Michael Pollan said it best in his book "The Omnivore’s Dilemma". He said that each and every day we make a choice on what to eat and that choice has a greater environmental impact then we think. For some there is no thought of where the food comes from just who is preparing it for consumption. Pollan was pointing out that the "Where the food came from" question is not present in the day to day normal cognitive process of deciding what to eat.
As a nation of eaters most of us don't realize that the food choices we make affect our environment. We have been so far removed from the making of our food that we have no idea what goes in it. Not only has this been perpetrated by the IFC but it was done specially to avoid the kind of scrutiny that the local farm movement is generating.
If we don’t see that beef processing companies import beef from other countries to make our hamburgers how can we make a value judgment at purchase time. I’ll bet you think that when you buy a hamburger, that it comes from a cow that at least lived in North America. That is not necessarily the case as has been recently pointed out in a lawsuit against a big meat packer.
No thought is given that the beef patty sitting on the bun before us has a relationship to the raised hormone levels in the water table and estrogen levels in male bass. But at its base that is what our choice to eat comes down to. Every day we decide to further the cause of local sustainable agriculture or benefit the Industrial Food Complex.
On one hand you have the small independent farmer that is trying to squeeze out a living by carefully tending the land and their animals for social, environmental, economic and human sustainability. On the other side is the vast IFC with ever increasing ways of chemically altering food, milk and juices for the sole purpose of producing these products in the least expensive way to gain the most profit. That in it of itself isn't bad, but it is the consistent failures resulting in illnesses, death and environmental degradation that make their practices deplorable.
That is how in the past most robber-barons made their huge fortunes. They took advantage of the less fortunate, less intelligent and in some cases just destroyed everything a person owned for their own personal gain. The cost to and negative impact on people and the environment does not matter. I mean the moniker says it all “robber-barons”. Food is one of the last great resources to be raped and pillaged so a few of our elite can make their personal fortunes greater.
You have a choice; you can make a difference globally by being just one person acting locally. It is happening now and has been happening slowly for at least the last twenty years. Those that are on the front lines see the progress. A couple of years ago, California registered the first increase in agriculture land in their State; stopping a decline that lasted decades. It is growing to such a point that the USDA is starting to take interest in the numbers.
The USDA recently sent out a mandatory census that looked at detail level data on growing and production and they are starting to offer incentives to help promote the local farm movement. Seven years ago I never heard of financial assistance for organic growers and or vegetable growers in general. It was usually just aimed at grains, water conservation, and nutrient management. These past two years I've seen two programs to help local vegetable farms.
Things are changing but you the individual is needed to participate. Barbara Kingsolver, in her book “Animal, Vegetable Miracle” wrote about the year she and her family spent eating seasonal, local foods. In it, not only did she highlight the adjustment to seasonality of foods but also to the plight of the local farm.
So the choice is ours to make. Do you want an open food source where you know where your food came from and can go to the source or do you want what is going on now? Recent news stories recounted the poisoning of a female who ate bad beef. Now that the court case has gone public the manufacturer had to divulge that the meat that made up this ground beef came from animal parts from two different countries, neither being America. If this isn’t an example of the IFC buying junk to put into the food supply to make a profit then I’m at a loss.
But it is us, you, me, and everyone that has a stake in this fight for healthy food. Never before have so many people been part of the same group that has the opportunity to be part of a grass roots effort. We All Eat. We can really make a change to affect our future and truly make a difference in the history of man. I am talking about the safety of food and the preservation of our ecology. We might like different things but we all eat. If you just chose local once a day over the IFC imagine the change we could all affect. I’m not saying that everything consumed should be local but if a lot of our choices are for local foods then the IFC’s will take notice and act accordingly. Of course we could have an outcome like free range chickens (see. Beware of Free Range) but I hold out hope for a better result.
It is just one choice made multiple times each day. As an individual you can choose whether to promote the IFC and all the damage being done to the environment (think feminized bass) or you can choose to support your local community, local families, local businesses and your local food producers. The money you spend at the farm gets spent in the community by the farmer. The money stays in a local bank; and is used to hire local labor be it skilled or general and used to purchase supplies from local businesses.
