One of the best parts about the internet and social media is how it can introduce us to new experiences and many fabulous people. Two pretty cool folks I’ve met via Twitter are Emily and Tim Zweber of Zweber Farms. This young couple has made their life on the family dairy farm with their adorable kiddos – and I enjoy reading their blog, tweets (Tim and Emily), and seeing pics of life on the farm. It sure is different from my daily life!
A few months ago I reached out to Emily and asked her if my kids and I could come out to the farm to learn more about organic farming and check out how a dairy farm works. She said they host tours all the time and enjoy teaching people about what they do. I invited a couple of my girlfriends (Beth and Jenny) and we headed out to the farm with our kiddos on a Saturday morning.
…and it was awesome. In so many ways that this is really going to be a novel of a post. Just warning ya. 🙂
This is the sign at the entrance to the farm – it identifies Zweber Farms as being part of the Organic Valley Coop. I had heard of, and purchased, Organic Valley products before this visit, but didn’t really know much about it.
I’ve taken my kids to a few farms before – picking apples, pumpkins, strawberries – but there’s something very different about a dairy farm. Seeing the cows up close and learning how they give milk for people to drink. Meeting chickens who give eggs for people to eat. Understanding that we eat animals is a very different concept than produce.
(Side bar: some of you may be wondering about my daughter’s food allergies to milk and eggs and how that played a part in our visit. Really, it was no big deal. I spoke with Emily about it in advance, so we talked about Avery not picking up eggs and not passing out samples of milk so she wouldn’t feel left out. I really appreciated that.)
One thing you may not know about Avery, my 3 1/2 year old, is her LOVE for animals. She loves animals so much I truly would not be surprised if she became a veterinarian or work with animals in some way. Avery scoffs at dolls and has a stuffed animal collection that would make your jaw drop.
She has little fear of (live) animals and they always seem to like her, too. And of course, the farm was FULL of animals for her to adore. Like the dog above. And these chickens. There were some running around…
And others chilling out and laying eggs in the hen house. This farm has no male chickens, only hens. And that’s when we learned that none of the eggs are fertilized. Chickens make and lay eggs without male chickens. I seriously was surprised by this (obviously I did NOT grow up on a farm).
We learned there was no way that the eggs would develop into baby chicks – they would always stay yolks. Unfertilized, huh. Here’s Avery reaching out to pet a chicken.
Alex was super impressed to see THREE eggs in one spot and wanted to show me and make sure I took a picture of the eggs. Also, they were still warm from just being laid. The kids thought this was really cool (since they are used to cold eggs in the store).
One of the adults in our group was impressed with how clean the eggs were… since, well, you know where they come from, and they were so fresh. By the way, the hens had total access to run around and weren’t confined to the hen house or those little nests. I asked Emily why they would choose to climb in there to lay eggs and we both agreed it was just a cozy place.
On our way to visit the cows and observe the morning milking, the kids found a dirt pile. Of course the dirt pile was FASCINATING. It was very difficult to get them off of there!
Here we headed to the milking barn (not sure if that’s what they really call it, but it works for now…)
The actual part of the barn where they milk the cows was fairly small, and they bring the cows into the barn in small groups. It has to be fairly quiet in the barn… and so we divided into small groups of 2 or 3. Here is Avery waiting in line for her turn to go in. She was fascinated by being so close to the cows, watching one of the groups leaving the barn. And one of them was checking her out, too!
This is the room where the milking happens. There was a handful of cows on each side, and then the middle of room was a sunken floor where the people worked.
We watched them dry off all the udders with a towel, then use iodine to clean them, then dry them off again.
Then they attached the machinery. And this is when I started having flashbacks to pumping breast milk when I had infants. I kid you not. Essentially, this is the same process.
Not many people understand that cow’s milk is actually breast milk from a cow.
Cows weren’t designed to produce milk all the time. They only have milk after they are pregnant and give birth to a calf. (just like women)
Then farmers separate the calves right away from their mothers… and instead of the cows giving the milk to their babies, they give their milk to us, another species.
My apologies if this is weirding you out… but I figured if you made it this far, you could handle the truth. 🙂
At this farm, there are no bulls… so when the cows start to have a reduction in milk supply, they are artificially inseminated on the farm by a farmer to get pregnant again. Ask me offline if you want to know what I learned about how they get the semen – OMG.
Alex was very interested in the milking process… and followed the tubing from the machines to see where the milk went.
