by Lisa Fouladbash, CFSA’s Organic Policy Coordinator

Miss December reached out a long pink tongue and licked my hand. It was the first time I had been kissed by a cow, but I couldn’t say I minded; she was a beaut, after all.  As I watched her lazily chewing cud on the grassy pasture at Reedy Fork Organic Dairy Farm, I listened to Ben Miller, family dairy farmer, explain how she got her name. In their cow calendar this large, beautiful brown Holstein cow starred as the December spread. Though Ben tries not to let on, I can tell he has his favorites- and Miss December is one of them.

Cute Brown Cow from Reedy Fork Organic DairyMy visit to Reedy Fork was my first visit to a dairy farm. It was a picturesque, pastoral scene of healthy, happy cows sleepily grazing on sunny pastures. And each cow had a story. Ben pointed out another cow, a lovely Holstein-Jersey breed, and became pensive as he told me how one snowy day she and her calf didn’t come back to the barn. He was worried they’d slipped on the ice and went to look for them. You can see that he was relieved like a parent when he found mother and daughter safely huddled together for warmth in the corner of the field. I could tell that Ben has a special bond with the cows that only a farmer could have.

The farm wasn’t always like this; until 2007, Reedy Fork was a conventional dairy farm. Then, Ben made the decision to pursue organic certification for the farm. A shadow passed across Ben’s face as he told me about how, on particularly hot summer days before he switched to organic practices, the cows would struggle with the heat in the barn, which was paved with concrete. One day he saw a cow suffer from heat stroke. “Does that still happen?” I ask, and he tells me no, that with the grassy pastures and trees, the cows find plenty of shade to cool down. “Are the cows happier now?” I ask him. “Yes” he replies emphatically, “Our cows are much less stressed.” He explains, “Our cows have greatly appreciated our decision to transition to organic. They’re not stuck on concrete all day. They are out on green pasture-eating what they are made to eat”. I ask, “Do you share a closer bond with the cows now that you farm organically?” He tells me that yes, now that the cows are less stressed, and he works with them more closely, he can come to know each one better.

It’s clear to me that this is how cows were made to live – peacefully roaming on green fields and eating a lot of fresh grass. This is what USDA Certified Organic is. Yes, it reduces chemicals, pesticides and herbicides to protect the environment and improve our health. And it’s more than that; it requires that livestock farmers set up an environment where their animals can “exhibit natural behaviors”. In other words, a place where a cow can be a cow. And a happy cow, let’s face it, means a happier farmer.

“Organic is better for you, the soil, and the entire ecosystem on the farm. When you buy organic, you are helping support local farmers…. Farmers that are better to their animals, where their cows can live a better lifestyle.” Ben explains. When you buy organic food from a local farmer like Ben, you know you are helping keep your dollars here at home.

Take the advice from Ben Miller (and Miss December!): “This New Years, make it a resolution to buy as much local organic produce and meat and vegetables as you can. Help support a farmer around you, help support farmers that are doing the right things for you and the environment, and for their animals.”

Cow at Reedy Fork Organic Dairy