It is your choice, start slowly make a resolution to eat at least one local meal a day. We are not asking for you to be like Barbara Kingsolver, but to give serious thought about your children’s, grand-children’s and great-grandchildren’s health and the environment we will leave them.
Choose to make sure the future generations grow up in the least toxic setting possible. Become aware of how the IFC is poisoning us and the environment for their short term profit. If that doesn’t get you motivated to support your local sustainable farm we will all fail our future generations.
Buy Local-From a farmer you know and trust, not a chain selling the concept
"Organic food is too expensive, there is no difference in the vitamins and minerals when compared to conventionally grown food and conventionally grown food looks better than its organic counter-part. Conventional food is unblemished, big, colorful and robust. You can't feed all the people in the world using organic and sustainable practices it is just not feasible. Huge monolithic conventional farms must continue to flourish if we as a civilization will be fed."
These are the arguments that the Industrial Food Complex (IFC) and their huge propaganda machine would have you believe. What scares me the most is that there is a large segment of our population that actually believes it. What is wrong here is that we are being bombarded with tainted studies and while I'm at it, tainted food. But who do we think we are, as consumers, to ask for a safe, fresh, chemical residue free, non-genetically modified food supply? Whatever were we thinking, who cares what resources are left for future generations as long as the IFC were able to profit from the environment's very demise today? What if we now have feminized striped bass in our water-ways? The fish is still good to eat, be it male or female, right?
We have what is called concentrated animal farm operations (CAFO's), where the living conditions of the animals are so deplorable they have to pump the animals full of hormones, antibiotics and other synthetic substances on a regular basis just to keep them eating. Then there is the waste from all these animals. Waste that contains the antibiotics and hormones that they've been fed. Where does the waste go from a CAFO? Let's say they are ninety-nine percent efficient at capturing all waste generated. It’s probably less, but I don't know for sure, so to be on the generous side let's say one percent gets out and pollutes the water table. One percent and our striped bass are being feminized.
I swear I have a vein popping out on my forehead as I read this stuff. Sometimes I see why Lewis Black's whole body is trembling as he talks to his audience about the illogical. There is a misconception that sustainable and organic practices aren't feasible and practical. It seems that perception is based on profit capability, not the benefit to the environment and our future generations. How much profit is enough and to what peril?
But I digress; I want to parse the first paragraph in order to give the other side of the argument. Organic food is too expensive. Studies suggest that when you look at the true cost of conventional production and shipping (the carbon footprint, labor, overhead, seed cost, transportation), unsustainable practices and the cost of fixing the environment from CAFO's and other huge conventional farm practices, organic food is cheaper. We ask customers where they live so we can tell them of local farms in their area so they don't have to drive as far.
It is important to note that local food grown conventionally is going to have far less chemicals and is healthier to eat. When was the last time you heard of a local vegetable recall or contamination compared to that of IFC's. Look at the decision making criteria of the two; a local farmer has his or her family to feed and bases their decision making with that in mind. For their food the local farmer eats what they produce. An executive in the IFC has his or her family to feed too. If they don't make a profit, they will not have a job in which to pay for the food their family needs (at least that’s how it used to be. It seems now you can lose billions and get paid millions.) An example of profit driven management decision making would be the peanut butter recall. The company had tests done years before that showed contamination. What did management do? I don't really know, what is known is that they didn't get rid of the problem and all of this was exposed because consumers got sick. Do you think those managers ate any of their own product knowing they had already identified contamination?
University of California Berkley research found that organic practices raised vitamin and mineral rates twenty-five percent over conventional counterparts (see the CNN health link on our blog page). Search the net and you will find articles supporting both sides of that argument. But it seems to me that most of the articles against organics are not coming from academia but private entities. But I'm jaded. I look at things from a logical, common sense stand point. For argument sake, let’s say every thing is equal between organic and conventional vegetables, except the chemical residue on the outside and inside of the vegetables. This much is fact; research shows that there are trace amounts of chemical residue on and in vegetables. Allowable trace amounts per regulations.
