Spring grass was just poking its head through the crusty soil at Pure Eire Dairy when we visited earlier this year. Jill Smith, dairywoman extraordinaire, was expecting our visit at her family farm near Othello, Washington. My fellow adventurer Robbie and I had spent several days in eastern Washington exploring the hidden gems where Seattleites don’t often venture.
Our travel day had started with breakfast crafted with our own ingenuity from the farm fresh eggs, a slab of bacon, specially prepared sausages, crusty heirloom grain bread, and purple potatoes deposited by our hosts at Monteillet Formagerie located just outside of Dayton, Washington. Two glorious days had been spent exploring the former home of the greatest asparagus production region in Washington State supported by the “Jolly” Green Giant until all its operations, food processing jobs, and asparagus farmer livelihoods were shipped to South America about a decade ago. The Giant, etched into the landscape, still peers down from its hill-top perch as a reminder of the town’s former claim to fame.
When making our reservations at Monteillet Formagerie, we knew they specialized in goat and sheep cheeses sold at specialty shops and farmers’ markets in the region. Imagine our surprise to have a fully stocked refrigerator and cabinet of local, in-season artisan foods to nourish our travel-worn bodies. We are blessed in the Pacific Northwest with an almost never-ending supply of foods throughout the year, enabling one to eat easily with the seasons. Even so, with the intercontinental flow of fresh food products, we added grapefruit and kale from the local IGA just to get all the food groups in our meal.
On to Big Farm Country
Leaving Dayton, the drive across our vast state took us through the rolling hills of wheat country, by the stoic grain elevator on the bluff above Pataha Creek, through the tiny town of Starbuck (with no Starbucks), over the stellar Snake River, to the land of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. The Grand Coulee Dam on the mighty Columbia, a public works project of Roosevelt Administration in the 1930’s, electrified and irrigated significant portions of Eastern Washington changing the landscape forever. Central Washington’s deep, fertile, loess soils benefited the then nascent now robust agricultural economy with significant help from a consistent, reliable water supply.
Pure Eire Dairy, located outside of Othello, Washington, is in the middle of big farm country in the heart of the Columbia Irrigation Project. Dairying is a small part of the agricultural economy of Adams County, the home of Pure Eire, with only seven dairy farms according to the 2012 USDA Agricultural Census. Even so, milk and milk products are the No. 2 commodity with $1.1 billion in Washington sales in 2012 with many other counties being big players in the commodity. Milk is only behind the celebrated Washington State apple in agricultural sales. Even though small, Pure Eire is raising the bar and setting a new standard for what discerning consumers can expect in their milk products.
Pure Eire Dairy
Sadly the dairy industry’s product, milk, is a commodity where the typical farmer is in a race to produce quantity over quality. Dairy farms have grown bigger and bigger, while many smaller farms have gone out of business. Thankfully, there are exceptions such as Pure Eire Dairy that have innovated a niche business that serves a unique market making exceptional products! Pure Eire has gone beyond the industry standard of Organic Valley Cooperative. Organic milk standards prohibit hormone use to stimulate milk production, limits antibiotic use only for animal illness, and sets standards for pasturing and outdoor access, while providing third-party verification that standards are met. Pure Eire has exceeded these standards by feeding their Jersey herd only grass–the food that cows are designed to eat.
Visiting in March, the cows were just beginning the first foray into the spring sprouting fields. During the winter months the herd is fed harvested hay from the previous season. Cows are designed by nature to eat grasses and hay as their ruminant digestive system ferments the food producing multiple benefits to them and us as milk drinkers. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) a beneficial fatty acid and a vital energy source for the cow as well as amino acids, B vitamins and vitamin K are also produced benefiting us.
Pure Eire is so committed to a healthy herd and superior milk products that they are Certified Organic, Non-GMO Project verified, and Animal Welfare Approved. These certifying organizations along with the care of the Smiths ensure a healthy herd from the milking females to the newborn calves, thereby ensuring the finest milk products for human consumption.
Wowed by their milk products, I am thankful PCC Community Markets, my local food cooperative, has an exclusive agreement with Pure Eire to produce their private label thick Greek yogurt. Yum! My favorite–the peach.
Gratefully, farmers are reconnecting with the eating public whether through farmers’ markets or grocery stores to provide us with the best possible food choices. Next time you taste a locally grown product, whether a Pure Eire yogurt or farmers’ market cheese, see if you can taste its terroir–its taste based on its special place. It’s authentic.
Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting, LLC, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, farmland conservation, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn’s blog muses on ways to create a more sustainable world and good food!