Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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a lot of ways we are environmental activist. We belong to
many groups that support environmental practices. We attend
continuing education classes as a way to keep our nutrient management
certification or certified farmer status as it is called in Maryland.
are members of various groups local and national that relate to
specific functions associated with the farming community and specifically to
environmental issues that we practice. We practice what we preach,
that is how, with confidence, we can give tours of our sustainable
operation and impart ways that non-farmers can help the environment in their
there is the consumer activist side that dictates my spending
habits. I firmly believe, and economics proves, that my money speaks
louder than I do. After each of my posts I implore the buy local
mantra. I have learned that if you do not walk the
walk, you cannot talk the talk. It is that simple, I am not
naïve, I know that there are limits based on income. However, I know of a lot of people who are spendavist and products labeled Non-GMO Project Verified are their targets.
you find a genuine sustainable farmer support them. Speak up with your money
and gratitude. These people are working and committing themselves to your
health and the health of your family and generations to come. It is important
to note that if we all made choices to support local businesses and
growers then the industrial food complex will react. If you look at the
countries that ban GMO's it will surprise you. One of the latest
country's to refuse GMO food from US big Ag is China. China, the same
producers that brought us high sulfuric dry-wall, leaden toys
and clothing, killer pet food and treats.
admit, I was stunned to learn that they rejected GMO's, then I got scared. It
was one of those out of body experiences a moment of clarity
that solidified my stance against eating GMO's. Then knowing that we
have joined a cause that really is a worldwide issue adds to the pressure to
is not just us in the USA, it is humans all over this planet. We are
all in it together and it is a fight for future existence. What I see is that
it is greater than all of us and will impact future generations. The science
points this out but does not reach as drastic a conclusion. It merely
states the facts as they find them. If however, nothing changes then
the environmental impact continues in an increasingly negative way and we
will run out of clean resources.
local is not a fad, it is a core shift in how we as individuals can
communally join hands and fight for those who will inherit this earth long
after we are gone. Because it is those people who will suffer the greatest but
it also you who will benefit now. Spend your money in a way that helps you,
your community and your lineage. Be a spendavist, use your money to dictate
what big Ag should be doing. It is the only voice they know to listen
to. If the money stops flowing they will change course to capture it back.
Local: Help make a difference and impact the future in a
Posted by Brian
@ 08:08 PM EST
We grow for health, our own, plants, layer and meat birds, soil, our customers and the environment. We supply our community with fresh, safe food and an environmental stewardship second to none. That is our mission and always our goal.
Our farm uses integrated pest management techniques in order to cut down on the need for sprays. We plant trap crops, use floating row covers, rotate crops and chickens to keep the bug populations down. Sometimes it works and sometimes you get new pests like the brown marmarated stinkbug.
Soils need resting in order to restore nutrients both micro and macronutrients. We rest soils so that they naturally restore themselves. Of course, we plant cover crops, nitrogen rich grasses, and winter rye for its deep taproots. The taproot digs down deep into the soil thus adding tilth and tunnels for water to travel. We move the chickens on the fresh cover crop and they pretty much turn it back into dirt before taken off the land. We will move them off to the next resting soil then re-seed the area they just left. This takes planning and timing. In Maryland, you will not get a good stand of forage if you plant seed after November10th. It just does not have time to establish itself before the freeze sets.
Soil rotation also controls pests, viruses and bacteria’s. If you keep planting the same thing in the same area, trouble will find you. We take the concept a step further by letting the soil naturally recover with a little push from us. The combinations of the nitrogen and tilth grasses create a nice biomass. The chickens eating grasses, bugs, weed seeds and turning the soil, while leaving natural fertilizer expedites this recovery process. It takes about three years for soils to replenish the nutrients and minerals that are depleted by the food that was grown on the land. Some food is harder then others, sweet corn is one of the bigger drains on soil nutrients. Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder along with depleting micronutrients. We all know what happened in the dust bowl and crop rotation was developed as an answer. When we say soil rotation, we are talking about using a plot of land to grow fruits and vegetables, and then take it out of production for a period of time and plant cover crops as described above to rejuvenate.
We use as little spray as possible. I am not looking to grow perfect looking food. I am looking to grow healthy, fresh, safe, tasty food. We will never win any beauty contests because we grow for health not looks. Looks do not make you healthy but eating healthy makes, you feel good.
Buy Local: Now more then ever your food decisions make an impact
Posted by Brian
@ 01:23 PM EST
We are coming to the end of another growing season and we have had mixed results. I did not order a cultivator in time so weeds ate up the half acre of corn I planted. We got very little corn because of that, which means we spent money on seed and overhead only to get no return on the investment.
Lessons learned, from this year, included having the tools ready for the season before the season begins. Our newest flock of Rhode Island Reds is laying, so we opened up the nesting boxes and placed golf balls in each one. This helps the bird to know where to lay their egg. I know it sounds strange but I read that is what you are supposed to do. That or place a wooden egg in the nest. All I can say is that it works; now we do find eggs outside the nest sometimes but I have not been able to figure out why. The largest stash I found had thirty eggs and they were inside Coadee’s igloo doghouse. I really need to research laying out of the nest and make sure it is not a management issue.
Strawberries started strong and ended strong, a much-needed boost for us. We were flush in squash, so much so we could not sell it all. A note of caution, we had arranged to sell our produce to a local market, they were a startup so we expected some problems, but we did not expect to be taken advantage of and gouged on our prices. We were lowering our prices by fifty percent and the store was jacking up the cost to the customer fifty percent. Their making a fifty percent return and we were losing money. On top of that, when we took a load down it was rejected for being too small. The small ones are the ones that sell out first at the farmers markets. You learn these things as you go along. When dealing with markets, sometimes you get people that get it and sometimes you get people that are there for a paycheck.
I was taught to keep the intermediary (the middleman) out as much as possible and that is advice I pass on to other folks. The best markets we deal with pay us what we need to make a small profit. They then turn around and only charge five percent more to their customer. Therefore, they talk about helping local farmers and they do by paying a higher rate. When you find someone or an entity that gets it, hold them close and pay special attention to their needs. They will help you succeed. You will have to kiss many frogs; but when you find the one that gets it, be grateful, responsive and flexible. There will always be rough spots but patience will smooth the course.