Trace residues of chemicals known to be carcinogenic are found on conventional vegetables. If there is a trace doesn't that mean the existence or presence of? Take microwave popcorn. As early as 1993 policy makers knew that Diacetyl causes lung cancer. Diacetyl was one of the chemicals in the butter flavoring of microwave popcorn. So in their opinion workers in the production of microwave popcorn had to wear protective breathing gear due to the hazard. But the general public, supposedly, were not at risk. Fast forward to 2008 and they find that a man who ate two bags a day for ten years has developed lung cancer caused by Diacetyl. To me that suggests that trace amounts add up. We are human which makes us prone to mistakes. Why don't we err on the side of caution and ban trace amounts totally?
People will mention studies done by scientist as an argument for trace amounts and point to the relative safety of these trace amounts. The monetary motivations of the few often contradict the safety of the masses. Case in point the medical journals in the 1900s supported smoking for years as a way to raise their revenue. To be fair these journals no longer support nor accept advertising dollars from big tobacco. My point is with enough money you can pay for a study that promotes your cause. You have to spend money in order to make money, isn't that how the adage goes?
Conventional food looks perfect, thanks to manmade chemicals that not only protect it from other Nature but from its own natural demise. The shelf lives are longer and they can be transported further distances. But then again there are those darn trace chemicals on the outside and inside of vegetables. Let's look at safety; we know for a fact striped bass are becoming feminized and tests are pointing towards hormones in the water table. God knows what other things are going on but you can bet feminized bass are not the only thing. Has anyone gotten sick and died from organic spinach? They did from conventional spinach from the IFC.
Organic vegetables don't have trace amounts of chemicals and are safer to eat. Next up is freshness and taste of conventionally grown food. Please, it has neither. Look internally, take taste for instance. Everything else being equal, when given a blind taste test more people will chose organic over conventional. Which is better, a store bought tomato or one purchased from a local farmer? Organic vegetables struggle to get nutrients out of the ground. Nietzsche said "that which does not kill us serves to make us stronger". I believe as others have written that a vegetable that struggles to get its nutrients out of the ground, versus those just sprayed with synthetic nutrients, will taste better. Plus no trace chemicals on organic veggies. Try it for yourself - get organic or local vegetables from a local farm and some from the supermarket. Cook them identically and take a blind taste test and see for yourself.
You can't feed all the people in the world using organic/sustainable agriculture. We did back in the early 1900's before chemicals were introduced. Research has advanced organic methods even further today. My comment to that argument- People are starving to death right now. The only thing the IFC guarantees is if you have the money you can eat.
I understand the use of propaganda, misinformation and down right misleading of information and facts. That is why one of the most important jobs local farmers have is the dissemination of information. It’s educating people about the dangers and more importantly the alternatives and what consumers can do about it. People say organic is bad because the business model is not designed around profit. It is designed around the health, welfare and sustainability of human beings and the ecology. Personally I do not have a problem with that.
Buy Local - From a farmer not a chain hard selling that fact.
Okay, maybe this is another rant against the industrial food complex, but I was brought up to stand up for what is right and not to sit back when someone was in trouble. My parents raised all of their kids to treat everyone equally regardless of skin color or religion. Besides, I like to think of it as educational more than just a rant.
We all know that our food supply has many flaws, often we get to read about the major events when they happen. What we don't get to read about unless you dig deep is the smaller stuff. Like how the IFC is able to sell chickens labeled as "free-range" even though the chicken has never been outside on grass, ever! I got to give them credit, it takes a certain kind of sleaze to take a regulation that is meant to be beneficial to the consumer and use it against them.
On their website the USDA defines free range or free roaming thusly: Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.
Now to you and I that means the chicken should be outside on grass. The USDA has found that there are broiler houses that hold tens of thousands of chickens that are being labeled and sold as free range even though they have never been outside. Why? Because the houses have a door at one end and they can open them to the outside. It doesn't matter that the door opens up to a cement pad or to dirt or the best case, grass. Never mind the area outside wasn't large enough to hold all 10,000 birds; the producers will tell you they meet the USDA definition.
