Family at the Farm: Traders Point Creamery
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series of local agri-tourism reports by Brad Moldofsky. Brad and his family are visiting local farms this summer and we hope it will inspire some more families to do the same.
Like many families (I imagine), we have a car-trip tradition where the first person to see a cow out the window shouts “cow!”
Traders Point Creamery is one of the more cow-intensive agri-tourism sites between Chicago and Indianapolis. And I’m happy to report that our boys (11 and 9) and their two friends were thrilled to both see cows and get up close enough to pet them, as well as sample ice cream, milk, cheese and kefir made from the grass-fed ladies’ milk. The shouting, however, was kept to a minimum, what with all the distracting electronic devices available. (I’ve gotta admit, wireless video game networking in a moving vehicle is impressive.)
The full-service creamery is a mainstay in the Zionsville, Indiana community, hosting a farmer’s market and featuring a restaurant and a dairy bar housed in an 1860s Amish barn that was relocated to the farm from Bluffton, Indiana. The organic restaurant offers a seasonally changing salad, plucked from the vegetable garden near the parking lot, when feasible. The seed trays for the 2009 planting sit in a corner of the restaurant under fluorescent lights, awaiting the warm weather for planting.
The Creamery’s other recycled Amish barn (from Geneva, Indiana) features a spacious interior that hosts the market as well as an Oktoberfest celebration, weddings and other receptions and, sometimes, hay. The 300 acres grew corn and soybeans until 1997 when the Elder-Kunz family decided to go organic and let the land fallow for three years.
On a chilly April day, we toured the farm with the four boys who happily stomped through the muddy, tractor-imprinted trail from pasture to pasture. Unlike most farms, Traders Point lets bulls herd with cows and permits calf-making the old-fashioned way. This was confusing for me, because as I looked out over the cattle shivering together I saw a sea of horns. Turns out that both genders are born with horns—I honestly did not know this—and in standard dairy farming, they are removed and cauterized. Because this runs the risk of infection, Traders Point shuns the practice.
In general, the cows fascinated the boys as much as they did me and Kim. Especially the site of one recent mother expelling the longest stream of urine and the largest poop the kids had seen in their lives (they’re young yet). I can’t tell you how much mileage they got out of that sight. As they fed the cow alfalfa, tour guide Amy Rhodes explained her viewpoints on how the hormones, pesticides and other indignities thrust upon our milk supply contributes to America’s health problems. While I won’t detail the health claims here, I do want to point out that Amy, like myself is lactose intolerant. But Amy says she can drink her employer’s products with impunity because their production methods leave the milk more, well, whole.
First, Traders Point cows eat organic grass, not petro-corn. Traders Point does not homogenize milk, nor do they sell two-percent or skim. Which means when you buy their products in Whole Foods, Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, a local grocery store or in the first floor gift shop of the main building, you could skim off the cream that rises to the top like grandma used to do. The dairy also completes their pasteurization process quickly, which Amy says retains some good bacteria in the product, further aiding digestion. Though she had a trustworthy face, I had the trip back to Chicago in a mini-van to consider, and went easy on the sampling.*
And sampling there was. Dairy bar employees Crissy and Arianne served the boys scoops of ice cream and a plate of fleur de la terre, a raw-milk aged cheese that had hints of cheddar, but a complexity beyond typical store-bought fare. Knowing that we sat a few hundred feet from the soil that grew the grass that fed the cows next door who made the milk that went into the cheese wheels—aging in a room a few yards from us—was pleasantly reassuring. The cheese was indeed the “flower” of the earth on which we could tread downstairs.
The verdict on the ice cream was all positive. Though one boy said it was the best ice cream he’d ever had, he may have been shilling for the farm to be polite. Nonetheless, my boys are brutally honest about what they don’t like, and they very much liked the chocolate milk we brought home. Kim and I were satisfied to know that the milk had come out of one of the cows we met just a few days ago.
The farm sees many agri-tourists, and the self-guided walking tour is $2. This includes the milking shed, as complex-looking as any modern dairy facility. The herd of Brown Swiss gives a higher-fat milk, albeit in lower volumes than a typical American dairy cow (usually a Holstein). Still, the price of the milk was not out of range of much of the good-quality milk we might buy in Chicagoland stores.
Traders Point cows ultimately become meat, and packages are for sale in the gift shop, although a local outside facility does the slaughtering and butchering. Also for sale are organic seeds from a Central Indiana firm, raw milk for pet consumption and eggs laid at Traders Point that don’t wind up in the ice cream or restaurant.
The laying flock was originally part of attempts at Joel Salatin-style “salad bar” pasture farming (wherein cows eat grass, chickens follow to eat the nasty creatures that grow from the cow dung and everybody involved helps fertilize the next crop of grass). Seems the chickens couldn’t adjust to having their wheeled coops moved to follow the cows, so the trailers now sit still. But the girls themselves enjoy a free range lifestyle, wandering anywhere they feel confident enough to scratch around for food.
A retention pond sits downhill of the road the cows climb to reach the milking shed. The manure they release while chewing cud in line is then shoveled down into the aerated pond where it decomposes into organic nutrients—with the help of added microbes. Pond water is sprayed on the fields as fertilizer, preventing huge quantities of cow poop from infiltrating nearby Eagle Creek which, Amy was happy to say, still supports herons, turtles and other wildlife.
Speaking of other wildlife, our trip to Indianapolis included a stop at Endangered Species Chocolate. The company produces both organic and all-natural chocolates (most of them dark) in rather unpastoral industrial complex. The labels feature animals for whose protection the company donates money. Although one of their processed chocolate suppliers is in Wisconsin, the raw ingredients come from tropical locations, where the cocoa farmers use the shade of banana trees—rather than artificial shade tents set up on clear-cut jungle. However, when the company give tours, it sometimes splits open a cocoa pod grown in Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory, which is as close to a tropical climate as you’ll get while staying local.
* However, I can report that tentative experiments the next morning with chocolate milk samples supported her theory. Nuff said.