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In May of 1975, my wife, Anne, and I rented a little farm in Irasburg, Vermont. Within a week, we had purchased a family cow named Pet. It was all part of our master planwe were going back to the land in search of a meaningful life. We wanted to provide for ourselves independent of a world that we saw heading in a different direction. We thought we were ready for the task at hand. I had read lots of books and had studied the history of agriculture while at college. Anne had taken several animal science courses at UW Madison. We had both done stints at dairy farms and had worked on the historical farm at Old Sturbridge Village. We were so wet behind the ears. What we lacked in experience, we made up with idealism and ambition. It was right about this time that we came across a little book called The Cow Economy by Merril and Joann Grohmana book about the very lifestyle we wanted to lead. Everything we needed to know about keeping a family cow was in this little book. Feeding, breeding, and the general principles of animal husbandry were all discussed right down to last nuanced detail. With help from our friends and neighbors and the advice contained in this little book, we made our way into the world of dairy farming. Our cow Pet had Sundance. Two years later Sundance had her own heifer calf, and before we knew it, we were raising a group of heifer calves on the surplus milk. By 1979, we were milking six cows, making dairy products on our kitchen stove, and delivering them to our local community. In 1984, we obtained a milk handlers license from the State of Vermont. Our dairy herd had increased to twelve Jersey cows by this time. Somehow, as the years had passed, we had transitioned from being homesteader back-to-theland family cow types into commercial dairy farmers. Fewer families were keeping cows at this time, and it provided us with a wonderful opportunity to start a small dairy. The demand for wholesome farm-produced dairy products was there, and we stepped up to the plate.

Keeping a Family Cow

Forty years have gone by since we bought our first cow, and we have seen many changes during this time. We have sharpened our farming skills and improved our herd and our land. We have developed an innate understanding of the concepts of organic farming. As our knowledge base has increased, we have shared our experiences with others in the field of agriculture. A burgeoning local foods movement has developed with a general public hungry for meaning in the food they eat. Micro-dairies, like the one we started forty years ago, are springing up everywhere. The family cow is coming back. Considering this new trend in sustainability and local food consumption, it is only fitting that Joann Grohmans book The Cow Economy is being reissued to provide inspiration and information to a new group of latter-day homesteaders who are now just going back to the land. This is no ordinary text. Republished as Keeping a Family Cow, this book combines food philosophy with a practicum of knowledge and experience that Ms. Grohman has acquired in her eightyfive years in and around Jersey cows. Joanns book is a field manual for both the experienced and inexperienced alike. Everything you ever wanted to know about cows and more is covered in this volume. The basics of animal husbandry are discussed as they were in the original edition, along with a lot of newer information about organic practices and current concerns in the world of milk. If you want to know about haymaking or dairy-product production, its all in here. Anne and I recently had the pleasure of visiting Joann Grohman on her Carthage, Maine, farm, and we got to experience this womans magic firsthand. We drove for hours through the western Maine woods to get there. Our sojourn was like going back in time to another place earlier in our lives. Here was the complete simplicity and goodness that we had longed for so many years ago. This was a true cow economya self-sufficient farm based around one dairy cow with chickens and pigs. After tea with warm milk and a tour through gardens of lilacs and comfrey, we left wondering why we had become commercial dairy farmers instead of following our hearts as this woman had done all these years. There was something magical about Joann as she walked barefoot through her realm. Her wealth and experience are chronicled in this volume that has something for anyone with cows. As we drove away in the early evening, we were filled and inspired with so much awe that we were pulled over by the local police for driving over the speed limit in a local town. We left Joann Grohmans dream world to return to our normal lives. A meaningful life with one family cow might be out of reach for most of us, but this book can help us achieve some sanity in a world that longs for simplicity. Jack Lazor


Every day, for ten months of the year, my cow Fern translates the sun and rain that fall on my small acreage into life-supporting, nourishing milk. With superb efficiency she borrows the energy in cellulose (think grass, upon which humans starve) and reinvests it into a food more perfect than anything in the supermarket. No mangrove swamps or rain forests are destroyed in the manufacture of this product. No water to float a battleship is diverted for her purposes. No grain that might otherwise have been cracked into ethanol or bargained to the starving is apportioned to her use. Fern accomplishes this feat without burning any gasoline. She does this through the magic of wild fermentation in her rumen, the same process employed by cabbage worms and everything else that lives by splitting cellulose. Right now is the moment to abandon the fiction that cows are high on the food chain. The only things that live lower on the food chain than cows and caterpillars are bacteria. Fern is a one-stop food factory, using sun, rain, grass, and rumen fermentation to produce complete-protein milk; the cow does all the work today, and tomorrow she will do it all over again. Ferns predecessor, old Helen Hefferlump, finally got so arthritic that we knew making it through another Maine winter would be a painful hardship and we needed to end her suffering. Should we wait until she broke her hip on the ice? The options were burying her (impossible in frozen ground) or putting her into the freezer where she would feed many people for a year. Why would Helen prefer to be wasted? Our local butcher said he and his family were raised on aged dairy cows and the meat would amaze us. He was right. Here we can abandon another fiction: the idea that avoiding meat takes strain off the planet. Something eats everything. Life and death merge. Taking animals out of the equation just leaves a vacuum to be filled by insects. Our prevailing livestock production system is grotesque but at its worst does not remotely approach the waste attributed to it; those mega water requirements and fossil fuel demands attributed to livestock are scary

Keeping a Family Cow

memes, their numbers too vast for mental arithmetic. Efforts to discover any research-based evidence for these beliefs will founder because none exists. And food policy based on fictional numbers is doomed. Pursuit of an anti-meat agenda will only delay effective investment of our energies. The choice is not between maintaining our omnivore status or getting over the meat habit and freeing up grain for hungry multitudes, and it never will be. The cultivation of plants depends upon stoop labor or fossil fuel; apart from animal traction, there is no other way to achieve it. Grazing cows efficiently harvest their own food. The waste in our existing food production system comes from pulling food out of the loop between soil and eaters, commodifying it, bashing it around to its nutritional detriment, and selling it back to consumers who have already paid for it once with subsidies and will fork over at the cash register and then pay again at the doctors office. The assumption that glues together the corporate food system is that you and I will not and should not be bothered with home or strictly local food production. I have spent most of my eight decades living the real food truth that, yes, you can produce your own food without any help from agribusiness and with minimal dependence on fossil fuel. Not only can you do this, but it is a source of satisfaction, and often joy. You always know you are doing something worthwhile. The small local farm including animals is the only reliable land-based food production unit. It is a microcosm of the natural world. It creates no environmental debt. It is safe. And it will belong to you.