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Support Small Businesses on Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday

Today is Small Business Saturday, so I wanted to take a minute to encourage you to make an effort to support small businesses – in your local area as well as those businesses that are doing things that you agree with and support.  And please try to do this throughout the year, not just on Small Business Saturday.

Remember, your local farmer is a small business owner – in one of the most demanding industries where success is elusive.  Making an effort to shop local for food – whether direct from a farmer or through a food co-op or buying club – will do a lot to support your local economy and the families of hard-working farmers.

Localization is really a larger effort – one that is essential to solving many of the problems that face the American economy.  With too much centralization of large corporations and government at all levels that support it, small businesses and local economies face a steep uphill battle to survive and thrive in the months and years ahead.

But buying local and small on purpose is a way to do what you can, with what you have control over – your purchases – to strengthen your local economy and help your neighbors by keeping commerce close to home.

Finally, I’d like to remind you that True Food Solutions is a small family business.  We’re an online community for people like you that care about real food and gret health, but the work to build and support that community is done by my family with help from some other small family businesses.

If you’d like to help support our efforts to build community and develop real food solutions to the food crisis we’re facing, you can do so by buying some of the great resources in the True Food Solutions store, which are on sale this weekend for 30% off – our best price of the year.

As I discussed last month in my webinar on the True Food Action Plan, the biggest changes that can be made in our food system and your health start with you.  (By the way, I highly recommend you review all of our webinar resource pages, which provide links to great resources focused on the topic of the webinar).

The foundation of these changes in your life is education – gaining the knowledge of real food solutions and the wisdom of how to implement them.  Knowing is not enough, thoughAction is required.  Often, the first action that you need to take is acting to gain the knowledge needed to know what to do next.

So with that thought in mind, I’d like to offer the resources in the True Food Solutions store to you as a help in this process.  And to make it easier for you to act, I’m going to offer our best discount of the year – 30% off everything in our store, now through Monday night.

To get this fantastic 30% off savings, use coupon code ‘Thanksgiving’ at checkout.

 

Here are some of my favorite resources:


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You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise by Joel Salatin

You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise by Joel Salatin

You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise by Joel Salatin

For farm entrepreneurs, the opportunities for a farm family business have never been greater. As the industrial agriculture complex crumbles and our culture clambers for clean food, the countryside beckons anew with profitable farming opportunities. More Info »

Price: $35.00$28.00

by
Jason Matyas

The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer by Joel Salatin

The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer by Joel Salatin

The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer by Joel Salatin

Foodies and environmentally minded folks often struggle to understand and articulate the fundamental differences between the farming and food systems they endorse and those promoted by Monsanto and friends. With visceral stories and humor from Salatin’s half-century as a “lunatic” farmer, Salatin contrasts the differences on many levels: practical, spiritual, social, economic, ecological, political, and nutritional. More Info »

Price: $25.00$19.00

by
Jason Matyas

Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin

Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin

Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin

This is THE book on the biggest small scale farming opportunity available today, according to author Joel Salatin. A couple working six months per year for 50 hours per week on 20 acres can net $25,000-$30,000 per year. In a day when main-line farm experts predict the continued demise of the family farm, the pastured poultry opportunity shines like a beacon in the night, guiding the way to a brighter future. More Info »

Price: $35.00$28.00

by
Jason Matyas

Inherit the Land

Inherit The Land: Adventures in the Agrarian Journey

Inherit The Land: Adventures in the Agrarian Journey

Inherit the Land: Adventures in the Agrarian Journey will cast a vision for your family by providing an introductory look at the blessings found when families work in an agrarian lifestyle. We’ve traveled across the US and captured stories of families experiencing the joy of working in God’s creation. More Info »

