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THE GOODS : ECONOTES : How 'Bout Some Moo Juice With a Twist?


Vivien Straus is promoting organic milk in returnable glass bottles--a product that offers a double benefit to the environment--but is having trouble getting the concept across in Los Angeles.

"When people hear the phrase organic dairy, they somehow get the wrong image," she says. "They think it might be rotting or imperfect in some way--something weird left over from hippies and the '60s."

Her family, who run the Straus Family Creamery in Marshall (60 miles north of San Francisco), introduced the new line last February.

"We're going great guns in the Bay Area, but just starting to get accepted in Southern California," says Straus, the only family member who lives in Los Angeles.

The Strauses have been farming--and environmentalists--for 50 years. "My parents, William and Ellen Straus, were involved in founding the Marin Agricultural Land Trust to encourage small farmers to stay in agriculture instead of selling out to developers," Straus says.

But family farms are struggling these days, so the Strauses decided to find a niche.

It was no simple matter to convert their 660 acres and 215 cows to an organic dairy, says Straus.

"We can't use any hormones to increase milk production, we haven't used chemical fertilizers on our land for years, we don't use antibiotics in our milking herds (sick cows get aspirin and homeopathic remedies) and the cows eat only certified organic feeds."

The family built a bottling plant for environmental reasons and because they believe milk tastes better in glass than in plastic or waxed paper.

"There's a deposit on the bottle. We're getting 90% return, and people love the taste of the milk," says Straus.

The creamery sells nonfat and whole milk at health food stores, such as Mrs. Gooch's. At $1.59 to $1.69 a quart (plus $1 for the first bottle deposit) the milk is more expensive than its non-organic competitors, but considering the growing interest in healthy eating, the Straus family thinks they're on the cutting edge.

As the first organic dairy in California (there are only a handful in the country), the Straus enterprise will be featured on "Green Means," the prize-winning PBS series about ordinary people whose activities are making positive contributions to the environment.

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