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Taking a closer look at where milk comes from

Taking a closer look at where milk comes from

We only had UMaine dietetic student Zakkary Castonguay with us as intern at the Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council for a brief time this fall, but we wanted to be sure to introduce him to as many dairy farmers and dairy farms during that time as possible. The following is his take on what he saw, learned and experienced.  Dairy is not only one of the five components of the MyPlate guidelines but as I quickly learned, a way of life. During the completion of the combined Master’s and Dietetic Internship program on my way to becoming a Registered Dietitian, I was allotted the opportunity to spend time with the Maine Dairy Promotion Board / Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council. Stepping away from the incandescent lit hallways of a hospital, I found myself in several cow pastures across the beautiful state of Maine taken aback by the breathtaking views.     Interacting with the families who have, in some cases, dedicated generations to providing the state of Maine and those across our country with straightforward and nutritious milk, helped to produce one of the greatest life experiences for which I could ask. Each farm visit was unique, but exhibited the same basic principles: a genuine care for the animals, belief in the products being produced, and an overwhelming dedication to our state and it’s people. Far too often in the world of academia more specifically that of nutrition, there is the disconnect between everything that is learned and the foundation for which it stands – food. Touring farms and seeing firsthand the dedication and work involved in the production of food allows for a more wholesome understanding of agriculture and, in turn, the products we discuss with our clients.  Having been raised in a society where producers and consumers have little interaction, there is both a need and a newfound push to bring the two together. Fortunately, the forward progression of consumers’ desires to eat local and understand the origin of their foods directly coincides with the work these farmers have been doing for countless generations.       The dairy farmers and their families not only graciously take time from their tireless workdays to provide invaluable information on the inner workings of a functioning farm, but also provide insight on the regulations and proposed future direction of their agricultural sectors. Lives as dairy farmers do not begin and end each day with the punch of a time clock; their work is intertwined within their daily lives. The intermingling of work and everyday life is evident as these wonderful historians share their stories and visuals they so graciously shared during each visit.       The trips across what, in my biased opinion, is the best state in this nation were long in distance, but full of experienced.  Visualizing the anthocyanin-rich blueberry barrens while traveling down the historic Airline connecting Hancock and Washington counties helped to solidify my bias. Fiery red fields led to ocean front pastures and a prime example of the families that help supply the nation with nine key nutrients. As the last weeks of my internship come to a close, I will always remember the people behind the products being produced; their wit, dedication, and ingenuity all are qualities I hope to emulate as I begin my career as Registered Dietitian....

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Dreams really do come moo

Dreams really do come moo

Some people live their entire lives without their dreams ever coming to fruition, never daring to take the leap to see them realized. At 17 years old, Maine dairy kids Kaicey Conant and Megan Caruso made a big check mark on their bucket list by showing at the North American International Livestock Exhibition (NAILE) in Louisville, Ky., this month. “We were really lucky to be able to go,” Megan said at the recent All-Star Dairy 4-H Club annual awards night in Gorham. “Thanks to my dad and to the Conants for convincing my dad to let me go.” Megan and her father Travis of Martin Place Farm in Gorham, Kaicey and her parents Dennis and Heidi of Conant Acres in Canton, along with fellow young dairy farmer and 4-Her Emily Fisher of Topline Farm in New Hampshire and her father and all three ladies’ cattle (Kaicey’s Holstein, Megan’s Ayrshires, and Emily’s Guernseys) traveled to NAILE, which is the largest all-breed, purebred livestock event in the world. Although Kaicey and Megan have been to the Big E in Springfield, MA., they still weren’t prepared for the immensity of the Kentucky show. “It was definitely the experience of a lifetime,” Kaicey said. “I had no idea it was going to be that big.” Both ladies said it was thrilling to just see the enormous show ring and NAILE’s trademark dyed green shavings. While its been a long-time dream for Megan and Kaicey, since they both started showing their family’s dairy cattle a decade ago, the trip became a reality this year because both felt they had quality show animals that could do well on the national stage. “They were winning everywhere,” Kaicey said, “including Eastern States.” “That’s when we started talking about it,” Megan added. Kaicey took her Holstein Tango, and Megan took her Ayrshires Gem, a 3-year-old cow, and Martha, a winter calf. Emily’s family raises Guernseys. “Every day was a different breed show, so we helped each other out,” Megan said. “One day there were eight people working on one cow.” “It was not ‘I have to beat you in showmanship, so I’m not going to be your friend today,'” Kaicey added. “It was ‘I will help you get your heifer ready. Then we’ll get my cow ready.’ We were there to cheer each other on.” The competition was stiff, the best of the best from around the country with 10-15 cows in each class. “The quality of the animals was more than I had ever seen,” Kaicey said. “It was the biggest number of Ayrshires I had ever seen,” Megan said. In the end, Megan earned second in the junior show and fourth in the open with Gem and fifth in the junior and fourth in the open show with Martha. Tango and Kaicey earned fourth in the junior and open as well as Best bred and owned in the open show.   Hopefully, this won’t be a once in a lifetime opportunity for Kaicey and Megan. It will depend on the quality of their animals, but they see more trips to Louisville in their future and are already taking about taking on another big show in Syracuse in April.   Megan and Kaicey were certainly thankful to have the opportunity to go to Louisville and to their parents who helped make it happen for them. As this is the Thanksgiving season, I thought I would offer a couple of recipes for the Thanksgiving table. I have two recipes – one for before dinner and one for after. Golden Raisin Pecan Scones (for breakfast Thanksgiving morning.) 2 cups...

