Field trip

June 15, 2011 · 14 comments

My memories of field trips are mixed. Yes, I loved being out of school for a few hours or whole day — but at the same time, if our class was filling up a few buses and heading off school grounds, the chances were good that it was sometime in May, near the end of the school year. Which, in Mississippi, translates into Hot as Dante’s Ninth Level. Usually by 10 minutes into our jaunt at the zoo, I was begging to be back in math class, because who wouldn’t rather learn equations in a 68º classroom than smell monkeys in an inescapable sauna?

Which is one reason I wasn’t super-excited about my 7-year old’s class field trip last week to Trader’s Point Creamery. Outside + June + farm + cowpies = not my idea of a good time. On paper, joining the class with my two littler ones seemed like an Ideal Mom Moment — the reality, that morning, was not looking as pleasant.

But our Indiana summer was kind to us that day. In the middle of a string of hot days, we got a break, with a slightly overcast sky to boot. I didn’t even break a sweat as we walked the facilities and farm, didn’t even mind much as dried manure flattened underfoot.

The land is unabashedly picturesque, hundreds of acres of rolling hills just on the north side of urban Eagle Creek — a blinkable 20-minute drive from our house. All that acreage bequeathed for one purpose: organically growing grass, grass that will feed cows; for the owners are effective proselytizers of a message: non-homogenized milk from grass-fed cows is the healthiest milk we can drink.

We are already believers of their message, but it was good to be reminded of why we go to the trouble — and even better to see the process in action. But even for the kids who might not drink cow’s milk (at least one vegan family was on our tour), or who might not ever care or afford to pay the higher price for organic, grass-fed milk, it was a valuable lesson in the source of dairy, and why sustainable farming is important.

The kids learned that cows are herbivores, and that they become natural soil-builders as they eat and poop, crush grasses into the ground under-hoof, and even get picky — leaving tall, prickly, unpalatable species untouched (which I was quick to point out is like how we don’t eat the leaves off oak trees, definitely not an excuse to leave the broccoli on your dinner plate). We learned that clover is a legume (who knew?) and provides protein to the vegetarian bovine.

Most fascinating to me was seeing the milking room, where 8 cows at a time are coaxed in and hooked up to a breast pump of nightmare proportions. The milk is pumped in stainless steel pipes directly into the creamery, where it becomes yogurt, cheeses, and drinking milk. All flavorings added are organically-grown, making all of Trader’s Point products certified organic and of highest quality.

But with that quality comes a hefty price tag. Our daughter’s school is socio-economically diverse, and I would venture to say that most of the children in attendance cannot afford the milk we were seeing in production. The dairy workers are aware of this — they know they have an expensive product. But they aren’t getting rich — it’s just really expensive to produce dairy products in this way. Gone are the days when many families had their own cow to do the fertilizing and provide the milk for a family — and a small dairy farm isn’t economically sustainable on its own. The tours of the farm, the sales of cheese and yogurt, the on-site restaurant all subsidize the farm’s ability to stay in business.

But that contrast left me with mixed feelings. We don’t buy Trader’s Point products — not because they aren’t delicious, but simply because we can get a similar-quality product in less expensive ways. We have a cow share with a local farmer who delivers our milk to us weekly; I make our yogurt, and occasionally our cheese (my 5-year plan includes a more full-force investigation into this art). But what we lack in material wealth we make up for in the luxury of time — I am able to stay at home, allowing me freedom to spend the necessary time in my kitchen to provide these things cheaply.

My ethical dilemma landed on the side of Trader’s Point. I love that a creamery dedicated to making the highest-quality milk possible exists just minutes from downtown Indianapolis, love that a woman donated all of her land to that purpose rather than selling it for millions of dollars to a developer. I want to support them, even if that only means I pay for a tour, occasionally eat in the restaurant, or splurge on their cheeses and chocolate milk.

If I had an opportunity to tour the production facility of an artisan textile designer, I would do it, even if I could never afford a yard of the fabric. At the end of that day, a bunch of kindergarten and first-graders were given a lesson in sustainable farming, bovine lactating habits, the food chain, predators, grass species, cheese-making, and real estate. With a cup of fresh organic ice cream to top it off. Score one for education, being outdoors, smelling cowpies, and supporting a local business.

…………………………………..

Trader’s Point Creamery products are shipped to select markets across the country. If you see them at your local Whole Foods or Marsh, pick one up — they are worth the higher price tag.

