He who has water and peat on his own farm has the world his own way. -Old Irish proverb.

Category: Reflections (Page 1 of 2)

Litter-ally Disgusted

We live a half mile from the corner.

Just a half mile.  It’s not far.  

The kids and I decided to take a walk down the road to get a little exercise and enjoy the sunny afternoon.

We brought along a garbage bag to pick up some litter.

Can you believe we filled a 30-gallon black plastic garbage bag to the very, bursting top BEFORE we got halfway back?

People are pigs.

No, nevermind.  I’d hate to insult pigs.

Some people are just nasty and disrespectful and lazy.  GRRR.

Expectations

At a meeting the other day, I was fortunate enough to be in the same room with a some wonderful organic farmers from the CRAFT network.  Like most farmers, organic or not, they are hard workers, dedicated to wholesome food and healthy farms, and willing to take time out of their busy schedules to help others who share similar goals. 

The topic of the meeting was Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)–What Works and What Doesn’t.  I really enjoyed listening in on the conversation and found it super interesting to hear about the struggles that these farmers have with customer retention, optimum box sizes, keeping the vegetables fresh, season-extension, etc. I kind of felt like the proverbial fly-on-the-wall.  Except, of course, that instead of cleaning poop off my wings and leaving brown spots all over, I got to ask questions and make comments once in awhile.  Fun!

Something from the conversation struck me, though, that has been on my mind ever since.  A few farmers were very frustrated with a lack of participation at their on-farm events.  These farmers want their farm to be the place where people go to find good food, make friends and restore community.  Or maybe this is what they think their customers expect when they subscribe to their CSA?  

Fostering community is all good and wonderful, of course, but it also seems like a lot of pressure.  So not only do these vegetable farmers have to perform back-breaking labor, 10 hours a day, 6-8 months of the year for nominal pay, they now have to organize social events, provide a relatively clean space to socialize, remember everyone’s name, and provide the entertainment, the education or both.  I think I’d be in a coma before anyone even arrived. 

To me, this doesn’t sound like the community is supporting agriculture; it sounds like agriculture is supporting the community.

Which brings up the question:  Is this what people want and/or expect from farmers?  Because if so, then gosh I’m failing miserably.  Our yearly farm tour is hard enough and all we have to do is show people the animals and pastures and be available to answer a few questions.

—————————————————————– 

On another somewhat related note, I’ve recently read a few thought-provoking articles–rants, really–on the state of the good-food movement.  You can read them here and here.  In the first one, the author is obviously a meat-farmer like me and lays out what really needs to be done to change agriculture for the better. And yet the article is a veritable smack-down of people who act all uppity because they’ve participated in upscale farm-to-table dinners, purchased a few pounds of grassfed beef, or bought organic veggies a few times at the local farmers market.  Yikes and readers beware.

The second is written by a columnist for the New York Times and touches on whether our ‘I-eat-local’ snootiness is off-putting and hurts the very movement we’ve embraced.

If you have time, read the articles and let me know what you think.  I can relate to their feeling of frustration with so called food-snobs, but I find it interesting how they seem to come to different conclusions.  The first author seems to be saying “Do more!”  The second, “Don’t lecture me if I don’t do more!”  

And if you have a little more time, please tell me:  What do you expect from your farmer?

Egg Recall

If you live in a bubble, you may be unaware that there was a recall of a half billion eggs recently due to salmonella contamination. If you’re not in that bubble, you may wish you were–especially if you’re one of the 1,400+ people sickened by the salmonella in your breakfast burrito or western skillet.

As a small farmer and small-time egg producer, I’ve gotten lots of attention from the egg scandal. I’ve had friends post comments on Facebook telling others to buy safe eggs from Irish Grove Farms. I’ve had comments on this blog asking how I ensure our eggs are free from contamination. And just yesterday I was contacted by our local Channel 13 News team, wanting to come out to the farm and interview me about my supposed increase in customers since the recall. (I was at work, so unable to do the interview. Whew!)

Have I had an increase in customers after the recall? I honestly don’t know. But the reason I don’t know is because I had so many customers before the recall, an empty fridge and disappointed customers is nothing new around here.