Price: $20.00$17.00
Out of Stock

by
Jason Matyas

Homestead Blessings: The Complete Eleven Pack – Hosted by the West Ladies

Homestead Blessings 11 Pack

Homestead Blessings 11 Pack

The Homestead Blessings Collection is now available with eleven DVDs included in this complete series pack. This wonderful new complete set is sure to provide hours of fun and useful instruction. The set includes The Art of Bread Making, Candle Making, Soap Making, Canning, Gardening, Herbs, Cooking, Dairy, Sewing, Quilting, Crafting. More Info »

Price: $180.00$140.00

by
Jason Matyas

Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer’s Guide to Farm Friendly Food by Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan

Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer’s Guide to Farm Friendly Food by Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan

Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food by Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan

Holy Cows and Hog Heaven is written by an honest-to-goodness-dirt-under-the-fingernails, optimistic clean good farmer. It has an overriding objective of encouraging every food buyer to embrace the notion that menus are a conscious decision, creating the next generation’s world one bite at a time. More Info »

Price: $17.95$15.00

by
Jason Matyas

Health for Godly Generations: A Reformational Perspective

Health for Godly Generations book cover

Health for Godly Generations by Renee DeGroot

God’s creation and Christian culture are inextricably related. Food, vital for sustenance, is a link between those two realities. The components of diet and lifestyle will either preserve or destroy nature and culture. Cuisine affects health—and more broadly, the world. Deliberate decisions today will shape the strength of Christian families, the endurance of Western culture, and the integrity of the natural environment for decades to come. More Info »

Price: $19.00

by
Jason Matyas

Genetic Roulette Movie – The Gamble of our Lives

Genetic-Roulette-DVD

Genetic Roulette movie

When the US government ignored repeated warnings by its own scientists and allowed untested genetically modified (GM) crops into our environment and food supply, it was a gamble of unprecedented proportions. The health of all living things and all future generations were put at risk by an infant technology. Genetic Roulette provides compelling evidence to help explain the deteriorating health of Americans, but also offers a recipe for protecting ourselves and our future. More Info »

Price: $20.00

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Food Production Systems for a Backyard or Small Farm

Food Production Systems for a Backyard or Small Farm

Food Production Systems for a Backyard or Small Farm

This hands-on how-to video is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in gaining more self-reliance in the area of food. Producer and director Marjory Wildcraft is a nationally recognized expert in organic backyard food production. Marjory teaches people with no gardening or agricultural experience how to successfully grow healthy, vibrant, life-giving nutritious food. More Info »

Price: $94.00$59.95

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Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World by Joel Salatin (Hardback)

Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World by Joel Salatin (Hardback)

Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World by Joel Salatin (Hardback)

From farmer Joel Salatin’s point of view, life in the 21st century just ain’t normal. In FOLKS, THIS AIN’T NORMAL, he discusses how far removed we are from the simple, sustainable joy that comes from living close to the land and the people we love. Salatin has many thoughts on what normal is and shares practical and philosophical ideas for changing our lives in small ways that have big impact. More Info »

Price: $25.99$20.00

by
Jason Matyas

Farmageddon

Farmageddon homepage slide

Farmageddon homepage slide

Americans’ right to access fresh, healthy foods of their choice is under attack. Farmageddon tells the story of small, family farms that were providing safe, healthy foods to their communities and were forced to stop, sometimes through violent action, by agents of misguided government bureaucracies, and seeks to figure out why. More Info »

Price: $25.00$20.00

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Family Friendly Farming: A Multi-Generational Home-Based Business Testament by Joel Salatin

Family Friendly Farming: A Multi-Generational Home-Based Business Testament by Joel Salatin

Family Friendly Farming: A Multi-Generational Home-Based Business Testament by Joel Salatin

Saving the landscape, rebuilding entrepreneurial rural families, and protecting nutritious food are the themes of this timeless treatise-hence the word “testament.” Delving into the soul of the Salatin family’s nationally acclaimed Polyface Farm, author Joel Salatin offers Family Friendly Farming as the key to dealing with resource issues, food policy, and social fabric. More Info »

