One of the biggest challenges in sourcing local food has been to figure out milk and dairy products. We even went to the Inland Northwest Dairies processing plant and spoke to the people there. But we still have been confused about which milk brands are from Inland Northwest farmers and which are being shipped over the pass from the Seattle area. Yesterday, I went to Behm's Valley Creamery and got the definitive word on sourcing Spokane dairy products. Before I explain, let me put in a good word for buying your milk from Behm's in Spokane Valley. They used to process milk at that location. You can peek in the window and see all the idle stainless steel equipment from a bygone era when they bottled the milk and delivered it to your door. Now they run a small distribution operation for restaurants and hotels, and they have a small retail storefront with the cheapest milk prices in town. Mr. Behm will also answer any question you have about milk and dairy products.
OK, so here's the scoop on knowing where your milk comes from in Spokane and why you should be interested in making sure it's from Inland Northwest farmers...
Mr. Behm explained that all the milk in Spokane that is packaged in plastic containers is from Inland Northwest Farms, except the milk from Albertsons and Safeway brands, which have their own operations on the coast. So Home Dairies, Yoke's Brand, Broadview Dairy, Sunshine Dairy, and Rosauers Brand are all from the area. I'm not sure about Costco. Wilcox brand at Costco is also locally sourced from the Cheney operation (update May 2008- Wilcox is closed and no longer available at Costco). Everything that is packaged in paper is from the Seattle area. Most notably this includes Darigold. It gives a whole new meaning to Paper or Plastic.
Mr. Behm went on to give me some reasons why we should be interested in getting our milk from the Inland Northwest. He explained that every dairy farmer in the Inland Northwest signs an agreement not to use hormones to pump up their cows. The hormones some farmers do use are already naturally occurring in the cow so there is no real way to test for it. The best we can do is have the word of the farmer, and the knowledge that if they are caught doing it, they will be kicked out of the system and literally lose the farm.
He also went on to describe the systems that are in place to ensure antibiotics don't get into the milk supply. When farmers have to use antibiotics like penicillin, they are required to take that cow out of the supply lines for four days. When the tanker truck goes to the farms, they take a sample of each farm's batch of milk, and then dump it into a common tank with all the other milk from all the other farms. When the truck arrives in Spokane, the whole batch is tested for the presence of antibiotics. If they are present, that batch is not put into the milk supply, and they go back and test all the samples from the farms to find out who is responsible. He said they can even narrow it down to the specific cow.
There is a lot of accountability, and a good set of safety restrictions that gives me a lot of confidence in our Inland Northwest milk supply. Mr. Behm said he's not sure about the regulations that govern milk from the west side of the state. But one way to think of it is, would you rather have WSU Cougars or a UW Huskies managing your milk supply. As a Husky, I can say without any shame, that I would pick the Cougars, with all of their great ag programs, any day.