The reason my eggs are in high demand, however, is not because they’re salmonella-free (even though they are). It’s because they’re so dang delicious.

A recent news release from Reuters about the FDA inspection at the two contaminated farms stated that, “During inspections conducted on August 19-26, officials found rodent holes and leaking manure at several locations run by Hillandale Farms of Iowa, and non-chicken feathers and live mice and flies at houses owned by Wright County Egg, according to reports posted on the FDA website.”

As a consumer, this sounds gross. I get it: rodents and birds are dirty and carry disease, as do flies. But as a farmer it sounds normal. Can you please take me to a farm that doesn’t have troubles with mice? Or flies? Or barn swallows and bats finding a way in?

Another article made it sound worse, though. At WebMD, it says, “FDA investigators found:

* Huge manure pits open to outside animals.
* Evidence that rodents, wild birds, and other animals could enter the henhouses via missing siding and gaps in doors and walls.
* Actual sightings of rodents, birds, and bird nests inside the facilities.
* So many live flies that they were crushed underfoot on walkways. Maggots “too numerous to count” were seen in at least one manure pit.
* Farm workers went from henhouse to henhouse without cleaning their tools or changing their shoes or clothing — which can spread germs between houses.
* Uncaged birds tracked manure from the pits to the laying houses.

Some of the egg-producing hens were caged above manure pits four to eight feet deep. The weight of these vast manure pits had burst open outside doors.”

OK. So some flies and mice are bad. But manure pits bursting open doors and live flies crunching underfoot is ghastly. *Shudder*

The part that has been overlooked, though , is that the egg-wash water was contaminated with salmonella. According to the Reuters article, “DA officials also said inspectors found salmonella in a water sample collected from a Hillandale Farms plant. The sample came from spent egg-wash water, or water used to wash the exterior of eggs traveling down conveyor belts to the packing facility, said Jeff Farrar, FDA’s associate commissioner for food protection. DeYoung (a spokeswoman from Hillandale–Jackie’s note) said eggs at Hillandale are also rinsed with water containing chlorine as an additional step to kill bacteria.”

This is where the public doesn’t understand what’s going on. You may think that a final chlorine wash will kill the bacteria on the shell and all is well. Except for one major, glaring problem: Egg shells are porous! They have little tiny microscopic holes throughout the entire shell!

If egg shells were air-tight, how could a baby chick could breathe during development? The tiny holes in shells allow air to enter the shell, and if air can get in, so can egg-wash water. Egg-wash water contaminated with salmonella, in this case.

This is something all egg producers know. And it is why small flock owners like myself that sell “Nest Run Eggs”–meaning they aren’t processed (washed, graded, candled) for commercial sale–don’t wash the eggs! The eggs are wiped clean, perhaps, with a damp cloth, any nest bedding materials is flicked off, and the eggs get put in the carton as is. (If I collect a ‘poopy egg’, as I so technically call them, I throw it away if it’s really bad, or I eat if myself if it’s passable, washing it directly before use.)

When a hen lays an egg, it’s wet. The wet layer on the surface of the shell is a protective coating made of protein (called a cuticle) that keeps bacteria from entering the shell. When you wash an egg this coating is lost and bacteria can pass freely into the egg. Washing eggs for a store or for market, which I can do as a licensed Egg Broker, is tricky. You must use the hottest water possible, to make the insides of the egg expand and effectively push back on the water trying to enter. If you use cool water, the opposite will happen and the egg will absorb the dirty water.

So don’t be fooled when a company says they can use dirty wash-water because they give the egg a final chlorine rinse. It’s not the shell you should worry about in this instance, it’s the egg inside–swimming around with salmonella-wash-water. Mm, mm, good.

So what can we do? Well, we can follow the American Egg Board’s recommendations: Cook eggs until the whites and yolks are firm, meaning no more eggs-over-easy or sunny-side-up, no more soft-boiled eggs, no more raw eggs in smoothies….and goodbye eggnog and custards.

And/or you can buy Nest Run Eggs from local producers with healthy birds and wash the eggs directly before use.