Price: $35.00$29.00

by
Jason Matyas

Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front by Joel Salatin

Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front by Joel Salatin

Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front by Joel Salatin

Drawing upon 40 years’ experience as an ecological farmer and marketer, Joel Salatin explains with humor and passion why Americans do not have the freedom to choose the food they purchase and eat. Salatin’s expert insight explains why local food is expensive and difficult to find and will illuminate for the reader a deeper understanding of the industrial food complex. More Info »

Price: $23.95$19.00
Out of Stock

by
Jason Matyas

Born Again Dirt

Born Again Dirt

Born Again Dirt

In Born Again Dirt, Noah Sanders encourages Christian farmers to evaluate their farming methods in light of Scripture. This book looks at various Biblical principles related to agriculture and provides examples of practical application. More Info »

Price: $15.00

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Back to Eden

back-to-eden

back-to-eden

BACK TO EDEN shares the story of one man’s lifelong journey, walking with God and learning how to get back to the simple, productive methods of sustainable provision that were given to man in the garden of Eden. More Info »

Price: $20.00$15.00

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The Pilgrims in 1621: Agriculture

First Thanksgiving by Brownscombe

As the American holiday of Thanksgiving is celebrated we often will hear some bit of the story of the Pilgrims and their “First Thanksgiving.” Regrettably, their story is often boiled down to the basics and we lose some of its fullness. Here I want to flesh out a small part of the story concerning the Pilgrims’ work in agriculture.

In the spring of 1621 the Pilgrims and the Indian tribes planted and worked in the fields of agriculture. We can see that both the English and the native tribes had skills and abilities the other lacked. We read in William Bradford’s book Of Plymouth Plantation, “Afterwards they…began to plant their corn, in which service Squanto stood them in great stead, showing them both the manner how to set it, and after how to dress and tend it.” Squanto and the Indian tribes had great experience with the land that the English lacked. They had a history of learning from mistakes and finding what worked. They knew the right seeds to plant. Squanto taught the English to fertilize their corn with the fish that would spawn in the river nearby at just the right time. If they didn’t, the nutrients in the land would get used up.

Pilgrims with Samoset

Here we can recognize that God provided the Indians with fish that would spawn at just the right time to fertilize the land so they could eat and live. As Matthew 5:45 says, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Here the Pilgrims reaped the benefits of working with the pagan tribes by learning the good things God had given them. This was a very providential blessing as their own seed did not do well, but thanks to this help they had enough food.  But despite God’s blessing on the native tribes, they were not exactly prosperous and thriving. The help was not all one sided, as we can see from an event that happened two months later.

It had been a little time since the English had seen Massasoit and so they sent two men along with Squanto to meet with him. This expedition had several objectives. First, to reaffirm peace with Massasoit and to keep a good relationship with him. Second, to exchange for seed for experimentation. The Pilgrims wanted to make sure that had a variety of things planted in case some failed. Third, to find out which tribe it was that they had taken corn from in the winter, so they could pay them back for it. Fourth, to explore the area around them. And fifth, to limit hungry visitors. It is this last objective that shows something about the Indians’ work ethic and food production. What was happening was there were many Indians that were taking advantage of the Pilgrim’s hospitality and staying there eating up their food. The Pilgrims wanted to be hospitable, but did not want to run out of food and so asked Massasoit to limit visitors to the amount they could handle. They were generous with gifts and hospitality, but did not want to become welfare providers, especially when they couldn’t afford it.