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{ 14 comments }

SMITH BITES June 15, 2011 at 12:15 pm

i had an ‘aha’ moment not long ago w/some friends of ours who home-school their 6 children; she was looking thru some of our food photography pics and suddenly said, ‘you guys spend a lot of money on food don’t you?’ completely caught me off guard and i started to say, ‘no, not really’ but then realized that compared to what they could spend on food, yes, in fact we do spend quite a bit on food. and then she went on to say, ‘as much as i would love to buy organic, it’s just not possible in any way shape or form; i’m concerned with getting food on the table to feed my kids. it means i buy whatever is the cheapest regardless of nutritional value.’

and herein lies the social dilemma for me . . . because in my perfect world, we ALL have the RIGHT to access to good, nutritional food, regardless of our economic standing . . . good food shouldn’t be about choosing McD’s over a pear because I can buy 2 hamburgers (feeding 2 kids) for less than the cost of that single pear . . . right? i have no answers for what’s happened or how to fix it – but i purchase as much local, sustainable, organic products as i can afford to try and support those who don’t have a voice in the matter. or am i only perpetuating the problem?

great post Katy!

katy June 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Debra, it’s such a complex problem. I wrote an article for the Indy Winter Farmer’s Market newsletter, back in the fall, about how we attempt to eat as much local/sustainable as we can on a limited budget:
(link to IWFM article)

It takes a lot of work. Buying local meat in bulk (need a deep-freezer), growing our own garden (I went to the farmer’s mkt this weekend and for the first time, didn’t buy produce, because I have it all in my backyard!). It also takes an interest in making your own stuff — I enjoy making yogurt and cheese, so while I don’t have time to do it all, it’s not a chore when I can afford the time.

I think it goes back to the “Do what you can” mantra. Just filling a freezer with local grass-fed beef is an economical way to eat better and support local. But doing-what-you-can looks different for every person.

But — and it’s a big but! — a person MUST be convinced that it’s worth it, health-wise (for body and earth). Otherwise, one can always come up with reasons it’s not possible for us!

Barbara | Creative Culinary June 15, 2011 at 1:10 pm

This was a great post Katy and so timely. I just finished reading ‘The Dirty Life’ by Kristin Kimball, the story of the first year in the life of a farm started to provide farm fresh ingredients to shareholders. It wasn’t preaching about what we should eat so much as sharing the experience; the hard as hell, 24/7 work experience. I’m betting you would enjoy it a lot.

The reality is that MOST people simply can not afford foods that are grown the way we all wish they were. And I don’t mean poor people, I mean normal, hard working people who want to do the best for their families. People like you and me.

I raised two children singlehandedly. Economically it wasn’t about not getting child support as much as having to make life choices for the good of your kids that impact your economic status. No promotions that include travel, no overtime…all those add up to less income when you are the sole provider of attention to your kids.

So I know firsthand about making food choices that provide the best possible for the least dollars. And no matter my decisions which included good nutrition, cooking at home and even Costco…organics were simply not something my budget could afford.

I applaud your determination to support this farm even if you can’t personally afford their products on an ongoing basis. I love seeing the interest people are taking in their food production. I guess ongoing we have to be realistic about what it takes to feed 300,000,000 million people in this country and pick and choose the best we can for ourselves and our families while recognizing that large corporate farm operations are necessary to that end.

Again, great post and as an aside…glad you had a pleasant day. I’m from the Midwest and will probably never forget those days. I live in Colorado now and have to admit…could never move back. While getting used to low humidity requires some adjustments too; I do not miss the sweat factor! :)

katy June 15, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Barbara, I’m putting that book on hold at the library!

I’ve read Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry and Barbara Kingsolver — and I love what all of them say. But it feels like an insurmountable challenge when standing with kids who are watching something so simple and old-fashioned (it’s not like we’re seeing the latest in medical technology!), but cannot afford it. It’s a symptom of a much bigger state of agriculture, the economy, and our lack of knowledge (let’s get home ec back in schools!).

That’s why it’s hard to talk about local foods when you don’t understand your audience. How can we suggest organic, grass-fed, when many of these kids never eat a thing that doesn’t come from a package?

