Inga Witscher: Organic Farming Rocks!

inga witscher

By:  Jan Carroll

Inga Witscher, host of Wisconsin Public Television’s Around the Farm Table, has been farming for nine years and now runs a thirty-acre certified dairy farm, milking eleven Jersey cows with the lower-tech bucket milking system. She is a fourth-generation dairy farmer, and it was her dad who talked her into moving to West-Central Wisconsin and trying her hand at this farm. The family had lots of experience with big vegetable gardens and an organic creamery as she was growing up. She was not sure about the new venture at first,but it didn’t take long before she felt at home. “I just fell in love with it. It completed me,” she said.

Witscher uses managed intensive grazing for the cows, a method that involves moving the cows to new pasture every twelve hours. This gives each patch of pasture a forty-day rest. Milk from her farm is shipped to Westby, Wisconsin, where it is made into butter, cottage cheese, and cheese and then sold in the Madison area. Witscher notes that even her cows eat locally, since she supports local farmers by buying hay and grain from them.

As a kid, Witscher says, everything the family ate was off their farm. She feels the trend toward organic sustainable farms that serve local markets will continue to grow because people are becoming more aware of it and more educated about it. She feels small and midsize farms will guide the community supported agriculture (CSA) movement. Although it can be an adjustment learning to eat some of the new foods you receive in CSA, she adds that “CSAs are great, because they push you out of your comfort zone.” Also, kids are growing up with fresh organic local food as the norm, so they will expect the same as they grow into adults who buy produce and other farm goods. “Wouldn’t it be great if we got rid of labels of local and sustainable because they had become so common?” she wonders.

Living in the city, it can be hard to connect with local organic farmers. Besides looking for them at area farmers markets, Witscher offers three ways to cultivate relationships with your local farmers:

  • Throw a local-food potluck party, where each guest brings some local organic food or a dish made with a local organic food.
  • She advises, however, to remember that these are working farms, and although farmers love to have you stop by, they will be taking time away from their work to talk with you, so limit your time there, bring a small token of appreciation like a bottle of wine, or offer to help with tasks around the farm, like weeding the garden. Leave your dog at home!
  • Invite local organic farmers to speak to your group or at your event or dinner party. This is nice, she adds, because it allows farmers to get off the farm.

Witscher lists two challenges to small and midsize organic farmers. One is the lack of available land. She’d like to increase her herd to fifty cows, but she’d need more land to do so, and it’s hard to come by. If you can find afordable land, if it hasn’t already been transitioned into organic land, that process takes three years, which is quite an investment since it is expensive to convert regular land to organic land. That process of going organic is also an emotional commitment for the farmer because it can often mean you lose the camaraderie of local conventional farmers. Second, she agrees that organic food often costs more, but she explains that is because the cost of farming is high, especially organic farming. But, she says, even though the cost of organic milk is high, there is a huge demand for it. There aren’t enough organic farmers producing organic milk to meet demand. Witscher says she strategizes often about how to make the farm more financially feasible.

In looking to the future, Witscher would like to have better communication and mutual learning opportunities between organic and conventional farmers, to get to know and interact “just as farmers,” sharing ideas such as cover crops to prevent erosion. In organic farming, “the soil is the foundation of everything else,” she explains. From there, the main thing is to make sure the cows are happy and relaxed, and then fewer other issues arise healthwise. She is happy to report that women “are the fastest growing sector in agriculture,” though it has taken a while to become accepted.’

Season 3 of Around the Farm Table will be on public television later this fall, probably in October sometime. Check local listings for day and time. Witscher says the goal of the program is to promote original local products and to show people what those products are like and how to use them, with recipes and ideas. By visiting and featuring organic farmers from all over the state, Wisconsin viewers can become more educated, and hopefully this will encourage them to try more local foods! Witscher loves the way the program “connects the consumer to the farmer.”

Feeding Baby Homemade Whole Foods

By: Beth Martin, Just Local Foods Cooperative

When the time comes to begin feeding baby solid foods, consider skipping the cute little jars of baby food that line store shelves.  Yes, organic baby food is available and a great option when traveling or in a pinch.   Making your own baby food is very easy, cost effective, fun, and allows you to provide your precious bundle with a nutrient dense, delicious, first experience with food.

Does is matter if we use organic produce?   Truth be told, YES it really is.* Cooking with fresh wholesome foods is always best.  Use fresh, well cleaned fruits and vegetables – organic when you can.  Feeding baby fresh foods helps develop healthy early eating habits and packs more nutritional value per serving than jarred foods

*If affordability is a concern when purchasing organic fruits and vegetables, consider familiarizing yourself with the Environmental Working Group list of the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” which measures pesticide and herbicide toxicity in conventional produce. You can find these lists at www.ewg.org

Advantages of Organic Foods For Infants

  • Pound for pound, a baby consumes more pesticides due to their body size than adults.
  • Babies who eat organic are not exposed to the levels of pesticides and herbicides found in conventionally grown produce.
  • Studies are now showing that organically grown foods are higher in nutrients than their conventionally grown counterparts.
  • Organic foods are NOT GMO foods.