Pilgrims with Wampanoag

As the small expedition went out they could start to see why many Indians preferred to get the food from the English. The Indians, despite having a great abundance of natural resources, still struggled in having a stable food supply and clean habitations. As Edward Winslow (one of the two men on the expedition) says in his book Mourt’s Relation, describing a meager meal they had with Massasoit, “this meal only we had in two nights and a day, and had not one of us bought a partridge we had taken our journey fasting…he was to have us stay with them longer: but we desired to keep the Sabbath at home: and feared we should either be light-headed for want of sleep, for with bad lodging, the savages’ barbarous singing (for they use to sing themselves asleep), lice and fleas within doors, and mosquitoes without, we could hardly sleep all the time of our being there; we much fearing that if we should stay any longer, we should not be able to recover home for want of strength.”  Bradford remarks concerning this lack of prosperity among the Indians, “For the Indians used then to have nothing so much corn as they have since the English have stored them with their hows, and seen [the Englishmen’s] industry in breaking up new grounds therewith.”  On their trip some Indians desired that the Englishmen kill some crows, because they had been ruining the corn. There the two Englishmen with their superior weapons killed 80 crows in an afternoon.

We can see that the Indians benefited both from observing the English work ethic, and the technology it produced (such as guns and hows). This work ethic had come from the long history of Christendom where it had been taught that work is worship to God, that work is a blessing, that we are created to work and produce to the glory of God, that our first command from God is to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28).

Even the monks in the Middle Ages were taught this and spent much of their time in working and agriculture. The Protestant Reformation continued this and expanded it with its teaching of vocation, that the farmer and the pastor are both doing God’s work. The Pilgrims understood the importance of work and produced great things. When my family and I were in Plymouth in 2009 we saw a mill built only fifteen years after the Pilgrims first landed. It was amazingly intricately designed with all sorts of wheels, gears, stones, and levers–and it’s still working! We can see that the Christianity of the Pilgrims made them hard-working, productive, and a relatively prosperous society. It was this culture that built America.

Read more at The Christian Philosophy of Food

There’s a Food Crisis and You are the Solution

 

Food is not what it used to be, at least not the food found at the supermarket. The modern world boasts of a bountiful harvest provided by technology – the wonders of industrialization applied to agriculture.  But the result of this production system has largely become one of turning a few crops into commodities and engineering a vast new sea of “foods” from them.  The modern western (and especially U.S.) diet largely consists of highly processed food products, far removed in form and nutrition from the original life form that they came from.

 

The Industrialization of Food

This commoditization of food has been greatly aided by government subsidies for corn and soy, to the benefit of the food processing and fast food/junk food industries.  The creation of very cheap inputs into factory foods by government policy is a foundational contributor to the change in the nature of food in America over the past several decades.  This, combined with the cultural changes valuing mobility and convenience over family time and traditional cooking, have led the sea change in the way that Americans interact with food.

The results have been devastating.  We now have widespread (if not epidemic) rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer of all kinds, food allergies, and behavioral problems linked to poor digestion and gut health.  It is not coincidental that these changes have come with the change in the American diet and lifestyle.  Causal is a better term to describe it.

Industrial Agriculture
Industrial farming has leveraged economies of scale to produce for the mass market through factory farming, but the land, animals, and humans have suffered the consequences in falling nutritional quality and illness caused by chemical farming techniques.  And industrial farming is petroleum based farming, turning oil into food.

 

The era of cheap food is over. 

Even before the great American drought of 2012, rising oil prices have combined with third world nations’ rising incomes and increasing demand for more meat and other higher-cost food, to drive food commodity prices ever-higher.  Food has traditionally gone down in price, at least the trend had been that way for the last 100 years. According to Global Financial Data, food prices have dropped over the last 100 years by 82%, and looking at the economic business cycle for food, it would seem this would just be another “bust.”

FAO food price chart Oct 2012

But two important factors reveal that this may be a more long term trend. First, oil is now more than ever a critical input to commodity crops, and therefore food production. According to a study by Cornell University, it takes 140 gallons of fossil fuel to grow and harvest one acre of corn. This fuel is not just for the tractor; this includes all the petroleum used to make the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, and this number does not include the cost of transporting the corn to a market, or the petroleum used in the packaging of the food. As volatile geopolitical situations arise, and as sources of oil continue to diminish, the price of food will rise regardless of regional food price differences. Ill-conceived government subsidies for ethanol that is turning food crops into fuel have only exacerbated this trend.