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Milk just got a whole lot cooler

Milk just got a whole lot cooler

Having cold milk (or milk that isn’t slushy with ice) at lunch would seem a given for school cafeterias, but because of aging equipment, some schools have struggled to do that. Recently, the Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council (MDNC) and its Fuel Up to Play 60 program, funded by Maine dairy farmers, awarded six Maine schools grant funds to purchase new milk coolers – Coastal Ridge in York, Center Drive School in Orrington, Ella P. Burr School in Lincoln, Beech Hill School in Otis, Edmunds Consolidated School in Edmunds Township, and Edna Drinkwater School in Northport. A large number of schools applied for the small equipment grants, far beyond what was available for funds, and the MDNC selected based on the most basic of needs – a working milk cooler. This fall, we have visited many of the schools during lunchtime to celebrate the new coolers. On Tuesday, Nov.8, we were at Edmunds Consolidated, which is a K-8 school. Cindy Cox, the school’s food service director, said the milk cooler was a much needed piece of equipment that the school would not have otherwise been able to afford. “Our other one would ice up, and I had to defrost it once a week,” she said. The school has no walk-in coolers, and the milk crates would take up too much room in the refrigerators.  “We only get a milk delivery once a week, so it all has to fit.” The new cooler solves the problem. Jane and Aaron Bell of nearby Tide Mill Organic Farm were also able to be at the school. Jane helped us hand out fun dairy stuff to the students (stickers, pencils and bracelets), while her son Aaron brought Arugula, a 3-week-old Lineback calf, for the students to meet during recess. Aaron told the students that Arugula will be two years old before she has her first calf and becomes a milk cow. Until then she will be hanging out on the farm and living a life much like them – “she has a lot of friends, has a nice place to live and eats lots of good food,” he said.               Our new dietetic intern Zakk got to make the trip to Edmunds with us, so we made sure to stop by Tide Mill Organic Farm because we always like to give future dietitians an opportunity to see where all that nutritious dairy starts out. If you’ve never been there, Tide Mill is located right on the water’s edge, just about as far east as you can go in the State of Maine. The cows have some of the most scenic pastures you’ll find in the state. The farm offers tours depending on the time of year, so be sure to check it out if you’re ever in that neck of the woods. The first Bell settled here in 1765 and built a grist mill powered by the tide (hence Tide Mill). One of the grist stones is still there, and you can see timbers that used to be part of the dam, now covered by seaweed.     The farm encompasses 1600 acres and is truly a diversified operation. While it has been a dairy farm for much of its history, the Bell’s actually stopped milking cows in 1977. “Someone was coming from New York to buy the herd of registered Brown Swiss when we were headed to the hospital to have Aaron,” Jane said. Ironically, it was Aaron, a member of the eighth generation on the farm, who wanted to bring milk cows back to the farm...

