When I first started this humane food adventure, I was meticulous about asking all of the dairy and egg farmers at farmers markets a series of questions. In fact, it was roughly a year ago that I wrote about my first encounter with Blue Ridge Dairy, a cheese vendor whom I have grown to depend on for mozzarella cheese and honey yogurt at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market.
However, today I stumbled upon some unsettling information, or lack thereof. I was trying to tweet that we are serving their mozzarella at our rehearsal dinner. I went to their website, and noticed that it looked different than a year ago. So I checked it out, and read this under Our Process:
We produce fresh mozzarella the traditional Italian way. We start with the freshest jersey cows milk from a family farm in Carroll County, Maryland.
And that is it. No mention of the size of the farm, number of head of cattle, or the treatment of the cows. This is not what I remembered the vendor telling me at the farmers market a little over a year ago, so I called the farm.
The owner picked-up, and told me that the name of the farm was confidential. He did reassure me that it was owned by a nice family with four kids (heh... clearly he did not know that I could not be wooed by over-populution). When I pressed nicely for an answer to my questions, he became evasive and defensive.
So, I sent the following email to FRESHFARM Markets, the organization that manages Dupont Circle Farmers Market.
Hi Ann, Bernie and Laura:
I am writing due to a concern I have about Blue Ridge Dairy. The owner will not disclose the name of the farm he purchases his milk from for his dairy products. After reading the FreshFarm Markets rules and regulations (http://www.freshfarmmarkets.org/pdfs/2011_rules_and_regulations.pdf), it is clear that Blue Ridge Dairy is in violation of the Cheese and Butter Regulations (pasted below):
Cheese and Butter: FRESHFARM Markets accepts both farmstead (made from dairy from the producer’s own herd) and artisanal (made from dairy purchased by the producer from a local farm) cheese and butters. For artisanal cheese or butter, all milk purchased must be from regional farmers. The cheese/butter maker must provide contact information (owner, farm name, address, telephone number and directions) for the farms from which the cheese maker is buying the milk.
I am a vegetarian and try to only eat animal products that come from humane farms where I know exactly how the animals are treated. This is very important to me and the reason that I shop at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market.
One of the great things about the market is the transparency. Patrons are able to find out information about the farms or sources directly from the vendors. For example, Mel from Keswick is very open to questions and invites customers to come to the farm. Additionally,other vendors I have spoken to have not been defensive about questions concerning humane animal care, but are actually happy to see customers who share their values.
However, when I called and spoke to Mr. Stephan (the owner of Blue Ridge Dairy) he refused to tell me the name of the farm, which not only violates your rules and regulations, but is also not the standards we are used to at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market.
I would very much like to know the name of the farm so I can continue to fully source my food.
In advance thanks and I look forward to hearing from you,
Yes, I am concerned. But I also don't want to write-off a good vendor because he might have been having a bad day, or is not as excited about humane farm animal treatment as I am.
So I will be sure to keep you updated. I am certainly hoping that the only negative thing on this farm is the four kids, and not a farm full of cows whose tails are docked and packed into milking stalls standing in their own manure.