We have given squash to the food banks, there is a restaurant in town that has a monthly “Pay as You Can” dinner on the third Sunday of the month and we gave them forty pounds along with herbs. However, the lion’s share of leftovers (one thousand pounds and counting) has gone to a local dairy farmer for his pigs. These are the biggest of the big, we could not keep up with harvesting and these things were huge. It is just amazing how fast squash goes from being a flower to four-pound behemoth. Our estimate is that it takes less then five days to get to the point of “to big”. Because we do not have the ability to harvest, everyday we were put in the glut we are in now.
We met three new farmers who are starting out growing. That was exciting to see, young growers getting into producing healthy fresh vegetables. Some we will help get certified others we have pointed to state and federal resources. To hear them speak they have the right attitude and understanding of the path they chose. Pretty much the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is “this is hard,” but it is rewarding. Making it economically sustainable is another function that needs conquering.
Posted by Brian
@ 09:05 AM EDT
Farming for profit, has there ever been a greater oxymoron? Okay, maybe humane slaughter is bigger. At least from the small farmer's stand point, when more than seventy-five percent of all small farms in the nation, bring in fewer than ten-thousand dollars a year, of farm income, I ask can there be true economic sustainability in small farming.
This year we changed our business model in that we are concentrating our selling on only high dollar produce and fruits. We are still selling mainly on farm but have joined a market in the city. We are hoping that by cutting back on different varieties and concentrating on a few things we can turn profitable. Because of our size, we cannot grow, as much so consequently we do not have a large variety. I want to be a successful grower, but we need to make a profit. Selling only what we grow is hard because we do not have a bevy of different fruits and vegetables, so variety is not going to be our strong point.
What we will have this year is strawberries, blueberries and sweet corn. These crops sell for a premium and there is great demand. We will be able to conserve the 12,000 gallons of collected rainwater because we will not have so many different plants to water. Our organic chicken meat has not taken off as we hoped but this is only the third year. We have increased our layer flock to 120 layers. We are selling most of our eggs directly to Dawson's Market in Rockville. Dawson's does not put them out on the shelves. Instead, they call customers to let them know the eggs have been delivered. We continue to expand the layers (we have 50 more day olds started) striving to get to where we deliver more dozens so we can make it onto the store's shelves.
Being a small enterprise has great disadvantages, especially, when we go up against the bigger growers and grower associations. We did not take on this farm without knowing the physical, mental, emotional and economic sacrifice and that failure was more likely then success. We are going back to the model that first made us money and that is by growing a few things and concentrating on value added products.
We knew going into this that it was not going to be easy. What we were not prepared for was all the different ways your heart breaks. We lost another layer last night. It was stuck under the trailer. I had moved the house in the morning before I let the layers out. I was tilling and I noticed the trailer looked low in the back. I knew I did not crank the front back down after I moved the tractor away from the ball. I saw it and made a mental note to lower the front of the trailer when I was done tilling.
Well the day got away and I did not lower the front. Sunset comes and I go out to put the layers away for the night and that is when I found one under the backend of the trailer. I can only surmise that it was stuck and died of a heart attack. I took her over to the compost pile and as we have done with every other body, returned her to the earth that helped nourish her in her brief existence.
I take it personally, you are not supposed to, you are supposed to let it roll off but I don't. I know I am too attached at times to see the forest for the trees but that will not change. As long as they are in my care, I will always take my mistakes hard and demand a greater awareness. Five years we have been working with layers. I thought I had been exposed to all the perils of layer life, yet here I am still in this damn learning curve.
BUY LOCAL: Do your family justice, find a local farm, ask questions and then support it if it feels right. If you do not get straight answers, it is probably because they are hucksters not growers.
Posted by Brian
@ 12:27 PM EDT
There is no denying that science has been a crucial function in the evolution of man. Scientist are held with high regard and esteem in this country and elsewhere and rightly so, for their dedication is what has moved us out of the dark ages and into today’s light. We think of scientist as being pure of heart and morally motivated for the good of humanity and everything that inhabits the earth. However, with every profession a percentage are motivated by means that are nefarious and or dubious at best. Like the scientist that backed big tobacco for decades proclaiming the products relative safety.
There is a difference between those that recommend a new substance or process, that they think will improve life, health and understanding of things not known; as opposed to those that sell their soul for whatever the cost to produce a report that backs up their benefactors claim. Take a minute, how many events can you think about where this scenario has played out. Our history is littered with bad science and manipulated data so a few of the rich can get richer.
I use scientific studies to make decisions and learn how to take care of a particular problem or system. Yet here I am about to blame science for our human and environmental ills. That hypocrisy is not lost on me. That is why when someone approaches me to discuss the “falsehoods” of organic food I let him or her talk and agree with what is said. Let’s face it, for every scientific study pointing to a benefit of organics there is one pointing in the other direction. You have to ask yourself, why someone would care or spend money on scientific research to refute a claim that a particular method was beneficial or detrimental unless they see or fear an intruder in their wallets. With that kind of motivation there will be rigging of results to benefit the existing status quo. Besides the undisputed facts are that organic food is easier on the environment, does not cost as much and does not have trace amounts of carcinogens, end of argument, debate and story.
For those of you questioning the "cost" statement, you need to take into account the tax dollars being spent to detect, identify, clean and restore our environment to its natural existence due to the imbalance brought on by inputs from conventional farming practices. If you read the literature that is against organics it speaks to how there is no difference, that sustainable/organic practices cannot feed the world and that organics is not scaleable among others. When pro-organic studies come out the IFC is quick to refute those claims with scientific claims of its own. However, it is what they chose not to address that is the most telling.
You never hear of a scientific report refuting the damage being done to our environment and our health. Maybe the IFC learned from tobacco to leave the health issue claims alone. I have not read anything that refutes recent studies finding Atrazine present in the human body. First, it was blood in pregnant women, and then it was found in umbilical cords. It is now known that Atrazine does not pass through the body as we were lead to believe and the build up is causing genes to mutate and metastasize. How can a male bullfrog become feminized if Atrazine left the body? Diactyl, 2-4,D, Atrazine, and all the other endocrine disrupters being used in the IFC, is starting to showing long term affects on us and the flora and fauna. In 2014, Dow-Chemical is getting ready to sell Agent Orange corn seeds. Which means 2,4-D is back in production and ready for even wider use in the United States.