A second factor at play is the diminishing amount of farmland. The demographic trend continues to be individuals gravitating towards large urban population centers, and not out to the farmland. The American Farmland Trust estimates that American farmland is disappearing at the rate of 2 acres per minute. As farmers and their land become more scarce through industrialization, the system becomes more susceptible to shocks and rising food prices.

With a severe global economic downturn setting in and millions of families worldwide facing difficulty in figuring out how to feed their families, we have now entered a global Food Crisis.  The “Arab Spring” was one of the many indications that the global food system is precariously balanced at the edge of a cliff.

But the crisis caused for millions due to the increasing price of food is a lagging indicator. More fundamental is the drastic way that food production, distribution, and consumption has changed over the past few decades.  With increasing urbanization has come the loss of productive farmland and the decline of family farming around the globe.  This makes the modern food system much more susceptible to risks of various sorts, everything from weather and crop failures, to market conditions in oil markets and global geopolitical events.  The 2012 drought in America’s heartland – the worst ever – is an important recent example.  Even local disasters can produce serious problems with respect to food availability due to the long supply lines in modern food systems.

 

What is the Solution?

With so many systemic problems in our food system, what is the solution?  The solution to all of these problems – to our depleted soil, shrinking and aging farmer population, our toxic environment, diminishing nutrition, chronic health problems, and rising prices – is YOU. You are the solution!

Learning early
As much as you are able, grow your own food.  Being productive with what you have is an essential first step.  Buy fresh and buy local. Know your farmer and support your local economy.  Buy from a farmer you can trust, one whose farm is not entrenched in the factory farm system.  Join a CSA or community garden.  Localization is a key to transforming the food system.

Top Tomato receiving from Farmer Matt

Know the risks associated with buying chemically-produced food, and choose to buy organic and sustainable products.  Self-education is a critical foundation for transforming the way your family deals with food.  Don’t rely on someone else to do it all for you.  Further, research and implement traditional food preparation methods, which will help you maximize the nutrition that your family receives and keep them healthy.

Plan ahead and buy in bulk from trusted suppliers.  Join a food co-op or buying club to get better deals on whole foods, buying in bulk  to utilize aggregated purchasing power.  Build up a food storage supply – the larder of olden days – to be prepared for emergencies and ready to share with neighbors in need.  Forward thinking is required to get out of the rat race that comes with “convenience”.

 

Is It Really That Simple?

With such huge challenges facing us with our broken modern food system, could it really be that simple?  Yes, it is that simple.  You are the Solution.  It requires action by individuals and families to change the system, because food choices are what support the system.  It was, in fact, only because people changed the way they acquired, prepared, and ate food – adopting “convenience” and price as determining factors – that our current system became what it is.  Stop feeding the beast with your purchases – opt out, as much as you are able.  Change what you are demanding, and the market will change to accommodate you.  In fact, it already has begun to do so.

Grow a garden.  Know and support your local farmers.  Join a buying club.  Build your food storage.  Grow community around food.  It really is that simple.  It starts and ends with you.  You are the Solution.

 

 

Sustainable Farming – The Dilemma for Young Farmers

DSC_0273The USDA announced on August 30th, 2012 that $18 million worth of aid would be distributed to new farmers and ranchers, particularly those who were “socially disadvantaged.” The program (titled the "Beginner Farmer and Rancher Development Program") is a new wave of aid enacted through the 2008 farm bill designed to entice a young workforce to enter the farming occupation, specifically to establish themselves within the developing sustainable niche.

The program sets aside money for college and university programs, nonprofits, and organizations that promote off-grid living, and collective farming operations. The USDA claims the program, “will help beginning farmers and ranchers overcome the unique challenges they face and gain knowledge and skills that will help them become profitable and sustainable,” without considering the grand irony of the federal government being involved in “sustaining” agriculture.

