“Cows aren’t Legos,” explains Jerri Cook, an organic dairy farmer and writer from the Wisconsin northwoods. “You can’t just rearrange genetic parts and expect it to be a cow anymore.”
Cook, along with her husband, Wayne, currently milk a herd of 25 cows, selling their milk to Organic Valley Family of Farms, the largest farmer-owned organic cooperative in the country. She represents the rural renaissance of farming women today: smart, sassy, steadfastly committed to educating about the importance of sustainable agriculture — and still the kind of gal who would warmly welcome you into her farmhouse kitchen for coffee, cheesecake and conversation.
Farming organically for over twenty-five years, the Cooks represent a small but dedicated group of farmers who have operated under these principles for their entire agriculture career. “Wayne’s family always farmed organically, thanks to his independent grandparents who didn’t want any part in what they saw as the government pushing chemicals,” says Cook with a smile. “I grew up an army brat in Germany and never experienced conventional American agriculture. When you’re never exposed to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the concept logically doesn’t make sense. We ourselves didn’t want to eat food laced with that stuff; why would we ever sell it to anyone else?”
For over ten years, the Cooks ran a 120 member CSA (community supported agriculture), Lost Creek Organics, raising a diversified produce mix on 66 acres. “We did a little bit of everything back then, even harvested and ground our own wheat for our members,” reminisces Cook.
Cook remembers when they first tasted organic milk back in 1999 at their local food cooperative. “The milk tasted great and I finally knew what real milk is supposed to taste like. After that we couldn’t go back to conventional milk.” Cook’s husband always had a dream of dairy farming, so when the opportunity landed to buy a nearby existing dairy farm and convert it to organic, the Cooks jumped at the chance in 2004, launching Due North Organic Dairy Farm.
The next time you need to buy milk or another dairy product, think of Cook’s reasons why you should consider organic:
• Keep the Chemicals Out
“If you can buy only one organic product, buy organic milk,” expounds Cook. “The amount of chemicals in conventional milk defies anyone’s intelligence.” Only organic milk ensures that your milk does not contain rBGH (Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone), a milk-produced hormone manufactured by Monsanto linked to human health hazards and banned in Europe and Canada.
• Support Family Farms
By paying a fair price for milk that is consciously produced, you directly help support the economic vitality of family farms today. “These huge factory farms with seven thousand cows aren’t sustainable without outside inputs from the government,” Cook adds. “I’m convinced organic shoppers are what’s saving and sustaining family farms today.”
• Promote Udder Diversity
“The majority of Holsteins today, the main breed of cows used for milk production, come from two genetic sires,” Cook explains. “That means nearly all of our conventional milk comes from just two types of cows that we’ve manipulated genetically to basically be giant udders. The bulls are full of bull. They’re not even cows anymore.”
This focus on genetics and disconnect from the animals both frightens and frustrates Cook. “These places can’t be called farms anymore, they’re just milk producing corporate facilities,” sums up Cook. Organic cows represent healthy diversity, letting animals breed naturally and raising animals in settings where they have healthy access to the outdoors, grass and healthy food sources.
Between farm duties and her writing responsibilities (Cook is an assistant editor at Countryside Magazine and author of “The Scarecrow Chronicles,” a popular gardening column that ran for three years in The Country Today), Cook has mastered the traditional art of “farmhouse cooking”: making food that’s wholesome, hearty, tasty and fast. Hence the ease of her Farmhouse Cheesecake Recipe below, quickly made in the blender and showcasing the rich flavor of organic heavy cream and cream cheese. “This cheesecake may not rise very high, but considering you can have it in the oven in three minutes, I recommend just spreading some fruit preserves on top, calling it even and getting it on the table,” Cook adds with a laugh.
Jerri’s Farmhouse Cheesecake — Featuring Organic Valley Family of Farms Dairy
1 c. heavy cream
1 t. vanilla
1 lb. cream cheese (two 8 oz. packages)
1/4 t. salt
2 T. flour
• Blend all ingredients in blender till frothy (about 3 minutes).
• Pour into a greased 9-inch pan and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.