Inside that fridge are gallons of raw milk. Bottles of raw cream. Homemade raw sour cream, yogurt, kefir, and kombucha. Homemade raw mozzarella. Everything unpasteurized, un-homogenized. Everything delicious.
MoonRyvRanch is a milk co-op. You must be a member in order to get milk and membership spots are very limited. I waited for a couple months before I got the call that there was an open spot, needless to say I was ecstatic. It seems kind of silly to be so excited about the chance to pay 10.50 for a gallon of milk, but it really is a great thing. They can only supply so much milk with so many cows. The system is set up so that when you become a member you are committing to regularly purchase milk from the dairy. If there was no membership, people could come and go and there would be a constant fluctuation of too much milk leftover and not enough milk to go around. By ensuring that there is a regular market for the milk, the dairy can operate more comfortably.
Raw milk does have the potential to carry dangerous bacteria and other unfriendly organisms, so it is very important that before purchasing raw milk from a dairy you go out and take a tour of the facilities. A little research before hand to help you know how to tell the difference between a well run and clean operation and a poorly operated disease-trap doesn’t hurt either. At MoonRyvRanch they are extremely open with their customers – nothing is hidden from view and all questions are answered. It is a great example of how a raw dairy should be run.
I was given a tour of the milking barn and got to see the milking station and learn how the milk is (minimally) processed and packaged for sale.
The cows’ udders are cleaned, the first squirts of milk are checked for clumps or streaks of blood – every worker knows how to identify signs of infection or bad milk. If there are no signs of trouble, the cow is milked and the milk goes directly into a stainless steel storage tank where it is then filtered through a few different stages of screens and mesh to ensure no debris gets through. Since there is no pasteurization involved, the filtered milk goes straight from the storage tank into the gallon containers for purchase.
I got to meet the two newest family members – Cookie and Ginger. All of the cows were laying out in the field under a shade tree, relaxing and seeming to thoroughly enjoy being cows. A raw dairy inherently treats its animals very well. Because the milk that is produced doesn’t have the back-up option of high heat sterilization, it is imperative that the cows are kept in good health; healthy cows means healthy milk. Healthy cows get to eat grass, roam around, take naps in the shade, and are hormone and unnecessary-antibiotic free. Their milk is full of delicious cream – cream that you get to see at the top of your milk jug because the fat hasn’t been broken into tiny indigestible bits for a homogenized product.All of the milk products that MoonRyvRanch sells are produced on site by the interns and the owner – except for the kombucha, a friend of the dairy makes that at home and delivers it. I first learned about MoonRyvRanch at a cheese making workshop I took at Cardo’s Farm (a local CSA). The day I visited, the kitchen was in full mozzarella mode – no matter what kind of milk you use, homemade fresh mozzarella is one of the most delicious things on earth.
The products are much more expensive than what you would find at the grocery store but really the prices are more than justified. The price of milk directly reflects the cost of feed, the price of a jar of sour cream includes a deposit for the glass jar (if you return the jar you get your deposit back, if you don’t return it they’ll use that dollar to purchase a new jar). $10.50 a gallon reflects the real cost of milk. There are no government subsidizes for cheaper feed or insurances against unsold product. The money spent is what the milk is really worth. It is worth it for healthy animals and a farm that doesn’t pump out tons of toxic-cow-waste. It is worth it to support a dairy that is operating independently and sustainably. It is definitely worth it to take home a gallon of milk that came out of the cow that morning – no shipping, no long journey in a refrigerated tanker, just a 20 minute drive through the countryside.
The difference in price, along with almost every other aspect of this dairy and an industrial dairy, forces me, as a consumer, to more closely examine where it is I spend my money and how the prices of goods are determined. It is extremely unfortunate that cheap food today almost guarantees unsustainable practices – for the earth, for the workers producing the food, and for the economy as a whole. For our family it is worth it to devote a much larger portion of our budget to purchasing food that comes from places like MoonRyvRanch. We are spending our money to support our ideals.