Good science has found a viral gene in the DNA helix of GMO products. This gene identified as GENE VI is a virus that was newly discovered and this causes great concern about its effects on the human body. This is after the manufacture assured the government and the public (with scientific studies) that GMO would not harm animals or humans if ingested. This new finding indicates otherwise. Then there is nano-titanium dioxide (NTD). Have you all noticed that your ketchup does not cling to the sides of the bottles anymore?
Thank NTD, never mind the only independent study done was at UC Berkley, it lasted two years and they found health risks and organ failures in lab rats. Never mind that the England banned the substance. Things like NTD are added all the time to our food supply and we as the consumer are kept in the dark. The IFC will not say they use it and if they do, then the IFC got it into the food supply with a GRAS designation. Generally recognized as safe is what FDA, USDA, EPA and other agencies use to fast track new substances. However, you will never hear that it is being used, how about your mustard or mayonnaise if the inside of the bottle is clean and the entire product is at the bottom, then my guess is NTD is in the substance. The product consistency is still the same, then what changed to make it do that.
Some will say it is normal debate, that people have different opinions and so forth. However, I was taught that you start with a hypothesis and develop a scientific study that can be replicated to prove or disprove the hypothesis. The IFC is trying to thwart science, with support from ALEC, by trying to pass "Ag-Gag" laws, and other ways to hide their problems. We are all paying a price that is not known and we end up being test dummies for the new technology that the IFC adds to the food supply. While the few who are making money off the technology will continue to benefit, in order to remain healthy, the rest of us are left to be our own food scientist.
Buy Local: It is the only way
Posted by Brian
@ 12:18 PM EDT
Without knowing at the time, I first learned about the degradation of our food supply before I was a teenager. Sad really, but I now know what I thought was a bad idea really was. It was the late sixties, early seventies and we had a High’s ice cream store down the street. I loved their Butter Brickle ice cream, I do not know what butter brickle is I just know it was decedent.
One day I went to the store and got my favorite, only this time it tasted different. It did not have the same taste. Now, I ate it, but I dismissed what I tasted knowing the next time it would be okay. However, the next time I got my favorite the taste was off again. It then occurred to me that something had changed and for the worst, but still not really understanding that what I was witnessing was the demise of all things natural, tasty and actually healthy. I did not know it at the time but the industrial food complex started to bring chemistry into our food supply because it increased their profits, not the consumer’s health. When the flavor of your ice cream changes a ten-year-old palette is spot on even though a child’s palette is not that sophisticated.
I stopped buying butter brickle and went back to vanilla. When their vanilla changed, I stopped buying ice cream. Through the years, I would try different makers but never got that taste. I still eat ice cream but we make it ourselves from the cream of an organic Guernsey cow’s milk. No chemicals, preservatives, hormones, steroids or antibiotics, flavor enhancer’s stabilizers nothing but sweet cream. While being fun to make it is healthier to eat.
Say, what you want about the advancement of food science, one thing for sure is that the greedy have used it at the detriment of taste, health and the environment. I am sure everyone can remember a special food or treat that one day changed taste. I am not talking about new Coke versus old Coke, but that made from staples, milk, eggs, meat, breads, fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes, we are the generation that saw the humble, tasty tomato turned into a tasteless cardboard orb. There is no argument that anyone could make about the benefits of food science without feeling a modicum of shame when talking about the tomato.
The bastardization of our foods is why the "Slow Food", "Local Food", "Sustainable/Organic" food movements have been gaining in followers and spreading around the world. Slow food started in Italy, organic started in the European community and local food came about in the United States. Sustainable agriculture is a worldwide initiative, as it should be. If we do not take care of our environment, our children’s children will be the ones to feel the brunt with future generations in even greater peril. As you read this there are people out there trying to protect us from GMO’s. Monsanto on the other hand spent millions to defeat Prop 37 in California. This is all to close to the great tobacco debate for my comfort. How many years did big tobacco provide scientific evidence that cigarettes were not bad?
That is why what small farmers do is vital to the future of the environment and health of all humans. Have you ever heard of a recall from a local farm or a local butcher? While the New York Times and Wall Street Journal print stories about how sustainable farming will not work, they conveniently leave out the facts from decades of studies. From the beginning of our nation to the 1950’s farmers were organic. Chemicals were not introduced into the farm model until after WWII, when the government had to do something with their stockpile of ammonium nitrate from unused bombs.
A scientist found it made a good fertilizer but also fed weeds. You know the rest, as the “green revolution", took foothold. As chemical use rose so did cancer rates, upper respiratory problems, food borne allergies and most importantly the decline of nutritional values in all of our fruits and vegetables. USDA has been keeping track of nutrient values for produced fruits and vegetables since the 1950’s and since then the nutrient values have declined.
That fact shocked me but I guess it did not surprise me. I learned a long time ago that an organic plant would struggle to get nutrients from the ground and conventional plants do not. That struggle makes the plant nutritious and tasty, the saying “that which does not kill you serves to make you stronger,” really fits. America's diet, known as the Western diet, is from highly refined grains and sugars, high fat and little organic or nutrient benefit. To learn more read Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food”. It is informative and gives vetted reasons why obesity and other Western diseases are prevalent here but not in France, where their diet is high in fat and sugars. Known as the French paradox in nutritional circles, their diet creates a conundrum for Western food scientist, who can not explain how such an unhealthy diet does not cause the rates of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and obesity that afflict American eaters.
When you consider Americans use to eat as the French, before the 1950’s, questions about todays dietary diseases naturally occur, especially when you hear the French do not have the numbers of obese people, heart attacks, food allergies and all the other Western anomalies in comparison to our numbers. Not only has food science played a roll in the degradation of our nutrient sources but of taste. It has taken forty years but I am finally understanding and able to connect the dots.
Buy Local: Now that you know, what will you do?
Posted by Brian
@ 08:15 PM EST
Food is in our blood, whether, growing, preparing, cooking or, consuming, food is in our blood. It is why we produce fruits, vegetables, chickens, eggs, honey, jams and jellies. We make our own bread, pasta and tomato sauces. It is why we share our knowledge of Italian cooking. With me, it started in my grandmothers' kitchen. Going over to my grandmothers house brought about gastronomical anticipation beyond mere description, and if dinner was ravioli "fa gedd about it". Arriving at her home and taking that first step through the threshold of her house brought olfactory nirvana.
