Klerifying Fact: Every American eat an average of 24 lbs of cheese per year, and it takes 10 lbs of milk to make one pound of cheese. That’s an udderly amazing amount of milk!
Cheese, whether you melt it on a pizza, slice it for a cracker, or shred it over a salad makes life better. Some research indicates it has addictive-like impacts on the brain. That pseudo-addiction too often comes with an environmental cost, sadly. Though it doesn’t have to, and you can buy sustainable cheese to meet your needs! Read on to learn about the impacts and how to support sustainable family farms.
Grating Impacts from Resource Use
Cheese is the leading use of milk in the USA. And milk production is a leading use of corn, soy, alfalfa and other crops produced in the USA. Fields that grow these crops need a lot of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer spread on them in order to grow the feed for dairy cows.
After the cows enjoy their feed of corn, soy, alfalfa and everything else, they produce two things: milk and poop. For every 1 gallon of milk, dairy cows create as much as 10 gallons of poop. That poop is either placed in a holding pond or spread on a field to grow crops. Dairy farms are getting bigger and bigger with thousands of cows that fill bigger and bigger manure lagoons that create greater concentrations of potential pollutants.
When all the dairy cow poop, and fertilizer on fields drains off of farm fields (see below) it creates a big, New Jersey-sized problem. No, we’re not talking about Chris Christy’s ego… we’re talking about a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey.
Pollution Intolerant Waterways!
All that manure and fertilizer that leaks off farm fields ends up in our rivers, lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico. That extra amount of nutrients intended to grow crops ends up feeding algae in the water. All these algae then use the oxygen in the water. This creates a dead zone or hypoxia, where nothing else lives, and the water isn’t safe to drink. Check out the view of the dead zone from space (it's shockingly large!):
In the Gulf of Mexico, the dead zone grew to its largest size ever this year – covering an area the size of New Jersey. This is all from run-off to grow our food. And it’s killing our ability to harvest sustainable, ethically grown shrimp, too!
The Gulf of Mexico is not the only place where big dairy causes dead zones. Green Bay in Wisconsin and waterways in New York, California, and Washington state amongst other big dairy producer areas have severe water quality issues that range from dead zones to E.Coli polluted water.
Go Green with Cheese from the Green Mountain State
Just when you think you need to stop eating cheese to save the environment, we have a good story to tell! Not all cheese producing areas have negative impact on the environment. Over the last few years through a combination of progressive farming and state regulations, the good dairy farmers of Vermont improved their farming to reduce run-off to beautiful Lake Champlain. The water quality in the lake has increasingly been a concern for state and federal regulators. Run-off from agriculture and towns has led to poor water quality and in some cases, algal blooms (dead zones). Most of the dairy farmers in the Lake Champlain watershed sell their milk to make Cabot Cheese and other great Cabot products. They also participate in several initiatives to effectively reduce pollution to Lake Champlain.
The farmers voluntarily implement a Cabot-specific program called “Context Based Sustainability” and a regional program called “Greener Pastures.” These programs guide the farmers to improve practices on farm and in so doing achieve better environmental outcomes. The State of Vermont has also created a set of regulations to work with these farms and farms outside of the program to reduce pollution to Lake Champlain. Many of the practices prescribed by state regulations overlap and complement the voluntary programs, like the creation of nutrient management plans.
To cap off all of these initiatives, the United States Department of Agriculture provides financial and advisory support to numerous farmers who participate in the programs.
The work to reduce run-off from farms is not easy, and farmers are still working to improve water quality. Their hard work, and financial investments to improve their farms to partake in voluntary and regulatory programs is something we should applaud. It also carries risks for their economic future. These are hard-working family farms that deserve our loyalty and support for their efforts to provide delicious cheese while caring for the environment around beautiful Lake Champlain.
BONUS: There’s Green Power in that Plaid Adorned Cheese!
As an added bonus, not only are the good farmers of Cabot caring for Lake Champlain, they’re also using their cow manure to power the state of Vermont and the cheese production! There’s so much you can feel good about with this cheese!
Sustainable Cheese Shopping Guide from Klerify
Reward sustainable farm practices with your hard earned dollars by following this guide when shopping for cheese! Not only will you support family farms, you will encourage other farmers to follow their lead. Click the links to order green brands now!
😡 Red brands: Kraft, Sargento, Tillamook, Store brands
We did not make this up!
Dead Zone: By Jeff Schmaltz (NASA Earth Observatory) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons