Written By: Hannah Alderfer, BA, CPT, FMSC

The month of June has been designated as “National Dairy Month.” Having grown up on a dairy farm I appreciate all that delicious and nutritious dairy foods have to offer. But what I am about to describe to you about milk might make you think a little more the next time you select your milk at the store.

As well-known foodie author Michael Pollan has written, “At either end of any food chain you find a biological system—a patch of soil, a human body—and the health of one is connected—literally—to the health of the other.” This is the philosophy of Hartzler Family Dairy – my family’s milk producing and processing business. Hartzler Family Dairy believes that leaving milk in a state as natural as possible and that nurturing the land without the use of chemicals and utilizing methods such as cultivation, crop rotation, and pasture grazing will produce the best quality and healthful product possible. Hartzler’s cows graze all summer long on pasture grasses and move from field to field to rotate areas for feeding. In the winter months they are fed various grasses and hay silage made from our very own fields, which are farmed by us alone. Hartzler cows are healthy because of their nourishing and appropriate diet and thus rarely require antibiotics and, in addition to that, we never use hormones to increase their milk production.

In addition to Hartzler’s farming methods, Hartzler’s integrity as a business producing the most healthful milk is not compromised. In keeping with Hartzler’s theme “as nature intended,” we do not homogenize our milk, but gently pasteurize it at a low temperature. This means that we only heat the milk up to 145 degrees to kill all possible harmful bacteria, while ensuring essential enzymes still remain for good health. Science has shown that, “Standard pasteurization methods (which Hartzler’s Dairy does not use) utilize high-heat, high-volume methods that unfortunately kill beneficial enzymes as well as bacteria.” On the other hand, homogenization (and almost all milk – even certified “organic” milk – is homogenized; and it will say on the container if it is) is a process in which the fat in the milk is separated and dispersed to give it an even consistency. This means no cream gathers to the top of your milk jug. This is not required by law, yet almost all dairies homogenize. What are the dangers of drinking non-homogenized, cream-top milk like Hartzler Dairy…none at all! In fact, milk that is closest to its natural state is able to bind essential nutrients and vitamins to its fat globules and is more readily digestible in the body. Homogenized milk has such small fat globules that they miss out on this process and head straight to the blood stream, contributing little to the digestion of these nutrients. Not only do homogenized milk drinkers miss out on superior nutrient absorption, but there is also some contesting evidence showing homogenization may have a negative impact on health. Because of the way Hartzler Dairy lightly processes milk, we have found many formerly lactose intolerant people can once again drink milk! The essential enzymes mentioned earlier are a necessary part of milk digestion. Without fat globules to carry the proteins and nutrients through digestion and the essential enzyme lactase, the body cannot break down the sugars in the milk, and thus they go undigested into the blood stream where the body reacts to them as a foreign invader—resulting in milk allergy reactions like bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

With all the goodness of Hartzler family farms captured in every bottle of milk, one might still wonder at the cost of purchasing milk that is a little pricier than conventional milk. Yet Joel Salatin, a beyond-organic farmer himself, says: “We wouldn’t for a minute say, Let’s go to the cheapest church in town; let’s hire the cheapest preacher we can get…Let’s go to the cheapest brain surgeon. But we’re very happy to put on the lowest respect level and honor level the stewards of our food system and the stewards of our landscape.”

Learn about the foods you are eating, not just what kind of food it is but where it came from as well. Just as the rest of you are trying to find ways to live healthier so is my family and myself. And as my family says: eat foods “as nature intended” and you won’t go wrong.