I've only been raising layers for the last three years. I am not a knowledge expert by any means. What I do know is that we get chicks at a day old, raise them indoors until they can handle the weather outside, usually 8-10 weeks. We move them to a moveable house that has no bottom and is surrounded by an electrified fence. The fence is to keep predators out not the chickens in. They can fly the coop, if you will, pretty easy. As they get older they hardly ever do. They get in a routine and it doesn't seem to change.
Most broilers are processed between 12 and 15 weeks of age. The sooner a broiler is processed the more tender the meat. 10,000 birds raised in a closed environment will remain in a closed environment when a single door is open. It's not like the door is a garage door either, the USDA found that some of these houses had one door leading to, you guessed it, a cement pad.
The USDA is changing the rule because the IFC took advantage of the current regulation by calling housed chickens free range. What we've read and commented on from the USDA helps to clearly define FREE RANGE. Until the new regulations are put into affect the monoliths that feed the IFC will continue to label and sell housed chickens as free range.
You're asking "now what? How do I know which company really has free range chickens or chickens just labeled as free range? It is easier than you think. Just buy local. Find a farmer that raises free range chickens in your area. Go to the farm, talk to them and see for yourself what their free range practices are. LocalHarvest has a great search tool to find them.
Your buying habits will need to change somewhat in that you won't be able to just go there and buy a chicken, you might, and it depends on the farm. In some cases you'll need to order the bird before hand and you might need to buy in quantity in order to have chicken whenever you want. The trade off is you get fresh, tasty, real free range chickens and eggs. If you don't believe me, buy a store bought chicken and a local free range chicken. Cook them the same and give your family and friends a blind taste test. Not only is it a fun activity you'll get to see for yourself through others taste buds.
BUY LOCAL - from a farmer, not from a chain hard selling the fact.
We like more than 90 percent of small farmers across the nation have full time jobs. We've been working every weekend since March 21st, non-stop. We've had some good times, great successes and huge failures. We are physically and mentally tired and looking forward to the colder days and slower pace.
Yet there is melancholy to the coming days. Putting the green grass covers on the gardens, getting the chickens on next years production beds and covering the strawberries. We are exhausted yet we do these choirs with a heavy heart. We need and want the break but there is something sad to the fact that we won't be outside for long periods of time tending to growing vegetables, fruits, herbs and watching the chickens frolic.
We'll get into canning mode so we have vegetables over the winter. The irrigation will be pulled and plants mowed from this years production fields I'll do a shallow till and cover the fields with winter rye and hairy vetch. Once that is done the place has been put to bed for the winter.
We then turn our attention to making Italian and French breads, the Italian cooking classes and keeping the chickens comfortable if the weather gets to extreme. I do lament the passing of summer, as hard as the work is, the sun hot and atmosphere moist, I like eating fresh vegetables out of the garden. I eat more vegetables now knowing there the freshest, safest money can buy and they are from our hands and our efforts. I'll miss the weekly interactions with our customers and talking about how to prepare a vegetable or certain dish. Our customers have been supportive, rejuvenating, focused, motivating and most importantly there.
Keep eating fresh and local, David did beat Goliath and we will again this time. Eat local, find a farmer that is growing healthy food. Tell your friends, your family and your colleagues about him or her. The more we speak out the safer our food supply should become.
Don't be complacent, there are some people like my wife and I who do extraordinary things in order to bring safe fresh foods to our community and there are people in your community doing the same thing for you. We all know of parents that have a child or children that have food allergies? Let me ask, how many friends did you have growing up with food allergies? I didn't have any; except for me I hated Brussels sprouts. Proportionally more humans are suffering from food born illnesses now then ever before, despite taking into account the increase in surface population. Haven't enough people given their lives just because they wanted a simple meal with maybe spinach or a hamburger with lettuce, or peanut butter treat?