And/or you can buy eggs from trusted, preferably small producers that wash their eggs following safety procedures and cleanliness standards.

If you decide to buy eggs from Irish Grove Farms, though, and please do….the problem you encounter may lie more in a lack of eggs than in the quality.  Consider yourself fore-warned.

Letter to the Editor

A local foods advocate published an article in the local Rockford Register Star about the health and environmental benefits of pastured meats. Sure enough, a rebuttal of sorts was written as a letter to the editor. Here’s what it said:

The article about pasture-fed meat (“Pasture-fed meat packed with benefits,” Go, June 17, 2009) contained several misconceptions.

Livestock raised on pastures is not less stressed or healthier. According to researchers in Canada, Australia and Germany, the opposite is true.

Livestock raised in pastures — also called “free-ranged” — is more prone to diseases and parasites and is exposed to weather extremes, including cold, rain and wind. Such animals are also more vulnerable to wild predators, such as coyotes, and must constantly forage for food and places to rest. As a result, mortality rates are higher.

Feedlots and other confinement systems enable producers to closely monitor the health of animals under their care.

As to the statement that meat from pasture-fed livestock contains higher levels of omega-3 fats: Omega-3 fat is found in soybeans and fish meal — feed ingredients not available to pasture-fed animals but commonly fed to animals raised in feedlots.

Pasture-feeding is not more environment-friendly. Animals on range often foul streams and waterways. On the other hand, feedlot cattle recycle food that consumers do not want to eat.

Ever wonder what happens to all that stale bread at the grocery store? It is fed to animals in feedlots.

As you can see, the guy’s logic is a little screwy. Anyways, the local foods advocate asked me to write a rebuttal to his rebuttal, as I am a pasture-based farmer. Here’s my letter (hoping the paper doesn’t let this go on and on):

As manager of a grass-finished beef operation, I find Mr. ___________’s rebuttal to your article on pasture-fed meats interesting. He is correct that feedlots recycle many unwanted food items. Stale bread may not alarm anyone, but The Wall Street Journal reported that feedlot cattle also recycle “cookies, licorice, cheese curls, frosted wheat cereal, Tater Tots, Kit Kat bars, uncooked French fries, pretzels and chocolate bars.”

Feedlot operators monitor the health of their herd by assuming they are all sick. After reading that feed list, I don’t blame them. As a result, all feedlot cattle receive daily doses of antibiotics to “preserve health”. In contrast, pastured animals are naturally healthy and receive daily doses of sunshine, fresh grass, and the freedom to move about. Antibiotics are rarely needed for a pastured animal (and never used on organic cattle).

Cows shouldn’t eat fish and can produce Omega 3’s on their own by eating grass. Cow waste should drop onto a grassy field where it fertilizes the soil. And yes, cows can die–either of natural causes or unnatural living conditions. I invite the public to visit both a feedlot and a pasture-based farm. Inform yourself and support whichever farm-model you find acceptable.

I know I left a lot out, but had to keep it to 200 words. Anyways, I tend to be a bit long-winded. We’ve got to think of the poor newspaper-reading public, you know.

Of Life and Death

The last time I wrote about learning opportunities I was scoffing at a silly mistake I made that could have broken a part on our tractor. In all honesty I was making a joke to deflect my embarrassment at being a dope. A dope that forgot to unplug the tractor before she drove it.
What I’ve come to realize, however, is that being a dope and breaking a tractor part or two is the least of my worries when it comes to the farm. The farm is about more than that. It’s about more than a simple tractor part, and it’s definitely about more than my silly vanity and pride.
The farm is about life and death. Life and death. It’s as simple and basic as that.
The lessons I need to learn and the opportunities that have arisen to provide me with those very lessons have been numerous and varied this spring, as are the emotions that come with the living and dying on this farm. These circumstances have come at a time when I have been feeling impatient with the farm’s progress, with the organic conversion, and with the cows who hadn’t calved and who also hadn’t been very cooperative in my new grazing systems. “I’ve been at this three years,” I kept muttering. “It shouldn’t still be this difficult.”
Yet three years didn’t prepare me for this:

This is our bull and a pregnant cow lying dead in our pasture. They were struck by lightning during a thunderstorm.

