Johannes (left) and Julaine (centre right) Treur, with two of their children in their cow barn. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

HOMEGROWN: Family traditions key to Agassiz dairy farm

Julaine and Johannes Treur are keeping family traditions alive at their organic dairy farm

Everywhere you look on Julaine and Johannes Treur’s property, you sense roots.

Roots beneath the grass that carpets the pasture beyond the 100-cow dairy barns. Roots anchoring the neighbouring mountain to the earth. And family roots as well, keeping the Treurs’ Creekside Dairy attached to a heritage of dairy farming that goes back to the mid-1800s.

“To say it easily, it’s in your blood,” Johannes said, sitting at the dining room table in his Agassiz farm home.

For five generations, the men of the Treur family had been dairy farmers, from Johannes’ great-great-great grandfather milking 30 cows in Holland and selling the cheese he made by hand to Johannes and his brother, teaming up with a dairy farm in Rosedale.

“It’s a good way to step into the industry,” Julaine explained. “Then when we were established we were able to go our separate ways.”

In 2011, Johannes and his family moved to a property on Agassiz’s Maria Slough and set up their 55-cow organic dairy operation there.

Originally, Julaine said, the farm wasn’t officially organic. Although they followed many organic practices, like making sure the cows spent about half a year on pasture, they weren’t certified.

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“Honestly, things were pretty tight financially,” she said about the transition to their own farm in Agassiz. “We were looking at different ways to increase our income … and (our organic feed salesman) told us to look into getting certified and getting paid extra for it.”

According to the Treurs, going organic isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Although you earn some more money for your milk, there is a cost to being certified and the cows don’t produce quite as much milk.

But, because organic product was in such high demand, farmers getting certified also got an increase in quota, which is what really made the move attractive for the Treurs.

“And once we started farming organically, then we realized the benefits of it for the cows and for the land,” Julaine added. “So I don’t think we would go back.”

Now, the Treurs are not only certified organic, but also SPCA certified, which is another way of saying certified humane. Their herd has doubled since they started, and they are now looking for new ways to grow their business.

The most recent venture is also a return to their roots.

Julaine grew up in Chilliwack, her family owning a small beef farm with eight or nine animals on six acres.

At Creekside Dairy, the Treurs would raise a steer or two for their own use. But this spring, they slaughtered and sold their first two commercial beef cows.

The two cows had calved once, but weren’t great milkers, Julaine said. The Treurs didn’t want to re-breed them, but also knew they wouldn’t get the price they wanted for an organic cow at auction.

“We decided to look into … getting the slaughtering and cutting and wrapping done custom, and then taking them back to the farm and selling them here,” Julaine said. “I put it on Facebook that we were interested in doing that and it just exploded. I couldn’t believe it actually.”

In two weekends, three-quarters of the meat was sold.

The plan is to keep the beef sales going, although as Julaine noted “we can’t just decide we want to get rid of all our milk cows either.” But the success of the sales and the connection to the customer has made the Treurs want to continue.

“We’ve really noticed since we sold the meat that it is really rewarding,” Johannes said. “It feels really rewarding to see the customer and they actually tell you that they liked the meat.”

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The family is also looking at other ways to bring the customer closer to the farm.

“We have a long-term plan,” Johannes said. “We’d also like to eventually go into processing our milk.”

“And if we do that then we’d like to open a real farm store,” Julaine added. “Sell beef and milk, maybe some yogurt, butter.”

The idea is still a vague one, as the Treurs had their first experimental batch of cheeses sitting on the kitchen counter during the interview. But it’s one that would help bring the next generation of Treurs into the dairy farming business.

“That’s kind of what we’re thinking too, that this is something good to have also for the kids,” Johannes said, adding that it would help bring “extra work” to the farm for their five kids to do in the future.

For now, the farm store is still an idea. But the rest of Creekside Dairy — the cows, the pasture, the beef cuts sitting in the barn freezer — is a solid reminder of the Treurs’ roots.

“You grow up in it and you know what it all entails,” Johannes said about his heritage of dairy farming. “You know all the ins and outs of it.”

Julaine nodded.

“It’s really just part of who you are as a person.”

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Connor Treur with one of the family’s cows. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Julaine and Johannes Treur in their dairy barn. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

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