My visit to Elgaar Organic Dairy Farm in Tasmania last week was refreshing and grounding and has left me craving an earthy space for my little family to hang out.
As I drove up the winding tree-lined driveway, their grown daughter was riding down the path with her young daughter on the back of a bike. Sitting with Jo and Antonia Gretschmann and their son, Anton in their inviting, country home gave me an instant feeling of love and family. Talking to them about their passion driven livelihood - organic dairy farming - was insightful and inspiring. They have been on the land since 1986 and raised their 6 children there. Their love for family looks as though it extends to the herd of cows they have living on their property; many of them they know by name.
They did not always run it organically, so they have the hands on experience of both methods of farming. When they realised the conventional farming didn’t feel right, they stopped doing it.
Now days they have calved (oh the pun) out a niche market for themselves, in what I consider to be the highest of ethical and sustainable quality.
They do not use pesticides or synthetic fertilisers on their land and have a rotation of crops including shepherds purse, self heal, chicory and Persian clover, that they use to supplement grazing for the cows in winter.
The cows themselves were so inquisitive and friendly and while standing in the paddock with them, they surrounded us and began to sniff and lick us… ok, I am a city girl, but I was not aware that cows were like this! They are happy and healthy due to a combination of factors.
- They are healthy because they eat healthy organic grasses that are full of nutrients. Often on conventional farms the cows are grazing on pesticide laden feed, grown in soil that is depleted of nutrients and as a result suffer from malnourishment and need supplementation/medications.
- They do not need antibiotics as they don’t suffer from mastitis (in conventional dairy farming up to 25% of the heifers will suffer from this very painful disease) This could have something to do with the milking process taking double the amount of time at Elgaar, as they pride themselves on doing it with care and intention.
- They are not given medication for parasites, as they don’t suffer from them. A side effect of this medication is that it can act as a depressive. It is generally given to dairy cows quarterly in conventional farming.
- They get to stay with their mothers/babies. Cows have a deep mother/child connection - as do most animals, especially mammals - but on conventional dairy farms the calves are taken away often within an hour of being birthed. Joe said that in the past when they practised this the mothers and babies would both bellow for each other for over a week, calling for each other. It did not feel right to them.
- Could the cows know somehow that their lives are respected here and not threatened? The cows on Elgaar grow old and die here, they are not shipped off for “processing” once they have stopped milk production.
All of these things increase the cost in production for Elgaar farm, but it feels right. It feels good. They have a deep respect and understanding of the land, a compassion and appreciation of the cows - and their milk - and a holistic vision. Their European-style processing method is simple and clean. Feed production and packaging is sustainable. And there is a real love for what they do.
All of this is represented in the final product, the milk, the yoghurt and the cheese.
It is quality and pure. No additives. No flavours. No thickeners. No milk solids.
- Their milk is milk. Just milk.
- Their plain yogurt is milk with cultures.
- Their cheese is milk, salt and vegetable renit.
The process of pasteurisation in the Elgaar farm is another aspect that tells them apart from other producers.
The milk is not homogenised and to keep their dairy products “alive”, they only pasteurise for 15.5 seconds, the legal minimum period, at the required 72 degree heat. This means the cultures in it are still active as possible with pasteurisation when consumed.
It is a fresh product and gets to the shelf within 24 hours of packaging. It is not designed to be kept for months therefore they do not want or need additives to increase shelf life. Due to quality and the production method, the texture does not require thickeners or milk solids for creaminess and ultimately with no additives you get more of the good stuff!
These fresh, pure Elgaar products are packaged, like the back in the day, in glass bottles instead of plastic. This means there is no problems with plastics leaking remnants into the food products and that they can be reused. They offer a buy-back system that has a high 90% uptake rate (the lowest being the eastern suburbs of Sydney…um… we better step it up) where you can take your bottles back to where you bought them and get paid for it. Their weekly trucks then bring them back to the farm where they are hand washed and reused, approximately 15 times. They have done the numbers on this versus recycling, where the glass has to go through the cycle of being broken down and then heated and reshaped again and their method, while time consuming, comes out the best for the environment and so, it feels right and its done.
How I wished that the dairy milk the majority of the country, the world, was consuming was coming from dairy farms with the Elgaar ethos. They do not however have the desire grow big, and take over the world - rather they would love to see other farmers to go organic.
When I left munching on an apple from their orchid, I felt very secure and confident recommending their products to those who consume dairy and the ultimate test, feeding their yoghurts to my own children.
Below is this city girl getting surrounded by the girls down at Elgaar:)