I have been trying to make a dairy farm tour happen for our family for a while, but somehow the stars have not been in our favor. Our friend, Laure Latham (aka Frog Mom) took her family on a tour of a dairy farm recently and was generous enough to share her experience with us. (I am terribly envious!!). Laure is an uber-cool mom and on top of writing for her blog and for numerous other websites and publications, she just wrote a wonderful book: Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area.
Every year or so, I pick a book that I like or “believe in” and make it my signature birthday present for kids for a year. It takes the stress out of having to pick something out for each birthday party we have to attend and also gives me a special and thoughtful present to give to Ria’s little friends. I am not sure the kids appreciate my presents but hopefully the parents do. Books that have been our “signature” present in the past have been :”What Does it Mean to Be Green” and “What Does it Mean to be Global” both by Little Pickle Press and “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters” by Barack Obama. I think Laure’s book is going to be the birthday gift of choice for some time to come. Partly because I want to support Laure, but largely because it is an awesome guide to getting outdoors with your kids.
Meet the Cows behind Straus Dairy by Laure Latham
When my 6-year-old girl won the pumpkin guessing contest organized by the Marin Agricultural Land Trust at Nicasio Valley Farm last year, she decided how to “spend” her prize: a free farm tour for the entire family. Between a goat farm, a strawberry day and a dairy farm, she picked the Straus farm dairy tour. “I hope there’s ice cream at the end,” she whispered, hopeful. That’s my girl! Though I couldn’t vouch on the ice cream, we were to feed calves, visit the milk parlor, walk across the pastures to an apple orchard and churn butter. Oh, taste dairy products too. That’s how we met the cows behind the Straus Dairy.
Located west of Petaluma, the farm was surrounded by green rolling hills. My, this must be Marin! I thought. The “Marin green” is just super vibrant. It never ceases to amaze me. We pulled over on the farm and saw kids all over the place crouching on the grass, crawling in a ditch, climbing a fence and checking boxes on small leaflets. A nature I-spy game! My two girls grabbed a leaflet each and got to work right away. They had to spot bugs, birds and mammals all living in the same habitat as an organic dairy farm. I looked at the list. Some seemed easy – ladybugs and bees? Check. Redwing black birds and fence lizards? Check, check. But the golden eagle??? Aw, that was going to be hard.
Past the introduction by the farm owner Kathy Tresch, we headed to the big barn where calves live in their little boxes smelling of hay. Kids ran in front, grown-ups tried to catch up with them. Inside the barn, it was the biggest commotion you’ve ever seen with kids pushing their way through to see the calves. They were so cute! The calves I mean. Err, the kids too – especially when they giggled as a calf licked their hands. Can’t be too ticklish if a calf’s gonna lick your hand! Every kid got to pet and feed a calf and do it all over again and again and again until they had enough. I lost sight of my girls but I knew they were in baby-cow-heaven so that was ok.
Found them right outside the barn on our way to the milking parlor! The milking parlor wasn’t quite as romantic what with the tubes, the metallic tanks and the cows waiting in line to get “tubed up” but the kids all agreed the place was awesome. I could tell because they stared at the milking hall and the line outside the barn kept getting longer because they stared long and hard. True, it looked like a farm scene out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with mad milk machines and postcard-perfect black and white scrumptious cows. I missed a milky smell to complete the experience but I guess that was for the best because old milk smells like rancid cheese.
On our way to the pastures! Through mud and grassy tufts we crossed the big pastures, waved to the cows (not too high, they’re big animals), learned about the symbiotic relationship between wildlife on the farm and the farm animals and moved on. Gee, it never occurred to me a farm could be a place where I’d find a balanced ecosystem from pond life through raptors. My girls didn’t care, they wanted to start churning butter. And why might I ask? They were getting hungry.
Once in the apple orchard, everybody got to wash their hands with blue flowers. Tut tut, not a scene from Hair – real flowers called ceanothus picked off a bush nearby. The ceanothus blooms produce lather when rubbed with some water and it’s fun, fun, fun. The more you rub, the more the lather. I’ve never seen kids so eager to wash their hands! I want to introduce a bill so San Francisco schools plant ceanothus bushes near restrooms. OK, not practical.
Hands clean, the young would-be butter churners all gathered around the picnic table where Kathy was presiding over a gallon of Straus Dairy heavy cream. She emptied the gallon inside a giant clear glass mason-type jar with a whisk fixed on the lid. She screwed it shut and showed the kids how to turn the crank. “Who wants to start?” she asked around. Me, me, me, me, me!!! Anybody who was 8 and under wanted in and adults too but we were too polite to raise our hands before the young crowd.
So the cream was churned, churned, churned and churned until it turned pasty, thick and yellow. That was half an hour later when all kids had scattered to explore the nearby creek and adults were lending their muscle power to make firm butter. Kathy opened two big bags of pre-sliced bread and it didn’t take long for the kids to realize snack time was on. Ah the taste of fresh butter spread on a slide of bread! Little turkey vultures they were, those kids. You had to wonder if they’d been fed at all that week, particularly mine who kept going back for “seconds.” As we were feasting on butter and bread, Kathy pointed to the sky “Look, an eagle!” There it was, soaring high in the sky, the resident golden eagle of the Tresch dairy farm. My girls grinned and checked a new box on their passport.
Feeling fuller, we all walked back to the farm where kids tasted fresh milk and a MALT docent handed out prizes to kids who had spotted the most animals on their nature passport. The tour was over. No, there was no ice cream tasting but yes, it was a cool farm tour. Last but not least, I totally fantasize on that big butter churn but a gallon is too much for my family of four. Maybe I should myself get a farm and invite kids and friends over to churn?
For more events conducted by MALT check out their Events page.