In the early 1990s, when Albert Straus decided to convert the family farm to organic, his peers in the local dairy industry thought he had gone crazy. At the time, Straus and other family farmers sold milk to a local coop or regional processor that set the price for their milk -- a price that often did not cover the costs of production.
These large processors and coops were not open to the kind of innovative farming practices or small-scale artisan dairy production that Straus and other young farmers suggested were necessary to family farms’ future survival. Because industrial agriculture was on the rise and milk prices were unrealistically low to sustain family farming, Straus saw a possible way to succeed: Move into an organic marketplace, which reflected the true costs of production and promoted responsible land stewardship, thereby offering a viable business model for small dairy farms.
Going organic allowed the Straus family dairy to continue and expand practices reflecting the best form of stewardship in terms of environmental care, care for animals and quality of life for communities and family farms. Moving forward with his plan, Albert Straus converted the Straus family farm in 1994 to become the first certified organic dairy in California and west of the Mississippi River.
In the early 1990s, a vital economic marketplace had developed with the emerging community of organic consumers in California. Organics represented a health-oriented marketplace that was socially responsible and that took the realities of family farms into account. Products like independently certified organic grains, vegetables and fruits were available, but there was neither processing nor distribution available for organic milk in the Western United States. The Straus dairy had no one to sell organic milk to.
Another far-reaching step had to be taken, during the year-long conversion to organic: Straus Family Creamery was created, which became the first 100% certified organic creamery in the United States. (Rumor has it that Straus’ love of ice cream also had a lot to do with this decision!)
Under his own label, Albert Straus was now able to create dairy products from his own organic milk to his liking: Sustainably-made, wholesome, dairy products of highest quality with organic milk from his family’s farm, bottled in reusable, recyclable glass bottles.
His certified-organic milk was non-homogenized, with the cream rising naturally to the top. Bottling the organic milk in reusable glass bottles was Straus’ idea from the very beginning, and that is how it is bottled to this day.
Albert Straus feels one of the biggest successes of the creamery is that certified-organic family farms in Marin and Sonoma Counties have grown eight times higher in number compared to the number of dairies that sell organic milk to Straus Family Creamery itself. The goal was never to grow the creamery business in an unlimited way, but help grow the community of organic dairy farmers by spearheading a viable business model for family farms.
Albert Straus says: “It is essential to the Straus Family Creamery way of doing things that we remain within a framework where the relationships between our dairy, our creamery and our participating family farms are personal and mutually accountable.”