Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Finding local milk sources year-round was one of my concerns in starting this year of local eating. There are still a number of small family dairy farms in the area but they mostly produce for large milk companies or processing plants where their milk is combined with other milk that is shipped in from farther away. Still others send their milk directly to cheesemakers (which is good - yummy local cheeses to be had!)

When we were about to being our year, I called our local processing plant (Mueller-Pinehurst) which is right here in Rockford and, after being transferred to several people who could not answer my questions, I was finally connected with someone who could. He explained to me that the milk they process in Summer is indeed local, the demand can be met by dairies within 100 miles. However, he did tell me that not all of their dairy products are produced at their local plant. Milk in gallon jugs and (I believe) buttermilk are locally-produced. As is anything stamped with 12-274 (the local plant number). However, their milk in half-gallon jugs and their cottage cheese and (I think) sour cream are not made here or are not made with local milk.

He went on to tell me that in Winter, the demand for milk and dairy products rises. This makes sense as we think of winter as the time for comfort foods and cream soups while we'd probably rather drink iced tea on a hot summer day. Anyway, in the winter the increased demand is unable to be met by local dairies and so a portion (I did not ask him for a percentage) of the milk processed at the local plant is brought in from farther away.

When we began our challenge in June, I was content to purchase Mueller-Pinehurst milk but by September I was seeking other options, knowing that my all-local source would soon "run out." I was lucky to be able to connect with a group of people who are shareholders in cows. That's right, we buy a share of a cow and in return we receive a percentage of the milk that "our" cow produces. So, since September, we have been getting milk this way. Also, a great little grocery store called Bushel and Peck's opened up this summer in Beloit ( They sell single-source milk from southern Wisconsin under the brand name Sassy Cow. They also have Wisconsin milk in returnable glass bottles that's great but not guaranteed to be only from within 100 miles of Rockford (not good for me but great for the rest of you!).

Lucky for me, my current sources for milk are all organic (Mueller-Pinehurst was not) and not Ultra-Pasteurized (UP) so more of the nutrients are left in the milk (both due to lower-heat pasteurization and a shorter cold storage period). Also, I am able to use this milk to make cheese which one cannot do with UP or even high-temperature-pasteurized milk. Just today I received an e-newsletter from the company where I buy my cheese-making supplies that had an article that did a good job of detailing the changes in milk over the last generation or two. I'll excerpt it here and include the link to the full article:

Full Article "More About Milk" from
"In the 1930's when pasteurization was introduced, the milk supply in America was in a foul state with TB being one of the worst health problems transferred from dairies. Pasteurization was the immediate solution but proper herd management and inoculation was the long range solution. As dairies became larger milk "processing plants" and larger quantities of milk were cold stored for longer periods of time, shipped longer distances, and held for longer periods on store shelves the need for higher processor temperatures has evolved. All of this is good for the producers but not so good for consumers seeking quality milk.

According to several conversations with milk processors across the country during the past 2 years we have become aware of a tendency for regulating agencies to strongly suggest increasingingly higher pasteurization temperatures. This issue of higher pasteurizing temps and times seems to be an attempt to eliminate Johne's (pronounced yo-neez) disease (Mycobacterium .Paratuberculosis) from our milk supply. This disease has increased in recent years and seems to be most serious in the larger industrial herds.
The tendency has been to increase pasteurization temps to 174-180F plus and increase the hold times for this.
This is in spite of research done in Ireland and at Guelph Ontario showing that traditional vat pasteurization of 145F/30min totally eliminates the bacteria and that HTST [high temperature short time] pasteurization 163F/16secs shows small numbers in the milk. Further research is being done on holding at 163F but increasing the times. The research has also shown that exposing the milk to a higher temperature would not be a good option because a higher temperature could be detrimental to its nutritional value.

Rather than trying to force industrial dairies to clean up their act in order to improve the health of their herds, the FDA has put its support behind higher-temperature pasteurization.

Pasteurization should not be an excuse to produce dirty milk.

In other words much of what is being done for milk processing today is based on bad science"

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Check out the GO Section of today's Rockford Register Star

Geri Nikolai wrote a short follow-up piece to the article that appeared this spring in the Rockford Register Star. It appears in her weekly column in the GO Section. Here is the link to the teaser which gives a photo and shares the original story as well:

Here is the link to the actual article:

Friday, January 9, 2009

Giving Up The Oats

Those four bushels of oats that we've been trying to get into? They go to an acquaintance who has horses in the morning. *sigh*

Happy New Year! Local Food ALASKA Edition (Photos)

This photo is purely for those interested in Alaska... it was taken about 11:15 am. As you can see, the sun was just about to break the horizon. There were just over 3 hours of official sunlight on Winter Solstice and the lowest temperature we experienced was 60-below (highest was right around zero).

