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Beyond organic: Who wants more from dairy?

Yesterday, NPR’s Morning Edition ran a story on dairy farming. Dairy packaging, the story went, often depicts cows grazing on a pasture next to a red barn, but the reality is far different: Most conventional dairy products come from factories with operations that can lead to ground water pollution and unhealthy livestock conditions (think antibiotics, hormones and more).

But you know this. I do, too, which is why I choose only organic dairy. Last year, I took the next logical step to get even closer to my dairy source. A group of friends and I founded a neighborhood raw milk co-op. Windsor Dairy, which is run by veterinarians, delivered the 100-percent organic, grassfed, raw dairy products to one member’s house. On Sunday mornings, I picked up my weekly supply.

Sounds simple, but establishing the raw milk co-op was actually a logistical nightmare (buying a refrigerator, getting the quota of participants, establishing ground rules for pickup). I would’ve preferred to have picked up Windsor Dairy milk from one of my local natural products stores, which offer more convenient hours. But it is illegal in Colorado to buy or sell raw milk. Windsor Dairy gets around this by having each member “buy” a share in a cow, which the member “owns” until the cow dies. Sales of raw milk are legal in 28 out of 50 U.S. states, according to Real Milk, a project of the raw-milk advocates Weston A. Price Foundation.

Although I love the grassy, full-fat yumminess of Windsor Dairy’s milk, I recently had second thoughts about it being raw. Was I putting myself in danger? Was it safe?

Maybe my backpedaling is irrational. After all, Windsor Dairy does bacteria testing for safety, and several of my friends feed the milk to their precious kids (all are still among the living). Maybe I’ve been brainwashed by the government.

Whatever the case, I have returned to store-bought organic pasteurized milk. Much to my chagrin, I haven’t been able to find it in a 100-percent organic, grassfed, unhomogenized form at any local store. I would love to have all that Windsor Dairy offers but low-temp pasteurized.

I recently came across two brands that come close: Natural by Nature (organic, low-temp pasteurized, unhomogenized, grassfed dairy, but the milk is not currently available in Boulder, Colo.) and Organic Valley (an organic dairy co-op that offers Rocky Mountain Pastures milk from farms in my region, including from the Windsor Dairy vets, but I'm not sure if all the included milk is fully grassfed).

I suspect that as consumers get savvier about dairy farming and nutrition, they will ask more questions about milk and demand not only organic, but local, grassfed, unhomogenized and perhaps raw. Will you be ready?

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