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A flavour of the countryside.Step by step towards food sovereignty on the Vista Alegre farm



1- Introduction

2- Introduction Vista Alegre farm

2.1- Livestock activities on the Vista Alegre farm today

2.2- The steps taken to achieve greater sustainability

2.3- Processing and marketing of our milk

 




1- Introduction

The “Vista Alegre” farm is located in the hamlet of Matienzo in the parish of Karrantza (Bizkaia, Basque Country). Three generations of the Valera family have farmed here, raising a dairy herd, producing and selling milk and, to a lesser degree, marketing beef.

Historically, milk from the Vista Alegre farm herd has been sold to big dairies. However, over the years, due to the growing power and economic weight of these dairies and the corresponding loss of power of the farming community, increasingly unfavourable terms for milk sales (price, pay-by-date, collection conditions...) have been imposed by the dairies on farmers, including the Vista Alegre farmers.

At the same time, over the past decades the dairy policies introduced by Basque, Spanish State and European governments and institutions have generated a clear tendency towards the intensification and industrialisation of dairy farming on Basque farms, considerably increasing their dependence on inputs brought to the farm (feed concentrate, agrochemicals, plastics....) and a reduction in the use of local on-farm resources, particularly farmland itself. Initially, this tendency towards intensification could also be observed on the Vista Alegre farm, but the family eventually decided to gradually phase out such intensive dairy management given that it was leading the farm towards unsustainable livestock farming  in social, environmental and economic terms.

The present document explains the current situation on the Vista Alegre farm with regards to the production and marketing of the milk from its dairy herd and the changes underway to diversify milk sales and, thus, overcome dependency on the big dairies. Basically, the idea is to sell the farm’s milk directly to consumers as pasteurised milk, or yoghurts and cheeses made in the farm’s own dairy.

The project thus has three key components: (i) to further increase the social and environmental sustainability of the dairy activities on the Vista Alegre farm, by evolving from conventional de-intensified farming to organic farming: in April 2011 the farm joined the Basque Organic Livestock Scheme; (ii) process milk on the farm itself; and (iii) from the summer of 2011, sell the pasteurised milk, yoghurts and cheese directly to consumers or in small shops in the area.


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2- Introduction Vista Alegre farm

For the past 100 years, milk has been produced on the Vista Alegre farm and sold to dairies. As well as specialising in milk for the market, the farm produces the  traditional range of vegetables, fruit and animals (chickens and hens, pigs, rabbits and sheep) for home consumption.

 

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2.1- Livestock activities on the Vista Alegre farm today

Currently between 32 and 40 Friesian cows are milked on the farm. The herd is renewed through breeding and rebreeding on the farm and there are usually between 3 and 9 calves (0-6 months) and around 20 heifers (6-24 months) at any one time on the farm. The average life span of our cows is 7 years, with an average of 5 lactation cycles that last 305 days.


The farm has access to 31 hectares of farmland, mainly rented from the local parish council or private landowners. The stocking rate (number of animals –cow equivalents- per hectare) in currently under 2 animals per hectare.

The farm currently provides two full time jobs.

 
Until 2011, the feeding regime on the farm was conventional but de-intensified. The daily fodder ration was comprised mainly of forage (grass, alfalfa, grass silage and maize silage), but also depended on concentrates and supplements such as sugar beet pulp and compound feed comprised of soy (20-25%) and barley (75-80%). As the farm has joined the Organic Livestock Farming Scheme, soy will have been completely phases out by the end of 2011. All cattle grazed at some time and calves and heifers were given some supplementary compound feed.


As mentioned above, in the past milk was sold directly to dairy companies. From the early 1990s, however, the milk has been sold to these companies through different farmer output co-operatives.


