If you drive through Marin or Sonoma, chances are you'll see thousands and thousands of dairy cows. The area has long been the main provider of milk and dairy products in Northern California. And in recent years, the vast majority of those farms have gone organic. Seems like it should be easy, then, to buy delicious, fresh, local, organic milk, right?
Unfortunately, it's a bit more complicated than just ringing up the milkman.
Because of the economics of distributing milk widely -- processing it, pasteurizing it, bottling it, and getting it into stores, all while making sure it complies with federal health and safety regulations within a short shelf life -- most local dairies simply don't find it feasible to sell their milk directly to consumers. The milk from the vast majority of the cows you see is sold to a distributor -- ie. a larger milk and dairy company.
Now, fortunately, around here there are a few very good companies to sell to. Many of the local organic dairy farms sell their milk either to Straus Family Creamery or to Clover Stornetta Farms. Straus, based in Marin, was the first certified organic dairy in the west and makes a whole range of organic dairy products now, which it sells at many Bay Area stores. (Check their website for store locations.) Clover, based in Petaluma, has been around since the early 1900s and focuses on organic, sustainable dairy products, which are also sold at many, many Bay Area stores. (Check their website for locations.)
With those as the two main purveyors of organic milk in the Bay Area, the other options are somewhat limited. Some local farmers instead sell to Organic Valley, a national co-op of farmers that has a California branch. And, around the Bay Area, Berkeley Farms is also a popular choice for dairy farmers to contract with. Berkeley Farms is a brand of the national company Dean Foods, and Berkeley Farms sells Horizon Organics' products as a distributor of the brand. But Horizon Organics is actually a brand of WhiteWave, which spun-off from Dean Foods in 2013 -- though that Horizon line has come under some criticism in the past. It, however, was found to be meeting all the federal organic standards and has said that it holds up the highest standards of care. (Or, if you're looking for raw milk, the two main California options are based a little further afield: Claravale Farms in Panoche or Organic Pastures in Fresno.)