Well, we returned this week from Fairbanks, Alaska where we spent two-and-a-half weeks with Kevin's sister and her family (including her four-month-old twins) and my in-laws (who have been living there most of the year helping out). In addition to spending quality family time, we also have had a long break in our local eating pattern. Our exemption for travel is, of course, necessary as we would find it difficult to either truck all the food we require along with us or to find it in a new place and so we enjoyed a few weeks of eating whatever we wanted. However, we did manage to find some sources of local foods - even in the dead of winter in interior Alaska! But more on that in a minute.

The first night we were there we went to hear two speakers at an installment of an alternative energies lecture series that Kevin's sister, Gwen, has organized. One of the speakers, Bernie Karl, discussed a variety of germane topics but the one fact he shared that struck me was this (paraphrased): the state of Alaska has only a two-day supply of food available in grocery stores and restaurants at any given time. TWO DAYS. I wonder how long Illinois' supply would last, knowing that we import something like 90% of our foodstuffs.

While we were there we experienced this first-hand... one day between Christmas and New Year's, Kevin's mother went to the local (very large) grocery store to pick some things up for dinner. She returned saying that there were no fresh vegetables to be had. The produce section of this store is actually quite large and varied (when stocked). We ate frozen veggies.

We did have several opportunities to eat some truly local (and truly wonderful) foods. Even before we arrived, my father-in-law had been talking about saving for us a jar of his own blueberry jam, made with blueberries he had collected himself. We were glad he did save it; we enjoyed it immensely as we spread it on our pancakes one morning!

There are lots of yummy berries to be had in the fall in Alaska. When Kevin's mom came home for a visit at the end of September, she brought us a container of low bush cranberries she had picked just as the first snow of the season was falling. I warmed them in a pot until they just started to burst, added a little honey and cinnamon, and served them for dessert with a dollop of yogurt. In addition to his own frozen blueberry jam, Robert proudly presented us with a jar of low bush cranberry jam he had purchased at the farmers' market just down the road. We enjoyed that one evening for dinner on sliced ham left over from Christmas.

The source of my food is always present as a thought in my mind (it already was long before we started our experiment) so I continued to pay attention to my options while grocery shopping in Fairbanks. I was happy to see that I had a number of good, local options - not all from within 100 miles but at least from the state). The store (Fred Meyer, now owned by Kroger) had a full selection of milk from the North Star Dairy in Delta Junction, AK. I could also get Alaska-grown carrots and potatoes and, of course, wild Alaskan salmon.

I think Robert (Kevin's dad) was having fun preparing for our visit because he also produced from the freezer some locally wild-caught caribou and moose in the form of stew meat and loin, respectively. Erika (Kevin's mom) made a killer goulash with the caribou and Kevin sister, Gwen, made some excellent ginger-marinated, thinly sliced and pan-fried moose loin.

It seems that even area restaurants are interested in serving local foods. We didn't eat out much (only twice) but we noticed on menus, even at a Thai place, that the use of local ingredients was highlighted (even in winter when they used local potatoes, dried and frozen berries, etc.).

Finally, our foray into local food in the deep Alaskan mid-winter was successful on the grounds of Chena Hot Springs Resort, just an hour outside of Fairbanks. Kevin's sister used to work there, developing all sorts of fascinating systems to harness existing resources and generate electricity and other things helpful at a completely off-grid resort. I could go on all day about the cool technologies she helped to develop there, specifically using the geothermal resources which are hot but not hot enough for traditional geothermal technologies (170-degrees vs. 220) but I won't. I'll just include the link to the resort:

The resort is owned by Bernie and Connie Karl (yes, one of the men we heard speak the first night) and one of the cool things to see and experience there is the greenhouse that can boast having the largest interior and exterior temperature differential in the world. In the winter it can easily be 40 or more degrees below zero outside (and it was while we were there) and stays a muggy 80 degrees inside; and it's all heated with the warm water coming out of the ground! Anyway, they grow hydroponic tomatoes and salad greens year-round. We were able to sample some of both, harvested the day we ate them, while it was over 40 degrees below zero outside. You may be interested in the Chena Hot Springs website not only for the food but also to see photos of their hot pools and sculpted ice hotel.

Now we are back home and sticking to our Rockford-area diet. Tonight we had seared pork chops (raised in Pecatonica at Open Range Products and processed in Seward at Eichman's), steamed broccoli (from the freezer, grown at Angelic Organics), and sauteed fingerling potatoes (Tomorrow's Harvest CSA) with crispy garlic (Stan Johnson at the Edgebrook Center Farmers' Market). We enjoyed it with a Wollersheim wine (Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin) and had fresh apples for dessert (Bushel and Peck's Local Market - apples grown at Gahl's Apple Orchard in South Beloit).

Earlier this week we had beef and bean stew with vegetables and fresh-baked bread for dinner (I added baby Brussels sprouts to the leftovers the next day), apple cider cinnamon bread for breakfast, and I made a couple of loaves of apple-cinnamon stuffed Challah for Neva to take to preschool and Kevin to take to work. As usual, we've been enjoying cheeses, milk, and yogurt from southern Wisconsin, eggs from Pine Row Farm in Roscoe and Angelic Organics in Caledonia, and other frozen and dried veggies from our own supplies.