by Mary Oliver
On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God –
a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside
this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope
it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.
After enough pleading Grandma would agree to let me go visit Grandpa in the barn. I didn’t grow up on the farm so visiting the cows was thrilling, until she made me wrap plastic bags around my shoes so I wouldn’t get them dirty. For some reason that was enough to stall my trip out to the barn to visit Grandpa while did his morning milking.
I’ve grown up since then and relished the opportunity to go get my shoes dirty and visit some cows a couple weeks ago. The city horizon faded into rolling hills dotted with barns; some run down and out of use and others, like the ones on the Werkhoven Dairy, filled with milk-producing cows.
While on the farm we learned that cow is queen. Andy Werkhoven along with his son and daughter spend their time managing the comfort and care of their cows. Ultimately every decision they make is for that purpose because if she isn’t happy they are out of a job. “The more comfortable cows are, the more milk they make. There is no drug in the world that will produce more milk if it’s not a healthy or comfortable cow.” And in farm life, where the margins are so slim, every drop counts.
I walked away from our farm tour with my mind reeling. From the great lengths they go to care for their cows; large airy barns with a calculated mix of grains and corn, sand beds for better aeration that get cleaned every time the cows go to the parlor to get milked (three times a day), to the astonishing science behind their digester project where they take the waste from the farm and turn it into something good.
“The anaerobic digester utilizes manure from the cows and co-digests pre-consumer food waste to make energy (enough to produce electricity for as many as 300 homes), thereby keeping the air and water clean, protecting salmon streams, keeping the dairy operating and creating Grade A compost.”
For me, the most poignant part of this trip was to have a deeper appreciation for the cream, thick and pale yellow, I pour into my coffee every morning. For the butter I slather on bread with great abandon and the whole milk that cools our oatmeal or softens our cereal.
The day after our trip I found myself in a familiar spot; the grocery store. Standing in front of the milk case I stood in awe and admiration for what was in front of me. As a mom of three young milk drinking children I so often grumble at the price of a gallon of milk. That day I reached for the gallon produced by a local dairy and appreciated it deeply because I know the care, the cost and the passion that went into it.
Farming is an incredibly difficult job, one that must be fueled by passion because there’s no fame, no accolades, no large paychecks coming to the hands of the farmer who operates a small family dairy but we need them desperately.
I started this post with Song of the Builders by Mary Oliver. It’s been running through my mind over the last few weeks when I call into question the value of my day to day work. Whether it’s putting away the dishes, again, loading yet another load into the laundry, writing up a recipe, or snapping a photo of my lunch. When the “whys?” whisper in my ear I reply, “I’m building the universe.” Because in some way I am. We all are.
These farmers are too. Behind the plastic carton that carries our milk is a family who passionately cares for their cows and puts all of their effort into every drop because they too are building the universe. We rarely think about calf nutrition, corn crops, cooling down the herd in this crazy heat we’ve been having, where the waste goes, but the farmers do.
When Shauna asked the farmers at the end of our day with them; “What’s the one thing you want us to tell everybody?” They responded, “Drink milk and appreciate where it comes from.”
Consuming dairy has never been hard for me. As a granddaughter of a dairy farmer I’ve rarely shied away from cream and butter but now I hold it with higher esteem, appreciating its value and all that happens in order to ensure that my coffee is sufficiently capped, my cookies are crisp with butter and my summer berries have a billowy cream-filled bed to land
This post was sponsored by Washington Dairy. As always, the words, images and recipes are mine.
If you are interested in learning more about the Werkhoven Farm or more on Sustainable Farming check out these great links for more information:
Black and Blue Semifreddo with Toasted Oat Crumble
Serves 6 to 8
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups blueberries
2 cups blackberries
zest and juice from 1 lemon
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extracto)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Lightly spray a loaf pan with pan spray and line it with plastic wrap. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium high heat add 1/2 cup sugar in an even layer. Watch it closely as it melts and caramelizes. Carefully stir the sugar as the edges start to melt. Continue to caramelize until all of the sugar is melted. It should be a deep copper color and will smoke a bit. If some of the sugar starts to get too dark you can remove the pan from the heat, give it a stir and then continue to cook.
Add 1 cup of each of the blueberries and the blackberries. This will make the caramel seize and harden. Reduce the heat to low and cook until all of the caramel has once again melted, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in the remaining berries.
Set this aside to cool.
In the bowl of a mixer whisk the 4 eggs until they lighten. On medium high speed slowly pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue to whip until very light, frothy and about tripled in volume.
Whip the cream with the vanilla seeds or extract to soft peaks.
Add the slightly cooled berry caramel mixture to the cream and mix using the whisk. Add the eggs and mix, again with the whisk, until just combined. Take care not to knock too much of the air out.
Add this to the prepared loaf pan and freeze for 4 hours or until firm.
1 cup flour
1/4 cup oats
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 stick/ 6 tablespoons cold butter cut into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl combine the flour, oats, salt, cinnamon, and sugar, Add the butter and blend until the mixture holds in small clumps when squeezed.
Add the crumble to the baking sheet. Pinch together some of the dough so there are some large pieces in there too.
Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve the semifreddo on a bed of crumble.
Cap with whipped cream if you’d like.