Vermont Dairy Country with Stonyfield

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

This post was created in partnership with Stonyfield. All opinions are our own. 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” -Margaret Mead

It’s easy to look at the quaint red barns and grazing cows dotting the rolling hills of Vermont and think everything’s just “perfect”. From the outside, it appears to be. But change is underway: only 800 small family dairy farms remain in Vermont today, down from about 20,000 just fifty years ago. It’s a difficult business, getting harder every day. But there might be some hope for many of these farms: organic. It’s a loaded word, but it can be a win-win-win-win for small dairy farmers—and for consumers. A few weeks ago, Stonyfield brought me and a group of fellow foodies to Vermont dairy country to give us a taste of what organic dairy farming looks like. Here’s a recap of our trip.

A farm story

Julie Wolcott and her husband Steve own Green Wind Farm. It’s picture-perfect: a big, rough wood barn, an 1820’s farmhouse, and rolling hills for acres. Against the fire-red leaves of the trees just starting to turn, there are cows: rich brown, beautiful dairy cows.

What stands out about Julie is her deep love for her cows. Each of them has a name, chosen based on family theme like constellations or woman singers. The cows have best friends, she told us: cow buddies they eat with in the fields and nab a spot next to in the barn. And there are even “bossy cows” who rule the roost. As we walked with Julie through her fields, we learned about her passion for soil health and the forages that her cows graze on. You are what you eat, and she wants the absolute best for these cows.

Julie’s dairy farm used to be conventional, and she just transitioned to organic with the help of Stonyfield. Her reason? Sustainability for the future. Conventional dairy farmers can have a hard time making ends meet because the price for conventional milk is unpredictable. In contrast, the price for organic milk is higher and more stable. Making the move to organic could help her farm to stay around for the next generation. And it’s not just financial: it’s also better for the soil to avoid the use of harmful pesticides, and better for the cows’ health. The goal of organic is happy, healthy, stress-free cows.

Many farmers are skeptical of transitioning to organic. So was Julie, at first. But she told a group of us, as we stood huddled under ponchos in rain boots in front of her barn, “All my ideas against transitioning to organic were baseless. You need more patience with organic, but the cows are able to resist disease.” One of the other farmers we visited later in the day agreed: his vet bill for his dog was more than for their entire herd of organic cows.

While the weather was gray and dreary, the rain added a certain charm to the day. Julie invited us out of the rain into the warmth of her rustic farmhouse, where her family had prepared a literal farm-to-table brunch with vegetables from Julie’s garden. A frittata with greens and feta, a colorful pile of roasted vegetables, and fresh-baked bread and butter crowded my plate. I washed it down with a warm cup coffee swirled with fresh cream that added the most earthy, nuanced flavor I’ve ever tasted. And there was moist, brilliant plum gingerbread cake for dessert. As we chatted around the plank table, I felt connected to the land and the people in a way that I can’t quite describe in words.

(Scroll down for more, after a short photo essay.)

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Organic: a win-win-win-win

That evening, we met another couple: Peter and Diana. Together, they purchased a conventional dairy farm that was in ruin, Philo Ridge Farm. Their hard work has transformed it into a beautifully restored, functional organic farm that’s also a space for community events and education. Around a large, candle-lit table surrounded by the stone walls of their farmhouse cellar, we dined with them and met another special guest, Stonyfield founder Gary Hirshberg. (You may have heard him tell his story on the podcast, How I Built This.)

Gary has devoted his life to the idea that sustainable ideas can and do work. He started Stonyfield with the crazy (at the time) notion that an organic yogurt business could help to clean up the planet and save family farmers. The company is now 30 years old, and he’s proven his thesis: a business that does good for the planet and our health can also make money. As a fellow world-saver-wannabee, I find this idea endlessly fascinating.