The smells of homemade tomato sauce stewing on the stove, fresh Romano cheese, grated that day and bread baking in the oven made my mouth water. Not knowing at the time but it was the start of a path that has led me to today. Food has always been at the center of my existence. Growing up, food was at every occasion and if it were a special occasion, the spread would be overwhelming as a child. First learning how to buy fruits and vegetables, then learning how to cook, spending time in professional kitchens and then moving into growing has given me immense satisfaction and as noted here tremendous challenges and pain. If you hear a farmer say, he or she has put blood, sweat and tears into the farm that usually is a literal statement.
You see, food is in our blood and the food we put in our body today will end up being a part of us. This makes why we grow and how we grow a symbiotic relationship. There are tens' of thousands of us doing just that for our communities. Thus making the choice you make on what to eat and where to buy the food even more important. The more you know about your food source the greater the impact you will have on your own health, the health of your family, the environment and future generations. This is our way, your way and everyone's way of making a difference in the lives of others. Lives that we will not know, people we will not see and an earth we will have long ago inhabited.
Food is in all of our blood, so too are all the trace amounts of chemicals and DNA spliced genes. The additives, preservatives, stabilizers and enhancers that are all synthetic are being exposed for the harmful substances that they are, yet we continue to let the IFC introduce new ways to generate profit at the cost of our health, my guess for future health problems will come in the form of nano titanium dioxide. Greed has taken over as the new norm. Greed at any cost is too much, then tie in the detrimental effects to the environment and you see, man is playing with the lives of every being to come after, and they do this with no moral regard.
We say it often; we grow for health not wealth. Unfortunately, we prove that saying each year. Do not get me wrong, we do grow for health, but damn I would like to make enough money so I only have to work one job. It is the first weekend in December and this is the first weekend I have had off since March. Moreover, I am not really off, we still have the chickens, the pullets and all that comes with small grazing animals.
The odds of success are against us, it seems likely that we will fail in trying to make this a full-time profession, but If and when we do have to make that decision one thing will remain and that is growing food will still be in my blood.
Buy Local: Support those that chose to sustain the environment with you in mind.
Posted by Brian
@ 08:41 AM EST
Recently there was as a study published by a Stanford researcher about the merits of organic versus conventional food. Specifically the study looked at the vitamin and mineral content of fruits and vegetables and the cost difference between organic and conventional food. Although there are studies that refute these findings: University of Washington, http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0012346 , http://www.bioneers.org/programs/food-farming-1/articles-interviews/organic-food-has-a-higher-nutrient-content-an-interview-with-charles-benbrook and http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/16/best.organic.produce/index.html I tend to stay away from all of the back and fourth and look at the undisputed facts.
First, conventional food contains trace amounts of carcinogenic chemicals http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/172223 . Trace amounts that are allowed per FDA, USDA and EPA standards. Yet every year we find that what was once approved is now harming us. Diactyl and Bisphenal-A (BPA) are the most recent that come to mind. Diactyl causes lung cancer, which is a fact. However, for years it was allowed in the food supply particularly in butter-flavored popcorn and other foodstuffs. That is until people started getting lung cancer due to build up of Diactyl in the body. Then there is BPA. BPA is an endocrine disrupter and is shown to cause birth defects in children and hinder their mental development. Recently studies have shown that BPA is narrowing arteries in adults. The list of approved then disapproved fungicides, insecticides, additives and preservatives just keeps growing.
Second, there is the environmental detriment big industrial farms create while they produce all of the meats, eggs, fruits and vegetables. One example is Atrazine, an herbicide. Atrazine has been linked to castrating bullfrogs and feminizing bass http://www.sfgate.com/green/article/Study-says-herbicide-causes-frogs-sex-change-3197878.php . Yet it is still in use.
I would like to point out that there is a distinction between local conventional farmers and the big industrial corporate farms and imports. Our local farmers feed their family with the products they grow and produce. Their children and grandchildren play in the fields and water on the property. I know these farmers are much more judicious when it comes to using fungicides, insecticides and herbicides. I feel comfortable buying my sweet corn from Mayne’s Tree Farm or fruit from Bob Black at Catoctin Mountain Orchard.
Then there is the cost argument. What consumers do not take into account with conventional costs is that they pay for cleaning up the environment through their taxes not through the price of conventional food. With organic and sustainable farm practises, the cost of environmental protection and rejuvenation is built into the price of the product.
Your tax dollars go to environmental protection, clean up and rejuvination of our waterways and fields because of industrial farming practises. Environmental degradation from industrial farms have been well documented. So when they say conventional food is cheaper they are not telling you about these hidden costs. Ultimately, sustainable organic food is cheaper, safer and an environmentally sound agricultural practice.
Organic food does not have trace amounts of carcinogenic chemicals, steroids, hormones or anti-biotic's. That is fact. Conventional food does contain trace amounts of most synthetic substances used in the production process and these trace amounts are not being processed out of the body like we are told. "Canadian researchers this year reported that the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of their umbilical cord blood samples contained a pesticide implanted in GMO corn by the biotech company Monsanto, though digestion is supposed to remove it from the body. "Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the fetus, more studies are needed," they wrote in Reproductive Toxicology". http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-gmo-food-labeling--20110524,0,5841902.story.
Whether they are carcinogenic or not, to me, trace amounts means the existence of a substance. You would no more stick your finger in an insecticide, wipe it off on your pants then lick your finger with your tongue. Yet in essence, that is what you do when you eat conventional food from the industrial food complex.
If you think washing the food off before eating it protects you, think about rain. These chemicals are designed to stay on the vegetables when it rains. The effectiveness of the chemical would be useless to the industrial farmer if rain did wash them off. Organic sprays are water soluble, that is why each time it rains we need to retreat those plants that are in distress (raising operational costs).
If we know anything from the use of chemicals, it is that history proves that what was once considered safe is no longer the case, Thalidomide, Agent Orange, Benzene's, DDT, Diethylstilbestrol, Cyclamates, Bisphenal A, Diactyl, and Phthalates (cosmetics) are some. So what, if from a vitamin standpoint both conventional and organic are the same. From a health, safety, cost and environmental standpoint there is no comparison.
