The owners of Alexandre Family Farms have received national recognition from a major organization focused on organic trade in the U.S.

Blake and Stephanie Alexandre are the Organic Trade Association’s 2018 Organic Farmer of the Year. They will receive their award at the OTA’s 2018 Leadership Awards Celebration on Sept. 12 in Baltimore.

The Alexanders will receive one of three awards recognizing leadership in the organic sector for their “own unique blend of ingredients and masterful techniques to serve up a style of leadership that is advancing the organic sector,” according to an OTA press release.

To Stephanie Alexandre, the award recognizes her family’s ability to produce a high quality product while recognizing the area’s biodiversity. The grasses and soils at their facilities in Del Norte County stand out as well, she said.

“Hardly anyone can grow grasses the way we grow them in Del Norte County in the cool season on the ocean,” she said, adding that the farm irrigates their pastures from June through September to keep them green and vibrant. “It’s definitely part of a new biodynamic regenerative culture style of dairying or pasturing.”

Blake and Stephanie Alexandre began as dairy farmers in Southern California. They purchased an existing dairy in Del Norte County in 1992, about two hours north of the Alexandre home farm in Ferndale, according to Alexandre Family Farm’s website.

The Alexandres set out on the organic pathway in the late 1990s. At the time Clover Stornetta Farms had been looking for organic dairy sources, Stephanie Alexandre said, which prompted her and Blake Alexandre to consider going organic themselves. She said she and her husband knew competition in the dairy industry was growing and they wanted their kids to come home to a viable future when they finished college.

“For us, we knew this area would be very conducive for an organic dairy,” Stephanie Alexandre said. “Our children are fifth-generation grass-based dairy farmers, so it’s something we have deep in our roots, the way we graze, and it’s definitely something in the organic dairy rules.”

Currently, about 750 cows roam the Alexandres’ pastures at their dairy in Smith River, Stephanie Alexandre said. Roughly 1,500 cows graze on thousands of acres at their home place on the southern side of the Smith River. They also have 900 cows in Ferndale and 350 cows at a grass-milk only dairy in Eureka.

According to Blake Alexandre, the key to the quality of his family’s products, which also include a line of pasture-raised eggs spearheaded by his children, is the soil.

“Everything we do is in regards to the soil and the soil health, which is the life of the soil,” he said. “It’s really the biology, microorganisms, which makes all the nutrients available for plants and cattle and people. That’s what we mean when we talk about soil health and having an awareness of that from an organic perspective is what’s certainly changed our direction in terms of how we manage our acres, our land, and that’s different than they teach you in large-scale conventional agriculture settings.”

The Alexandres have also bred their cows to produce A2/A2 protein-rich milk. According to Stephanie Alexandre, A2/A2 is the beta-casein protein found in goat, sheep and human breast milk. Cow’s milk typically contains A1 beta-casein protein, which can often cause bloating, inflammation, congestion and stomach aches people, Stephanie Alexandre said.

The Alexandres send out hair samples from their cows to a lab to get the DNA results to find out if their cows carry the A2/A2 gene, according to Stephanie Alexandre. She said she and her husband started this process 15 years ago and only select bulls with A2/A2 genes.

“Now our farm is 100 percent A2,” Stephanie Alexandre said. “And we’re getting customers who can’t do dairy that can drink our dairy.”

For years the Alexandres have provided raw milk to Humboldt Creamery and Rumiano Cheese Company. In 2017, the Alexandres branched out, launching a line of bottled whole milk that focuses on 6 percent butterfat rather than the typical 3.5 percent butterfat, Stephanie Alexandre said. Their new line also includes flavored whole milks in vanilla, chocolate, caramel and turmeric ginger.

The Alexandres’ new line of whole milk launched in Seattle in September 2017. They began selling their whole milk in the San Francisco area in December and in March their milks were introduced to markets in Southern California, Stephanie Alexandre said.

Stephanie Alexandre said she and her family are still in the process of introducing their line of whole milks to stores, but the bulk of their product will continue to go to Humboldt Creamery and Rumiano Cheese Company.

Blake Alexandre said being named OTA’s Organic Farmer of the Year is a recognition for his family’s innovation and willingness to do things a bit differently.

Stephanie Alexandre said she hopes the award sets her family’s farm apart from others in the country. She noted that in addition to their cattle, 240 elk graze on their pastures, bald eagles nest in their trees and there are frogs “like you’ve never seen them before.”

“There’s just all this life flourishing and, by the way, we’re dairy farmers,” she said, adding that the Alexandres are thankful for the recognition. “There’s so much I can say about what’s special about our place before I can even talk about our favorite animal, the cow.”

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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