Near Lake Champlain, Vermont, just a few miles from the Canadian border, you will find the Choiniere Family Farm. It’s owned and operated by Guy (pronounced “ghee”) and Beth Choiniere. Their children, Mathieu and Hannah, also help out on the farm quite a bit.
Since the mid-1940′s, the farm has been in the family and run conventionally until Guy was introduced to organic farming by another farmer. Even though the organic way of farming was contrary to his methods, something struck a chord with him. Guy began learning more about increasing soil health without commercial fertilizer and caring for cows using alternative methods. He immediately began implementing these practices on his farm.
It took three years for the Choiniere Family Farm to fully transition to an organic dairy farm under the USDA regulations. On July 1, 2005, the Choinieres shipped their first load of organic milk with Organic Valley/CROPP.
When we arrived at the Choiniere’s farm, we were invited inside their home and treated to a wonderful lunch with lots of great conversation. The Choinieres were the nicest people! They answered all of our questions with such enthusiasm and detail. You could tell that they really believe in what they were doing.
For lunch, I ate a goat cheese sandwich with veggies, potato salad, and a cold orzo shrimp-feta-cucumber salad.
After lunch, we headed outside to see the cows and the rest of the farm. But, before we did, we met some adorable kittens! They were so friendly and followed us around on our tour.
I love orange cats!
The Choinieres have 65 cows for which Guy used this analogy: “Cows are like athletes; milking is the equivalent of running a marathon.” Guy’s role is to act as their trainer by giving them the best quality pasture to feed their bodies. Guy told us that cows take about 200 bites of grass before they get sick of chewing, so he wants to make sure that they are eating the best possible fuel.
Guy’s first priority is healthy cows. He believes that if you give the cows something nutritious, you’ll receive a healthy return.
Guy has a “closed herd,” but unlike the farmers of Howsmars Farm and Beidler Family Farm who use artificial insemination, he uses a bull to impregnate his cows. Both ways have their own advantages and disadvantages, but the choice really comes down to what the farmer thinks is best for his/her cows.
Say ‘hello’ to Stanley!
The Choinieres also have pigs and chickens on their farm.
Guy’s mission for the day was to turn us into “biological farmers” by having us get to know the importance of soil in the whole process. One of the most important things that I learned on this trip is that the health in the soil determines the health above the soil, which includes the pasture, the cows that eat it, and the people who consume those products.
Guy said a number of interesting things about the health of his cows and family since making the switch to organic farming. His cows very rarely get sick, but if he sees one starting to get rundown, he gives them a concoction of cayenne pepper, garlic, and echinacea– the exact same one he gives his family! (They all swear it works like a charm!) In fact, Guy said the medicine cabinet in his house looks just like the one in the barn.
Once again, we asked why consumers should buy organic. Here’s what Guy said:
What a great family! I loved meeting the Choinieres and learning about their farm.
Two more posts to come: conventional farming, a visit to an organic CSA, and a tour of the Stonyfield plant. I told ya I had a lot to say!