• The Health in the Soil Determines the Health Above the Soil

    June 29, 2010

    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! :-D


    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! :-D


    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! ;-)

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    { 48 comments… read them below or add one }

    Heather (Heather's Dish) June 29, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    so true about the soil! it’s gotta be good since it’s the basis for everything growing in it…thank goodness my mom taught me that (it’s about the only thing in gardening that i paid attention to…woops :))


    Sarena (The Non-Dairy Queen) June 29, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    I love the natural remedy for making them better! That is awesome! I love orange kitties too…we have two here. This is great information!


    Lisa June 29, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    AW! Love the kitties!!! So adorable.


    Freya @ Brit Chick Runs June 29, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    What beautiful animals :) I love the analagy – ‘milking is like running a marathon’ – those cows are pretty darn amazing!!


    Jayne July 8, 2011 at 1:49 am

    Wonfderul explanation of facts available here.


    Wendy (Give Love Create Happiness) June 29, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Tina, I am really enjoying hearing about the farms and am LOVING the farm pictures!!


    Lauren June 29, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Wow… these pictures are incredible and I am so envious of the access you have to such interesting and adorable and practical things (information, grass, cows…) Have fun!


    Jenny June 29, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    I wish I ate what you did for lunch!


    Mary @ Bites and Bliss June 29, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    It’ll be interesting to see how conventional farming compares to organic. Nice post!


    Kaz June 29, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    I love reading this, Tina. Thank you so much for going into such detail in your posts! One thing that stood out with me was the 200 chews thing. I definitely agree that the soil quality influences the quality of the overall finished product. I look forward to your next post. :D


    Rachel June 29, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I have an orange cat!! I lurve him :)

    I want to sign up for a CSA so bad!


    Evan Thomas June 29, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Cayenne pepper, echinaea and garlic powder–I’m writing that one down for next time I get sick


    Lynn (The Actors Diet) June 29, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    looks like another great farm. the sandwich looks great too – i love big thick ones.


    Katherine June 29, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I feel like I’m watching an old-time movie looking at the farm shots! what a different world the farm and city lives are


    Kelly June 29, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Love the cute kittens! And I am writing that remedy down for the next time I get a cold!


    Ella June 29, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    I’m interested in this cayenne pepper, garlic, and echinacea miracle – did you happen to get the recipe? ;) I’ve literally been sick since February… maybe I should make a trip to Guy’s farm for some organic healing! :D

    Your trip looks like such a blast, can’t wait to see more!


    Michelle June 29, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    That’s so cool that he “treats” his cows the same way he treats his family! Which makes so much sense. Why give your cows something you wouldn’t give your family??


    Cynthia (It All Changes) June 29, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I love that he treats the cows like family. And it is true what they eat we eat.


    Becca June 29, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    These posts are great! Thanks so much for all the great information!


    Evelyn @ cheers2healthy June 29, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    That pig is too cute!!! I’ve heard pigs make wonderful pets! Kinda random little fact : P


    shannon (the daily balance) June 29, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I am LOVING these posts! What an incredible experience — thanks for sharing all your learnings!


    Jessica @ The Process of Healing June 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    How interesting! And the kittens are absolutely precious!


    Courtney @ Sweet Tooth, Sweet Life June 29, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Awwww the orange cat looks just like my Cody!!! :-D


    Krista (kristastes) June 29, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    I did an agricultural study tour (through Penn State’s college of Agriculture) in Switzerland and Italy a few years ago for a month and your trip reminds me of mine. I think I’m going to write a flashback post on my trip soon after seeing this. We saw multiple dairy, beef, pork, and buffalo farms as well as factories where these products are processed. The farming attitudes in both countries follow the “organic” regulations of the U.S. Wouldn’t it be great if this was the standard everywhere??


    Miranda @ Mirandasjeans June 29, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I love it! I think its funny too how you have to let people know that Guy’s name is Ghee. I guess it’s a Canadian thing to just know that lol.

