So we began to research where we could purchase raw milk. There was a stand in one of the Farmer's Markets that was selling raw goat's milk, but you had to be a member of their CSA to be able to purchase it. We looked into the CSA, but we were not able to visit the farm to see the actual goat milk operation, and since it was not a certified raw dairy, I was hesitant to purchase milk I knew nothing about.
As most of you know, raw milk is legal here in California, and there are two legal raw milk dairies. Organic Pastures is the most popular one, by far. The milk is advertised in many places, including Farmer's Markets, as coming from cows that are "100% grassfed." Having grown up in the dairy state of Wisconsin, I knew that this was nearly impossible, but we figured that the cows were probably getting the bulk of their nutrition from nutrient-dense grass. The other dairy is Claravale. One Internet site that listed raw milk sources listed Organic Pastures as "pasture-fed", and Claravale as "not pasture-fed but are given hay and grains." (They have since slightly revised their listings after seeing our videos below). All over the Internet there were many people singing the praises of Organic Pastures, so we started consuming their milk.
When it came to time to think about putting together the Healthy Traditions Buyer's Club, we began to look into the possibility of purchasing raw milk wholesale to offer it to the Buyer's Club at a better rate. I looked at Claravale's website for the first time. I was surprised at what I read! It seemed like a really great operation, and they were saying that what they fed their cows was no different than what Organic Pastures fed their cows. You can read their very nicely written and educational FAQ here: http://claravaledairy.com/faq.html
So I decided to contact the farm, and ended up talking to Ron Garthwaite, the owner. We then arranged for a tour of the farm in September. He is a short video of our tour:
Claravale has around 65 cows they are milking at present, and Ron has no desires to grow larger. He is committed to "traditional dairy" practices, and feels that "in the old days" each community had a dairy nearby to serve them, and that those dairies seldom were larger than 50 cows. He feels there was wisdom in this number, and that one tends to lose control of the quality of the operation if it grows beyond that. If they were to expand their operation, they would start a new herd in a different location somewhere. Claravale's herd is a closed herd today - they currently do not need to buy dairy cows from any other farm. Their own herd produces enough calves. Their herd is 100% Jersey cows, which produce what Ron calls the "best cream in the U.S." He has a new ice cream product made from this cream, and I can tell you first hand it is incredible! They offer cow's milk and goat's milk, and hope to offer cheese in the future. They package their milk in returnable glass bottles.
Next, we arranged a tour of Organic Pastures Dairy. We knew that they made deliveries to buyer's clubs in Southern California, so we wanted to see their operation and see if they could be a potential supplier to the Healthy Traditions Buyer's Club. Their website About Us page is here: http://www.organicpastures.com/about.html which states: "Only organic green pasture and approved naturopathic methods are used to feed and care for the cows." Here is the video of our tour:
The Organic Pasture herd is 450+ cows at present, and it is a mixed herd of Holsteins, some Jersey, and a couple of other breeds. It is not a closed herd. They have been buying quite a few full-grown lactating cows from an outside source recently, according to our tour guide. When they have enough milk, Organic Pastures also produces cheese and butter. They package in plastic.
Our family drinks Claravale milk whenever we can get it. We appreciate their honesty in advertising, and we love how much cream we get from their milk!
At present we are not able to purchase bulk Clarvale milk to offer to the Healthy Traditions Buyer's Club. Since they are a small operation, their product is in high demand and supplies are limited. We have talked to a couple of goat milk dairy operations that plan on becoming certified raw, but they are not committed to organic GMO-free feed at this time. So Claravale remains the best option for now - if you can get it!
Note: These farm tours occured before the current raw milk recall, and we have no knowledge and no opinion on the recall of Organic Pastures products.