When I launched Full Moon Ghee in 2014, my commitment was to our local farmers and offering my customers the highest quality ghee imaginable. I thoroughly searched for a local and organic butter, yet I came up against dead ends over and over. The closest certified organic butter that I could find, in bulk quantities, was from Wisconsin.
I’m based in Western Massachusetts, where dairy farms are steadily on the decline. My goal is to support the farms that are left in the region, and Wisconsin was too far outside of that range. So, I teamed up with a Northeast Dairy Co-op which provides all the butter for our ghee. Although it is not certified organic, the cows are grass-fed, the farmers are paid fairly for their work, and there are no hormones or antibiotics in the product.
While doing more digging into why there were not very many local certified organic dairy farms in my neck of the woods, I found some rather unnerving information about the organic certification process.
For one, becoming certified organic, for a small farm is highly cost-prohibitive. The inspections are expensive and lengthy, demanding more time from the farmer, who already has more on their plate than they can manage.
Two, organic feed for livestock costs 2-3 times more than non-organic, which means the farmer would make even less per gallon of milk or pound of butter than they already do, which is not a whole lot.
Three, when a dairy farm is certified organic, they cannot treat a cow with antibiotics unless they want to separate them from the herd, forever, or send them to slaughter. Those aren’t great options for business or ethics.
When I worked on a goat dairy farm from 2009-2013, we only treated a goat with antibiotics as a last resort. It was as a parent would take the necessary measures if their child became ill.
Antibiotics are mostly overused in feedlots where the animals are so close together they are bound to get sick. Here in the Northeast, we don’t have feedlots and it is very expensive to treat cows preventatively with drugs.
Farmers don’t want to use antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. They also don’t want to lose animals because that is very costly to their livelihood. So, when a cow gets sick, like a child, wouldn’t you want to treat them properly so they recover and continue living a healthy life?
If it comes to treatment with antibiotics, there is a mandatory milk withholding period in which the milk from that cow cannot be added to the bulk tank where it will be sold to customers. Each batch of milk is tested for antibiotics before being sold. We did this regularly on our farm when a goat was given antibiotics. Their milk was never added back to the bulk tank unless it was completely clear of any residue post-treatment.
Connecting Our Food to Farmers
The cost of food is rising, as I think it should be considering the costs of feed, land values, taxes, and all materials for operations are on the rise. We have to pay each other more for our contributions to the world, and that includes the farmers growing our food.
Local products mean you get to have a relationship with the producers. As a customer, you can contact your farmers, meet them at a local market, and build relationships so you can ensure your food is of the highest quality.
Growing up in what used to be mostly a dairy farm country of Western Mass, I value my farmers. How are they faring in this changing climate? Are they getting paid livable wages? How long has their farm been in their family? What wisdom do they have for us? This is the reason I live here and produce value-added products — because I get to be intimately involved in the food system.
When you see the price of a farm product go up, your first reaction may be bitterness — I know mine is sometimes — but remember how much went into getting that item from farm to market for you to bring home.
I understand eating organic is important, and most of what I consume is, but I also urge us to look beyond the label and into the heart of the local foods available to us year-round. Maybe the farm is not certified organic, but their quality and relationship to our community is invaluable.