Got Raw Milk?
Just Earth Farm offers herd shares through their high-integrity dairy
by Terah Van Dusen
Picture that one place at the end of the lane, you know, the one that opens up to a view overlooking the valley, a break in the trees, finally – a landscape of rolling hills and green pastures, cows grazing lazily or gathering together under a grove of trees.
That place, my friend, is Just Earth Farm.
In business for over two years, Just Earth Farm offers its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members herd shares with a dividend of fresh, raw cow’s milk. “We don’t sell raw milk,” farm co-owner Joe Ramagli explained, “we sell shares into a herd of cows.”
Located on Butler Road near Junction City, the family-ran dairy farm is operated by husband and wife team Joe Ramagli and Susanne Stover. According to Ramagli, Joe is the “mystic” and Susanne is the “scientist” behind the operation, although the reality of farming means they both fill many roles, doing whatever it takes to keep their cows healthy and their members happy.
It is clear that Just Earth Farm is locally singular in their level of standards with regards to sustainability. The dairy operation uses 100% certified organic inputs – right down to the straw used to bed the cows, and including the grain and minerals that the grass grazed cows are given to supplement their diet. (Grass grazing is a distinction used to differentiate from grass fed, which implies that at least one point in a cow’s life, it was fed grass.) The pair are avid, I mean avid about what they call the “sacred commerce” of their CSA model, a “symbiotic partnership connecting the microbial (soil), solar (grass), bovine (cow), and humans (members and farmers).”
Stover does empathize with other small family farms however, who operate more conventionally. She says she can understand, due to the downward pressure on food prices, how some farms are forced to pinch pennies – organic feed can cost two to three times the amount of conventional feed and is one of Just Earth Farms biggest costs – even despite the fact that their herds are primarily grass grazing.
But compromising on quality is something Ramagli and Stover just aren’t willing to do. They offer their CSA herd share members access to fresh, raw milk weekly. And in return they ask their members for the true cost of organic herd husbandry and high safety standards, which is almost a daring thing to do in a world that’s accustomed to saving a buck – even when it comes something as important as their and health and food choices. “Raw milk is a health food. It is not just a beverage,” explained Ramagli.
But it’s not just raw milk the CSA members are getting – as a herd owner, the individuals and families are directly participating in the health and well-being of Just Earth Farm’s herd of Dutch Belted and Jersey cattle. In fact, each herd owner is required to tour Just Earth Farm prior to purchasing their share. During the tour, the members are introduced to the cows – all of whom have special names such as Tinker, Dolly and Spring Rose, just to name a few. They are required to visit the milking parlor, which is absolutely spotless, and they get to witness the small scale sustainably-driven dairy farm in action.
And there is plenty of action: moving the cows to and from pasture, cleaning their hooves of manure or straw, and tons of sanitizing of the milking parlor and the creamery. But the farmers are somewhat unconventional in their methods. To quote Stover: “The idea that you have to milk cows twice per day, starting at dawn – that is a myth. The udder will respond to supply and demand. Conventional dairies may milk their cows up to three times per day, and you can get a cow to do that, sure, but it’s called “pushing” her. In our opinion that is treating the cows like they are a milk production device instead of a living being.”
To drive home that message, Stover explained how the life span of a conventionally raised cow can be as short as 3-5 years. When treated with respect though, a cow can live to at least 15 years. Reportedly, one grandmother of Just Earth Farm’s Jersey cows is 17 years old and “still producing milk no problem.”
At Just Earth Farm they milk their dairy cows once per day. They milked them twice per day the first year but when they realized they didn’t achieve twice the amount of milk, but just twenty percent, they reduced their milking to just once per day.
“We believe they deserve to rest, hang out, chew their cud,” asserts Stover. Ramagli continues the thought: “Cows are capable of withholding their milk. It’s not just a muscle contraction, it’s a choice. When they do give their milk, we pet them, express gratitude, and say thank you,” explained Ramagli, “Milking is a sacred act. It’s a gift. You can’t just treat it like a job.” In fact one of their favorite cows, Rosalia, won’t even leave her milk stall until she has her daily hug.
Just Earth Farm operates with one paid employee and a couple of part time volunteers. Not having the help they needed proved to be one of the biggest challenges during their first years of operation, so in 2016 they hired Emma Sackinger, an enthusiastic young farmer with years of experience working with cattle and dairy.
“When working with a new heifer or a difficult cow, we have found that the only method that really works is to let love be the encouragement, and connection be the reward,” Ramagli explained.
It’s an approach that farm hand Sackinger can get behind, and good thing because the “sacred milking parlor,” as they call it, is where Sackinger spends most of her time – that is when she’s not currying the cows in the barn, or feeding the calves their milky meals, or spreading positive morale throughout the hard-working farm team.
So…why raw milk?
Well the folks at Just Earth Farm will be the first to tell you that the benefits of raw milk depend solely upon your constitution. For many it is a health food, but for some their systems may not be equipped to handle dairy at all. By and large though, raw milk is actually easier on your system than conventional dairy products. The most obvious benefit of raw milk is the nutritional value: the enzymes are all still intact, grass fed raw milk is full of the good-fat known as Conjugated Linoleic Acid and other important fatty acids, plus the milk contains Vitamin C, all of which is killed during the pasteurization process. Still, the method remains controversial. Many consumers have been warned against raw milk according to modern convention, but Just Earth Farm and a growing number of other farmers, authors, scientists and doctors are all challenging that position.
Ramagli and Stover are huge proponents of an educated, scientific, and transparent approach to dairying. Perhaps because of the nature of their business, they have done extensive research, consulting, and planning for the sake of their family’s and community’s safety. The pair have sought advice from other raw dairy farmers in Oregon and across the country, they have sought wisdom from books, lectures, and by personally calling the authors of said books and lectures. “It is our goal to have the cleanest, safest raw milk possible,” stated Ramagli.
This high standard is backed by Just Earth Farms listing with the Raw Milk Institute, the national leader in raw dairy standards and mentoring. “We completely respect that raw milk isn’t for everyone,” explained Stover, “we don’t try to convince folks that they should consume raw milk. But we are happy to work with people who want to learn how to use their raw milk shares in ways that work for them and their families, even if that means home-pasteurization.”
On their website located at http://www.justearthfarm.com, you can read about the farms Jersey and Dutch Belted milk cows, flock of laying hens, and what the farm does to produce the best raw milk possible. You can learn more about their herd shares, and even access informational packets detailing standards for safe raw milk consumption. The farm is still accepting applicants for their herd share program and is just one call, email or holler away.