This post is created with America’s Dairy Farm Families and Importers, in partnership with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, however the views and opinions included are my own.
Several weeks ago, I was invited to attend a farm to food storytelling dinner hosted just 30 minutes away from my house at Swiss Lane Farms in partnership with USA Today and America’s Dairy Farm Families and Importers. While every farm has their own unique story, I was particularly inspired by learning that Fredrick Oesch, the founder of SwissLane farms, was born in Switzerland in 1888.
At 6 years old he was orphaned, which inspired him to dream for more. In 1904, at the young age of 16, he made the long journey to America where he eventually bought 91 acres in Alto, Michigan. Fast forward to today, 35 members of the Oesch family live within two miles of the farm. They now have 53 full-time employees, 15 of which are family members. Pretty inspiring, right?
Our evening began with a tour of the farm which of course included a visit to the beautiful dairy cows. Currently, SwissLane has 2,400 milking cows. While I’ve visited many dairy farms over the years, both professionally and personally on school field trips with my boys, this was the first time I’ve ever walked into a barn full of cows listening to classical music. It’s just one way this farm helps make their cows more comfortable, and comfortable cows produce more milk.
Another interesting first for me? Robotic milkers! In fact, in addition to a conventional milking parlor, SwissLane has 8 automatic milking systems which milk 500 cows. They gals just belly up to the bar and the machine takes care of business.
After our tour of the farm we headed into the barn for a reception featuring appetizers and drinks made with dairy products.
My favorite cocktail was made with rum and pineapple juice mixed with milk that had been steeped with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg for three days. I can’t wait to try making that at home!
There were about 30 people in attendance, all of whom have various connections and ties to the dairy industry including farmers, industry professionals and chefs. Whether they were just moms like myself who feed their children dairy products like cheese, yogurt and milk, or play a larger role of feeding others such as my new friend Jerod from Feeding America (more on him in a minute), it was wonderful to be able to have a conversation about where our food comes from.
Speaking of food, the farm-to-plate menu was inspired by the season and filled with all sorts of delicious, local ingredients including acorn squash, Michigan beef tenderloin, locally farmed trout and of course, plenty of fresh dairy ingredients.
One of my favorite dishes on the menu was the lamb tartar served with a cured egg on homemade salt & vinegar chips from locally farmed potatoes pictured above.
All of the incredible food was prepared by Sarah Welch, a local chef who was voted as Eater Detroit’s 2015 Chef of the Year. The final course was prepared by Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli. The two-time Food Network Chopped winner is known for fearless free-spiritedness, locally-sourced cuisine, and experience with world-famous chefs. I especially enjoyed hearing him speak during the storytelling portion of the dinner where he shared a bit more about his background and his love of dairy. For his course, he turned his favorite childhood breakfast, milk and cereal, into our dessert for the evening: Captain Crunch Pancakes with a milk-soaked cereal syrup. It was off the chains delicious.
Another storyteller of the evening was Annie Link, a farmer at SwissLane Farms, who is part of the fourth-generation family who runs the very farm where we were having dinner. It was truly inspiring to hear about her family and learn about their future plans to pass their farm down to future generations. Like SwissLand, 97% of the dairy farms in the US are family-owned.
Perhaps one of the most powerful stories of the evening came from Jerod Matthews who has worked at Feeding America for the last 11 years. The Feeding America network of food banks is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. Feeding America has partnered with America’s milk companies and dairy farmers to create The Great American Milk Drive, the first-ever national program designed to help deliver fresh gallons of milk to the kids and families that Feeding America serves.
As a mother of two young boys, I know first-hand that milk is often their biggest sources of protein and nutrients in a meal. With 8 grams of protein per cup, it is a nutritional powerhouse. With the harsh reality that 1 in 6 children may not know where they will get their next meal, I was inspired to hear about all of the great initiatives taking place by Jarod and his team at Feeding America.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit a local farm, I encourage you to do so. There is nothing more valuable than candid conversations and learning more about where our food comes from. Thank you to all of the hard working farmers throughout America, we are grateful to you.
This post is created with America’s Dairy Farm Families and Importers, in partnership with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, however the views and opinions included are my own. Photography by Alejandro Photography.
Check out more healthy living posts on my Pinterest board!