Two good cows gone. All of a sudden my grazing difficulties don’t seem all that important. Instead, my impatience was transformed into dismay and concern. Our bull was so gentle and easy-going. How could we replace him? And this mother cow was one of our lead cows, not to mention that she was due to calve any day now. Death on the farm. It happens, but who expects to find this scene after a routine thunderstorm?

The cows were extremely distressed, so we moved them to another pasture so we could remove the carcasses. In fact, I think it was stress that put one heifer into labor. Our very first calf of the season was born that night. Ironically, the bull’s first offspring was born the day he died:

We named her Storm. And she is a beautiful, spunky little Murray Grey.
Life and death at the hands of a lightning bolt.

The shock wore off after a few days as I busied myself with smaller farmer duties–you know, the ones I like to do because I can manage them. The ones that rookies can’t screw up. (And if we do, we can write funny little stories about them.)

But then my favorite heifer was in labor, number 11, and she was in trouble. She had progressed to the point where the calf’s hooves were coming out and then stalled. We let her work for 2 hours wondering if we should pull the calf or let her alone. A cow will suspend her labor if stressed, so if you bother her too soon you’ll cause problems. And yet if you let her go too long, both she and her calf could die.
As a rookie, I have no experience in making these calls. And the literature says you just have to have a “feel” for it. Great. That’s helpful.
Finally we decided to pull it. We corralled her into the chute and called Farmer Scott from down the road. He’s a dairy farmer and is absolutely not a rookie. He showed us how to hook the chains around the calf’s second foot joint and then how to pull it down and away from her backbone. He and Marcel strained, and I mean strained, for about 10 minutes. They got the calf out and he lived, but barely. And number 11 was OK. Ahhh, life. Sweet, sweet life.
Disaster was averted and a lesson was learned.
Or so I thought. Because today we lost one. A nice large heifer calf died because we didn’t pull her soon enough. We acted quicker than last time, but the placental bag hadn’t broken. Farmer Scott came to help once more and told us that if the bag isn’t broken in time, the mother can’t get enough traction to push the calf out and the calf suffocates.
I had seen the intact bag and thought it had meant there was time. Precious time, ticking away for that poor little heifer calf. “It’s hard to say,” said Farmer Scott. “Sometimes an intact bag means you should leave the mother alone a little longer. You just have to get a feel for it.”
There it is again. That “feel” thing. The way I see it, the “feel for it” is a farmer’s way of saying you need to be experienced enough to know. And as easy as it may be to learn to drive a tractor or make good hay, this calving thing is throwing me for a loop. A very precarious loop. After two difficult births, it’s hard to say if I’m really getting a “feel” for calving or not. The first time we waited longer and had a live calf. The second time we acted and it wasn’t soon enough.
I am, however, getting a “feel” for the ups and downs of farming. The joys and sorrows. The celebrations, the frustrations…the life and death of it. I’m just not sure I have enough experience to know how to deal with it.

Selling the Farm

If there is one thing that repeatedly upsets me, it’s seeing a ‘For Sale’ sign in the middle of a corn field.

‘For Sale’ due to foreclosure. ‘For Sale’ because of a job transfer. ‘For Sale’ because of a death in the family. ‘For Sale’ because the kids have all moved away and there is no one left to run the farm. ‘For Sale’ because I’m just plain tired of working all the time.

There are a million and one reasons to sell the farm. And I, someday, may claim one of them as reason to sell my share of this farm, God forbid.

I think, though, that the most common reason to sell the farm is this: Mom and Dad are retiring, and it’s time for us kids to cash in on the American Dream.

Is there anything wrong with that? Honestly, it’s everyone’s right to claim their inheritance and to transform that land into whatever currency most fits their lifestyle. And a lot of times, selling the farm is the most practical, obvious solution to the ‘problem’ of inheriting a farm.

So why does it bother me so much?

On an intellectual level, if I could be so bold to claim that I even have an intellectual level, it makes sense. I get it. But on an emotional level (which I definitely have), it kills me.

