In California, the organic dairy brand Straus Family Creamery can be seen just about everywhere you turn. You’re probably familiar with their endearing logo of a happy cow dancing under a red banner that bears the name in big bold letters “STRAUS.” My family has even been a patron of Straus Family Creamery’s products and many times I have read their name when glancing into my fridge for a snack. Most of the time I closed the refrigerator door without even thinking who or what was behind the name “Straus.” I knew from the advertisement on their products they must be family-oriented and organic. The brand has become so pervasive that I recently became curious: why were so many food places inundated with their products and how did they sneak into my refrigerator all the time?
I e-mailed the Straus headquarters hoping to schedule a visit to their family-friendly farm. We got a response in a timely manner, but I was disappointed to learn that they don’t arrange farm visits due to the high demand of requests. She was kind enough to offer a visit to their offices in Petaluma, instead. I thought this was odd considering the sense of congeniality their advertisement and website exuded about their farms; but I was excited nonetheless to have an opportunity to see the behind the scenes happenings of the company.
My fellow San Francisco Food Warriors and I made the hour long trek to Petaluma to learn first hand about the Straus Family Creamery. Upon arrival we were instructed to “check-in” on a sign-in sheet because there was more than one of us present at their quiet office. The family vibes we were expecting to receive had immediately been dissipated and replaced with awkward distant relative vibes. We were instructed to go back to a daunting conference room with a very large computer screen hanging on the wall, where the Real Time Farms website had been pulled up. My nerves began to build as I silently realized this wouldn’t be like the typical friendly interviews I conducted with farmers and various food artisans throughout the bay area.
I expected to be conducting an interview to learn more about Straus Family Creamery, but instead our conversation began as what felt like a cross-examination of Real Time Farms and my internship. I’m not going to lie—I was pretty nervous. The skepticism surprised me, but soon enough it was our turn to ask some questions. I asked the usual questions for food artisans—about their history, farms, where they source from, etc. The responses to my questions varied; some were elaborated on while others seemed to displease our host, especially when we asked about whether or not the cows were truly grass-fed as they claim. We were told that the term “grass-fed” is only used for meat cattle; many times dairy cows are fed supplemental grain when the grass is too meager and lacking sufficient nutrients for cows. I was curious about their typical feed schedule, due to recent controversy regarding the presence of GMOs in organic grain feed for dairy cows. We learned from their website that they are strongly against GMOs, so we’ll take that at face value.
Our host was also very persistent in telling us that most of the information we asked about was on their website, and in our brief 14 minute interview we were told this four or five times. This was disappointing because the one of the main goals of Real Time Farms is to get a personal story behind the farms and food artisans. This is one of the things that sets Real Time Farms apart from so many other food guides; you get a true behind-the-scenes look at the people, places, and practices behind the food you’re consuming. It felt as though they would have preferred if we had gotten to know the Straus’ by simply touring the website like everyone else.
I was a little disheartened by the corporate side of the Straus Family Creamery, as it had less than the family, down on the farm feel I had hoped for. However, their company is very popular and successful for a reason. They were actually the first certified organic dairy farm west of the Mississippi, showing their trailblazing mentality and inherent dedication to sustainability and environmental awareness. I’d like to think it’s possible to be dedicated to environmental stewardship and be a successful company while still taking the time to accommodate curious people, like myself and my fellow Food Warrior Interns, longing for a deeper look into their farms and practices.
Winter 2012 San Francisco Food Warrior
This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Internship Program. These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from! Boring legalese we feel we must include: this was written by a real live person who has their own opinions, which we value, but that do not necessary reflect, though they may (or may not), reflect the values and opinions of Real Time Farms. That is for you to guess and us to know.