Rodale Institute sits down with Forrest Stricker, owner of Spring Creek Farms in Wernersville, Pennsylvania to learn more about soil health, organic dairy farming and the benefits of grass-fed products.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been in farming.
My name is Forrest Stricker, married to Barbara. We have two sons and daughter-in-laws and four grandchildren. I run a family farm and I’ve been farming since 1978. I’m also the fourth generation on this farm. Spring Creek Farms is a dairy farm, we sell wholesale and retail chickens and raw milk, eggs, chicken, beef, cheese, and butter.
I started a partnership with my father in 1982 where we started buying half the cows and machinery. When that was paid for, we started buying the other half of the cows and machinery, so I owned the livestock and machinery and then started purchasing the land.
We are stewards of the land. Organic is about life—it’s talking about life in the soil and the plants.
What do you produce on your farm?
Mainly dairy and chickens. We are 100% grass-fed, so we do not feed grain to any of the cows. We went certified organic in August 1999 and we stopped feeding grain in 2010.
Going grass-fed produced a healthier milk. The other problem was that the price of organic grain was so high, and it was hard to get. God created the animal to eat forage and so that’s what we want to feed her. It produces a really healthy milk that’s high in omega-3s and CLAs [a fatty acid beneficial to human health].
Why is it important to you to be certified organic?
Organic food is the best and healthiest food. We are stewards of the land. Organic is about life—it’s talking about life in the soil and the plants. You have healthier plants and animals, which produces healthier food and healthier humans. I believe going organic is the best way to be a steward of what God has given us.
We decided to go certified organic because we wanted to produce healthier food and we wanted to take better care of the land. I didn’t want to use chemicals anymore. I didn’t want to handle them and I didn’t want to expose my family to them. Herbicides, pesticides, they’re all “-cides.” They’re all killers, which means they also kill good things. So I want to farm the healthy way, the regenerative way. Farming should enhance life, not destroy life.
[The best thing about farming organically is] to see the soil turn around and produce healthy food, and then to hear the customers say “Wow, your food tastes so good and we really appreciate you farming organically.” Hearing the comments from the customers is my favorite part.
What’s one thing you wish people knew about organic farms?
They produce healthier food and they’re better for the environment.
It really comes back to stewardship. This land belongs to God and I think organic farming is the best way to be a steward of the earth.
Let me tell you a story. [A cheese purveyor] bought milk from us and made cheese. The whey from that cheese went to a local farmer, and his hogs and chickens ate it. The owner decided to get her milk from another farmer who was not certified organic, who also fed grain. When she took that whey to the farmer, the chickens and hogs stopped eating that whey. Then she came back to our certified organic milk and the chickens and hogs started eating the whey again. So even animals know the difference between certified organic and non-organic. There is a huge difference in organic feed, and I’ve listened to talks where people have butchered chickens that were fed non-GMO but not certified organic grain and they could see the differences in the gizzards and liver in the non-organic chickens.
There is a huge difference in organic agriculture and we’re learning that now.
What are some changes you’ve seen in the organic market in your time farming?
Basically price. It’s been a lot more challenging. The price of milk has dropped. These big CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] dairies in the Midwest are shipping milk here cheaper than we can produce on a family farm, which has driven the price down. It’s been a financial challenge here in the last year.
If you had to give one reason for consumers to go organic, what would it be?
It would be for health. You have healthier food and you’re taking care of the environment by buying that organic food. Organic farms sequester carbon and, in our grazing, we have a lot of diverse plants that are collecting sun and putting carbon back in the soil where it belongs. So consumers are helping the environment and also getting healthy food to boot.
Rodale Institute was a mentor to me back in the ’90s. There is a huge difference in organic agriculture and we’re learning that now. People are butchering the animals and seeing the difference in the organs and everything. That’s a great example of why people should be buying certified organic.
Buy organic and buy from local farmers. Use your dollars with the food you buy to help support us. Help us with keeping the out of state milk out. Buy local and organic.
What’s a common misconception about organic farms that you’d like to correct?
I think the most common misconception is that the integrity isn’t there and that the food isn’t any better than conventional food, but I believe that it is. It is healthier, it has more vitamins in it, more minerals in it, higher CLAs and omega-3s. Sometimes organic gets a bad name. But if you’re following the regulations properly it really is more beneficial for people. I’m dead set on that and I wouldn’t farm any other way.
Consumers can find Spring Creek Farms products on their farm in Wernersville, PA, as well as farmers markets in the Southeast Pennsylvania region. Milk from Spring Creek Farms is used for Valley Milkhouse Cheeses, available throughout Southeast Pennsylvania and at the Rodale Institute ASC Farmer’s Market.
Learn more about organic and grass-fed meat production in our recent blog post, “Is Meat Ruining the Planet?”