The Cream Always Rises to the Top
Open a sturdy, glass bottle of Cedar Summit milk and you'll see exactly what that old phrase refers to. There, in the bottleneck, is a cap of cream, also called butterfat, and it's a message from Cedar Summit, telling you what's most important to this farm: good health, healthy land, and important traditions insuring that the cream will always rise to the top.
Cream-top, grass-fed milk is a rarity in today's cost-conscious dairy industry, and Cedar Summit's special milk is a result not of a glitzy business plan, but of many decisions made about their family's health and land over decades.
The first major step came in 1974 when the Minars stopped spraying pesticides, far ahead of the lucrative organic foods boom in the nineties. "There's wasn't any money in [that decision], believe me," says Florence Minar, co-owner and "mom" of Cedar Summit.
Val Minar, who in 1926 bought the land on which Cedar Summit now sits, was the first to use pesticide spray in the county. But Florence and her husband David Minar decided to stop spraying after David had a frightening nervous system reaction to the pesticides.
"He was out working in the fields and had to come in the house and lie down," says Florence, recalling the incident. "He decided then and there he didn't want to spray anymore." They'd been noticing for years that there weren't any bees, and the dead birds were a common sight on the farm. "It was horrible. We had small children, too, so we were concerned about their health," says Florence. "We were told by the chemical companies that we'd go broke in three years. We're still hanging in there, though, and many of our neighbors who did spray are out of business."
The next major decision came in the eighties when the Minars learned that they could improve the health and quality of their herd of dairy cattle if they let them graze. By letting the cattle harvest their own feed, it eliminated one more task and one more farm expense, and created healthful beef for direct-market meat production. The ecological benefits were enormous, too.
"The idea, which we found exciting," say the Minars on their website, "was that all of our land, some of which adjoins Sand Creek, would be in permanent pasture grasses and thus would stop erosion."
"That's the way Dad always was. He did it for land conservation," says Dan Minar, the farm's Marketing Manager and younger son of David and Florence. "Everyone thought he was crazy."
Crazy like a fox. By the time the natural foods customer started recognizing the health values of grass-fed beef in the mid-nineties, Cedar Summit was poised to start a grass-fed creamery, too, producing exceptionally healthy dairy products.
"There wasn't really a market for us back then," says Florence, "but our goal was to bring people back to the way milk should taste."
They figured they could build a market by trusting in the same principle of "healthy land equals healthy animals and healthy people" that had guided them so far. Florence discovered that the benefits of grass-fed beef also applied to grass-fed milk, most notably in its higher quantities of omega-3. Furthermore, long-range cardiac studies, conducted from the sixties through the eighties, had linked unhomogenized milk with certain heart-healthy benefits. "If we were going to have healthy milk," says Florence, "we decided to go healthy all the way."
So in 2002, Cedar Summit opened its dairy, making the decision to bottle their milk in glass-bottles and to leave it unhomogenized, letting the cream rise to the top.
"Our goal was to bring people back to the way milk should taste," explains Florence.
The old-fashioned glass bottles and butterfat-on-top fit perfectly with Cedar Summit's idyllic setting, located south of the Minnesota River valley. With kittens slinking around the milking parlor and cows loping to pasture, it feels like a classic, storybook farm.
The Minar family has been farming this same piece of land near New Prague since 1926, and each generation since has chosen to remain on the land, an amazing thing in this era of vanishing family farms. Son Dan helps market the farm's products, and the other son Mike oversees milk production.
Of special note, Mike recently earned Cedar Summit its organic certification from MOSA (who also certified The Wedge) for their fluid milk and heavy cream, showing that the operation can answer market demands.
"But we've always been ahead of the trends," says Dan.
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