The Meaning of “Sustainable”

Sustainable” has a specific meaning in my agriculture worldview. It does not merely serve as a placeholder on the “progressive foodie” cereal box, and it is not just the philosophy to live by for the good of humanity. Honest advertising and moral concerns for the planet play a part in the “sustainability” label, but as a market garden manager, sustainability for me is separated into two connected categories: economic security and biological diversity. 

A farmer must budget for what his farm can sustain and what it will need, considering future projected income through crop and animal yields. How then could the farmer use government funds and still be sustainable if his farm must profit from grants? Even if the grant is just a startup investment, a marketplace unable to sustain the start-up businesses that provide for the most basic human need is a poor marketplace to be a part of, and one I certainly would avoid.

At the least, the farmer is not appropriately preparing for what the market will dictate. The aid offered through this specific grant, and other grants which the USDA pushes on young farmers, will never strengthen the market for the farmer, but will only induce a system of dependency on government aid.  It will eventually cause the loss of independent farms and farmers that the very programs are trying to prevent. 

Is the USDA Really Supporting Farmers?

Despite my previous denunciation of government funding for sustainable farming, I think most sustainable farmers would expect a farm bill to contain direct grants (as in previous bills) for individual farmers, yet the majority of the funding (after the university programs) is given to organizations that support sustainable gardening or collective programs.

One organization in Illinois, The Black Oaks Center for Sustainable, Renewable Living, is more of a working community than a farm, and is more focused on teaching survival skills in a “post-carbon” world, creating renewable energy, and on collectively farming for the common good, than on producing food to economically sustain a family.

I believe such a program would have positive effects on individuals and families weaning themselves from a consumer-heavy mindset, but at best, this grant provision show the ignorance the USDA has when it supports sustainable farming, in the context of the business of farming.

USDA Really Supports the Industrial System

The USDA has traditionally manipulated the market for farm products, turning many crops into commodities in order to enable low cost food products to the consumers, and at the same time offering aid to the farmers taking the risk so they can hedge against crop failures. Without the need to plan for the risk of losses, farmers have developed an agricultural landscape that supports monoculture, quickly harvestable and often environmentally misplaced crops.

Sustainable farming has no place in such a system, and if anything has come of this system, it has neither helped the farmer nor the consumer. The system has made the farmer dependent on debt and industrial technology, and the consumer has experienced a reduction in real food and poor nutritional quality.

It is no wonder that over the last decade we have seen a rise in the demand for organic and sustainable food products. The companies who support agribusiness are still making their profits, and one would think the USDA would support them entirely, so why would the USDA suddenly decide to help the small, limited market? I believe the answer lies with the consumer.

The USDA is no doubt noticing the impact that such labels as the organic label (a $32 Billion industry in the US) and the sustainable label have had on consumers and producers alike. These labels have been processed through bureaucratic jargon to come to mean nothing from the governmental regulatory standpoint. Organic foods can contain many different chemical agents, either applied in the field or in a processing plant.

At the same time, this is the same agency who has shut down small farming operations across the United States because they marketed products that consumers sought, even though the products were considered unsafe for consumption or production by the USDA (I am speaking of raw milk, hemp, raw honey, etc), while greenlighting the use of GMO seeds and hormone enhanced cattle, neither of which are sustainable.

Now, the USDA seemingly wants to find a way to extend an olive branch to the new generation of young entrepreneurs who want to positively affect the food supply, yet I think it has more to do with the influence that young farmers will have on their land.

The Farming Generation is getting older, not younger

Supporting Family Farms?

The USDA will attempt to redeem themselves by pointing out that they have stood for family farmers, although to what degree? 98% of US farms are family owned.  An encouraging sign, but of those farms, only a few are true polyculture farms, growing for biological and economic sustainability. Their agricultural production is dependent upon the industrial systems used to sustain vast monocropped land.

This industrial system has created many casualties.  There are 330 "family" farmers are leaving their land every week because they aren't able to make ends meet. This statistic would be less sad if there were a new generation of farmers to fill the void left, but not many exist.