It was around this table that we discussed the win-win-win-win of organic. Instead of a win-lose or a lose-lose, organic dairy has many positives. To distill it down to the most basic, here are the wins: 

  1. It’s better for the Earth. Organic soil captures and stores more carbon, helping to mitigate climate change. (See this video.) Water quality and biodiversity are also improved and preserved.
  2. It’s better for the cows. Organic cows are happier and healthier, requiring less vet visits than conventional cows.
  3. It’s better for your health. Organic products are higher in antioxidants than conventional. They also have less pesticide residue.
  4. It’s better for the farmers. Since the prices for organic milk are higher and more stable, organic dairy helps small family farmers survive.
  5. It tastes better! And here’s an additional win: organic dairy tastes better! The flavor is nuanced, earthy, and real.

The only downside to organic: it costs a bit more for the consumer. This is something Gary and other thought-leaders in the organic movement are trying to improve. The more people decide to buy organic, the more the prices can become more approachable for the everyday consumer. Currently, organic food is only 5% of total US food sales. How can we increase that number? For me, once we understand the wins, the extra investment can become worth it.

It’s difficult when you’re in the grocery, comparing prices between organic yogurt cartons. But for me, that extra 1 dollar is something that’s worth it. It’s worth it for the win-win-win-win. It doesn’t have to be every time, and every product in your cart doesn’t have to be organic. Simply consider buying organic when possible. And maybe, buying organic when possible can be a small step in the direction of making the world a better place.

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Vermont | A Couple Cooks

Emily of Small Fry Blog, Gabby of Design Mom, me, Bev of Bev Cooks, Julie of Peanut Butter Fingers, Erika of Essentially Erika, and Claire of The Kitchy Kitchen

About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is an acclaimed vegetarian cookbook author and cook based in Indianapolis. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the “best vegetarian cookbooks” by Epicurious.

45 Comments

  • Reply
    Karolina
    October 24, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    It’s better for the Earth – there isn’t more compelling argument out there than this. All the other wins are related to it – impact on your health, taste buds, happy cows or farmers. If the Earth is happy, good things happen to everyone. If it’s not, we will all pay a price.

  • Reply
    Lexy
    October 24, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks for sharing Sonja! Your photos are beautiful and it makes me happy to hear that organic is also helping the farmers and the land. For me the biggest “wins” that organic brings is that its better for the earth and for my body! Double win!

  • Reply
    Melissa H.
    October 24, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    I’m most concerned about the health issue, especially when buying foods I know my son will eat. Can’t always afford it, but try to make it work when I can. These photos are beautiful!

  • Reply
    Mary
    October 24, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    We buy organic dairy whenever possible. Having two growing boys in the house makes it so Important to give them the best so they can do their best!

  • Reply
    Rinky Kundnani
    October 24, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Alex and Sonja! I believe having preservative free and organic diary makes you feel grounded and less bloated. That’s why I make my own yogurt at home from milk that we get from farmers market.

  • Reply
    Libby
    October 24, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    Spending my money on organic products is worth it to me, even if it isn’t the cheapest. I see it as an investment – in myself and my future health, in a more sustainable and healthy food system, and in the futures and health of those involved in producing it. It is hard to pick one “win” because they are all so intertwined!

  • Reply
    Kari
    October 24, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    I love that is better for the cows. That means a better and longer live. The other reasons are so important also it was hard to pick. Love Vermont and stonyfield yogurt.

  • Reply
    Lynn
    October 24, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    I prefer organic dairy for myself and my family. Knowing I am providing my family the best sources for their health and wellbeing is crucial. Knowing I am avoiding antibiotics as well.

  • Reply
    Heidi VR
    October 24, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    I’m so happy that you had the opportunity to travel to VT with the health/food influencers! I love reading, watching documentaries, and catching blogs/podcasts on sustainability, healthy whole food options. You have a way with words Sonja!

  • Reply
    Jan
    October 24, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    I am willing to pay a little more for organic. We believe it is better for us so will always buy organic. I appreciate farmers who make this effort to become organic for us. I love happy cows!!!
    How I wish to someday visit Vermont in the fall. Both of these farms are beautiful.

