Small Idaho dairy knows raw ingredients of success
MOYIE SPRINGS, Idaho – Springs of Hope didn’t set out to become an in-demand dairy specializing in raw whole milk.
When Sam and Danielle Wray bought the ranch in late 2008, their vision was to start a German Baptist Brethren youth ministry on 196 quiet acres of timberland and pasture at the base of Goat Mountain.
They had one cow, Bessie, to provide the family’s milk.
But neighbors – the closest one lives 2 miles away – took an interest, and soon enough Springs of Hope was supplying Sharon’s Country Store in Bonners Ferry with 10 to 15 gallons per week.
The creamery has been expanding – and struggling to keep up with demand – ever since.
“People are not very happy with us when we run out of Springs of Hope products,” said Michal Bennett, marketing and events coordinator at Pilgrim’s Market, which was the first store in Coeur d’Alene to carry them. “They made a name for themselves in (just over) three years.”
Since obtaining its license in 2010, Springs of Hope has grown its herd to some two dozen cows, expanded its distribution throughout North Idaho, and increased production. While raw whole milk remains its top-selling product, Springs of Hope also makes raw 1 percent chocolate milk, yogurt – plain, vanilla, raspberry and huckleberry – and, when there’s excess milk, which isn’t too often, raw cream.
The Grade A dairy plans to continue to grow and diversify while remaining small and family-owned. Income from the business goes back into the creamery and helps support the ministry, a Christian nonprofit that gives boys ages 12 to 15 a time and place to grow in their faith.
The dairy gives them work.
“It teaches them responsibility,” said Sam Wray, 57, director of the ministry and owner of the ranch.
He’s also the family patriarch, husband to Danielle, father of six – three boys, three girls, ages 17 to 36 – and grandfather of 13.
Originally from California, Wray moved to central Washington in 1990 with dreams of raising cattle and growing hay. When it proved difficult to make a go of it, he started a plumbing business to support the farm, eventually selling the farm.
He also helped found the German Baptist Brethren church in Ellensburg, where he served as a deacon.
After 19 years in Ellensburg, he moved north again – down gravel roads, through backwoods, and past signs warning this plot of land northeast of Bonners Ferry is grizzly and black bear habitat.
To the Wray family, it’s God’s country, and they believe they have an obligation to protect it.
While Springs of Hope isn’t a certified organic dairy, it uses sustainable agricultural practices, such as recycling manure and refraining from giving soy, corn or genetically modified feed to its animals. Wray also said he doesn’t use hormones, chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides on the property, which includes 50 acres of pasture surrounded by woods.
Last fall, in order to accommodate growth, the ranch completed a barn addition, more than doubling storage space for hay and compost.
While Springs of Hope yogurt is pasteurized – it must be in order for it to set – all other dairy products at the creamery are raw, providing – Wray said – “an alternative to drinking processed milk.”
Springs of Hope raw whole milk is “completely unprocessed. It goes from the cow into the tank into the jug to the stores.”
Advocates prize raw milk for its probiotics, enzymes, antibodies and rich, fresh taste. They also contend it tastes better and is better for you than its pasteurized counterpart.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Washington Department of Health caution against the consumption of raw milk.
“While it is possible to get foodborne illnesses from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest of all,” according to the DOH website.
Raw milk made headlines last month when the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed a nationwide ban on the sale of raw dairy products in a policy statement.
Pasteurization – heating milk to a temperature that kills bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and listeria – began in the late 1800s and became standard practice by the mid-20th century.
Today, Washington and Idaho are two of the 11 states that allow retail sales of raw milk; Oregon allows retail sale of raw sheep and goat milk. Most states allow raw milk sales in a limited capacity, such as at farm stands.
Still, its popularity is growing, despite the higher price. The cost of a gallon of pasteurized milk is about $4, compared to upward of $10 for a gallon of raw milk. It’s not unusual to see half-gallons of raw milk for $6 or $7.
Fans, like 28-year-old Spokane Valley mom Teresa Webb, believe raw milk is worth the higher price.
“It’s rich, wholesome, fresh. It’s a lot healthier. All the good bacteria and enzymes are not pasteurized out of it,” said Webb, who toured Springs of Hope last fall. She buys the creamery’s whole milk at Pilgrim’s Market in Coeur d’Alene and wanted to see where her food comes from.
Most of the herd at Springs of Hope is registered Brown Swiss.
“They’re hardier. They’re able to handle the cold weather better,” said 36-year-old dairy manager Brad Miller, Wray’s son-in-law and the only salaried employee at Springs of Hope. Everyone else is a volunteer, including church members who come from around the country to help.
The creamery produces about 80 gallons of milk per day.
“We have our own on-site lab, and we do daily testing of our milk,” said Wray, who is aware of the government’s and other groups’ concerns about raw milk.
“Raw milk is a living product,” Wray said. “It’s full of natural enzymes and bacteria that aid digestion. A lot of people that are lactose intolerant or can’t drink milk will drink our product and say they feel fine. We drink the milk ourselves. We want a healthy product for our family. And we want to supply that to the community.”
Springs of Hope plans to expand to about 30 cows and add cheese made from whole raw milk this year. Test batches of mozzarella and cheddar have already been in the works.
Meantime, the creamery is trying to keep up with demand.
“It’s taken off,” Wray said. “That’s a good problem.”