The Life of Your Dairy According to Cruze Farm Girl
The last time you sat down to a good meal, chances are you thanked the chef and thought little about the farmer who provided the ingredients. It’s true, much of the credit does go to the chef but even the most magical of culinary experts must begin with quality ingredients. When it comes to the dairy responsible for your favorite Alfredo or macchiato, this is particularly true. Dairy farming involves a complex science of balancing fat content, food safety, and endless variables added to the equation by the living organisms that produce the creamy goodness in many of your favorite indulgences.
Here in Tennessee, there is one family that’s taking all these factors and dedicating a good majority of their lives to the multi-generational tradition of life on a dairy farm. They’re the ones responsible for bringing some of the region’s most prestigious chefs the top-quality dairy to create the top-quality meals that hit your plate. Cruze Dairy Farm is home to its very own herd of grass-fed Jersey cows, milked twice daily by owner Earl Cruze and son-in-law Manjit. With a passion for the industry and tradition, the entire family plays a role in the farm’s operation from milking to marketing.
Inspired by frequent mentions of Cruze Dairy Farm in national publications and on almost every noteworthy menu in town, I decided to take a break from my back-of-house spotlights for a trip to the farm. I went to interview Colleen Cruze, Earl’s daughter, for a woman’s perspective on the industry but walked away with an entirely new perspective on the intense labor involved and respect for the family’s passion. It’s much more than a single, hard day’s work. It’s a selfless dedication to a trade many have come to take for granted.
A Day at the Farm
After being greeted by a flock of friendly of hens, I should have known I was in for an interesting interview. The farm is split into a few sections and I had found my way over to the main farmhouse beside the original ice cream production operation. I wandered around for a few minutes exploring the various buildings, being carefully watched by the family sheep dog that looked something like a fluffy miniature horse. It was quite a welcoming.
Eventually, I discovered my misdirection and headed over to the other side of the farm. Here I found Colleen chatting with husband Manjit sporting a gingham dress and her several months pregnant baby belly. She was gingerly snacking on a late lunch of farm-raised bacon and eggs and greeted me like an old friend. Obviously, the hens learned a thing or two about welcomes from Colleen. It was clear that I’d caught the two between quite a day’s work on the farm
We made our way over to the side of the house and got right to it. Colleen’s enthusiasm and story is one best told from her perspective. Her authentic nature and honest reflection of life as a farm girl certainly brought new perspective to the idea of farm fresh.
Life as a Farm Girl from a Farm Girl
With a college degree under your belt, what made you decide to come back to the farm after completing your studies?
Well, I fell in love with the people and the ice cream as a kid. I grew up on the farm and when I went off to college is was less as an escape and more an opportunity to try something new. Farm life was a lot of hard work growing up. When I got to school and started to gain weight, I reevaluated. I realized how much I enjoyed being active and how much I missed the farming lifestyle. It was important to me, more than ever, to keep it going.
How did your family respond to your renewed interest?
Dad was surprised. He had always imagined it would be his son that took over. It was good though. I felt as if I needed to work especially hard and prove to my dad that I could do it. It’s kind of interesting because as I became more involved and my ice cream business became more successful it became even more clear that dad works best with women. Mom was great all along. She’s like the cream in an Oreo. She holds us all together.
So you went the ice cream route. Why did you choose to do this?
Dad had a surplus of milk that wasn’t being used. I saw it as a great opportunity to go out on my own and work with farm girls to be a part of what I was creating. I even ended up hiring an intern from Japan after the big tsunami there. Between the new ice cream business and her marketing skills, within a year we were able to bring all the milk to market. Today, we are completely at capacity. The other inspiration was from the ice cream I would sell for my parents at market as a kid. It’s sort of nostalgic.
Tell me a bit more about what you and your intern were working on the early days.
Ayaka was here for a year. During that time, we developed the entire look and feel of the business. The idea was that women can work hard and still look like a lady. I wanted it to be a little glamorous but still be honest about the work. We came up with gingham, aprons, and bandanas. It’s perfect for the market for building the brand. It was sad to see her go but we’ve continued the tradition of farm girl interns and actually have a girl this year who has studied neuroscience. She is using her time with us to decide what her next step will be. I think she’s going to end up on a farm.