Buy Local: The earth will be a better place,
Posted by Brian
@ 08:51 AM EDT
A New York Times columnist wrote an article about how the grass fed grazing model is not sustainable. I grew up in an era when Edward R. Morrow was retiring and Walter Cronkite was becoming America's uncle. Journalistic integrity was paramount in all mediums of news back then. Yes, there was the National Enquirer and people would sneakily purchase it as a guilty pleasure.
What I see today is that the National Enquirer model has become the standard-bearer for news in general. What is particularly galling about this article is that the reporter did not have his facts correct nor did he try to make it a balanced article. He went as far to attack Polyface Farm and Joel Salatin. Yet, I derive great pleasure from this article. You see it indicates to me that the industrial food complex is becoming concerned. Buy local and sustainable agriculture are making headways into American consumerism. Judging from the backlash and furry that I see on internet posts we are pro-sustainability. I ask myself; why else would this reporter tout concentrated animal farm operations (CAFO’s)? He blatantly or conveniently leaves out the suffering of animals in these CAFO’s and does not even begin to address the pollution and environmental degradation caused by them.
Study upon study points to increased endocrine problems including hormonal imbalance, anti-biotic resistant bacteria, cancers, food allergies and other maladies caused by the exact object he touts as being the proper way of feeding Americans. He goes so far as to say that animals reared outside using management intensive grazing (sustainable techniques) actually adds to the methane levels and global warming.
We have known for years that governments use fear and misinformation as ways to sway public opinion. Look at our last leader and yellow cake uranium. Yellow cake was used as the reason to start the Iraq war. Only after CIA agent Valerie Plame was outed, did we find out that they knew the analysis was wrong. Fear (WMD’s) and misinformation (yellow cake) caused public opinion and congress to sway in the desired direction. I think it started after the “War of the Worlds” incident; someone saw the general widespread panic and learned from the experience. Phsyops or psychological operations are an integral part when trying to sway public opinion, not the facts. Fact has become a casualty in modern society, as has integrity in most aspects of public discourse.
I think Mr.’s. Marrow and Cronkite would be appalled and ashamed at the standards of today’s reporting. The Times article was so skewed towards the IFC to be a blatant endorsement of all that is evil in CAFO’s and its known detriments. To say the least it did nothing to stop the proliferation and use of GMO’s, or Atrizine that castrates and feminizes predictor species or the rise in food born allergies, contamination and resulting recalls. The reporter conveniently leaves out or is ignorant to the pollution and huge carbon footprint needed to generate all these quality CAFO meat products. Joel Salatin responded to the Times article and he addresses the misnomers far better than I ever could.
Lastly, but most importantly the reporter does not even begin to talk about recalls and the devastating affect that contaminated food, supplied by the IFC, has on the general consumer. I have asked this before; have you ever heard of a recall from a local small farmer or a local butcher? Why not? I think it is because your local small farmer or butcher has everything to lose if someone gets sick or dies from his or her product. Besides that, they feed their family and friends. The IFC companies can simply change their name, re-incorporate and keep operating.
The NY-Times article is so biased it leads you to only one conclusion and that is the IFC is the only true food source. What they failed to realize is the breadth and depth of the buy local and sustainable agriculture movements. It is pathetic to say the least but it is an indication to me that the IFC is feeling the affects of these movements. They must be concerned about local food and the fact that you are supporting local small farmers. Maybe the article was a shill for the IFC I do not know and maybe I am to close to the issue to see that the article was balanced and not tipped in anyone direction. However, the logical side of me thinks it is an indication that these times, they are a changing.
Buy Local: We all can and do make a difference, which is an investment for future generations.
Posted by Brian
@ 01:05 PM EDT
There is institutional advertising that a major seed manufacturer is playing over the radio airwaves. It is about how farming uses so much water and that their genetically engineered seeds will use less water and yield more food and how this is going to help farmers world-wide. If that is true, why is this major seed manufacturer suing American farmers for patent infringement? The infringement, by the way, is caused by pollen drift. Pollen drift, think about that, bees, wind, birds and insects all carry pollen. Pollen from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) fields or even trucks carrying gmo products drift into neighboring fields and boom, the company sues the farmer for patent infringement. In addition, the court rulings have backed up the company not the farmer.
When pollen drift is as natural and inevitable as the sunrise why is the farmer on the hook for stopping GMO pollen drift? Go to www.hulu.com and search for the "Future of Food". It is a documentary on how genetic engineering was accomplished, how seeds are patented and then used as a big stick to force farmers into the herbicide ready club and how pollen drift allows Monsanto to sue farmers. However, in one of the greatest examples of turning the tables Wood Prairie Farms, an organic potato farm, has brought a class action lawsuit against Monsanto for contaminating their organic potatoes. Now that is fighting fire with fire.
We are at a cross roads in our concepts of food, where you see grass root efforts like the Slow Food, buy local, urban farming and support local farms movements. We have groups like Ark of Taste, which is a movement to bring back heritage breeds from pigs, cows and chickens to tomatoes and everything else that has been genetically modified to fit the needs of the profit motive not the taste for consumers. From my standpoint, nasty chemicals on the food and pathogens cause health problems. Recall after recall, year after year, has become commonplace because the industrial food complex is making people seriously ill, with some resulting in death. What is worse is that recalls are a relatively new phenomenon. Did we have recalls in the sixties and seventies? My mind is going but I do not know of any.
We have had recalls because people are getting sick and we are hearing more and more about bacteria becoming anti-biotic resistant. We know that Atrizine is an endocrine disrupter. The endocrine system in the human body regulates hormonal balance. Studies recently found that high levels of Atrizine are castrating and feminizing other predictor species. Predictor species like bass and frogs have similar physiological make ups as humans, hence “predictor”. Scientist look at predictor species with the supposition that what happens to them is an indication of what can happen to humans. Atrizine is one of the most used chemicals by the IFC.
Then there is taste, remember taste, when tomatoes were sweet, soft, watery spheres of goodness. Which would you pick to eat, a tomato from the grocery store or one out of the garden? So far, every single person that I have asked that question picks the latter. Why? Because there came a time when the IFC turned the tomato into a bottom line calculation and its taste was compromised for its longevity. As was most vegetables and fruit.
