Sunday, May 30, 2010

Eggert Farms, Environmental Responsibility and Our Growing Regional Food Economy

In today’s Oregonian you may have read a story about Eggert Farms--the local family farms from which we buy our Pacific Village organic milk. The article by Scott Learn and Eric Mortenson focused on some of the challenges the farms have had with manure management and the environmental violations they received from the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). These violations relate to the environmental impacts of runoff and in no way affect the quality or safety of the milk.

We just learned about these environmental violations and Eggert Farms’ response. The Eggerts acknowledge that while trying to create a model sustainable organic dairy they made mistakes due to their inexperience in dairy operations. They are taking these challenges seriously by meeting all of the required remedies by the ODA and taking extensive preventative measures. These measures have included installing new irrigation tile in an entire 80-acre pasture, installing berms and drainage ponds to prevent any runoff from the site and installing a drainage cut-off system. The violations required action and we know that Eggert Farms are taking that action. We will stay in close communication with Eggert Farms to make sure the remedies--and ongoing operations--are working to protect the environment.

We get about 85 percent of our milk from Country Lane Farm in Carlton, Oregon, and 15 percent from Rock Ridge and Mayfield Farms in Aurora, Oregon. All three are owned by Eggert Farms.

Eggert Farms is third party certified organic by Oregon Tilthcertification that includes ensuring that cows are pastured as often as possible. It is a challenge for all Western Oregon dairy farms to have their cows on pasture during the winter and spring when muddy fields can be dangerous for the cows. I live on a small working farm and as a cow owner, I can tell you that cows don’t like to go out in the rain, and like you and I, would rather stay nice and dry. The Eggerts are committed to the health and well-being of their cows and to meeting new organic standards that clarify the requirements for time on pasture and the percentage of feed that comes from pasture grazing. Animal Welfare Approved—one of the most stringent animal welfare certifiers—has certified Eggert Farms for its humane treatment of its cows.

Having a sustainable regional food economy that meets the growing demand for local organic foods means having a variety of farm sizes. Every farm or ranch, from the tiny berry farmer in Hillsboro to family cattle ranches in Central Oregon has an important role to play in meeting our regional food needs. For example, the Oregon strawberry crop appears to be on track to start in early June. We will be bringing in berries from three farms ranging in size from 15 to 55 acres. Similarly, Oregon enjoys a great diversity of organic dairy farms--from farms with a dozen cows to those with more than 1,000. Eggert Farms, an example of the diversity in Oregon’s dairy community, is an important part of providing local, organic milk at an affordable price.

The opinions expressed in the Oregonian article bring to light the complexities that exist in creating a robust local food economy while respecting the needs of the neighboring communities. Hopefully, what results from this set of challenges are improvements that will protect the environment and a dialogue that helps create a stronger local food economy and community as a whole.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the story, our Pacific Village milk or our sustainable practices. Just send me an e-mail to lisas@newseasonsmarket.com.

Lisa Sedlar, President and COO of New Seasons Market