  • Reply
    Maggie
    October 24, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    I love this post! I think the biggest win is that it helps our earth. We need to do as much as we each individually can to keep our world beautiful and untainted for our children!

  • Reply
    ali
    October 24, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    Love these photos and the story and boy does it make me miss Vermont! All of the wins are important to me and that is why I stick with organic dairy!

  • Reply
    Emily
    October 24, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    I love that it is better for the earth and better for my kiddos, but it’s also pretty nice that it’s better for the cows.

  • Reply
    Roshni
    October 24, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    I think it’s really important to eat well to prevent disease, and knowing what’s in your food and having only the essential ingredients helps you to do that!

  • Reply
    Hannah
    October 24, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    Wow, this is a beautiful article! Makes me want to mo right up there to join the “bossy cows.” Being a new mom instantly makes me align with the sustainable for our future world. I love this so much

  • Reply
    Genevieve Crum
    October 24, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    All of these wins are SO compelling, but surprisingly the one that compelled me the most was actually the simplest of all: It tastes better! While at first that may seem like a more shallow answer, I actually think that the flavor of the yogurt captures all of the beautiful and important other wins that come together to create this special yogurt. The taste alone gives it away; this same product could never taste the way it did if it came from unhappy cows or unhappy people. I believe that this fifth win falls in line with eating seasonally as well. Seasonal food always taste better because it is more fresh and full of flavor, and while that leads to environmental and health benefits, I believe the taste truly says it all. :)

  • Reply
    Sarah
    October 24, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    Eating for health is important. The biggest win is the health of me and my family.

  • Reply
    JerseyBuckeye
    October 24, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    You’ve given me a bit to think about and some beautiful photos to enjoy. I think being good for our planet is a critical win. We need to stop looking for the quick, easy, cheap fix.

  • Reply
    Tricia
    October 24, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    It’s better for your health is most important to me.

  • Reply
    Alexa Peffer
    October 24, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    I love all the wins! But I really love that it’s better for your health. I have a one year old daughter and I only give her organic food. It’s worth the extra cost because I don’t want pesticide residue in her tiny growing, developing body. We LOVE Stonyfield! We go through their 32 ounce containers of whole milk vanilla yogurt like crazy:)

  • Reply
    Maureen C Morales
    October 24, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    All the wins are important to me – it’s too hard to choose! But I’ve been eating Stonyfield for years because of the taste.

  • Reply
    Daniela
    October 24, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    I had never heard about it being better for the earth so I have to read up but I think the last four are interrelated. Happy cows make better products which in turn keep us, the consumers happy and healthier too! I’m also excited that farmers earn more money! So it’s a win-win-win!

  • Reply
    Penelope
    October 24, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    Earth and health! We all need to take care of our planet, and life is so much better when you’re healthy. The excellent taste of organic dairy is a bonus!

  • Reply
    Courtney S
    October 24, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Organic tastes better, for sure!! I often have an inner battle with myself at the grocery – sticking to a tighter budget vs. wins for health and taste. Usually the latter wins out :) But so happy that others (farmers, cows, my body) also reap the rewards. I’d be thrilled to receive free organic yogurt!

  • Reply
    Audrey
    October 25, 2017 at 6:46 am

    I love that it’s better for the earth and for the cows!

  • Reply
    Charlotte
    October 25, 2017 at 8:59 am

    Beautiful pictures!! Enjoyed reading this blog post. Have to get back to Vermont again soon. I have been trying to incorporate organic foods when I can. It’s important to me after having cancer to reduce chemicals in my diet. Organic dairy was the first food group I switched to due to the hormones in regular milk. I also enjoy the taste of organic dairy and feel strongly about the benefits of organic farming practices for animal welfare and also the health of farmers and neighbors of farms who are effected by pesticide use too.

  • Reply
    Amy
    October 25, 2017 at 9:04 am

    My fave “win” is better for the Earth! I feel like the Earth’s health radiates out to everything else: the air, the animals, humanity. I also feel like organic dairy is just a better product.

