For the Alexandre Family of Humboldt County, dairy farming is a long-held tradition. Husband and wife team Blake and Stephanie are both fourth generation dairy farmers, and their passion for agriculture has extended to their five children who join them in the day to day operations on their organic dairy farm. The Alexandres started their first dairy in 1988 in Southern California and made the move to Northern California in 1992 after purchasing an existing farm in Del Norte County. They transitioned their dairy to certified organic in the late 1990s with the hope of returning to the traditional agricultural practices used by their grandparents.
Today, they run a thriving EcoDairy, where 3,500 cows graze year-round on 4,000 acres of holistically managed land.
The moist, coastal climate of Humboldt County is key to the Alexandres’ grass-based farm. Nestled between the Coastal Redwood Forest and the Pacific Ocean, they receive regular rainfall which allows them to pasture their cows year-round. The Alexandres pride themselves on growing quality grass and they utilize planned grazing techniques to ensure the health of their pastures.
Every ten hours the cows move to a different paddock in the field.
Grass that is frequently grazed never gets woody and therefore provides optimal nutrition to the cows. Similarly, the chickens who lay their pasture-raised eggs are moved by a mobile chicken coop every three to four days to allow the grass to rest. The mobile coop, which covers an acre of pasture, takes 5 people to move.
Nourishing the soil is a top priority for the Alexandres, and a number of practices are used on their farm to keep the soil healthy and fertile. They avoid plowing and tilling the fields, as this has the potential to disrupt the beneficial microbes found in the soil. They amend their soil with elements like Zinc, Selenium, and Boron, and compost plays a crucial role on the farm. Manure from milking parlors and free stall barns where cows are housed in bad weather is composted with cow-bedding components like straw, sawdust and wood shavings. Crab and fish waste from local fisheries is worked into the compost piles, and the nutrient-rich mixture is spread over as many acres as possible.
Proper manure management can make a huge environmental difference, and many organic farmers, like the Alexandres, utilize manure to positively impact the health of their soil and grasses.
When improperly managed, manure emits methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. However, when manure is properly composted, methane production is reduced and a number of benefits emerge. The compost can then be used to add nutrients to the soil, replace the need for synthetic fertilizer and enhance the soil’s ability to sequester carbon. The National Organic Program requires that organic dairy cows graze for a minimum of 120 days. In California, due to our temperate climate, cows can be on pasture 365 days a year. Organic dairy farmers are required to have a Pasture Management Plan in place to ensure soil fertility and pasture quality. Standards like these provide incentive for organic farmers to manage their operation for the benefit of the land.
We’re inspired by the Alexandres’ commitment to environmental stewardship and the thought and care that goes into every decision made on their farm. You can find their organic pastured eggs, organic milk, and organic flavored milks in our Refrigerated Foods Department.