My memories of field trips are mixed. Yes, I loved being out of school for a few hours or whole day — but at the same time, if our class was filling up a few buses and heading off school grounds, the chances were good that it was sometime in May, near the end of the school year. Which, in Mississippi, translates into Hot as Dante’s Ninth Level. Usually by 10 minutes into our jaunt at the zoo, I was begging to be back in math class, because who wouldn’t rather learn equations in a 68º classroom than smell monkeys in an inescapable sauna?
Which is one reason I wasn’t super-excited about my 7-year old’s class field trip last week to Trader’s Point Creamery. Outside + June + farm + cowpies = not my idea of a good time. On paper, joining the class with my two littler ones seemed like an Ideal Mom Moment — the reality, that morning, was not looking as pleasant.
But our Indiana summer was kind to us that day. In the middle of a string of hot days, we got a break, with a slightly overcast sky to boot. I didn’t even break a sweat as we walked the facilities and farm, didn’t even mind much as dried manure flattened underfoot.
The land is unabashedly picturesque, hundreds of acres of rolling hills just on the north side of urban Eagle Creek — a blinkable 20-minute drive from our house. All that acreage bequeathed for one purpose: organically growing grass, grass that will feed cows; for the owners are effective proselytizers of a message: non-homogenized milk from grass-fed cows is the healthiest milk we can drink.
We are already believers of their message, but it was good to be reminded of why we go to the trouble — and even better to see the process in action. But even for the kids who might not drink cow’s milk (at least one vegan family was on our tour), or who might not ever care or afford to pay the higher price for organic, grass-fed milk, it was a valuable lesson in the source of dairy, and why sustainable farming is important.
The kids learned that cows are herbivores, and that they become natural soil-builders as they eat and poop, crush grasses into the ground under-hoof, and even get picky — leaving tall, prickly, unpalatable species untouched (which I was quick to point out is like how we don’t eat the leaves off oak trees, definitely not an excuse to leave the broccoli on your dinner plate). We learned that clover is a legume (who knew?) and provides protein to the vegetarian bovine.
Most fascinating to me was seeing the milking room, where 8 cows at a time are coaxed in and hooked up to a breast pump of nightmare proportions. The milk is pumped in stainless steel pipes directly into the creamery, where it becomes yogurt, cheeses, and drinking milk. All flavorings added are organically-grown, making all of Trader’s Point products certified organic and of highest quality.
But with that quality comes a hefty price tag. Our daughter’s school is socio-economically diverse, and I would venture to say that most of the children in attendance cannot afford the milk we were seeing in production. The dairy workers are aware of this — they know they have an expensive product. But they aren’t getting rich — it’s just really expensive to produce dairy products in this way. Gone are the days when many families had their own cow to do the fertilizing and provide the milk for a family — and a small dairy farm isn’t economically sustainable on its own. The tours of the farm, the sales of cheese and yogurt, the on-site restaurant all subsidize the farm’s ability to stay in business.
But that contrast left me with mixed feelings. We don’t buy Trader’s Point products — not because they aren’t delicious, but simply because we can get a similar-quality product in less expensive ways. We have a cow share with a local farmer who delivers our milk to us weekly; I make our yogurt, and occasionally our cheese (my 5-year plan includes a more full-force investigation into this art). But what we lack in material wealth we make up for in the luxury of time — I am able to stay at home, allowing me freedom to spend the necessary time in my kitchen to provide these things cheaply.
My ethical dilemma landed on the side of Trader’s Point. I love that a creamery dedicated to making the highest-quality milk possible exists just minutes from downtown Indianapolis, love that a woman donated all of her land to that purpose rather than selling it for millions of dollars to a developer. I want to support them, even if that only means I pay for a tour, occasionally eat in the restaurant, or splurge on their cheeses and chocolate milk.
If I had an opportunity to tour the production facility of an artisan textile designer, I would do it, even if I could never afford a yard of the fabric. At the end of that day, a bunch of kindergarten and first-graders were given a lesson in sustainable farming, bovine lactating habits, the food chain, predators, grass species, cheese-making, and real estate. With a cup of fresh organic ice cream to top it off. Score one for education, being outdoors, smelling cowpies, and supporting a local business.
Trader’s Point Creamery products are shipped to select markets across the country. If you see them at your local Whole Foods or Marsh, pick one up — they are worth the higher price tag.