Mark Crave takes time out of his busy spring schedule to answer questions consumers might have about National Dairy Month.
What is National Dairy Month in June all about?
Mark Crave: As consumers, it’s easy to take for granted the abundant, wholesome food supply we enjoy in this country. By celebrating National Dairy Month, we recognize the hard-working farm families, processors, retailers and restaurateurs who allow us to enjoy nutrient-packed dairy foods that are important to us at all stages of life. National Dairy Month is also a fun way to recognize everything that we love about dairy products. The fact that it takes place during the first month of summer makes it extra special. Kids of all ages can take part in activities around Wisconsin.
What do we need to know about local milk and cheese?
Mark Crave: Milk is produced in all 50 states. In some cases, it’s produced right in the same areas where many consumers live. Local dairy products are important to consumers. The feed is grown, the cows are cared for, and the end products are made locally. We all benefit from local farms because they provide green space and views, offer a boost to local commerce, provide jobs and pay a big share of property taxes that benefit local schools. The farmers themselves often have leadership positions on local school or church boards, and hold elected positions in local, county and state offices.
Why are family traditions so important for consumers and dairy farmers alike?
Mark Crave: With 99 percent of Wisconsin dairy farms being family owned and operated, traditions are important because farmers not only pass along knowledge of farming, they carry those traditions back into the communities and spread them around the country. Family owners also provide management and labor on our farms, enabling American dairy farms to be the gold standard around the world.
The traditions also involve the dairy products that are part of our lives. Among the fun traditions we share are pizza parties after football games, ice cream that accompanies birthday cakes, and squeaky cheese curds enjoyed at county fairs. And don’t forget about cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair.
Why do the Crave Brothers produce both milk and cheese?
Mark Crave: We built our cheese factory in 2000 to grow our family business and give opportunities to our family members and our employees. Milking our cows and making award-winning cheese is what we do every day, day in and day out. We are very proud to build the rural economy.
What are the changes that have taken place on farms, specifically dairy farms, in the past five years?
Mark Crave: One of the biggest changes is the continuous improvement in both crops and cows. Our crops are more vigorous. They grow in challenging weather conditions and have more natural resistance to pests. The cows in our herds are healthier and more fertile. They produce more milk with less labor and water. The cows are making the farmers’ jobs easier because the cows are easier to care for and allow farmers to spend more time with their families. A generation ago, that didn’t happen.
How are Crave Brothers Farm and Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese addressing today’s concerns about sustainability?
Mark Crave: We love to share facts about modern dairy’s role in improving our environment. Today, a gallon of milk is produced with only 37 percent of the carbon footprint that we needed in 1960. On Crave Brothers Farm, we use practices every day to use less inputs. We employ crop rotation and minimum tillage. Cow comfort allows cows to produce more milk. One of our very visible sustainability tools is our biodigester that uses manure as the raw ingredient to produce electricity. In fact, we produce enough electricity to power nearly 300 homes.
How can consumers better inform themselves about dairy farms and the food we eat?
Mark Crave: With the advent of social media, a lot of information is shared about farms and food. Much of it is from people who are lacking in knowledge, or do not have correct facts. I’d encourage anyone with an interest in the topic to ask farmers about where milk comes from, and how the cows are cared for. A lot goes into it. Farmers are the experts, and often they love talking about it.
Celebrate National Dairy Month by learning more about Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese at www.cravecheese.com
The Crave family farms 2,500 acres of productive land in south-central Wisconsin, growing soybeans, corn and alfalfa to use as nutritious feed for their Holstein cows. From the biodigester to water recovery and recycling, sustainability is top-of-mind on the farm. The Crave Brothers Farm LLC and Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese LLC use 100% green power and are carbon-negative businesses. Their anaerobic biodigester produces more electricity than they need, enough to power the dairy farm, the farmstead cheese-making plant, and approximately 300 homes in their community.
Every pound of cheese made by George Crave, a licensed cheese maker, is made with milk from the family’s herd. Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese produces Fresh Mozzarella, Mascarpone, Part-skim Mozzarella, Oaxaca, Farmer’s Rope String Cheese, and Fresh Cheddar Cheese Curds in white, yellow and jalapeño varieties.