Especially because reality dictates that whoever purchases the farm will likely be a developer waiting to turn that farm into houses. Or they will be an absent landowner, renting your land out to the lowest bidder who doesn’t much care if they degrade the soil. Or, if your farm is most unfortunate, it may go to a businessman who also has a dream, a dream that looks a lot like an industrial ‘park’ or ethanol plant or landfill.

From my point of view, land is constant. It is sustenance. It connects us to our past. It shapes us into who we are.

The land educates and humbles. It defines and enables. It inspires.

Our farmland provides for us. It is space to move about, to use or preserve. It permits us to be. It is our culture, our heritage, our rural treasure.

Farmland to a Midwesterner is home.

So you see, when that ‘For Sale’ sign goes up, we trade in our past, our culture and our heritage for a swollen bank account. And while land’s value lies in its preservation, money’s value lies in it’s use. Land is worth something only when it is cared for and loved. Money is only useful when it is spent. And while the land will always be there, the money doesn’t offer any guarantees.

Land is the loving spouse. Money is the love affair.

So, children of farmers, I want to remind you that the American Dream wasn’t always a large bank account*. It used to be a parcel of land to call our own. A place to be and become.

The American Dream was a farm. May it be that way once more.

*If farm ownership isn’t practical for you, or if you really do need the money, please look into a Farmland Conservation Easement. What usually happens with an easement is that you sell or donate the development rights of your farm to an easement holding company. While lowering the cash value of your property, you do receive tax incentives and your land can only be sold as farmland for perpetuity. Please check out your options at American Farmland Trust. Locally, the Natural Land Institute can help you discover your options.
*A second local option would be to contact The Land Connection. They work with would-be-farmers to help them find and purchase available farmland.

When You Live in the Country

When you live in the country, you can park your vehicle in the middle of the road.

You can leave the keys in the ignition in your vehicle in the middle of the road.

You can even leave the engine running with the keys in the ignition in your vehicle in the middle of the road.

And ain’t nobody gonna come along and steal your vehicle.

I love living in the country.

An Op-Ed from Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson

Seeing as I’m on a Wendell Berry kick, I figured I’d copy and paste this article here for your reading enjoyment. It is an Op-Ed piece written by Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson (founder of The Land Institute of Kansas). It was published in the New York Times on January 4, 2009.

A 50-Year Farm Bill

By WES JACKSON and WENDELL BERRY
Published: January 4, 2009

THE extraordinary rainstorms last June caused catastrophic soil erosion in the grain lands of Iowa, where there were gullies 200 feet wide. But even worse damage is done over the long term under normal rainfall — by the little rills and sheets of erosion on incompletely covered or denuded cropland, and by various degradations resulting from industrial procedures and technologies alien to both agriculture and nature.
Soil that is used and abused in this way is as nonrenewable as (and far more valuable than) oil. Unlike oil, it has no technological substitute — and no powerful friends in the halls of government.

Agriculture has too often involved an insupportable abuse and waste of soil, ever since the first farmers took away the soil-saving cover and roots of perennial plants. Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland. This irremediable loss, never enough noticed, has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice.

To the problem of soil loss, the industrialization of agriculture has added pollution by toxic chemicals, now universally present in our farmlands and streams. Some of this toxicity is associated with the widely acclaimed method of minimum tillage. We should not poison our soils to save them.

Industrial agricultural has made our food supply entirely dependent on fossil fuels and, by substituting technological “solutions” for human work and care, has virtually destroyed the cultures of husbandry (imperfect as they may have been) once indigenous to family farms and farming neighborhoods.

Clearly, our present ways of agriculture are not sustainable, and so our food supply is not sustainable. We must restore ecological health to our agricultural landscapes, as well as economic and cultural stability to our rural communities.

For 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe that as long as we have money we will have food. That is a mistake. If we continue our offenses against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy. The government will bring forth no food by providing hundreds of billons of dollars to the agribusiness corporations.

Any restorations will require, above all else, a substantial increase in the acreages of perennial plants. The most immediately practicable way of doing this is to go back to crop rotations that include hay, pasture and grazing animals.