    I think I will be sad when your last post is posted. I have enjoyed this seriers so much, as I said before. I can’t believe all the info you ladies got in just a couple of days. Great job!


    Stacy June 29, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Great post – very interesting! Thanks!


    Jo June 29, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Loving all your posts from the farm. I am learning so much!


    Callie June 29, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Can’t wait to hear more! :)


    Laura@ youngDCliving June 29, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    I’m loving these posts too! I love all the animal pictures, they’re so adorable. I definitely would have had a hard time not running away with any of those kittens :)


    Katie @ peacebeme June 29, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    What an amazing opportunity you had to get to tour and learn so much about organic farming. I voted for you :) I especially love the videos of the farmers themselves telling us why they believe in organic farming and why we should choose organic products.


    Sarah for Real June 29, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    I love that you are covering all these topics with such care Tina! They are so important. I like to remember 3rd grade science when talking about the soil. We are all part of a system, a food chain. That’s why organic farming is so different, because they give back to the soil. It’s also why it’s so important to go local and participate in the food chain system.


    MelanieF June 29, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Guy Choinière…that sounds french Canadian :-)


    Melissa @ For the Love of Health June 29, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Looks like an educational blast!


    Kristin @ Sustaining Me June 29, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    I really love that you’re getting to go out, visit and see the production at the farms. There are so many great small farmers out there that support a healthy, sustainable system for themselves, their animals and the environment. Keep sharing so that we can support this farms and get rid of the destructive factory farms out there!


    Kellie June 29, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    what a great experience. It’s fun to learn about farming. Being a city girl I never think too much about where my food comes from. Pretty interesting.


    The Wife of a Dairyman June 29, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Love the barn cats :) We have quite a few barn cats on our ranch and they know just where to hang out…..near the milking parlor and the calf barn to share the milk being fed to the calves.


    Wellescent Health Blog June 29, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    It’s very good to see this recognition of soil health as a part of a holistic process for the health of crops, livestock and ultimately us eating the products from the farm. We just have to be mindful of interests that like the premium associated with organic crops and would like to co-opt it to reduce the rigorous nature of the standards.


    Lisa (bakebikeblog) June 29, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Wow – what an interesting farm visit!!!


    Staceyhttp://stacey-healthylife.blogspot.com/ June 29, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    First off love those cats, especially the orange. I also am loving all the info and I’m learning so much.


    Tina June 29, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    I am forwarding this post to my son-he’s largely in charge of our garden & he just inherited 10 tomato plants! He talked for quite awhile to me about dirt. I guess I know what I’ll be doing tomorrow! And by the way-if you happen to know the recipe for the orzo shrimp salad-that would be awesome!


    Emilyeatsclean June 29, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Keep the info coming girl…..I love reading about your trip and learning all about the organic process!!! That orange cat is adorable!!


    sue June 29, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    This has been great, Tina. I love all of the sounds in the background while Guy is talking and love the chickens and kitties wandering around on the ground around him!
    And, yes, recipes for the health “potion” and the orzo-shrimp salad would be wonderful if you have them.


    sue June 29, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    I love orange kitties too – I have two orange and white tabbies.


    Kerri June 29, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    It is neat to learn about all these different kinds of organic farms. What cute kitties.


    Mel @ She Runs Brooklyn June 29, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Love the video of him telling it how he sees it. Really interesting, and informative. Gives me a new perspective; facts I knew, but sentiment I couldn’t hold on to before.

    Thank you!


    Hannah June 29, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Gosh, I wonder if Murphy is going to be jealous of all the cute animals you’ve been playing with on your visit? :P


    Dana Walters June 30, 2010 at 1:29 am

    Great! Helpful and healthful site


    Wei-Wei June 30, 2010 at 4:36 am

    The soil is actually a source of a lot of nutrients for the grass, so I could definitely see how it can affect the cows, and the milk, and ultimately us! I love how you’re sharing all this with us! BTW: I nearly died when I saw the photo of the sleeping orange kitten. No joke.



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