Letters to the editor, October 2001

This article was originally published in October 2001

Dairy products and calves

I read the article regarding Samish Bay Cheese in the August 2001 issue with interest to see how this local farm might produce a dairy product without contributing to the intolerable conditions and situations produced by normal dairy farming practices.

Unfortunately, the article assumes that since the cows appear to be content in the field, the hay smells sweet, and everything is clean and tidy that that is enough. I was left to wonder what happened to the calves that have been born so the cows will produce milk. Are they nursing on their mothers and laying content in the field along with them? Or were they taken away from their mothers? Are the cows producing so much milk that there’s enough for both calf and a human that wants to make a lot of cheese? Certainly the bull calves won’t grow up to produce milk. Were they sold to veal farms? In addition, are the cows bred naturally or are they artificially inseminated?

On a strictly nutritional note, I found the line “You are what you eat” and that “We Americans are bigger, fatter, more prone to heart disease, stroke and hypertension,” in the first page article to be in conflict with promoting a food that is so high in cholesterol and saturated fat — hardly a food to promote health in any regard.

I would appreciate seeing follow-up information in the Sound Consumer to address these concerns and enlighten its members.

If Samish Bay Cheese is able to produce its products without producing the suffering so common (but normally unseen) in the dairy industry then perhaps it really is the “little piece of paradise” as described in the article.
—Kim Bledsoe, Sammamish

Samish Bay Cheese replies:
Thank you for the opportunity to respond directly to Ms. Bledsoe’s concerns. We were flattered by the glowing report in the article about us; it sounded very nice and romantic. Certainly the realities of life on the farm are not always sweet smelling, clean, and tidy. So it is not unreasonable for one to wonder what harsh realities might have been glossed over in this report.

We generally leave our calves with the moms for two to three months. Right now, we have two young calves (one bull and one heifer) that do look quite content out in the field with their moms and the other cows. This is unusual in modern American dairies and perhaps impractical on large ones. We feel it is worth the sacrifice of our precious, limited amount of milk for the sake of the health of the calves.

Our cows are not big producers. We do not push them for maximum production with large grain rations, hormones, etc. Our priority is the health and well-being of the animals and the quality of our milk. They are on pasture most of the time and whenever weather permits. With only nine cows we don’t have a lot of bull calves to deal with. Right now, in addition to the young bull calf, we have an older one we are raising to breed our own herd. The rest we have sold to a neighbor who raises Holstein heifers and needed some Jersey bulls for breeding. We have not sold any to veal farms and have no interest in doing that in the future.

We started out with artificial insemination (AI). We did, for a while, use a borrowed bull for breeding and are getting some calves from that this year. Right now we are back to AI. We will probably continue with a mix of natural breeding and AI. Using bulls has been more reliable for us in impregnating the cows. Maybe the cows are missing something without the service of a bull, but AI is not cruel.

As far as the nutritional issues with cheese, that is something each of us will judge on our own. We think good quality organic cheese is a wholesome food that for most people, eaten in moderation, will nourish the body as well as the soul. Being small gives us options that are harder for larger dairies to employ.

We hope that our customers appreciate the choices we have made in how we manage the dairy and the cheese we make, the terroir, or “soul of the earth” from which our artisan cheese springs. We just did demos in all the PCC stores. Many people asked about our rennet. We use a vegetarian, microbial enzyme; no calf rennet; no GMOs. We welcome PCC members to visit us at the dairy. Check first on timing 360-766-6707. We’ll try to take a few minutes to show you around and you can judge for yourselves how close to paradise or otherwise it looks.

What we are doing is a challenge. The support given to us by PCC and its members has been a help and we appreciate it greatly. We would not have survived our first two years if it were not for the local co-ops and our farmers market customers.
—Roger and Suzanne Wechsler, Samish Bay Cheese

Slow Food movement

I really enjoyed the article in the August issue on Slow Food and the personalized article “What Can We Do?” on Scott Leach’s challenges as a farmer (see Produce, page 8). Until I read about the Slow Food movement, I didn’t know there were other people out there that thought about food in the same way that I do. Each issue this past year has had engaging articles that bring the food producer closer to the consumer. Thanks.
—MaryAnn Barron, member

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