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Green Pastures Award-winning family is fixture in community

Green Pastures Award-winning family is fixture in community

When a dairy farm family has been in a community for three or four or five or even six, seven or eight generations like many of Maine’s dairy farm families, those families are not only deeply invested in their farm, but in their community. You’ll often see their names on school boards or boards of selectmen or the county’s soil and water conservation district. In choosing the Green Pastures Award winner each year, one of the criteria for the selection committee to consider is community involvement. (Other considerations are milking herd quality, efficiency on the farm, the quality of the farm’s forages and feed for its animals, that the farm is economically sound and sustainable, and that the farm’s practices have a positive impact on the environment.) This year’s Maine Green Pastures winner is deserving on all fronts, but the Hall family’s community involvement really goes above and beyond. Located in East Dixfield, Hall Farms is operated by Dick Hall and his sons Rodney and Randy (the farm’s eighth generation) with the help of other family members (including the ninth generation). Among the farm members are a county director of the Farm Service Agency, chief and captain of the local fire department, national YF director for the Farm Bureau, chair of the Board of Selectmen, President of the Maine Maple Association, and Vice President of the New England Belted Galloway Group. The family has always been involved in agricultural fairs around the state, showing cattle or pulling steers or often as part of the staff that organizes the fair. Randy is the president of the local Farmington Fair; while at Fryeburg Fair he is the beef cattle superintendent, his father Dick has been the pulling ring superintendent for 24 years, and for nearly 15 years Rodney (who is president of the Maine Maple Association) and his crew of volunteers have been working the sugar house on the fairgrounds, where visitors can see just how maple syrup is made as well as sample and/or purchase many different maple products from Hall Farms, including a fair favorite – maple cotton candy. “It’s a good way to sell part of our crop, and it’s something I like to do,” said Rodney of the sugar house. “We are trying to promote the maple industry. Even if they don’t buy our syrup here, they’re going to go home and buy someone’s maple syrup.” And they’ll know to buy the real thing. This was the first year, they offered a blind taste test to allow people to compare imitation maple syrup and real Maine maple syrup. “Some people had never tried the real thing,” he added. “They never realized there was a difference.” Now they know better. While fair season is becoming a distant memory for most, the Hall family is already looking to next year. Rodney meets with his volunteers right after Fryeburg is over, so everything is fresh in their minds and they can discuss how to improve or change things for the next year. The family has to schedule much of its farm work around the fairs, making sure the corn is all chopped before Farmington Fair, for example. Rodney drives back and forth to Fryeburg every day of the fair to take care of his milk cows but hires help for the milking and daily chores. Hall Farms is primarily a dairy farm and has been home to a herd of registered Holsteins since 1945, the family relies on several enterprises, each one supporting the others to keep the farm thriving. They manage a sugarbush of 7,500 taps that produce about 1,200...

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A rainbow of dairy cattle

A rainbow of dairy cattle

While their own family farm – Happy Acres in Troy – is only a second generation farm, the Schofield kids come from a long line of dairy farmers, and a large extended family of dairy farmers. Within that extended family, there are several opinions about what the best breed of dairy cow is, but for the Schofields, it’s one big melting pot. The five children in 4-H ( a mix of cousins and siblings) show four breed of cattle at Maine fairs – Jersey, Ayrshire, Holstein and Guernsey, and they all have their favorite breed. Lydia, 11, and her cousin Mackensie, 15, like the Ayrshires. “I really love their color,” says Lydia of the mahogany red and white cattle. “I like a lot of their characteristics, not just their attitude,” says Mackensie, who is this year’s National Ayrshire Princess after being selected at the breed association’s national convention in Oklahoma City. She will represent the Ayrshire breed at the upcoming Eastern States (Big E) Fair. Ayrshires are known to usually have good temperaments, but Lydia’s brother Ruben Jr. (R.J.), 13, prefers the Jerseys. “I like their solid color and how they are more calm and don’t push you around like the Ayrshires.” Mackensie’s brother Shaynen, 17, also prefers the Jerseys for their small size, which makes them easier to handle, he says. Their sister Nicole, 19, also likes Jerseys.             When it comes to cow breeds, dairy farmers are much like people with their favorite dog breeds. Someone might be a lifelong Golden Retriever owner and would never own anything else because they admire the dog’s temperament, their beautiful color and their intelligence. Or they might love Jack Russels for their small size and tenacity. Some people prefer mutts and like having a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Or they will have multiple breeds on their farm and just appreciate a good milk cow that does her job and doesn’t cause trouble no matter what breed(s) she is.   I guess in this analogy, the Holstein would be the Labrador Retriever – the United States most popular and most recognizable breed. There are six main dairy breeds that are common in the United States – the Holstein, Jersey, Milking Shorthorn, Guernsey, Ayrshire and Brown Swiss. Though not at all common, other breeds can be found on farms in Maine, including Linebacks, Randall and Dutch Belted, and some farms have crossed rarer breeds, such as Normande and Fleckveih into their herd in hopes of improving certain characteristics like better efficiency at turning forages (grass) into milk. Still other small farms or homesteads that probably have just one or two milk cows, might have Milking Devons or Dexter cattle, which are considered multi-purpose (beef/milk/draft).                    ...