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2.2- The steps taken to achieve greater sustainability

From the early 1990s, following a certain degree of intensification, the Vista Alegre farm decided not to carry on with the intensification-industrialisation that could be observed on other dairy farms (fodder based mainly on imported compound feedstuffs, high milk yield per cow, bought in embryos, permanent stabling of livestock, slurry dumping...) and, in fact, began a process of de-intensification. Basically, the amount of compound feed given the cows was reduced, cows were put out to graze whenever the weather was suitable (March/April to November, at least) and the stocking rate was lowered. Lower milk yields are achieved, but, on the other hand, the quality of milk has been purposefully improved.


These changes have had immediate positive repercussions for animal welfare (less health problems in the dairy herd and, as a result, less use of veterinary products), for the environment (less slurry, lower energy costs due to fewer imports of fodder, greater biodiversity in fields...) and for the nutritional quality and health standard of milk (higher protein and unsaturated fat content...).

 

Additionally, as has already been mentioned, in April 2011 the farm joined the Basque Organic Livestock Farming Scheme and started the 2 year period of conversion. As a result use of local resources becomes of even greater importance, the stocking rate will be lowered again and given aspects that characterised farm management until 2011 have been phased out, particularly the potential (unwanted) presence of transgenes in bought in soy and maize and periodical spot spraying of herbicides on dock plants. The use of veterinary products, particularly antibiotics, will be minimal, although it is worth pointing out that as changes in the fodder regime had already been introduced and milk yield per cow per day had already been deliberately lowered, there had already been fewer health problems in the herd and antibiotics were used only occasionally on the Vista Alegre farm by April 2011. Joining the Organic Scheme also implies avoiding importing any compound feedstuffs and forage produced with chemical products or genetic engineering.


The step taken towards organic farming has meant placing the Vista Alegre farm firmly in the type of livestock management policies that European Institutions promote for sustainable food production and consumption (such as Biodiversity Plan of Action for Agriculture, the Environmental Strategies for Sustainable Development, the Action Plan to combat Climate Change and Sustainable Consumption Plans).

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2.3- Processing and marketing of our milk

During 2009-2010 the Vista Alegre farm started to consider the possibility of processing its milk and gradually reduce sales to the big dairies. Between 2010 and 2011 the farm has built its own dairy in which, using only milk from the farm, pasteurised milk, yoghurt and different sorts of cheese are made. 
 


The milk is not homogenised, it’s fat content thus being visible and the possible health risks associated with homogenisation and still open to debate in scientific circles are avoided. As cows graze in open fields the nutritional quality of milk has improved, for example concerning the presence and appropriate relationship between elements such as Omega 3 and Omega 6, calcium and phosphorus. 
 



Milk is pasteurised without any additives or preservatives. It keeps 7 days, although we recommend using it in only 4 days in order to maximise its nutritional benefits and quality.


Yoghurt is made with milk heated to 90ºC, no sugars are added and it can be kept for 28 days. Cheese is made with pasteurised milk and salt is used as a preservative. The number of days or weeks cheese can be kept depends on the sort of cheese, feta cheese, for example, is best eaten within four days but can be kept 7 days.
Our aim is to sell as many of our products as possible straight to consumers, reducing the number of intermediaries. We also wish to provide consumers with as much information as possible about our farm and our products, emphasising the agroecological character of the farm project and the contribution it can make to food sovereignty. We therefore give priority to work with producer-consumer groups in the Nekasare network, but also sell our produce in small shops and restaurants, once again establishing clear priorities, in this case, selling as close as possible to Karrantza, our ideal being to sell in the area between Karrantza and Bilbao ( Encartaciones, Zona Minera, Margen Izquierda and Bilbao).



We are also open to visits from schools, consumer groups and any other person interested in first hand knowledge of the Vista Alegre farm and dairy project. Visits can be conducted in Basque, English or Castillian (Spanish). 
 

 
 Visit from the Balmaseda consumer group (june 2011)


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Schools


Special corner for schools: visit our special corner for schools for special information about our farm and the farm dairy. There are resource materials for teachers. In this corner you can find out how to arrange a class outing to our farm.



Copy left: With due regard to both constructive criticism and respect, the information posted on this website may be used freely for socially orientated and solidarity minded projects in order to further food sovereignty.