But a more radical response is necessary if we are to keep eating and preserve our land at the same time. In fact, research in Canada, Australia, China and the United States over the last 30 years suggests that perennialization of the major grain crops like wheat, rice, sorghum and sunflowers can be developed in the foreseeable future. By increasing the use of mixtures of grain-bearing perennials, we can better protect the soil and substantially reduce greenhouse gases, fossil-fuel use and toxic pollution.

Carbon sequestration would increase, and the husbandry of water and soil nutrients would become much more efficient. And with an increase in the use of perennial plants and grazing animals would come more employment opportunities in agriculture — provided, of course, that farmers would be paid justly for their work and their goods.

Thoughtful farmers and consumers everywhere are already making many necessary changes in the production and marketing of food. But we also need a national agricultural policy that is based upon ecological principles. We need a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities.

This is a political issue, certainly, but it far transcends the farm politics we are used to. It is an issue as close to every one of us as our own stomachs.

Wes Jackson is a plant geneticist and president of The Land Institute in Salina, Kan. Wendell Berry is a farmer and writer in Port Royal, Ky.

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Wendell Berry and the Local Library

Our local library is very quaint. It has a great children and youth section, and large, comfortable facilities. The librarians are nice and helpful, they have story hour for little ones, they host meetings and events for different local entities, and they work nicely with the local schools.

My only complaint lies with their adult reading selection. Or lack thereof. This could, admittedly, be due to the fact that I read almost strictly non-fiction. And, well, unless I want to read the next political manifesto (which I don’t) or find the (newest) secret to financial success, I’m out of luck.

Our library has both a fiction and a non-fiction bookshelf near the front door where they display the newest selections. Seriously, out of maybe 40 non-fiction books, I’d say close to half are about losing weight or healthy cooking. Another large percentage has either a strong religious slant or the typical new-age “Love Thyself, Heal Thyself” theme.

And I can’t decide whether those categories are complimentary or contradictory.

But what really has me confused is why our library, in a small, rural town–a town that is (or at least used to be) agriculturally-based, has so few books about farming or backyard gardening? Why no books like The Rural Rennaissance by John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist, or something about revitalizing small-town America? Why can’t I find a book like the Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery or anything about the local foods movement?

And why, why-oh-why did nothing (nothing!!) come up when I typed ‘Wendell Berry’ into the computerized card catalog? Wendell Berry, folks. Perhaps the most ardent advocate for family farms and small town America. A man who champions rural culture. A man who has painstakingly documented and vociferously protested the rise of industrial agriculture and the subsequent demise of the small family farm (and their local rural communities). A man whose books should be showcased in our small town library.

I have to admit it. I was a little incredulous that our library didn’t have anything by Wendell Berry. Especially since Berry has written many charming novels about a fictional rural town in Kentucky that lovingly and realistically depict life in small town America, and our library loves fiction.

I thought to myself, “maybe I spelled his name wrong or did something wrong on the computer search page.” So I asked the librarian to help me.

“Do you know if we have any books by Wendell Berry?” I asked nicely.

“Hmmn, Wendell Berry. I’ve never heard of him. Let’s check,” she replied sweetly.

To which my head is screaming, “NEVER HEARD OF HIM????”

“No, Jackie, I don’t see anything. If you have a specific title in mind I could get it for you on the intra-library loan,” she added.

Now this librarian is the nicest, sweetest lady ever. She is exactly the type of small-town person that Wendell Berry exemplifies in his books. The one who knows your name. The one who knows who your family is, where you live, and that your grandfather is sick. The one who marvels at how big your children are and who will thank you profusely for that 25 cent donation you put in the Friends of the Library jar.

Of course not everyone is going to know Wendell Berry.

But in a world that values speed and efficiency over mindfulness and quality…..

in a world that promotes upward mobility and independence over strong communities and neighborly responsibility……

in a world that teaches our own, small-town rural kids that in order to be successful they must abandon their birthplace, their family, their rural heritage and move to the city…..

isn’t it a shame that we’ve never even heard of the one person who advocates for us, who values us, who champions us?

