The emperor has no clothes and everybody's on equal par on a blog to say it. And you can talk about you, you can talk about your family, you can talk about your husband, you can talk about your kids, you can talk about your own life experience. And science might not even matter as much, because the truth is going to be the truth. You can go and prove it at Stanford, which they're working on a big study on asthma this next summer with Dr. Christopher Gardiner. And Rutgers has got a big working group on raw milk. But you know what the greatest truth is? It's working right now for you.
Jon Steinman: Mark McAfee speaking in October 2007 in Burnaby, British Columbia
Mark is the founder of California's first raw milk dairy with certified organic pasture - Organic Pastures Dairy Company. That recording was only a sample of his talk - the full version is available on a DVD titled Is Real Milk Raw Milk and can be accessed from the website for the Health Action Network Society at hans.org.
More information on today's show including an archived version will be posted on-line at deconstructingdinner.ca under the April 16th, 2009 episode.
That was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John Ryan.
The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.
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