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Field Trip on Dairy Farming, Whatcom County, Saturday, May 28

We will meet at our two U-Cars, in N-5 parking across from the Burke Museum, at 6:15 a.m., and be on the road by 6:30. It will take a little over an hour and a half to get to the Whatcom County farming region. We will be hosted by a series of dairy farmers in the area around Lynden. We will be joined by Kate Steensma for the entire day, and by the SPU agriculture club, which Kate founded a few years ago, for the morning and noontime visits. The agenda is as follows:
  • 8:15 or 8:30 Bill and Jackie DeGroot's Jackie's Jersey Milk. This is a specialty dairy bottling and selling raw milk from a small Jersey herd. You will have an opportunity to ask questions about why raw milk and about the safety factor, as well as about the business side of this very specialized niche market.
  • 9:30 or 9:45 Larry Stap's extended family's Twin Brook Creamery. They converted from more conventional dairying to a model of home-bottled, un-homogenized milk about ten years ago, and now they bottle their own milk and sell in retail stores in Whatcom County and around Puget Sound. Larry and his family will show us the bottling plant, in action, and discuss stewardship of the land as well as running a business. We will also see the bottling process in action. In addition, they have recently installed robots, and we can go see them as well. There will be chocolate milk for sure, maybe cookies to spoil your lunch (see below).
  • 12:00 Darryl vander Haak Dairy's manure digester. This apparatus takes manure from several nearby farms (along with other by-products of agriculture in the area) and puts it through a digestion process that recovers methane to generate electricity and sells it to the local power company. They have recently added a liquid nutrient extraction process that intensifies recycling of nutrients within the local ecosystem. Just last year, it was announced that the vander Haak farm won a 2014 Dairy Sustainability Award. Darryl is unable to meet us, he arranged for us to tour the facility with Craig Speer, who works for the ANDGAR company that built and maintains the digester.
  • 12:30 John and Karen Steensma's dairy. This is the farm where Kate, who lectured on Tuesday and will be accompanying us all day, grew up. We will look around the farm and we can also discuss issues of sustainability and ecology as they relate to dairying. We will plan to eat the box lunches here; Karen (Kate's mother) promises brownies and plenty of something dairyish.
  • 2:00 The DeJong Family's Eaglemill Farms. This is the largest dairy we will visit, with over a thousand milking cows and several hundred other stock. They sell milk to Darigold. Rod, the father, was longtime board chairman of Darigold, including during the time when Darigold took a controversial decision to ban recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBST or rBGH). Jon and his brothers now do most of the work of managing the farm. We will tour all their operations.
  • 3:30 Hans Wolfisberg's Edelweiss Dairy. This was the first dairy in Whatcom County to produce certified organic milk, and currently sells to Organic Valley. This is the only certified organic dairy that we will visit today. Hans is from a Swiss Dairying background. He also maintains a complex system of rotational grazing.
We will return to Seattle by about 6:30 or 7:00.

  • Check the weather for the Western Whatcom County area and dress accordingly.
  • Wear boots or shoes that will allow you to walk in mud and cow barns
  • You don't need to bring food, unless you are a compulsive frequent snacker. Homegrown has donated box lunches, and we will have milk at several places.
  • Bring sun protection if the forecast is for sun.
  • Most importantly, bring a field notebook, something to write with, and the questions you want to ask the various farmers. If you like to take pictures, bring a camera or be alert to take pictures with your phone, and then we can enjoy a slide show on Tuesday May 31.

By midnight on Monday, May 30th, post an analytical reflection from the trip. You should reflect on what surprised you, what you learned, and how what questions still remain in your mind about the ecology, economics, and philosophies of dairy farming, and how these might inform your environmental thinking generally.