Organic milk 101: A beginner’s guide

Milk, bread, berries…there are just some things that, as a mom, you always have on hand. And if you don’t, someone will be making a post-bedtime grocery store run to avoid a potential morning meltdown. Honestly, I never thought so much about milk in my life until I had kids. I used to stand in the dairy aisle, overwhelmed by the options, wondering how in the world to choose—whole milk? 2 percent? Organic? 

It wasn’t until I did a deep dive that I finally felt confident in my milk-purchasing decisions. Now my choice is easy: Organic, all the way. And not just any milk, Organic Valley®—I go straight for that red barn logo and know that I’m making a choice that benefits my family, the earth, animals and organic family farms across the country. 

So from cared-for cows to a range of nutritional benefits, here’s everything you need to know about organic milk.

Pasture-raised cows

little girl hugging cow on pasture

Let’s start at the source. Organic milk comes from cows that are raised on farms that follow strict standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). To get that green “USDA Organic” seal, dairy farms need to meet four criteria:

  1. Cows must be exclusively given food grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, commercial fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
  2. Cows must have regular access to pasture
  3. Cows must not be treated with supplemental hormones
  4. Cows must not be given certain medications to treat illness

On Organic Valley’s® small family dairy farms, cows’ health and well-being are top priorities, which means they spend as much time as possible out in the fields getting fresh air and sunshine (averaging 50% more than the minimum requirements of the USDA National Organic Program). Some family dairy farmers—like the Settlage family farm at Organic Valley®—even treat their cows to chiropractic care, waterbeds and relaxing music! 

Environmental impact

Whenever I’m trying to make an informed purchase, I do my best to explore the environmental impact. Organic dairy farming has a significant positive effect on the environment, promoting sustainability and ecological balance. One of the core practices is rotational grazing, where cows move between pastures, which allows grasslands to recover, improves soil health and reduces erosion. It also encourages biodiversity, providing habitats for various plants and animal species.

Instead of using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, organic farms use natural alternatives like compost and manure. These enrich the soil without harming beneficial insects or contaminating water supplies, reducing the risk of chemical runoff into rivers and streams. This helps to keep waterways clean.

Many organic farms, like the more than 100 in the Organic Valley® cooperative, are also focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy sources like solar and wind to power their operations. Organic Valley® is committed to being a part of the climate solution. By choosing their products, you’re helping to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of organic farmland across the country. It’s pretty powerful to know where your food comes from and know you’re contributing to the greater good of our planet.

Nutritional benefits

two cartons of Organic Valley milk on a countertoptwo cartons of Organic Valley milk on a countertop

Organic milk is packed with essential nutrients like calcium, protein, magnesium and more. Many of us aren’t getting enough of these nutrients, which, according to registered dietitian Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LDN, CLEC, CPT, can “potentially leave a nutritional gap in regards to important bone health-supporting nutrients, like calcium.”

In addition to the essential nutrients found in milk, Organic Valley® Family First™ milk is enriched with 50 mg of DHA Omega 3 per serving, which supports brain health alongside helping build strong bones and healthy bodies.

Making the choice that’s right for you

When it comes down to it, choosing organic milk is a personal decision influenced by various factors, such as animal welfare, environmental concerns, finances, access and personal health beliefs. Organic milk is produced by cows that are pesticide and GMO-free, and that enjoy regular time in the pasture. Organic farms prioritize sustainability and making a positive environmental impact. Ultimately, being an informed consumer and making choices aligned with your values can bring peace of mind to the family food decisions you’re making every day.

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