Picket Fence Creamery: Bucking the milk trend
Jun 26, 2009
I feel good supporting a business that is an endangered species. I am making a statement that it is important for my family and me to invest in quality, local products, even though it may cost a dollar or so more at the checkout stand.
By Shoshana Hebshi
A few weeks ago I ventured out to the “country,” family in tow, to be appreciated by the Picket Fence Creamery, which was hosting a customer appreciation day. The farm, which is somewhere in the vicinity of Woodward, Iowa, seems to be nestled in a pocket of the state that attracts local specialty farms, such as Northern Prairie Chevre and Prairieland Herbs, both of which have a longstanding presence at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.
Picket Fence is in a category all its own. Its milk tastes like…well, milk. How milk is supposed to taste. It’s a small, family-run operation with 80 heads of Jersey and Holstein cattle that are grass-fed and well cared for. You can taste that in the milk.
Farm owners Jill and Jeff Burkhart have worked the diary for 28 years, and started Picket Fence Creamery six years ago. They both come from a long line of Woodward-area farmers, and Jeff says their farming philosophy derives from how their grandparents farmed—without pesticides or hormones.
The Burkarts have chosen to forego organic certification, however, to keep their costs down. “We make a conscious effort to keep our prices as low as we can,” says Jeff. “Our customers can still afford our product. We’re holding our costs down as much as we can.”
Picket Fence’s modest prices—somewhere between conventional and organic products—also helps to maintain a loyal customer base. And this has helped the farm weather the economic downturn, which has not been as friendly to organic milk producers around the country.
We live in a tough economy, but, as a May 28 New York Times article points out, it is never a more important time to spend your money with intention. “As the trend toward organic food consumption slows after years of explosive growth, no sector is in direr shape than the $1.3 billion organic milk industry. Farmers nationwide have been told to cut milk production by as much as 20 percent, and many are talking of shutting down.”
I grew up visiting a local dairy in San Diego on occasion. I remember swooning over the cows and mesmerized by the bottling process. That dairy has since closed down as San Diego exploded into a megalopolis. Much of the area’s agriculture has been lost to expanded freeways, strip malls, tract housing and office parks. I see the same happening here in the Des Moines metro area, and it scares me.
Places like Picket Fence Creamery are unique in that they provide a superior product that is locally made and distributed. While the creamery’s products—including milk, ice cream, butter and meat—are difficult to come by unless you know a specific local store in Central Iowa that carries them. But it is well worth the investigation.
I was turned on to Picket Fence milk about a year ago by a friend in the graduate program in sustainable agriculture at Iowa State University. When she told me she and her roommate drank a glass a day of Picket Fence whole milk I was intrigued. I went to several Des Moines Hy-Vees and Dahl’s looking for the milk but couldn’t find any. Then I stopped in to an Ames Hy-Vee, spotted a half-gallon jug of 2% in the milk section and brought it home with great anticipation.
I tried a cup, and I couldn’t believe the taste. I’m not much of a milk drinker. I reserve it for my cereal and for coffee. But when I have Picket Fence on hand I drink it by the glass. You can actually taste the grassiness from their diet. And even for 2% milk it is incredibly creamy and thick.
Jeff Burkhart says because his cows are allowed to graze and eat what nature intended for them they are healthier and produce healthier milk. “It is their natural diet,” he says. “They were never designed to eat grain or be in confinement.”
He says that our society’s turn toward mass-produced food and commodity agriculture has given us less healthy food that manifests in more health problems and skyrocketing health care costs.
“If we eat healthier and more natural foods, then we don’t have these detrimental effects to our health,” he says.
I feel good supporting a business that is an endangered species. I am making a statement that it is important for my family and me to invest in quality, local products, even though it may cost a dollar or so more at the checkout stand. But I figure I save in reducing carbon emissions from mass-produced milk that is shipped all over the country, and putting back money into the local economy that can re-circulate and benefit us all.
I’m putting my money on Picket Fence.
Shoshana Hebshi is a freelance writer and editor living in Des Moines. She will graduate with a master’s degree in journalism from Iowa State University this summer. Read her blog at: http://shebshi.wordpress.com