But there is a place for organic, grass-fed — maybe even eventually with some of these kids — so we can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Barbara | Creative Culinary June 15, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I’m a participant in a Twitter book discussion group and ironically last night when discussing ‘The Dirty Life’ someone mentioned, ‘Let’s get home ec back in schools.’ And I say, let’s make it a combined ‘Life Skills’ class attended by boys and girls! Remember that when you get to the parts in the book when Kristen is frustrated by her lack of knowledge of some basic mechanics.Those classes were fundamental to my adult life. I make everything myself and I’m sure that first A-line skirt and that tin of muffins contributed mightily to the feeling that I could! I’ve come a long way with the ‘boy’ stuff but know it would have been easier had I been given more general knowledge in that realm too.

And agreed…we won’t be throwing that baby out…hopefully continued education and continued growth of the industry will bring more parties to the (organic) table.

bethanyrx June 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm

I love TPC yogurt, especially the banana mango!

What farm supplies your cow share? We live in Broad Ripple and I’ve been looking for one that’s not super far out of town.

~B

katy June 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm

B, the yogurt is so good! Our farm is Rhodes Family Farm. A few months ago he wasn’t selling new shares, but some might have opened up. It would be great for you b/c he delivers once a week to Locally Grown Market at 52nd & Monon!

If you email me (contact page) I can try to find his number for you!

Angie @ Just Like The Number June 16, 2011 at 10:58 am

I’d love to take my kids back for a tour. The last time I was there for a tour, my stomach bug hit at precisely the moment we entered the milking barn. Cow aroma and stomach bugs do not mix.

We just finished Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” in my book club, and the sentiments expressed in your post and the comments were a topic in our discussion as well. How do you overcome the perception that the Slow Food Movement and eating ethically are for foodies and/or wealthier families? I realize just how expensive these choices can be when we live so far above the poverty level as middle class, but still constantly struggle to live within an appropriate food budget.

“Do What You Can” is definitely a great mantra to live by. Programs like Garden on the Go (partnership between IU Health and Green Bean Delivery) are a great start. Having fresh, (mostly) local produce available in the inner city at low prices (and the ability to use SNAP/EBT) is a good way to introduce some of the concepts into these harder-to-reach communities.

katy June 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Yes, and there are thankfully some amazing groups doing work in inner cities with low-income families, teaching them to garden. That’s definitely the cheapest way to get high-quality local food into any belly, underprivileged or not.

Amy June 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm

The whole concept of “food deserts” is gaining traction down here, with Mississippi being the most obese state in the nation and with the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, etc. Katy, you remember going into the Delta occasionally — outside of Yazoo City and Greenville, there aren’t any real “grocery stores,” by which I mean Kroger or Super Wal Mart. There are definitely no organic options. The farmer’s markets are limited to the more populous, financially-stable communities.

As a result, an overwhelming number of kids in that part of the state get their food from convenience stores or cheap fast-food places. A “healthy meal” is when the family gets together on the weekend for a fish fry or for a big barbeque event. If a child gets some Motts, that’s healthy eating.

The same communities in rural areas of the state that can’t get doctors or clinics also can’t access good food. What makes this SO ironic is that they are in this situation while sitting on some of the richest farmland in the nation.

“Food justice” is becoming a life-or-death issue in Mississippi, and I don’t think the policy-makers here really understand it as such.

katy June 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I think there is a misconception that health is simply a matter of personal choice, when at this point many of the underprivileged (or even middle class) just never learned how to eat well, in a way that helps us prevent disease — it’s like never learning a language. And then it becomes too late — diabetes and obesity set in, and it becomes a political/economical stance of “why should we help these people have fresh vegetables when we can just help them get their insulin?”

It’s a huge problem, in both rural and urban areas across the country (in cities, there might be a grocery store 5 miles away, but people lack the transportation to get there).

Herbwifemama June 16, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Hey, we live in the same town! :) I stumbled across your blog from Simple Thursdays, and thought I’d say hi. Maybe I’ll see you at a WAP or Slow Food thing one of these days.

katy June 17, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Thanks for stopping by — I love meeting local bloggers! I do participate in SFI events every now and again — wanted to do the Father’s Day thing this weekend but am out of town. I am also at BrRp Farmer’s Mkt most Saturdays, if you ever head that way.

Herbwifemama June 17, 2011 at 1:40 pm

I’ve been getting stuff from Green BEAN Delivery, but I canceled a few weeks ago, so we are about to pick up farmer’s markets again. I usually head to Trader’s Point for our market, and tomorrow we’re going to Cumberland for raw milk and eggs. But I’ll try to head out to that market- do you have a booth?

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