Moo-ve Over, Mainland Milk

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - September 03, 2008
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Monique Vander Stroom (right) and niece Cassandra on the farm
Monique Vander Stroom (right) and niece Cassandra on the farm

I’ve written about the closure of so many restaurants in recent years, and about the tribulations of our local farmers and their attempts to battle Mainland pricing, increasing costs and a general apathy by supermarkets to stock their produce, that it is with a sense of near joy that I sit down this week to introduce Monique Vander Stroom.

She is a woman with strong ideas about island sustainability and about the dangers of becoming dependent on the Mainland for our food. But, unlike most of us, Vander Stroom plans to be part of the solution. Her Waianae dairy is hoping to soon supply more than 90,000 gallons of fresh Island milk a year.

“Right now I have 25 cows and calves, but I’d like to be milking 50 cows in the next year,” she says. “Eventually I’d like to increase the herd to 200-300 cows and process the milk in a large plant.”

She faces a tough journey, as you might imagine. First there’s the cost of land, the cost of feed and the cost of fuel. In recent years, the cost of feeding cows has risen by more than 30 percent, meaning a whopping 70 percent of the cost of keeping a dairy cow is in its feed. Then, there’s the agricultural land issue that’s an ongoing problem in Hawaii.

“For dairies to truly be revived on Oahu,” says Vander Stroom, “the state needs to identify important agricultural lands and acquire them now before our best agriculture land is lost to development.”

Her hope is that the state will see the value in leasing land to dairy farmers to pasture cows instead of feeding them dry, expensive, imported food. It’s the only way Island milk can ever be competitive.

But for now, Vander Stroom is doing what she can, and she comes armed with more than enough experience. Although she grew up in California and traveled widely, it was vacationing on a family farm in Iowa followed by a summer working on her cousin’s dairy farm in Holland that set her firmly on her path. She worked at Pacific Dairy in Waianae for 12 years, 10 of them as co-manager.

“The greatest part of my life is being around animals,” she says. “My dream is to see our milk bottled and sold here on Oahu. That will make this labor of love worthwhile.”

The labor of love is helped considerably by Vander Stroom’s built-in posse of milkmaids. “I have a lot of help from my mom, and my sisters Sabrina and Tamara and our niece Cassandra,” she says. “We’ll all be working hard these next few months.”

Initially the milk will be sold at the KCC Farmers Market in glass bottles. “Bottles are expensive but they can reused, which is good for the environment,” says Vander Stroom, explaining that customers will pay an initial deposit and return empty bottles in exchange for full ones, just like the old days. “People do seem to think that milk tastes better out of a bottle,” she says.

So next time you open up a carton of milk that’s been on a three-week journey to your supermarket, imagine the taste (and the sustainable benefits) of fresh Island milk.

“Our cows will be milked, and two hours later you’ll be able to buy pasteurized bottles at the farm,” says Vander Stroom.

If the thought of a resurgence of Island dairies thrills you as much as it does me, then watch this space. As soon as the first, fresh, creamy bottles are ready for sale, you’ll be the first to know.

Happy eating!


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