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Giving coffee milk a boost with Rocket Fuel

Giving coffee milk a boost with Rocket Fuel

When Carson Lynch came to Maine from his native Massachusetts in 1990, he was in awe of the local business scene here. “I was like, ‘What is in the water?’ In Maine, small business is a self-sustaining community of people,” he said.  “It’s not just a marketing message, it’s real.” He sees much of that same neighbor-helping-neighbor and close-knit community atmosphere among Maine’s dairy farms and dairy industry. “I feel really excited to be dialed into the Maine dairy scene,” he said. Lynch hasn’t decided to start milking cows. He’ll leave that to the professionals. But in 2008, he brought a new dairy product to the table with the invention of Rocket Fuel High Test Coffee Milk. Rocket Fuel is the signature drink of the Gorham Grind , an independent community coffeehouse in Gorham Village that he has owned since 2005.   While coffee milk isn’t a new concept, especially in New England (it’s even the official drink of Rhode Island), it doesn’t have the popularity it once did, and Lynch is hoping to reinvigorate the beverage. “Let’s bring coffee milk back!” he said, adding that the flavor of his product is coffee-forward balanced with fresh dairy and the complexity of caramelized sugar. Coffee catering and event vending is another service that Lynch has offered since 2008. Because of the limitations of a tent-and-table set up, he and Tayt Dame of Norse Home Services built Maine’s first full-service mobile coffee and espresso operation and named it Flo. As part of this work, Lynch found that he needed a ready-to-go, gallon-sized latte mix that was custom to The Gorham Grind. After creating his own coffee syrup, he worked hard to get the texture of the dairy mixture right (he uses whole milk, skim milk and half and half). The whole process took weeks. “There were many nights spent over a stove back then”, Lynch said, “and fortunately it worked so well that I was able to put it on the menu [at the shop].” The drink soon gained followers. “Even people who are normally not coffee fans really like it,” Lynch said. “I know that sounds like a boast, but we have supporting data. Getting into production and distribution of a perishable product is risky, but the demand was there. People kept saying to my staff and me, ‘You should bottle this.’” Lynch even saw people who would travel from Portland to Gorham just to have Rocket Fuel. “In the early days, I figured if I didn’t have any that day, they would just buy something else,” Lynch said. “But instead, if we didn’t have it, they were like, ‘Peace!’ and just left.” In 2013, Lynch decided to take the leap and “really got serious” about producing Rocket Fuel. Whole Foods in the North Atlantic region has even picked up Rocket Fuel as a local food in five of its stores so far, including Portland and in Lynch’s hometown of Hingham, Mass. Several other businesses in Southern Maine also carry the drink. Lynch is enthusiastic about the popularity and growth of Rocket Fuel, but he sees the importance of keeping his business small enough for him to manage and maintain the quality. All bottling is done on-site at The Gorham Grind, which is a licensed Maine Milk Distributor, and Lynch makes every batch by hand. One gallon of his coffee syrup makes six finished gallons of Rocket Fuel. He works with two Maine companies he knows and trusts – Coffee by Design and Oakhurst Dairy, among others. “Oakhurst has always focused on supporting Maine farmers.” He figures he uses about 50 gallons of dairy products from Oakhurst each week....

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