Please don't underestimate the fight that we are in. Food is our energy, our fuel and a life sustaining force. Don't let the big Agra-businesses jam GMO foods down our throats, they've been killing us for profit and will continue to do so unless we the consumer stand up and say "I'm mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more" (from the movie "Network"). Demand more with your dollars, choose with your wallet. Money and the lack there of will make them notice. Choose to live healthy. Choose to stop playing Russian roulette with your food choices. Pass the word on it is too important to leave to the media and our officials. Start with your family and work out from there.
Buy Local - from a farmer not a chain advertising "Local"
We were selling at a Farmers Market and an elderly farmer’s wife stopped by to look at our offerings. She looked at our "Organic" sign and said "Honey, we've been growing organic since before you were born," and if you know anything about the green revolution after World War 2 you can understand her statement. Before the invention of ammonium nitrate for bombs, farmers relied basically on organic means to grow their vegetables. We went from every community having a fresh food market to almost none. Before the establishment of the industrial food complex, grocery stores and refrigeration, communities relied on their local farmer to grow a market garden for their fruits and vegetables.
They ate what was in season in their region; consumers knew the farmers and their families and purchased what was available. They put fruits and vegetables "up" or "canned" so that they could eat them in the off season. Then technology started to advance growing and storage techniques and all other aspects of life. The marketing gurus during that time advanced the concept of convenience and free time. Prepared foods, can goods and frozen foods were the rage, Going to the local farm was phased out by stores that had everything in one place. What marketing was selling to everyone was convenience and free time. Slowly but surely Free Time and the profit motive was the death knell for the small family farmer.
As industrial farming took hold and these huge monolithic behemoths started turning out tons of one product the laws of mass production and economy of scales took over and the small farmer could not keep up. The farmers grew what was called a truck garden or market garden, because he or she would take the vegetables from the garden, put them in a truck and go to the market and sell what they had picked. What we lost with the growth of these monolithic farms was the individual family growing vegetables for their community and so too coincidently we lost taste and freshness of the fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes picked green and shipped miles away can't ripen on the vine while in travel, nor would they ever taste like one right off the vine.
What we gained from the loss of market gardens, freshness and taste is the game of Russian Roulette. Illnesses and sometimes death resulting from pathogens in our industrial food supply has become common place. Corporations have shown time and again, when faced with a decision to stop production and clean up after tests prove contamination, they have a laissez faire additude.
Yes, we have always had to take precautions with our food, but the sheer number of recalls makes one pause. Nothing beats local for freshness, taste and safety. The consumer has the ability to talk to the person or persons that grow the food, be it animal, vegetable or mineral. More and more people are supporting local farmers because they see value for their money. It is more expensive to grow organic; consequently, it is more expensive to purchase. There is value to going to a local farm or a farmers market and buying from them.
If you take out the carbon footprint, the freshness, the taste, the true cost of operation, if you take everything out of the equation but a base explanation you are left with human kind's last fuel source and the person that toils for it. It's a passion, a mission and a fundamental activity that sustains life. It’s not the profit motive but a social conscience that motivates us to provide food for others. Yes, we all need to make money to provide and small farms do need to make a profit. It's imperative in the sustainable model, but that doesn't mean that every decision we make is dictated by the profit motive or what effect it does to our stock price.
The profit motive, stock prices and yearly bonuses are the norm in big business. Tell me, do you really want to leave the growing of food to the faceless people behind the industrial food complex, knowing their main concern is if they can make a profit and raise the price of their stock? Isn't our health more important than money, and haven't our taste buds suffered enough with petroleum derivatives, synthetics and other man made food additives?
So make the right choice, find someone that is growing vegetables for your health, talk to them, visit the farm see how it is being run. Not everyone is growing for your health and we call them hucksters. Buy vegetables when they are in season and you're guaranteed local. Learn what vegetables are in season in your area. If someone is selling corn in Maryland in June, it wasn't grown here. So it is not local corn because it is not in season yet. Ours will be in July and we do not cater to the industrial food complex.