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Coastal Voices: Finding links in regional food chain

Exploring Crescent City recently, we made a delicious discovery, the Rumiano Cheese retail store on Ninth Street.

It advertises its cheeses as GMO free and grass-fed. My wife bought some jack cheese.

Now, I’m normally not fond of jack or other mild cheeses, but when she offered me a slice, I was impressed and wanted more. We put the rest in our ice chest for the road home, thinking no more about it.

Then two days later, in Humboldt County, after a tourist stop in Ferndale, we were leisurely making our way back toward Highway 101 on Grizzly Bluff Road when we saw something that rekindled a discussion we’d  been having during this trip.

At a dairy, we saw rows of small white crates, about 3 feet high, with a door hole in one end. My wife was curious about them, speculating that they might be used for transporting dairy products or even branding animals.

She had to know for sure, so we stopped.

The sign on the front of the milking barn said “Mike Brazil Dairy,” and I parked between the barn and the house and waited to see if my wife could find someone to talk to.

When I heard voices, I jumped out of the car and caught up with them. She was talking to a farmer, one I assumed to be Mike Brazil, but was instead his father, Rich.

Rich gave us a small tour of the dairy, and we soon learned that these crates held very young calves. At an age where they were being weaned, they were placed inside to be fed, before graduating to a small communal pen and eventually to the range. We saw the cute young animals in the pen, their curious faces turned our way.

The Ferndale area is cool and moist, so the grass is lush, thick and green, and the dairy cows wander freely in the fields, nibbling like people at a buffet table. Rich then showed us the milking barn, and how the milk is piped to refrigerated tanks before being transported.

When we asked where the milk was shipped, we got a surprise, a touch of synchronicity. They ship their milk exclusively to Rumiano a hundred miles north.

Indeed, this milk was GMO free and obviously grass-fed, a small family dairy operation, clean and undoubtedly a labor of love by people who respect their land and their animals.

We thanked Rich for taking the time from his busy day to be a most gracious host and tour guide, and then we went on our way, remembering the cheese in our ice chest and suddenly in the mood for a snack.

Meade Fischer lives in Watsonville. He is the author of “With the Sea Beside Me: An Intimate Guide to California’s Central and North Coast,” was in Crescent City updating the book two weeks ago. 

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