  • Reply
    Pyng
    October 25, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Really love learning about where our food comes from. And how passionate the farmers are about what they do. Definitely makes me feel better about what I’m consuming, esp to see the faces and animals that are providing for me. All the wins are important to me. Probably most compelling is the health aspect!

  • Reply
    Rita
    October 25, 2017 at 10:19 am

    I am all for whatever is better for the earth since it will ultimately be better for our children in the future!

  • Reply
    Ally
    October 25, 2017 at 10:50 am

    I’m all for organic dairy products! I like to buy organic because it’s better for everyone involved, from the farmers to the animals to the consumers. And if we can do something small to improve our health and our planet, I’m on board!

  • Reply
    Hana
    October 25, 2017 at 11:22 am

    I love that organic is better for the cows and the environment. Being from Vermont, It’s so awesome to see a gorgeous blog post on our beautiful state and the encouraging message behind it (and keeping it that way for years to come!).

  • Reply
    Adrienne
    October 25, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Organic Dairy products and all the wins that accompany them are all the more reason to consume them!
    I personally appreciate the health benefits of using Organic dairy in my diet. It tastes great and I feel good about buying it!

  • Reply
    The Green Blossom Kitchen
    October 25, 2017 at 11:52 am

    For us organic is the only responsible choice! As you refer to it the win-win-win is completely worth the extra money knowing you are investing in something sustainable for the future. We appreciate companies like Stonyfield for supporting organic farmers and helping many make the transition – so interesting!

  • Reply
    Rebekah Entwistle
    October 25, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    A tie between taste & better for you! Strongly compelled as I think of my infant daughter – I long for health for her, which means enjoying real food, that helps (and doesn’t harm) her body. Thanks for the great information!

  • Reply
    Dana
    October 25, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing; its such an important topic! Being better for the Earth is so important, we must all do as much as we can to help preserve our resources

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    October 25, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    Beautiful

  • Reply
    maggie
    October 25, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    all the wins are great, but in the end, if it doesn’t taste better, i’m not going to fork over the extra cash. especially with yogurt, i CAN tell a difference with organic, so i budget for it!

  • Reply
    Bianca T
    October 25, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    it’s better for my health!!

  • Reply
    Manda
    October 25, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    Organic can be better for my health

  • Reply
    Ashley
    October 26, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    It’s better for the earth! Glad you made it my lovely state of Vermont for this!

  • Reply
    Annette
    October 27, 2017 at 2:59 am

    I always choose organic dairy because it’s better for me and it’s better for the cows. I’m careful about what I eat and also what I feed my pets, so it make sense to choose dairy, at least for me.

  • Reply
    Kenia P.
    October 27, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Once I learned about chemicals all I buy is organic. I think it’s better all around for the farmers to the cows! Although the prices are a bit higher, I tell my friends I rather spend the money eating well than giving it to doctors! I’m most compelled that it helps the earth. You can’t go wrong with a product that radiates positivity all around.

  • Reply
    Sandra Lea
    October 29, 2017 at 8:52 am

    I have been a fan of Stonyfield for a long time and buy their yogurt regularly. I do realize that it may be difficult for families to afford organic products but if you are able to you should buy organic. It is so much better for everyone, the earth, your health and the cows. Another benefit for me personally is if I am paying more for a product I make sure I use it so at the end of the week I am not throwing stuff away that I haven’t eaten. I love this post and I am a big lover of cows, I think they are such sweet animals. And now I have to go look up a recipe for plum gingerbread.

  • Reply
    Shoshana L Rose
    October 29, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    All of the wins resonate with me but especially the first one. I think it is our responsibility to take care of this planet to make sure that we leave the best world we can for the next generation.

  • Reply
    Amy G
    October 29, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    In the reading I have done regarding organic farming, what touches me the most is that the practices are better for the Earth and seemingly more consistent with the natural order of things. In turn, this positively impacts the health of all living things and the quality of food enjoyed.

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