An organic plant struggles to get its nutrients out of the ground. When a predator attacks the plant, the plant releases its own sent that attracts bugs that are predators or parasites of the bug eating its leaves. This does not work with a heavy infestation but if the plant survives, it grows stronger and has a better taste then a plant that was sprayed with synthetic fertilizers and insecticides. That is why when you grow fruits and vegetables you want to get native plants in your own area. The fauna has lived and adapted to the environment. That means they have adapted and survived the bugs, fungi etcetera.
I trust my taste buds, I know what is on my plants, I know that the more we allow large corporations to genetically modify food the greater susceptibility we all face for unknown genetic mutation, and greater risk of bacterial out breaks caused by anti-biotic resistance. That is why more than ever supporting your local farmer is important. It really is cheaper and healthier for everyone in the end.
Buy Local: Every dollar you spend keeps local growers growing.
Posted by Brian
@ 07:43 AM EDT
There are things we grow that are not the best looking when compared to local conventional farms and definitely not the Industrial Food Complex. So when we take our heirloom tomatoes to the market we have to really sell them (convince the consumer that the taste is better then the look).
Then something magical happens, we get a repeat customer that by-pass all the beautiful looking, perfectly round, no blemish tomatoes and stops at the stand to not only buy ours but proceed to tell us how wonderful the tomato tasted. I cannot help but say, “Thank you,” and then tell them, “That is the taste your grandparents had when they were growing up”.
Sometimes, I get a quizzical look so I will explain genetic engineering and chemical usage and adulterations, which conspired to make the common tomato transportable and last longer. I will explain how they pick green tomatoes to ship across the country and while in transit spray the tomatoes with ethylene to turn them from green to red. Notice I did not say ripen them. I said it turns the tomato from green to red. Pick one of those tomatoes up and give it a gentle squeeze, oh heck squeeze hard. You will not hurt it. Pick up a tomato out of your garden and try the same thing. You will see, feel and smell the difference. Then there are the trace amounts of ethylene that stay on the tomato and you got a green hard sphere that is perfectly red.
I know I should not, but I do take it personally when I hear how ugly the tomato looks and the person does not stay long enough for me to sell the tomatoe's virtues. I will watch the consumer go over to a huckster and by the perfect looking tomato they can get their hands on. Some one said, “There is no accounting for taste,” at the time I thought it was because the pink house was painted pink. However, then again the same applies to the human palette.
We just keep hoping that more people learn so we can make enough money to cover our expenses. We will still treat the land as the precious resource it is and relish our chance to nurture it back to health and make a little dent in reversing the Industrial Food Complex (IFC) deplorable use of all of our scarce resources.
I know all that has been written about the egg recall, the one thing that struck me was a picture I saw. I wanted to use the photograph, that a news agency published, of the man behind the egg farms . There he was coming out of his office with his crisp white shirt, smartly tied necktie, sharp lines on his pants, shinny shoes and clean hands and fingernails. Then I wanted to put a picture of myself or any other local farmer against his. The caption would capture what I have been writing about the IFC for years. From whom would you want to buy your food? The man in the suit or the man or woman holding food raised for the family and community.
In the mean time we will keep growing healthy, organic fruits, vegetables, eggs and maybe chicken meat.
Buy Local: You are the ones that can make a difference
Posted by Brian
@ 12:05 PM EDT
I do not want to offend anyone but I know I will. It is like passing the scene of an accident and you do not want to look, you know you should not look; you should be paying attention to driving the vehicle undistracted. As you creep along with traffic these thoughts go threw your head. You are not going look that is all there is to it. Then there is an instant, it is less then a second, something takes over and your head turns, and you look. You did not mean to, you intended not to, you had all the best of intentions of avoiding it but there it is, against your deepest thought, it happened.
Well someone is going to get offended so let me apologize up-front. Please remember these are just observations that I have made over the years of living in a suburban and rural environment. I officially have more years living out of the city than I do living in the city. Although my observations may be born of naïveté, they are just observations.
We talk about food and how certain foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts) whole foods, mainly, are good for your health. You can read how our meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables are grown makes a huge difference in the eco-system and on all our scarce resources. There are huge conglomerates spending millions, if not billions, on chemical, biological and physical ways to change, alter, elongate, preserve, extend, affect appearance, stop infestations; the list for what they want to do to whole foods is endless. Even though the research might show evidence of serious negative affects on the human body or the environment, it can be squelched and the product can be introduced into the industrial food chain.
Think back to GMO corn and how it was not suppose to be in our food supply. Then in the early 2000’s a woman has a seizure triggered from eating a taco shell made out of GMO corn. Is titanium dioxide here in the US or not (see GRAS and Nano-Tech)? If so, what products use that nano-technology? It has been found in Great Brittan; of course, it took an independent study to find that fact. At least the European consumers are being made aware of this additive. The IFC knows the extent of the degradation of the earth and our resources and they act to minimize or out right cover up those facts and introduce the product into the food chain anyway.
Bisphenol A, (BPA’s) Titanium Dioxide and Diactyl come to mind because these are the things we know, there have been news reports, independent scientific analysis and medical research pointing to the ills of the these two food additives and the third in plastic containers. Even with the knowledge they were still introduced in the worlds food supply
We are woefully under armed and overwhelmed from the sheer size of the other side. It is us against them and our side is slowly getting bigger. Each year consumers get a little more educated about the ills of industrial farming practices and as more recalls take place the question of food safety becomes more important to the consumer.
As a small farm we get a little bigger each year, plant a little more, add a few more chickens, and get more land certified organic. The Industrial Food Complex is not doing the present and the future any favors. Think endocrine disruptors, food alergies, e-coli outbreaks, feminized bass and castrated bull frogs..
This brings me back to insulting someone. We live on a small farm, surrounded by other small farms. Our house sits in the middle of fifty-five acres. On our left is a farm, on our right is a farm and behind us is a farm. In front of our house is a flood zone. Our smallest buffer zone is about a thousand feet from all of my conventional neighbors. National Organic Procedures call for twenty-five feet of hedgerow or buffer zone.
Our neighbors grow grains, hay and forage for their animals. Therefore, there is all this food being grown around our little two acres of fruits and vegetables. I mean hundreds of acres surrounding our vegetable and fruit gardens. Yet with all this GMO food growing for animal feed and other applications the wildlife pick our gardens to raid. Ground hogs will leave the protection of the edge of the tree line to raid the garden, raccoons, turkeys, our own chickens, rabbits and deer. We fight them all to get the food to market.
