Remember when milk was just milk? When there were no adjectives required to identify its origin. It came from cows (or maybe sheep and goats). Simple as that! After years of alternative “milk” products directed at every sensitivity, diet and lifestyle, some dairy farmers like Mark Lopez, owner of Wholesome Dairy Farms in Lancaster, PA are putting some myths about the risks of real milk out to pasture.
“Full fat milk from grass-fed cows is a health food,” says Lopez, citing the availability of scientific research that links Omega 3 fats and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) in this type of milk to cancer prevention (and cures!) as well as the control of inflammation that leads to heart disease. “When cows eat grass, Omega 3s and CLAs are created naturally and flow into the cow’s tissue, blood stream and milk.”
But, what about sensitivities? It turns out that people who experience physical discomfort from dairy could be truly lactose intolerant, which is the inability to digest the sugar in milk and dairy products. Or, they just may be sensitive to a protein or “casein” called A1 that makes milk harder to digest.
Most milk products today contains a combination of A1 and A2 proteins, the latter of which is more easily digested. According to Lopez, the proliferation of the A1 protein was due to the rise of industrial agriculture and the drastic reduction of traditional or “Heritage” breeds that carried the more beneficial A2/A2 genes.
For those readers familiar with Dr. Gundry’s book, The Plant Paradox, the A1 protein is also associated with increased mucus production, joint pain, autoimmune conditions and other inflammatory concerns due to this protein being more difficult for the body to handle. Dr. Gundry suggests that people only ingest cow dairy if it is A2/A2.
At Wholesome Dairy Farms, Lopez raises grass-fed Aryshire cattle, a Heritage breed that produces A2 milk, which he sells as full fat raw milk and uses to make yogurt, kefir and ricotta cheese. He grazes 45 cows on rotating pastures on the Lancaster Farm that his family started in 1950. He uses no growth hormones on the cows and only gives them antibiotics if they have an infection. (In that case, the cow is removed from production so that there are no detectable antibiotics in the milk). Unlike industrialized dairy farms, his production is small, but his mission is big.
“I am not trying to make the most milk,” says Lopez. “I am trying to make the best milk.”
Lopez cautions that when it comes to choosing milk and dairy products, it’s wise to do your research and not just rely on what you read or hear.
Lopez, a veterinarian, gravitated back to his family farm after working on a large dairy farm in Texas where he became disillusioned by the industrialized processes and nutritional value of what was being produced.
“These were good honest people that I worked with,” he says. “But, I felt like I was part of the problem and not the solution.”
Ten years ago, with no business training, and only a vision and the will to do better, he purchased the family farm and returned it to it’s grass-fed, Heritage breed beginnings. He is well aware of the challenges of competing with the less expensive mass produced options and he continually is looking for a way to make his offerings affordable to everyone.
“It’s simple, real and healthful food,” says Lopez. “No one should be left behind.”