When From Left to Write book club members read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life last month, many of us contemplated changing how we eat. While Kingsolver changed her lifestyle dramatic, most of us don’t have the luxury to pick up and move cross country to farm our food. Eating organic and local is hard the wallet, so why is it some important?
Stonyfield partnered with us to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and we’re happy to have Stonyfield expert Britt Lundgren, Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture at Stonyfield Farm to answer some questions about organic foods.
With organic milk nearing the $7 a gallon mark, is it really worth the cost and why?
We know that our prices may seem high when compared to other products. It costs more to produce things organically because we’re not relying on the kinds of chemical shortcuts that conventional farmers and food processors use. This can mean more labor and more time for farmers, and they do it with less governmental support than conventional farms.
The cost of organic foods is just one of the reasons we’re working on transitioning more farmers to organic and trying to get more of our organic products in stores. We hope efforts like these will eventually bring the price down. We’re committed to producing organic products because organic farming provides better nutrition and safety for you, better conditions for the animals, and is better for family farmers and for the planet.
What are the long term benefits of buying organic milk and why the high cost?
What does a Stonyfield cow eat?
All of the organic milk used to make our products comes from Organic Valley/CROPP, a Wisconsin-based cooperative of over 1,300 dairy farmers throughout the U.S. Because Organic Valley’s farms are certified organic, they’re required to follow pasture-based production standards, and Organic Valley goes even further with strict pasture policies that meet or exceed those of the USDA Organic Standards.
Cows must have access to pasture to graze on a mixture of grasses, legumes such as alfalfa and clover, and other nutritious plants. The amount of time a cow spends on pasture depends on the time of year, the weather, the feeding program of the individual farmer, and the regional location of the farm, however, the minimum pasture requirement for lactating cows is 120 days per growing season. About half of the cow’s diet needs to come from grazing to meet the standard that requires that pasture make up 30% of the dry weight of everything a cow eats. The cows are fed hay and a variety of organic grains for added energy.
Overall, what cows eat can vary from farm to farm. Most farmers produce their own organic feed from various sources on their farms including pasture, dry bailed hay, pellet grain, and haylage. Animal nutrition is as much an art as it is a science. The cows individual nutritional needs, climate, season, farm size, and management style all impact what a farmer feeds his animals. If you’d like to learn more about what takes place on an organic dairy farm, have a look at our Farm Cam videos.
Where do the fruits come from for the yogurt?
In addition to our milk, the majority of organic ingredients we purchase are grown right here in the U.S. We source over 325 million lbs of organic ingredients annually, like our fruit, sweeteners, milk, grains, and spices. When you add up our imports of organic ingredients that could otherwise be grown in the US, they make up less than 2% of our ingredient purchases overall. While we always look for sources in the U.S. first, some ingredients like organic cocoa, banana, and vanilla don’t grow in the U.S. so we import them. And, only a small amount of organic sugar is grown in the U.S., so virtually all organic food companies import sugar. Some ingredient sources may be geographically closer to us than most US suppliers, like our Quebec-grown organic blueberries, which account for one-third of our imported ingredients.
What is the relationship between Stonyfield and Dannon? They seem to share a lot of product lines (Oikos and Activia), which implicates a relationship.
Stonyfield and Dannon are independent companies and will remain so, however both companies have Groupe Danone as our parent company. We have a unique partnership with France-based Danone. Between 2001 and 2003, Danone bought about 85% of our company shares. Typically, when a big conglomerate buys a smaller organic or natural-food company, the smaller company undergoes management changes. But that’s not the case with us. We continue to manage our company autonomously, and we’ve remained true to our mission. Gary Hirshberg, who co-founded our company in 1983, is still our chairman. We’re still using the finest ingredients to make pure, delicious organic food. And our use of organic ingredients helps support hundreds of family farms and keeps more than 200,000 farm acres free of toxic, persistent pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. We’re also helping to show other Danone companies that sustainable practices can be profitable practices and are inspiring them to make positive changes in the way they do business, too.
If Monsato has made it impossible for Canada to make organic canola oil, and GMO modified farms are so wide spread in the states, is there anything the organic farmers can do to KEEP their farms organic? How is a organic farmer able to control pesticides and GMO seeds migrating from other farms?
At Stonyfield, we’re committed to producing foods without GMOs as part of our commitment to choosing the best organic ingredients so we can offer you the healthiest food possible. Our farmer-partners continue to be vigilant on the farm to minimize the possibility of GMO contamination and we will continue to demand an honest process at USDA, but the way forward for contamination prevention is still a work in progress.
Organic farmers take many steps to avoid contamination from neighboring conventional farms. One of the primary steps that all organic farms are required to use is the placement of a “buffer” area between their organic production and any conventional crops. This buffer is an area wide enough to ensure that any chemicals applied to the conventional land aren’t drifting over onto the organic production. In the rare case that pesticides do drift far enough to contaminate an organic farm, the crops contaminated by drift can’t be sold as organic.
We are as passionate about organic food free of toxic persistent pesticides and GMOs as you and we hope you’ll join us in raising your voice to demand the labeling of products produced with GMOs. Visit http://justlabelit.org/ and tell the FDA that you believe you have the right to know what’s in your food.
I buy organic because I think it’s the right thing to do: to keep all those chemicals out of the soil, the water, and the farmers, rather than for any personal health benefit. When I try to explain this to people they either glaze over or bristle because they feel I’m being high-and-mighty. How does Stonyfield suggest we frame the importance of organic when speaking about it to other people?
There’s no magic saying that works to convince people that organic is the way to go – different people are motivated by so many different things. And don’t forget – there are health benefits to all of us in keeping all those chemicals out of our soil, air, and water – especially when you’re talking about air we breathe and water we drink! You can find some great tools that are fun and informative about spreading the word on the importance of organic by joining in the conversations at www.iWillKnowMyFood.com and the Stonyfield Moo Crew.
Thanks to Britt for taking the time to answer our questions!
Britt Lundgren is the Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture at Stonyfield Farm. She holds a Master of Science in Agriculture, Food, and Environment from Tufts University. Prior to joining Stonyfield, Lundgren spent several years as an agricultural policy specialist for Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, D.C. She has worked on organic farms in Maine, Massachusetts, and Colorado.
Photos courtesy of Stonyfield.