1994 is a Turning Point
The Straus Family Creamery has been in operation since 1941. But we only began to hear about them starting in 1994. Why?
Because in 1994 they made their debut in the Bay Area with organic milk. They were the first dairy west of the Mississippi to achieve that status.
Prior to converting to organic, the Straus Family Creamery was a typical west Marin-based dairy, producing milk that it sold to dairy co-ops, which in turn processed and packaged the milk under supermarket labels. However, the industry was declining (there were 20,000 dairies in the California in 1941 and in 1996 there were only 2,300). With stagnant milk prices offered by co-ops, inflation and regulatory controls that were driving up production costs, the Strauses were faced with a choice: expand to a large-scale commercial operation to by-pass the co-ops or stay mid-sized which meant restructuring to the nature of their business. They chose the latter and decided to convert to organic farming and to sell directly to retailers under their own label. (Larry Peter, another dairyman in Petaluma, faced the same dilemma and he choose to become a potato farmer in order to support his herd Spring Hill Potatoes.)
Straus's cows are not treated with genetically engineered hormones or antibiotics. No herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers or fungicides are used on the grazing land. The cows eat organic feed which can be more than 100% more expensive than non-organic feed. In order to gain organic certification, the creamery has had to use these practices for 4 years before it would be qualified as "organic".
For the Strauses, the conversion has been a complete success. They have managed to keep their herd of 230 milking cows. In the last 3 years, they have become a local phenomenon for the superbly high quality dairy products that they offer at conventional prices. They have received an impressive list of awards:
|Marin Conservation League John M. MacPhail, Jr. Award for creative integration of economic and environmental sustainability; and for showing vision and dedication in establishing the first organic creamery in the Western United States (1997)||Waste Reduction Awards Program in public recognition for having made outstanding efforts to reduce and divert waste from land fills (1955 and 1996)|
|Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition (1997)||Ellen Straus inducted to Marin County's Women's Hall of Fame (1996)|
|Clear Choice Award - "Environmental Awareness" category for excellence in glass packaging (1995)||Gold Medals - Los Angeles County Fair (1995 and 1996)|
|"Pioneering Efforts in the Development of Sustainable Agriculture in Marin County" by Dominican College (1996)||"One of the Best Premium Butters in America" (Food and Wine Magazine) April 1996|
|Features on PBS-TV series "Green Means" (1995)|
95% of the Straus Family Creamery's production is sold through retail stores around the Bay Area. 4% directly to restaurants and 1% directly to consumers at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market. While the overall percentage of sales at the Market is small, Michael Straus, the founder's son, thoroughly enjoys the experience: "It's a way to talk to our customers, to give them samples of our products and to explain the benefits of organic dairy products".
Happy Cows = Happy Customers
Each cow produces 8 gallons of milk per day; total herd production is 13,000 gallons per week. About 10,000 gallons are sold as milk and the rest is processed into milk products. The milk is pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria, but it is not homogenized. No additives such as Vitamin D or acidophilus are added.
STRAUS FAMILY CREAMERY PRODUCTS
|Cream-top whole milk (3.5% fat)||Uncultured sweet buttermilk - not the typical sour milk known as "buttermilk". This is the whey from butter making and it's sweet . (1% fat)|
|Nonfat skim milk||Non-fat yogurt|
|Whipping Cream (35% fat) - no emulsifiers or stabilizers||Monterey jack cheese|
|Sweet butter - 5% lower in moisture than conventional butter (a by product of making non-fat milk)||White cheddar cheese|
|Salted Butter||Clabbered cottage cheese and quark|
Milk is sold in old-fashioned glass bottles that have a $1.00 return deposit.
Straus Family History
Bill Straus, the founder of Straus Family Creamery, grew up in pre-war Germany where his father was a manager of agricultural estates for the government. After Hitler came into power, as German Jew, Bill began to get uneasy feelings and when an opportunity came up to move to Palestine in 1936 to work on a kibbutz, he grabbed it. After only 3 months there, he was summoned to southern California, where they were drilling for oil on his great-grandfather's property. No oil was found, so Bill migrated to northern California to attend U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Davis. Soon after graduation, he got into the dairy business with herd of 23 cows and has been in the business for the last 56 years. Today, Bill's other son, Albert, manages the dairy and creamery.
Bill's wife Ellen, originally from Holland, not only takes part in the dairy business, but is also an active environmentalist. She was one of the earliest supporters of "agricultural zoning" in Marin County and a co-founder of the Marin County Agricultural Land Trust which buys land development rights from farmers. By acquiring and holding the farmer's development rights on his land, the Land Trust insures that the farm land will not be turned over to real estate developers.
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