Branched Oak Farm
Interview by Christy Pooschke
A bit about our farm
On our farm, we have 30 cows on 230 acres of land. We are located 16 miles northwest of Lincoln in Lancaster County. We raise our Jersey cattle on pasture and feed no grain. Cows are moved daily onto fresh grass. We are certified organic and do not use antibiotics or growth hormones. We began the dairy in 2003 and began manufacturing cheese in 2006. We have been certified organic since 2007.
We work hard to manage our farm holistically, which begins with soil health. If organic matter is right and soils are balanced, then the forage for the cows is right, and, accordingly, the cows themselves thrive. This results in excellent milk, which makes fabulous cheese, etc.
Ultimately, the consumer gets food that is both good and good for them. Also, by thoroughly understanding soil health, we can avoid or decrease pressure from pests, so we are replacing pesticides with observation.
We started our dairy farm because we enjoy working with plants and animals. They are really wonderful to be around, and we feel lucky to be able to do this for a living. We really like the idea that we are making food and not just some generic commodity that gets dumped into the system. We care about what we do, and that’s just a good way to live. We like sharing what we do and encourage anyone reading this to come out and take a pasture walk with us sometime and sample our cheese.
One misconception about our practices is that sometimes folks equate organic with traditional, which implies we are simply looking to the past for our methods. I think that misses the mark. Hopefully, we are taking the best information that we have available to us and putting it to use. For instance, as fossil-fuel-based inputs increase in price (and decrease in quantity), why not rely less on oil and more on the sun? The grass dairy model is pretty simple: namely, the sun shines, grass grows, cows eat it, and we milk the cows. The entire operation is running off of the sun.
It’s really a win-win situation because the sun is non-polluting and free, the cows love to graze (which makes them feel good), and healthy cows produce healthful milk. In contrast, the great majority of conventional dairies do not graze their lactating cows, feeding them instead a total-mixed-ration (TMR) often with 30% distiller’s grain, which is not as nature intended.
A bit about our dairy products
We sell raw milk, raw cream, pasteurized yogurt, and raw and pasteurized cheeses (Gouda, Camembert, Quark, Mozzarella, Sonnenburg, and Cheese Curd). Our raw hard cheeses are aged more than 60 days, and our pasteurized soft cheeses are aged less than 60 days. It’s the law that raw-milk cheese must be aged a minimum of 60 days before being sold to the public. Any cheese aged less than that must be pasteurized. Cheese has bacteriostatic properties, and if there were any pathogens present in the raw milk, they would be neutralized by the time that the product is sold 60 days later. (Feel free to contact us for more details if you have questions.)
Our products are made on a very limited scale by hand. Our children, friends, neighbors, and community use our products, so we work hard to produce the best food we can. The old saying is, "You are what you eat." Shopping for good food is a really healthy habit to get into and making that effort makes you well in the process.
We like the French term terroir, which essentially means of a place. The bottom line is that if you were to take a cup with you and go around to all the dairies included in this article and sample the milk, you would begin to notice that the milk from each place has a different taste. Accordingly, the products that they make, even if they are made in a very similar way, will also taste different.
Because each farm is at a different geographical location, experiences different weather, is managed differently, utilizes different animals (even if within the same breed), has different soils and different cultures, etc. If the farmer does her best to produce healthy, delicious food, and if the consumer is willing to seek it out and to appreciate it, then I think we have something wholesome that is a healthy addition to the over-arching food system.
Where to find our food
During the growing season, our products can be purchased in Lincoln at Leon’s, Open Harvest, and Ideal. In Omaha, our products are sold at Tomāto Tomäto, Whole Foods, and Wohlners. We also sell at four farmer’s markets in Lincoln and Omaha. We have store days on Tuesdays and Saturdays at the farm from noon to six, and there is always raw milk in the bulk tank for customers on those days.