Where to Begin!  Wonderful First Foods for Baby!

Healthy Fats are essential to brain and nervous system development. Use organic, hormone-free butter, extra virgin olive oil, avocado.

Fruits & Veggies Lightly steamed fruits and veggies are packed with vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Use banana, carrots, apples, sweet potato, papaya, avocado, cooked greens (well pureed).

High Quality, Local & Pastured Meat Healthy proteins provide better sources of iron and zinc.  Try cooked, well pureed dark poultry and organic, chemical free red meat, organic chicken liver, and egg yolk.

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends trying these as better sources of iron than plant based foods. Wild caught, cold water fish:  Salmon.  Avoid farmed salmon.  Wild fish provides high level s of DHA, crucial to retinal and brain development.

Not Just a Fad

By Beth Martin, Just Local Food Cooperative

Eating a diet in rhythm with the seasons just makes good sense.  Especially when you consider that most Americans are quite literally starved for the nutrients found in fresh fruits and vegetables.  Seem impossible?  Consider this, according to New York Times best selling author Dr. Mark Hyman, “ a whopping 92% of us are deficient in one or more nutrients at the recommended daily allowance (RDA) level.”

The Standard American Diet, rich in heavily processed packaged and fast foods (can we even call these things food?) and empty of fresh fruits and vegetables results in vast nutrient deficiencies that create most of the health issues we see today.

Good for Your Health!

Fruits and vegetables are at their peak flavor and nutritional content when they are ready to be harvested.  Most foods begin to lose nutrients almost immediately after harvest.  For example, spinach and green beans lose two-thirds of their Vitamin C within a week of harvest, according to the University of California, Davis.   By eating locally grown (ideally organic) foods this means you will be eating not only more flavorful food, but you’ll boost your nutrition.

Eating a seasonally based diet with lots of variety throughout the year is the “cornerstone of preventive medicine,” says Preston Maring, a doctor at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center in California.   Study after study have documented  the benefits of eating an in-season, plant-focused diet—reduced risks of cancer and heart disease, increased longevity, improved cholesterol, improved vascular health, increased bone density and weight loss, to name a few.

Good for Our Community/Local Economy!

There are many options for purchasing locally grown foods.  The farmer’s market or CSA share is always a great place to start.  Another year-round option is your local food co-op.  Food co-ops, like Just Local Food, build relationships with local farmers and provide them access to market and offer a healthy price for their products.  Local food co-ops are able to work with smaller growers because we don’t demand volume like bigger grocers.   For every $1.00 you spend at a local food co-op, $.38 stays in our local economy.  This may not seem like much but it has huge economic impact.  And we all know a strong local economy is the key to thriving community.

Good for our Earth!

When you support small farmers who nurture their land through sustainable farming practices you are investing in more nutrient dense food for everyone while ensuring our small farmers continue to have a viable way of life.   Modern commercial farming focuses on quantity, not quality – at the expense of soil quality – resulting in less nutritious food.  For example, modern wheat and barley have 30 to 50 percent less protein than they did in 1938.

Nutrition is more holistic than just calorie counting and adding up nutrient levels.  When you enjoy locally grown foods you nurture a connection to the natural world that is good for our bodies and our souls.  According to Herbalist and physician Aviva Romm, it’s a “way of loving and caring for ourselves and others that allows us and those we serve to reach our fullest potential”.

June is Dairy Month

Crystal Ball Farms is owned and operated by Troy and Barb DeRosier along the St. Croix River in the small village of Osceola, WI.   Troy and Barb have been personally delivering their certified organic milk for over ten years.  Just Local Food Co-op is proud to say that Crystal Ball Farms was our very first vendor; Just Local started as a home milk delivery service of their delicious, organic milk products.

In 2003, the DeRosier’s built their creamery where they process the milk from 100 grass fed cows.  Since that time their operation has experienced continued growth, as the demand for certified organic, local dairy products has increased.   Their creamery operation is thriving with a wide market in Wisconsin and Minnesota.   The DeRosier’s are proud to control their entire operation, from crops to the finished product.

The result are milks and milk products with outstanding flavor and nutritional value.  Crystal Ball Farms pasteurizes their milk but do not homogenize.  This means the flavorful and healthful fat content remains.  The DeRosier’s cows graze on a diet rich in grass and spend their lives outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air, ultimately enhancing the quality and flavor of the milk.  You really can taste the difference.

Just Local carries a full line of Crystal Ball Farms milk products including skim, 2%, whole and chocolate milk, half and half and heavy cream