Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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We are Official

The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has certified us as a poultry processor.  This allows us to sell our organic chickens at farmers markets, restaurants and stores.  The MDA came out, inspected our processing, and tested our wastewater and chilling process along with all of our documentation.

I cannot adequately describe how conflicted this feels.  We accomplished something big but at what cost.  I started writing this blog as a way of helping others that choose this path, purging my actions through explanation, and documenting our struggles, failures and possible successes as urbanites transitioning into organic farmers.  As was previously stated we took on this challenge knowing failure had more weight on the scale then success.

We carefully planned what we would do, as a farm, and how we would go about growing healthy, safe food for our community.  We had been growing for ourselves for twenty years so we felt confident (unjustifiably) that we could grow on a larger scale.  Confidence is a fickle emotion and fleeting feeling.  You know you are going to have setbacks, life is never perfect and neither are humans.  Therefore, we understood that a certain amount of perseverance was necessary in order to sustain our trek towards our goals.

My wife and I have changed, no big shock there, we all change.  However, this certification points to one of the most radical changes that have ever occurred in my life.  In the city, you do not grow up killing things, unless you are a gangster.  Killing was not part of my life, okay cockroaches and crickets’ different story.  Taking a life was not part of our experience growing up.

I have documented here the pain and anguish we have suffered from all aspects of farming.  Be it someone getting hurt, chickens perishing due to dogs and hawks, fruit and vegetable crop failures and not being economically sustainable.  All aspects have served to make us stronger, our resolve more intense and our fortitude unyielding.  However, I have changed in a way that now does not fit with the person I once was, or what I ever thought I would be. 

Since starting the farm, I have lost loved ones, friends and animals dear to my heart.  You are not supposed to be attached to your food.  Nonetheless, I baby my corn and tomatoes the same way I baby our layers and our meat birds.  There is this dichotomy wrapped in a paradigm (of what was and was not) that reflects the struggle I have with farming.  It is an undertaking that makes you change your views about who you are and what you need to do in order to be sustainable.  I am not talking about shades of gray or operating on the line of right and wrong.  I am an ethical, moral, honest, law abiding citizen.  I volunteer in my community, as well as, donating money to the Humane Society and other worthy causes.  We give our spent layers to the soup kitchen so the last thing the chicken does is to nourish the less fortunate among us.  The toll our endeavor exacts has been unexpected.

Nevertheless, I have changed in a way that any one who knew me would not expect.  In farming, you have to do things that you may not be comfortable with.  I can only speak for myself, but a part of my heart, emotions and feelings have taken a pummeling.  When you routinely take the life of an animal that you have raised since its birth there is a certain distance that must be maintained in order to protect yourself.  Which I find is impossible, yet I have to and there in lies the quandary.  We are a humane farm, we will always be a humane farm but I struggle with the whole processing certification.  Food is fruits, vegetables, seafood and animals and growing is like a roller coaster that never ends.  No matter the intangible side, at least now, we are official.

Buy local:  Tens of thousands of us are struggling to provide you with safe fresh alternatives. Take advantage!

 

 
 

No Chance of Return

Growing up in the city, I saw and heard some horrific incidents.  From car accidents, a friend’s brother touches a live wire on top of a train; a body lays in pieces after a motorcycle accident, to burying my puppy after being struck by a car.  All of which make me cringe at the thought of blood shed at my own hands.  I have written about this theme often, because it is something that has caused great anguish and emotional pain, which I had hoped by exposing, would allow me to move forward. 

I guess in a way I was right, if it was most things, I would like being right.  This is not one of them and I have lost more then I bargained for, at least in the end.  I do have perspective; I have talked to my nephews who have both served on the frontlines in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The things we have talked about and how they conducted themselves while transitioning back into society has been inspiring and made me feel foolish at my own inadequacies.

We have exhausted every possible angle for selling our chickens, legally, without us processing.  In the state of Maryland, if you do not process your own chickens, legally, you cannot sell them off the farm, let alone retail.  If you want to expand your market to restaurants, wholesale or even farmer’s markets, you need a license.  Therefore, I have taken the next step in getting our state certified poultry processor license.  First step was taking the processing class and passing the test with at least an 80.  We have accomplished the aforementioned.

Since then, I have completed the twenty some page application.  The next step is to mail it in and wait for the evaluation of our production, sanitation, safety measures, hazard mitigation, waste disposal and chilling process.  After examination, comes the letter announcing the results of our plan.  If we succeed in meeting all sanitation, safety and disposal procedures, we move to the inspections phase.  We then wait for the inspector to call and setup the inspection of our processing. 

This has all come with little cost but a lot of emotional angst.  However, I took a step that I thought I would never take, nor did I have confidence that I could ever bring myself to take.  It has been years in the making but I have crossed over into the realm of grim reaper.  I did not lose my breakfast, lunch or dinner as I thought I would, but I lost something worse.  To a certain extent, I lost a piece of something, that I had fought a lifetime trying to keep safe.  The idea of me ending the life of an animal, that I had raised and cared for, was not fathomable.  I have written here, that it was something I was not able or willing to face. 

I feel no sense of accomplishment, there is not a speck of satisfaction or any positive feeling having faced one of the hardest tests of my life when I stepped up for the sake of the farm.  I am not relieved, if anything I am saddened that I have had to take this step after so many years of fighting against our raising and processing of animals.  

Temple Grandin said that constant processing of animals makes people sadistic.  I can see why and I have only done it twice.  I think it is a defense mechanism used to reconcile what you are doing on a daily basis.  I am not saying it is right, it is not, there is no justification for the mistreatment of animals no matter the situation.  However, there are emotions involved, we are humans and emotions come with the package.  Some of us are better able to handle situational emotions then others and I am trying. 

Humane slaughter is an oxymoron but as Temple and Joel Salatin illustrate the end of an animal's life, although permanent, should and can be done with the least stress possible to the animal.  I know our birds are raised in the most humane, comfortable and invigorating environment possible, that they lived free and outside with plenty of room and were protected from predatory ills.  I try to joke that they live better then I do, what with their organic diet, freedom, fresh grass and a stress-less environment.  

However, it does not lessen the fact that my attempt to be a successful vegetable grower is in great peril.  It is a bitter pill to swallow given what we now must do in order to keep the operation viable.  This is just the beginning, eventually I will need to process one weekend every month.  Michael Pollan in "Ominvores Dilemma" pointed out, how far removed people are from their food source.  This makes it harder for consumers to see what small farms go through in order to survive and provide safe, fresh food.  That is why education is important, the more people learn the more they understand the earnest effort that small sustainable farmers put fourth for their health and the environments. 

On a farm, you face difficulties frequently and you do what is warranted within guidelines, humane treatment, regulations, and social mores, ethical and sustainable practices and sometimes by doing so, you just find yourself over the edge and there is no chance of return.

Buy Local: Become part of a greater good, help build your local community food chain.

 

 
 
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