What more evidence do we need that we bought the party line? That we lost ourselves and our community somewhere inbetween financial success, upward mobility and individual achievement and recognition?

We drank the punch, people, and it’s killing us.

Maybe if we stopped reading “Fat-Free Cooking Means a Fat-Free Me” books and instead read The Unsettling of America, Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry, we could do away with the “Love Thyself, Heal Thyself” books altogether.

*Disclaimer: All of the unattributed titles above were made up. But I wouldn’t be surprised if these are real titles to real books. If so, my apologies (and a good finger-wagging) to the authors.

Choose the Light

I had a writing teacher once that said, “You can write for the dark or you can write for the light. Choose the light.” She was referring to the dark side of her craft–writing–which would include things like tabloids, smut, etc. But I find her advice wise for any craft. Choose the light. Work for the good.

In farming, the “dark” represents choosing profit over environmental health. The “dark” represents the subsidies that make it all but impossible for a small farmer to compete against corporate agriculture. The “dark” represents choosing secrecy about our farming practices over providing consumers the information they need to choose whether they want to support our decisions and our farming practices by buying and eating what we produce. The “dark” is embodied by agribusiness, the FDA, and, at times, the USDA.

I am not anti-profit motive. I’m seriously not. I believe that farmers must make a profit, and a healthy one at that, in order to sustain their land and make good environmental investments and decisions. But you can’t choose money above everything. We can’t let money trump our responsibility to be good environmental stewards.

And in support of full disclosure, I also receive a subsidy check in the mail every October that is literally a lifesaver for our farm. (The subsidy I receive is peanuts compared to what the big players receive. Not even peanuts….perhaps just the peanut shells.) But I support eliminating subsidies to level the playing field. It might hurt us in the short run, but eventually we’d be able to compete without feeling the pressure to get big or get out.

What really gets me, though, is the FDA and big agriculture stance on labeling. Why, why, why are we so fearful of letting consumers know what’s in their food, how it was produced, and where? If we farmers choose to be part of the light, to produce healthy food in healthy and humane ways, what do we have to fear?

In case you’re unaware, dairy farmers who choose to not inject their cows with a genetically modified hormone–rBGH–are legally unable to label their milk rBGH-free. It is literally against the law to label their milk rBGH-free. Many, many consumers say they do not want to buy this milk and that they are willing to pay a premium for milk that is free of rBGH.

So what’s the problem? There are a million-gazillion different types of everything at the grocery store from which to choose. I mean, who knew there could so many different ways to take corn syrup, add fake flavors and colors, and squish it into various shapes to make fruit snacks? There are literally 20 feet of shelf space dedicated to this crap! Could it be so difficult, then, to offer two types of milk in the dairy case? No one has gone freakin’ crazy over the placement of a sugar cereal next to a sugar-free one, now have they?

Next we have genetically engineered animals. That’s right. They have actually taken a goat and genetically engineered it to have spider genes so that their milk will produce silk fibers. It doesn’t get much crazier than that. And I thought our goats could climb!! Holy crap, we need to build higher fences, Marcel!!

Personally, I can’t wait to see the day when I find our goats swinging through the trees on silk threads hanging from their teats. But that’s just me. I’m weird like that.

Did I forget that part where pigs have been genetically altered, adding mouse genes so that they can better metabolize their food? What the…..?? I mean, they’re pigs! They eat, snort, root around and get fat! It can’t get much simpler, folks.

Hmmn, grilled mouse-chops. I hadn’t yet thought of that, but in a pinch…. “Um, honey? Looks like we’ll need to upgrade our mouse traps to a size XXXXXL.”

This is not the work of small farmers, folks. This is the work of scientists that work for the dark. But unfortunately those scientists wield power. And pretty soon, when the meat market collapses out of sheer disgust, we’ll all pay the price.

Consumers should be allowed to choose between the dark and the light. And when farmers make the right choice, the “light” choice, we should be able to label it clearly and be compensated for it.

Amen.

Visit www.NotInMyFood.org to voice your opposition with the FDA, and for more information about genetically engineered animals.

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