On Thinking Beyond the Dairy

This post is sponsored by Stonyfield, the experience and words are my own.

Burlington, Vermont is only about an hour flight from New York; yet when I visited last month with Stonyfield to learn more about organic farming—not only the process, but the intention and politics behind their yogurt—I felt completely transported. The plane, tiny. The trip, short. The air, crisp and immediately calming, a contrast to the thick city air. And all of this, just to learn about something as simple as organic yogurt!

The truth is, after a few days of touring dairy farms, talking to farmers, eating real farm-to-table meals, and talking to Gary Hirshberg about his 35 years with Stonyfield, I realized that it actually isn’t so simple. Every choice I make when purchasing my milk, my yogurt, and my cheese, are environmental, economical, and even political decisions.

I should note, this post isn’t a veganism vs. non-veganism topic; there are plenty of platforms that will go into this discussion with you. My family consumes dairy; but because of many privileges awarded to us, we have been able to do so organically. In retrospect, this practice wasn’t something that felt natural. Back then, purchasing organic cost more—and we barely could afford our rent. But after hearing about what farmers have to undergo to move from conventional dairy farming to organic, I learned it isn’t a singular experience. To choose organic is a process, one that includes vast overall benefits that outweigh the extra nickels it costs.

I wasn’t raised on organic foods, except for the few times I was on special diets for my vitiligo. During that short period of time, looking at packages, making conscious choices, I became a more thoughtful eater. It wasn’t so much that I cared about who was making the dollar off of my purchases; it was a basic alignment of where does the food come from and how it made my body feel? I think this time period was hard for my mother too,  not just monetarily, but to have to distinguish what you should consume from what you could consume when raising kids, considering costs, city life, and the necessary task of caring for herself.

For me, River, and Oak, I’ve weaved this decision-making into our every day with a few short steps via Instacart, where organic Stonyfield yogurt or milk is always a click away, ready to be delivered to our door within hours! But for a brief and important pause in Burlington, I stopped to consider it all. Each and every layer and nuance, from how long it takes to overturn organic pasture, to how cows on organic farms live longer and healthier lives, get room to graze in the sun, and don’t use antibiotics or other medicines often used in conventional farming. It blew my mind to learn that cows, if they feel sick, may choose a certain patch of grass because of its medicinal quality, so that they then heal themselves! These are life-changing facts to know and consider. It goes beyond a single purchase.

On the plane ride home, I kept coming back to this thought: Where do these small family farmers with just 50 cows, who  get by on a relatively small net income somewhere far away, and myself, a Brooklyn girl with a fro, meet?

On the last evening, a slight merge of Brooklyn and Vermont happened as we all sat around a table at Philo Ridge Farm. Blue Apron’s Culinary Team traveled from Brooklyn and cooked the most delicious, fresh meal, inspired by seasonal ingredients. Blue Apron set up edible soil and flowers for us to munch on, with a creamy cucumber sauce squeezed over mini carrots. We watchedas the chef made homemade ricotta cheese (it was SO good) and pickled vegetables in little glass jars. I was so stuffed; and it was the best way to wrap up the trip because, after listening to Stonyfield’s mission, and seeing how these New York chefs made this delicious farm-inspired meal, combined all my thoughts and feelings. If you’ve never heard of Blue Apron before, they allow you to create delicious, chef-designed recipes at home, with two-person plans or family plans. Each plan offers a variety of recipes to fit your needs. They even recently partnered with Stonyfield yogurt to send their organic yogurts in their boxes. How cool is that?

Because of my visit, I recognized the lack of accessibility to organic products for poorer city communities, because of price. And farmers struggle, eventually closing up shop or caving to conventional farming, because of price. In speaking with Gary, the term scale kept coming up. With scale, the consumer gets reasonably-priced options for their dairy, but the farmer also gets to make a living. With scale, the cost of organic products becomes accessible to more consumers.  While the farmers that sell their organic milk to Stonyfield certainly aren’t getting  rich—they’ll still wake before the sun every morning and do the hard work. But they are paid a stable price point, over the cost of production. And for consumers, with scale, more people in poorer communities have the option to purchase organic. And that really is the key: to have the option. We all need to have an option to not only eat better, but do better, whether we’re in Burlington, Vermont or Brooklyn, New York.

Here’s how we incorporate Stonyfield yogurt in our day-to-day, with our on-the-go, kid-made spinach smoothie:

1. Three tablespoons of Stonyfield organic plain yogurt

2.    A handful of baby spinach

3.    A handful of pineapple to sweeten (this always works to help make it

tastier for the kids)

4.    A handful of blueberries

5.    A handful of strawberries.

I let the kids cut the strawberries themselves with a kid-safe knife. I also let them get the amount of fruit and greens themselves. They feel more empowered and (magically!) find it more delicious when they do it themselves

 

(This post is sponsored by Stonyfield yogurt but all opinions, politics, and storytelling is my own. Thank you for supporting those that support LaTonya Yvette.)

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