This large tank holds the milk until it is picked up and taken to a second place where it is pasteurized and packaged to go to the store (within just a few days from being milked). This is Emily teaching us and giving the tour – and that’s her newest babe she carried in her Ergo carrier the entire time. (you all know I love the Ergo, right?)
Then we had the chance to start interacting with the cows and learn more about how they live… and eat. It is a beautiful farm and, if I remember correctly, they keep the cows in a few different areas based on ages (calves, “teens”, wet cows (who are milking) and dry cows (given a rest period). First we went to hang a bit with the calves. All the kids in our group were excited to have a chance to give them water bottles. They didn’t actually need the water or need it in bottles, but it was a fun way for the kids to engage with them.
They said this was the BEST part of the day! They really loved it! Of course, Avery wanted a turn by herself, with no help from an adult.
At one point one of the calves was running loose. I’m sure Avery could have sweet-talked it back into the pen, but instead Emily called Tim over and he saved the day. The kids were so impressed with how he carried the calf! Ok, maybe I was too, a little bit. It’s not every day you see that in Minneapolis.
The farm was really beautiful – here is where some of the cows were hanging out – there were horses strolling along, too.
Here Avery was straying from our group and started to walk right up to this herd of cows. Emily thought she probably shouldn’t do that and tried to redirect her.
The last thing we did was jump in the back of the pick up truck (on some bales of hay) and drive out further into the pasture to see more of the cows up close. They were curious and began following us.
And then they came right up to the truck to check us out.
And that’s when Avery had her chance to talk face-to-face with Heidi the cow. (her name is right there on her ear tag.) Here she was reaching out her hand slowly to see if Heidi would let her pet her head. She did.
One more view of the cows in the pasture. They really were beautiful and seemed very happy on the farm. (You can see suburban crawl in the background).
This was a really great trip for our family for many reasons. We had a lot of fun and I loved meeting Emily and Tim and seeing the farm I had heard so much about. But more than that, it was a great lesson for the kids about the food we eat and where it comes from.
Alex has started to recognize the logo for Organic Valley now on the dairy in the store (and the milk cartons at Chipotle!) and it’s really cool that he understands that the milk and yogurt and cheese we are consuming comes from farms and cows like the ones we saw (and maybe even from those exact cows). We’ve had this conversation many times over the last few weeks since visiting.
The organic aspect was an important lesson for me. I learned a lot about what the cows eat, how they are treated, and how the land is maintained. I read one article recently that said that children fed organic food have lower residues of certain pesticides in their bodies than children fed conventionally grown food. (If you are interested, here are 6 reasons to eat organic foods, per the Organic Valley web site)
I worry about why the food allergy rate is so high with our children today. Why so many children are diagnosed with ADHD and other developmental, neurological or mental health issues. Why are so many of our children obese? I don’t claim to know the answers to these questions – but I do suspect the food we consume has something to do with it. How could it not?
Even though I had always bought the “natural” milk that is made with no antibiotics or added hormones, a few months before this trip I had decided to entirely make the switch to organic milk and dairy products. And almost all of our meat is “natural” or organic. I’ve also been moving towards getting all organic produce as well – but we go through so much of it and it’s pretty pricey… so I haven’t entirely switched on that yet. It’s a tough balancing act, isn’t it? Spending more money on food that is good for us.
I recognize that every family is different and has to make the decision that is right for them. I also recognize that some people don’t have access to organic foods or feel they cannot afford fresh foods, let alone organic. I’m not trying to preach that everyone should do what I’m doing, but this is the decision that felt most right to me for my family. And I’m continuing to strive to learn more about nutrition, eat healthier myself and teach my children to as well.
My children also consume foods at school and daycare that are not organic… that may be high in sugar (such as the chocolate milk my Kindergartner is offered twice a day). I will never be able to control their diets 100%. But I can make a difference with the meals I provide at home or pack for school… (things such as learning when pancake syrup isn’t really syrup and trying to eliminate high fructose corn syrup make a difference!).
I’m doing the best I can and learning as I go. This trip to Zweber Farms definitely had an impact on me and my children. I hope you enjoyed hearing about it, too.
I’m curious about your thoughts. Have you had any revelations on the food we feed ourselves and our families? What changes have you made, if any, to the foods you eat?
Over-disclosure: I was not compensated in any way for this post. It was my idea to visit and they were awesome hosts. I’m very grateful.
p.s. did you hear the Marketing Mama page on facebook is moving? Here’s the new one, I hope you’ll “like” it.
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