Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Bad Eggs

I'm sure everyone has heard about the big egg recall by now.  Even though I have plenty of my own fresh eggs to eat, I still keep up on food related news.  We sold out of eggs quickly last week and I've already had preorders for this week as well.  It's a shame that it takes thousands of people getting sick to get some people to think about how their food is grown or where it comes from.

Most adults realize that advertising lies to us at times to get us to buy a certain product.  Here at the farm, we gladly accept clean used egg cartons (along with canning jars and plastic bags)  both to keep our costs down and to be eco-friendly.  Because of this, I frequently see how commercial egg producers try and paint a picture of themselves as small friendly farms rather than the monstrous factories that they really are.  Locally, the affected brand is Hillandale Farms and I see those cartons all the time, much more frequently than the organic free range advertising ones.   It is noted on the front that they are distributed by farms in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Iowa and when you open the carton there is a large printed American flag along with the words "Thank you for purchasing Hillandale Farms eggs! Just 12 (or 18) eggs to you, but a reputation to us!"  

While that practically screams that they care about you personally,  the AP article in our local paper painted a very different reputation than implied on the package.  550,000,000 eggs recalled.  1,300 people officially ill, with probably many more affected who didn't seek medical treatment.  I've seen estimates that guess for every one case confirmed, as many as 30 others get food poisoning. in this case, that would up the number of sickened people to as many as 36,000.   As if that wasn't bad enough, DeCoster Egg Farms, the other farm involved in the recall, was also fined in 1994 for environmental violations concerning hog waste, being designated a "habitual violator" in 2000.  In 1997, the affiliate farm in Maine was described as being "as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop" by the nation's labor secretary. In 2002, the farm reached a $1.5 million settlement with an employment discrimination lawsuit filed by Mexican women who were sexually harassed, retaliated against, and even raped on the job. The farms have been the subject of multiple raids by immigration, with 51 illegal workers arrested in 2007.  And as recently as June of this year, the farm paid $25,000 in penalties and $100,000 to the Maine Department of Agriculture over videotaped instances of animal cruelty.  While the paper didn't go into details on the latter, I found a web article by Maine Public Broadcasting stating the tapes showed "birds crammed into cages with inadequate food and water; birds left untreated for injuries and illnesses and live birds swung by the neck and thrown in the trash."

Surveys consistently show that Americans support small family farms and don't want food that comes from the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFO's (aka "factory farms").  I highly doubt there are many customers looking to support any company that mistreats animals, disregards environmental regulations, hires illegal immigrants, rapes them, and exposes employees to highly dangerous conditions.  Yet they are still in business.  Why?  It says to me that our food system is broken.  That people want to care, but don't know how to start changing their food buying habits.  The government doesn't make it easy to find out about these things, thanks in large part to the lobbies of various big agriculture players. These lobbyists are also buying off Congressmen and -women to prevent the passing of harsh laws that would protect consumers and put places like this out of business, all in the name of protecting the American way of free trade and capitalism. For consumers, it's far more convenient to just pick up whatever brand they are carrying at Wal-Mart than take personal responsibility for those workers and birds we'll never meet face to face.  I'm as guilty as anyone else; before I met my husband I didn't grow my own food and thought very little about who did.  It only hits home when people you know and love can get sick or even die from something as routine as eating breakfast!  

The only way, in my opinion, to fight this is to stay small.  If you, as a consumer, find a farm you can support, tell a friend or two.  Write the farm a good review here on LocalHarvest or other similar sites so others will know what these farms are all about.  Be bold and ask questions about where your food comes from, not only to the farmers at the markets, but to the manager at your favorite local eatery.  Businesses aim to give the customers what they want, and if enough of us ask for local and sustainable, we can make a difference.  And for those of you who visit our farm and other small farms like it, you are the difference that allows us to stay in business doing what we love, treating the animals, humans, and environment that we share with love and respect.



I feel like I've been neglecting my blog, but it's just been so busy here!  We've been busy planting, and with the much needed rain we're getting this weekend, I'm sure the potatoes, onions and other seedlings will be sprouting in no time!

I did take some time earlier this week to finally get around to watching the movie Food, Inc.   Honestly, I didn't think I'd learn much by watching it since I've got Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and several of Joel Salatin's books on my bookshelf, but I was wrong.  It's a great movie for anyone, it's very approachable for folks who don't have a lot of prior knowledge about food safety or agriculture.  Parts of it certainly are depressing, from a mother who lost her child to e. coli to the seed-cleaning farmer who was sued out of business by Monsanto- my heart broke watching. However, it was the ending that has really stayed with me- a hard working farmer telling the camera that farmers want to do the right thing, all consumers have to do is ask, and America's farmers will find a way.  Watching that part, I felt so empowered.  

The Gandhi quote "Be the change you want to see in the world" keeps running through my head.  Our animals are raised naturally and humanely, free to enjoy the outdoors, where they can express their pigness, cowness, chickenness...where a row of potatoes may veer to the side a bit because it seems unnecessary and cruel to run the rototiller over the killdeer's nest for the sake of symmetry...where the stream that runs through the pasture is able to be a great habitat for trout and frogs downstream...where the food is safe, honest, and healthy.  All these things are so important, and so often overlooked.  

When I was studying for my Master's in Social Work, I learned about lots of great people who changed the world for the better- women's rights, civil rights- and the fact that a group of caring people changing the face of our country always struck me as so inspiring.  I thought that I would never have an issue in my lifetime that could be so revolutionary as desegregating schools or getting women the right to vote. It seemed like all the good causes were already taken, so to speak. The more I learn about the way our food is mass produced, and the effects it has on the citizens of this country, especially children, the more I come to realize that this is my issue.  And it is something I'm fighting, every time we plant an heirloom vegetable seed here, every time we sell a dozen eggs we collect by hand, every time we sell meat that was raised and processed like a living creature rather than a protein-producing machine.  I can get up every morning, look in the mirror, and say "I am the change I want to see."  It's powerful, and awe-inspiring.  You can help be that change too, every time you choose to buy your food from a farmer or a restaurant that gets its food locally.  If we all do it often enough, we really will change the world.

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