When Farm Life Interrupts
At this point in my interview, Colleen received a call from her father, Earl. There were two tractors stuck in a mud pit in a far pasture. After the unseasonably wet spring, Colleen didn’t seem too surprised. Since farm life doesn’t pause for inquisitive writers, she invited me to come back another day or tag along. A few minutes later, I was bouncing along in an old farm truck between the two Cruze gals – Colleen and her mother Cheri.
Once we arrived, I realized my usual work garb wasn’t exactly suited for the task at hand so I stood back to chat with Cheri while Colleen jumped in to help Earl – gingham dress, pregnant, and all.
Cheri, the wife of a dairy farmer had quite a story to tell herself. Several decades into the business, she was very knowledgeable about everything from managing what she describes as “the unique qualities of dairy farmers” to very scientific topics including specific animal proteins.
After about an hour of chatting, I’m fairly certain she may be East Tennessee’s foremost authority on the science of dairy cows. Here’s a short bit of what she had to share:
5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Cruze Farm or the Dairy Industry
- Jersey cows produce A2 protein, which is much easier for the body to digest. The A1 protein that exists in most Holstein cows, which accounts for the good majority of milk in the grocery, is difficult to digest and often the cause of lactose intolerance. Several thousand years ago there was a genetic mutation that occurred in European dairy herds that caused the shift.
- Most large dairy farms use chemicals in their milk lines to clean them between milking. These chemicals are then transferred into the milk that consumers purchase. Though approved as food safe, those chemicals may irritate the human gut. At Cruze Farm, those chemicals are not in use.
- Pretty dairy farms, the ones with weed-free, perfectly manicured pastures are probably using chemicals to maintain the look. Cruze Farm has a fair share of weeds and wildflowers for the cows to enjoy completely free of chemicals.
- If you have a toddler struggling to digest milk, you may want to try the dairy from Cruze Farm or at a dairy that utilizes similar production from Jersey cows. At Cruze Farm, you can participate in the raw milk share or purchase the retail buttermilk, whole milk, and chocolate milk. The farm has come to be a go-to for parents of toddlers with tricky tummies.
- There is a difference between raw milk and lightly pasteurized milk. Raw milk is milk just as it comes from the cow. There is debate about the safety of this milk but participation is up to the consumer. The concern from advocates is that the pasteurization process kills both the good and potentially harmful bacteria. Of course, it’s the potentially bad bacteria that the opposition is concerned with. Lightly pasteurized milk is milk that has been lightly heated for a short period of time to retain as much of the natural flavor as possible while still killing off any potentially harmful bacteria.
Reflections from a Day at the Farm
Life on a farm is constant. It starts long before 9 and lasts long after 5. Your schedule always includes working nights and weekends, holidays are workdays, and when a herd of living beings are relying on you, you’re always on call. The most amazing part of the whole operation is the single fact that there are still people willing to dedicate their lives to this industry. The next time you bite into a cathead buttermilk biscuit, sip on an ice cold glass of chocolate milk, or cool off with a creamy scoop of ice cream, take a moment to remember the passionate farm guys and gals who are hard at work throughout the year to make your favorite treats possible.
For more information on Cruze Farm, visit www.CruzeFarmGirl.com. If you’re in the Knoxville area, be sure to stop by the Market Square Farmers market to meet the Cruze Farm team and taste their delicious dairy.
Cruze Farm Dairy is available for purchase at these retailers:
Archer’s Food Center
Butler and Bailey
Earth Fare Bearden
Earth Fare Chattanooga
Earth Fare Turkey Creek
Farm Fresh Produce
Horn of Plenty
Lamar Amburn’s Produce
Loveday’s Garden Center
Market Square Farmer’s Market
More than Plants
Paleo Foods Cafe & Coffeehouse
Three Rivers Market
Tuckahoe Trading Post
Whole Foods Chattanooga