Straus Family Creamery
What goes into producing creamy, organic, non-GMO, California dairy? A lot of love, a lot of grass… and a lot of work.
Straus Family Creamery was founded in 1994, but the Straus family’s roots are deep in Marin County. Bill Straus started farming on Tomales Bay in 1941 with 23 Jersey cows named after family and friends. Both Bill and his wife Ellen fled Nazi invasions in Europe, and were early environmentalists deeply involved in land and resource conservation. As stewards of the land, Bill and Ellen Straus helped launch a conservation movement that has saved tens of thousands of acres of agricultural land from subdivision, seeing farmland as part of the larger natural world that needed to be respected and preserved on its own terms.
Bill and Ellen raised four children on the ranch, and as their children grew they witnessed the rise of industrial dairy farming. The number of licensed dairy farms in the U.S. plummeted, as fewer small family dairy farms were able to compete. Albert Straus, Bill and Ellen’s eldest son, returned to manage the family dairy farm after graduating with a degree in Dairy Sciences from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in the late 1970s. Albert quickly realized that innovative solutions were needed to secure the future of family farming in California and to maintain responsible stewardship of the land. Over the next several decades, the family stopped using herbicides, replaced tilling fields with no-till planting to prevent soil erosion and reduce fuel consumption, and stopped using chemical fertilizers. Other innovations included sourcing cow feed from sources that would have otherwise been food waste, including orange peel and pulp from a family-owned fresh juice factory in San Francisco, and implementing a manure wastewater pond system.
But innovative practices alone could not aid the plight of small family farms in California. To help solve the economic problems the dairy faced, Albert converted the family farm to organic in 1994, making it the first certified organic dairy farm west of the Mississippi River. At the same time, he founded the Creamery — the first 100% certified organic creamery in the United States. These bold actions effectively created the first pasture-to-bottle infrastructure for organic milk, and Straus milk has been bottled in reusable, recyclable glass ever since. Ellen was instrumental in helping design many of the cow images still represented in all Straus Family Creamery brand elements including the signature reusable glass bottles.
In order to maintain a ratio of approximately one cow per acre of land, Straus Family Creamery buys certified organic, Non-GMO Project Verified milk from eight other organic, local family farms, and Straus Family Creamery makes business decisions based on its mission to help sustain family farms, revitalize rural communities, and protect the environment. These collaborative relationships with independent family farms allow Straus to offer stable prices and predictability in the volatile organic milk market. The cows at all nine farms graze on the pesticide-free and beta-carotene-rich organic grasses that thrive in Western Marin and Sonoma Counties’ mild coastal climate. The dairy cows are treated according to USDA organic standards, which guarantee they are raised certified organic, have access to pasture and the outdoors, are never treated with hormones or antibiotics, and may not be fed genetically modified feeds. After detecting GMO contamination in his certified organic purchased animal feeds, Albert developed a GMO testing and verification program in 2005. Every source of feed for cows on the Straus dairy and the eight other local, organic family farms that provide milk to the Creamery is tested for GMOs. When the Non-GMO Project emerged in 2010, Straus Family Creamery became the first creamery in the country to be verified.
The Straus legacy of sustainability and environmental stewardship still thrives: from the methane digester that powers electric vehicles at the Straus Dairy Farm to innovative water reuse systems and 100% renewable energy at the Creamery, and conscious consideration of packaging choices, Straus Family Creamery continually seeks new ways to reduce their impact on the planet while making delicious organic dairy products. Their methane digester has significantly reduced methane emissions by more than 1,600 metric tons of CO2e each year — equivalent to eliminating the annual greenhouse gas emissions from about 350 passenger cars. As dairy farmers in California are already facing pressure to lower methane emissions under the state’s ambitious new greenhouse gas reduction laws, which include methane emission reduction targets of 40% below 2013 levels by 2030, the California Air Resources Board suggests much of that reduction should come from converting methane from cow manure into energy. In 2013, the Straus Dairy Farm became the first dairy farm in California to implement a carbon farm plan, in conjunction with the Marin Carbon Project, a 20-year carbon farm plan that will reduce and sequester 2000 metric tons of CO2e every year.
Whether you got a free scoop of Straus Family Creamery ice cream at our ice cream social recently or regularly return their glass bottles, sip and lick proudly, knowing that you’re supporting innovative California dairy farmers!
Photos © Straus Family Creamery