With signs advertising certified organic we sit at the farmers market with our offerings and people will pass us by to go to the huckster to buy vegetables. The Maryland Department of Agriculture defines hucksters as those people that buy and resell fruits and vegetables. The vegetables just look better I admit that, but we know they did not grow it, they cannot tell the customer what farm it came from or what chemicals are on it. At our house the wildlife has hundreds of acres of food to choose from yet they choose to find ours and what that tells me is even wild animals know what tastes better.
Buy Local- From a farmer you know and invites you to visit the farm to learn more.
p.s. Yes, it has been a very hot summer, we are suffering a drought and a stink bug infestation that is wearing on me, if you are reading this you are already informed and knowledgeable about fresh local foods, so please don’t take offense and thank you for letting me vent. If you are not reading this then......
Posted by Brian
@ 09:00 AM EDT
This growing season has been brutal in our part of the country. Nevertheless, I knew we were in for a problem back in the winter. Over the course of my life, when inquiring about a problem, situation, function, example, question or any other unknown or known occurrence, I have heard in essence the same meaning, repeatedly, when talking to experts or professionals in their field. It is not always the same words and there are different phrases used when the person is describing their perspective or knowledge. However, the out come is always the same they are genuinely stymied and do not know the answer.
It has been phrases like, "I've never seen that before," or "This is the first time I have heard of that," or "It has never done that before," or "In all my years this is the first time (fill in the blank)," or "No, I have not come across that before,". It is not complex things, I do not deal with things of unearthly origin or advanced technological solutions. At work or at home or growing I have heard these comments in different situations.
Sometimes we joke about my ability to be in a place when something completely bizarre happens. One of my colleagues long ago tagged me as “Schleprock” a character on the Flintstone’s. I'm not saying this is always the case because, I consider my life to be very blessed and I have been able to do good things that help family and community. But, there is that other side, a small side, but it is a part firmly in place.
We had a soil professional on the property; he spent his entire life in the farming community and learning about soils. I took him to the end of the high-tunnel where we had so much trouble putting in the footers (see This is no Easy Project). I picked up a piece of the soil and gave it to him to examine. He looks at it, rubs it between his fingers and says, "Huh, I have never seen this before. It looks like it has been fired or was part of a building". You figure the odds, out of fifteen acres; I was able to select an area that may be on top of an out-building used in the 1800's or earlier.
This brings me back to my point on this summer’s drought. When the two water tanks arrived, I made sure to have them placed and hooked up for the early spring rain. The reason we got them was that in past years we would lose water after the two three thousand tanks filled but the rains kept coming. Then there was a part of me that thought, "With my luck we'll have a drought this year".
I know there is no correlation between me buying water tanks and the rain not coming, but it does not surprise me. I am use to people being surprised when I ask for explanations and they should know the answer but it is the first time they have encounter the problem or situation that I am in. I am an optimist, heavily cloaked in a thick layer of pessimism.
It came as no surprise the first time I bought water this summer that it rained the next day. It did not rain enough, but the fact that it rained at all was surprising. It was not predicted and it was a quick moving front. That was all the rain we got for the next nineteen days. That is until I bought another four thousand gallons of water. It sprinkled while the water was being pumped from the truck to the tanks but it was not enough to make the grass wet. I could not help but still see the irony however, slight.
Things are coming in slow, everyone is complaining and we are doing our best. The corn is failing and the chickens are down sixty percent in laying capacity. Each year growing has seemed to have unique characteristics or personality and this season is turning out to be just brutal.
Buy Local - From a farmer supporting your community, health and environment
Posted by Brian
@ 11:55 AM EDT
We need water. When we moved on to the farm in August of 2002, the eastern seaboard was in the midst of a drought. One similar to the one we are under now and our crops are showing wear. It makes sense that we are in a drought, because I just added (this spring) the capacity to collect six thousand more gallons of rainwater. This brings our ability to collect a total of twelve thousand gallons.
This year we connected the tanks earlier than normal to collect water. I had the tanks hooked up by March ready for the first rain or snowmelt. In previous years, the tanks would be over flowing by July, which is why we bought more tanks. There have been years past when we had to dump thousands of gallons of collected rainwater at the end of the season to winterize the tanks.
We are also using drip tape with the openings spaced every twelve inches, which is how far we spaced our plants. Give or take an additional twelve inches. We have been able to conserve water use and precisely apply water to the vegetables. Yet, we still need water. We never did get a full twelve thousand gallons. As of the last precipitation, the total collected for this spring was six thousand gallons. Since then we have been watering weekly in an attempt to conserve water.
We need the corn to get deep taproots so we have to water them slowly and for long periods. Corn is a heavy feeder on the soil and the water table; the deeper their roots go the better the corn. Our backup plan has always been to pump water out of the stream that runs through our property. This increases our carbon footprint but is something that will need consideration if we do not get rain soon. With drip irrigation at least we can almost micro-manage water distribution.
Nothing on a farm is easy and that includes irrigation systems. Ours’ uses drip tape, which is a vast improvement over soaker hoses or overhead watering. Not only does it conserve water, you lose less water to evaporation and those plants that need pollination stand a better chance of getting pollen when it is dry and a breeze comes along.
It is not easy running drip tape thousands of feet and having three different zones to keep track of, but collected rainwater is a precious commodity and we treat it as such.
No surprise, watering has great affects on the look of the fruit and vegetable. Just like humans, plants can go for a time without food, but without water, they expire. With tomatoes if you water inconsistently it will develop cat facing and blossom end rot. Too much water and you can split the tomato. Therefore, being steady and consistent with all tomatoes gets them into a pattern they can live with. Trimming them has also been a way for us to increase yields and help the plant through drier then normal times. Less leaves means water intake can be reserved for the important parts, the tomato.
Our theory is to get rid of most of the leaf structure that does not support fruit bearing branches. This way the plant has more nutrients available to send to the fruits instead of feeding unnecessary branches and leaves. There is a point of no return so trimming needs the utmost care and discretion. I guess we could have spent thousands getting a well put in but it seemed like a better idea to capture free water falling from the sky. I have not regretted the decision but we do need rain.
