I grew up in a small town in middle Tennessee called Bell Buckle. Yep, that’s really the name of my hometown. And I grew up surrounded by cows…lots and lots of cows…
To your left over there, you see 10= or 11-year-old me with one of those cows after she and I had just won the Junior Showmanship championship at the Bedford County 4-H Dairy Expo. I was super proud. Look how well I’d oiled up her little horns so she would look her very best!
My winning bovine buddy in the photo was “Bonnie Blue” (I was a geeky child somewhat obsessed with the book “Gone With the Wind” at that moment in time), and Bonnie was a purebred Jersey heifer I won in an essay contest sponsored by the Duck River Electric Cooperative. I think the topic may have been, “Why I Should Win My Own Dairy Heifer.” My parents didn’t know I’d entered the contest until we got a call instructing us to come pick up the cow I’d just won. To their credit, they did not complain, but instead praised me effusively for my big win and then went to pick up the cow. My little sister won the same essay contest a few years later, and she named her purebred Ayreshire heifer “Charlotte,” going with a Bronte theme as opposed to my own Margaret Mitchell naming aesthetic.
But I digress….
Yes, I grew up with cows, and loved them. In fact, at age 12, I was the Tennessee state 4-H Dairy judging champion, and I spent many blissful nights camped out in the dairy barn at the Tennessee state fair, sleeping with my head resting on a dairy cow whom I would be exhibiting the next morning. Cows – particularly a sweet dairy cow – are awesomely chill creatures. They are very zen in the way they approach life, and just being around them was a very good learning experience for me.
I also got to spend a lot of time as a child in and around the small working dairy farms that still existed in the ’70s and ’80s in rural middle Tennessee. At that time, many of our family’s neighbors made all or part of their living on the same farms where their grandparents and great grandparents had begun producing milk a generation or two previously. And I saw the way those families – men, women and children – fundamentally respected their animals. They didn’t treat them like pets; it wasn’t like that at all. These were working farm animals, but they were part of an ecosystem of farm life that was mutually beneficial. The families took good care of their cows, because they depended on the cows to take good care of them.
Nowadays, small family dairy operations are far more rare than they were even 30 years ago, back when I was a 4-H kid hanging around the state fair and hoping to win a blue ribbon with my sweet Jersey heifer. Dairy farming is increasingly mechanized and supercharged in order to create economy of scale and maximize output. And while I have never managed to be one of those super conscientious moms who goes to a whole lot of trouble and expense to feed only organic foods to her kids, dairy is one food category where I really have held the line. Most of the time, we only have organic milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy goodies in our fridge.
Why organic? Well, having personally spent time in dairy barns where the cows were treated right, this issue matters to me. And I want to buy my family’s dairy from the type of small family farms that still rely on great care for their cows to boost their milk output (as opposed to overuse of antibiotics and growth hormones). Via companies like Stonyfield, and their work with farm cooperatives, these kinds of smaller dairy operations are able to remain in business while still producing milk in a way that I support.
I know…I know… I should probably be blogging about all the reasons that organic dairy products are healthier for my KIDS, rather than why I think organic dairy farming practices are kinder to the COWS, and it’s true – organic dairy is much healthier and safer for our children. No doubt about that.
But when I buy my family’s yogurt and sour cream from a company that supports organic dairy production and smaller farmers, I am actually thinking about Bonnie Blue, and those big, brown eyes she had with looooong lashes. She was a good friend to me as a girl, and now as a grown up consumer, I’m trying to pay it forward by being a good friend to her cud-chewing sisters and daughters in dairy goodness.
READ MORE FROM KATIE OVER AT MAMAPUNDIT (HER PERSONAL BLOG)