Written by Jen Haugen
Are there antibiotics in milk we purchase for our families? That’s a question Megan Sukalski will answer. (Plus she shares a super easy Crock Pot Chicken Taco recipe too!) Megan is a crop farmer’s wife, a dairy farmer’s daughter, and a stay-at-home mom to two young boys, Higgins and Gavin. A former Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalist (a contest for dairy-passionate young women to represent and advance the knowledge about dairy in Minnesota), Megan now volunteers with CommonGround, an organization to connect moms that grow food to moms that buy food for their families.
I met Megan in June 2015 when we shared a table together at a CommonGround event in Minneapolis. I loved her gentleness, her intelligence about all things dairy and we connected because we are both moms. While her kids are a bit younger than mine, we traded a few stories and Megan even shared some of her worries as a mom, which were not unlike my own.
Let’s meet Megan.
Share a little of your mom-life with us…How do you start your mornings?
“Hopefully before the boys wake up to enjoy a cup of coffee while it’s still hot! The boys need breakfast right away so we start with that. Usually it’s a rotation of waffles, French toast, yogurt, oatmeal, and fruit. Then I start a load of laundry and get us ready for our adventure of the day! If it’s nice out, the boys could be outside playing before 7:00 a.m.”
Give us a few highlights of your day…
“We take advantage of many of the activities that are offered in in our community, including swimming lessons, library programs and nature walks. Mornings are the go-go time and afternoons are usually for resting and crafts. The boys are good at independent play so that leaves me adequate time to ag-vocate online! During the spring and harvest we try to see Andrew in the field to get tractor rides and have snacks. There is just something about eating snacks in the tractor or in the field with daddy! Since the boys are still young, our days don’t change much and we still have a routine but every day is something new. Next year I hope to add gardening to our days. A year ago in June, a tornado went through our acreage and we are in the planning process of building a new house and landscaping so there wasn’t a great spot for a garden this year. We love our abundant supply of potted flowers though!”
What’s your recipe to creating a nourishing life for yourself and your family?
“From everything to food to fun, I believe in being flexible and living in moderation. When the boys turned 6 months old I started feeding them using a baby-led weaning method. This means they never received baby food or purees. They got finger size strips of everything we eat. I believe this helped them develop a well-rounded taste. I have never really dieted and don’t want my boys to have a mom that is obsessed with what she eats and won’t have an ice cream cone with them or treats at the county fair. I also let the boys eat dessert and the occasional pack of fruit snacks for treats. I limit sugar but do not avoid. Just like in life, the boys understand that we can play outside on hot days if we drink plenty of water and also come in the house to cool off and rest. Or to be flexible, sometimes we just drop everything and drive two hours to my hometown to spend the day with my parents. The boys get time with their grandma and grandpa and I get to see my cows!”
What do you struggle with as a mom when feeding your family?
“I sometimes feel guilty about the foods I feed my family. I see many moms buying organic and natural foods, and I sometimes wonder about whether I should be buying those foods as well. But I realize we all have our own choices. And as a farmer’s wife, I know the foods I feed my family are safe. I’m not worried about the choices I have in my kitchen. Yes, my kids eat sugar once in a while and we may have a frozen pizza for dinner one night, but we also have fruit and vegetables at every meal and healthy snacks. My children are healthy and I know the food we consume is safe – yet it’s easy to get wrapped up into the buzz about food. One more struggle? Believing my child is getting all the nutrients he needs when he goes days with only eating waffles, grapes, dried cranberries, and chocolate milk! I know I need to look at the big picture and that his preferences change from week to week, but it is still frustrating when they refuse to eat a meal I made.”
What’s your role on the farm?
“I take care of the boys and help move farm equipment to the fields. Also keeping up with laundry!”
When it’s busy on the farm and you need a portable dinner, what do you like to prepare and serve?
“My mom served a hotdish (chicken noodle), warm bread, and hot chocolate on chilly harvest days. Now it seems to just be sandwiches, cut up veggies, and chips if I’m packing it! My mother-in-law manages much of the food preparation for the guys in the field. They prefer her meals over mine any day in the field!”
What do you value most in life?
“My priorities are my family and my faith. They always have been but lately they are more predominant. This is where I am meant to be at this time in my life, I have no doubt about that. Being a responsible, caring, generous, kind, loving, fun person is how I want my children to see me.”
As a farm family, what’s one thing you would like to say to other moms who are in the grocery stores buying foods for their families?
“I would walk you through the dairy aisle and share with you this: All dairy products are safe and nutritious. You won’t find antibiotic residue in any milk products whether they are labeled as such or not. It is so important for us as farmers to provide safe, high quality and nutritious food. We take antibiotic treatment very seriously. I am a mother and a farmer and my children eat the foods my family produces.”
Megan also shares insight into antibiotics on the dairy farm:
“Antibiotics are actually a last resort for us on our dairy farm. As a compassionate person, I will not stand by and watch an animal suffer though when she could be given antibiotics to help her feel better. Treating the cow with antibiotics is a decision made after talking with the veterinarian. And there are several steps we follow to make sure the milk from the treated cow does not enter our milk tank or the milk supply.
- The cow that is treated receives a red leg band, and huge a orange X from a paint stick on her upper legs.
- All the treatments and dosages are documented on a white board in our milk house and also on that particular cow’s record.
- When the cow is milked, she is milked very last and the milk goes directly into a bucket and never into the main line or our bulk tank.
- The milk is then disposed of and the unit and all other supplies are thoroughly washed and sanitized. The cow is milked this way for the entire milk with-hold period or even longer.
- On our farm, we send in a sample of the treated cows milk to be tested before it is allowed to enter our bulk supply.
- When the test comes back clear of all antibiotic residue, she is back to milking with the rest of the herd.
- When our milk is picked up to take to the processing facility, the driver of the milk tanker takes a sample of the milk from our bulk tank.
- Before the tanker is unloaded at the creamery, a sample is taken from the tanker.
- If the sample does not contain any antibiotics the tanker is unloaded and the milk is processed. If it contains any antibiotics, the entire tanker is discarded and all the samples from the farms that were on that tanker are tested so the farmer responsible for the antibiotic contamination will be charged the cost of the tanker of milk and will be fined. A very expensive risk.”
Thank you Megan for sharing your story and your recipe with us! Whether it’s getting our kids to eat nutritious meals or wondering about the foods we purchase in the supermarket, there are many moms out there that have the same struggles and values (myself included!). If you would like to know more about the women of CommonGround, visit the website: www.findourcommonground.com.
Jen Haugen, RDN, LD is a mom, award-winning registered dietitian and writer. Read more CommonGround Mom2Mom Features from Jen Haugen at her “Down-To-Earth Dietitian” blog, www.jenhaugen.com.