We ran totally out of water and ordered four thousand gallons of water Friday. I told the farmer who went in on buying this year’s tanks and he thanked me profusely. “Why?” I asked, “Because we will get rain now.” “Oh wise one,” I said, “That is why I only purchased four thousand so I would have space to collect the rain that I was bringing”. Moreover, yes he was right, Saturday morning it rained and we got four tenths of an inch. Not much, but when you need rain you will take what ever you can get.
Buy Local: Support your local farmer, your community and your health.
Posted by Brian
@ 06:43 PM EDT
Food science is going nano; believe it or not we as consumers are now facing another menacing aspect of the adulteration of whole foods. The FDA has a classification known as GRAS or Generally Recognized As Safe. They have a list of chemicals and ingredients that are known to be safe and are classified as such. What nanotechnology is doing is taking and combing elements from the "Periodic Table" to make new substances that can prolong the life of fruits and vegetables or make ketchup come out easier or cake mix pour without lumping.
Because they are using elements deemed safe then the theory is the bi-product would be safe. So something like nano-titanium dioxide under GRAS would be considered safe. Andrew Schneider writing for AOL Science reported that "One of the few ingestion studies recently completed was a two-year-long examination of nano-titanium dioxide at UCLA, which showed that the compound caused DNA and chromosome damage after lab animals drank large quantities of the particles in their water."
Yet the IFC is trying to get or might already have this in our food supply. Why? Because, it allows the food to have a longer shelf life. Longer shelf life means a longer time in which to sell the product. Are we going to have another tobacco fight on our hands? Where after hundreds of thousands of deaths someone will finally find the memo that states how dangerous this stuff is and how it should not be used.
Nanocoating is being developed in Asia and is sprayed on foods to help them last longer. The only problem is that it has not been tested at all for possible side affects or adverse reactions to humans. As complicated as the human body is, shouldn't someone test what these things can do to our organs or cells or what the heck how about the double-helix? The British House of Lords conducted a study and found the technology is already in salad dressings, diet drinks, sauces, boxed cakes and so on. So it is already in foods in United Kingdom. Do you believe its not here now? I urge you to follow the link above and read Andrew Schneider's three part article to really get the full picture.
In the mean time BUY LOCAL- Support a local farm to support your health
Posted by Brian
@ 06:42 PM EDT
Going into the winter of our first year with the chickens, we were worried that they would freeze. Okay, my wife was, I figured they already had a down coat on, how cold could they get. Besides being on the "Recovering Species" list, Rhode Island Reds were bred in a cold northern climate. Our research pointed us to birds raised in the northern portion of the nation. The rational was that they are use to the climate and can withstand normal to hard Maryland winters. RIR are good down to below freezing if it drops lower than that, you need to provide some kind of heat source in their house.
One of the most important keys to winter survival for the hen is housing. They need to be in a draft free house in order to maintain body heat. Of course the more birds you have the better able they all are to keep each other warm. But you can quickly reach a space issue which causes competition, which causes pecking.
The six we had that first winter would crowd very close in order to stay warm. We had what we refer to as the winter setup for the two moveable houses. There is a second floor to the house with the floor being a wire mesh. This allows air circulation and an easy way to clean the leavings from that top part. For colder days there is a tarp that is fit to cover the wire mesh. The tarp is then covered with pine shavings.
Every other day a little more shavings are put in. As the layers of pine shavings build the bottom starts to compost and provides a small amount of heat to the second floor of the pen. We keep a nose out because once you get a slight whiff of ammonia then their environment has become toxic. For the past three years we have been lucky on that account. Their egg production slows a little but it is more a lack of light then it is being too cold for them.
When it snows like it did this past week (we had close to twenty inches) we move into the second phase of the winter setup. This entails covering the bottom floor of the inside and the attached outside pen with pine shavings. We also cover the outside pen with a tarp to break the wind. These areas too will get the sniff test. One of the problems with confined housing is the build up of fecal matter and then the corresponding ammonia.
This type of environment promotes respiratory ailments and other problems that can be fixed with anti-biotic. In an organic setting, having to give a bird any drugs, hormones or synthetic substances takes it out of certified status. So we are very careful about smells and the amount of fecal matter in and around the house in general during the winter. They get fresh litter on the floors at least once a week or more if the house starts to smell anything other than fresh.
Another learning experience for us was the feel of the bottom of a hen’s foot. On a RIR it is a soft, smooth, leathery feel not a hard pad like a dog or cat would have. Because of this soft tissue they are susceptible to injury. If the bottom of the foot gets cut, for any reason, it will usually get infected because they frequently step in fecal matter If not caught in time this infection will eventually kill the bird and could possibly contaminate the rest of the flock.
Keeping an eye on the birds for any type of limp helps catch the problem early. If there is a limp (sometimes referred to as bumble-foot) take a look at the bottom of the foot. Make sure it is clean enough to inspect the skin. The bottom of the foot should be soft and pliable with no cuts, sores or abrasions. If you see an open wound you will need to clean and dress it. The bird should be confined to a hospital pen with fresh, clean pine shavings. Clean the foot and change the dressing every two days.
Frost bite is another problem a hen can face during colder months. I’ve read that bad frost bite is serious and needs a veterinarian to fix. A small amount is not fatal but if nothing is done to change the environment a hen can die from the exposure. The first part of a chicken to get frost bite is going to be their comb and waddle. Depending on the bird if the temperature is below freezing then you want to provide heat twenty-four hours a day. We use heat lamps and an electric outlet that senses temperature. If ambient temperature in the hen house drops below thirty-four degrees the light and water bucket warmer come on. When the inside temperature reaches forty-five degrees the electricity is turned off. This seems to keep them comfortable because they are starting to have a consistent lay rate.
We’ve had the biggest snow fall since getting chickens and this has proven to be quite overwhelming. We knew the storm was coming so we moved all the houses into covered spaces for protection but still be able to get the tractor in and be able to clear some ground for them. When we finally let them out, the first thing they started doing was pecking and eating snow. This is not good for them because like you or I, eating ice has a tendency to cool our body temperature. With a chicken it is a little more drastic but what can you do. I told them at least don’t eat the yellow, brown or greenish brown snow! They looked up for a second and went directly for the colored snow anyway, go figure.
Buy Local - From a farmer not a chain using the word to generate sales.
Posted by Brian
@ 05:32 PM EST
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.
Posted by Brian
@ 08:59 AM EDT
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