The mean age of farmers in this country now stands at 65. So, the USDA is doing their bit to provide the educational needs of the new generation of farmers, bringing them into the "21st Century" of farming. Yet, this kind of thinking produced the problem in the first place! The grants have an educational focus on how to "engineer" the farm, instead of how to let the farm produce on it's own. I am not denigrating college in anyway, or stating that it doesn't have a place in helping upcoming farmers understand the science involved in creating a truly sustainable farm, but within a system supported by agribusiness, there is no a silver lining.

What Will Really Support the 21st Century Farmer?

"The young farmer only needs a little more education" is the cry, and the USDA can be seen promoting and supplying the “socially disadvantaged” young farmer with the tools for the 21st Century. But the 21st Century has shown solutions that are not in support of the young sustainable farmer.  Although such programs exist that promote organic or sustainable agriculture, they do not give a farmer any edge over the internet-savvy individual who can mine the knowledge base of the internet, and who can invest more money into land or sustainably developing his farm. Being socially disadvantaged (are they meaning to say, "dumb hick?") does not necessarily mean technologically inept.

That is what the 21st Century has really offered the new farmer, the possibilities of infinite knowledge sharing and the verification of results. Results is what the classroom farmer will still be offering, the "slightly smudged" organic tomato which has all the outward certifications of organic, but the internal poverty of mismanagement and licensed cheating. But to the true sustainable 21st Century farmer, land becomes the resource to be sought, not costly knowledge, and most importantly, the freedom to farm as one pleases, and as the consumer market dictates.

The USDA can certainly try to sell their wares to the young generation of farmers, but I believe these strong, hard-working growers are seeing through the deceptive hypocrisy. Government cannot solve the ills that have been built up over several generations of conventional farming, supported by the USDA, and government is not the answer to the decline of American farming.

This aid is not the support young farmers should desire, nor is it the redemption the USDA craves. The solution is the farmer and his field, free from the tyranny of government regulation and unadulterated by government handouts.

Five Steps to Eating Local, from Land and Table

This is excerpted from an article written by my friend Jason Fowler, the founder of Sustainable Traditions and the new Land and Table project.

Eat Local

 

Intentionally focusing on eating local is all about understanding the source of our food in an effort to make choices that are more healthy for our bodies, the land, and our local economy.

1) Learn the issues

Choosing to eat local is a shift in thinking. It is a reorienting of our food and money priorities. Economic, ecological, social, and personal health issues intersect our dinner table. It’s important to seek out resources, books, documentaries, etc, that can give us a rounded understanding of why eating local matters. …

2) Grow your own

One of the most common criticisms I hear against choosing to eat local and sustainable is that it is too “elitist”. Because buying healthier foods can be more expensive you may think it won’t fit into your food budget, especially lately as food prices are rising. The surest and quickest way to eat local and even somewhat organic is to grow it yourself. Choosing to be a producer and not just a consumer is the first place to begin. …

2) Buy cooperatively

There are times when buying as a group can really save you a lot of money. For instance, if you are interested in buying local, grassfed beef it would be most economical to go in with a few other families to buy a whole cow rather than buy particular cuts a little at a time. You can also start or join a buying club. …

3) Support sustainable producers

The local food movement is integrally linked with sustainable agricultural practices. Sustainable agriculture involves growing food and raising animals in a way that continually restores the land and respects the animals. Using toxic pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers is destructive over the long term and does not build the health of the soil. Also raising animals in confined feeding operations raises the risk for disease. One of the main reasons for buying local is that it makes more sense ecologically. …

4) Define what matters to you

Eating local can mean different things to different people. For some people it means a 100 mile radius; for other people it means only eating food grown in the state; still for others they are fine if it comes from the their part of the country. You need to decide what matters to you and why. Start small and be flexible. …

5) Seek the source

Right now eating local is a popular trend so it seems everything and everybody wants to be in the game. The reality is though there is no certification for what local means. You should always inquire where the food comes from and how it is grown. The whole point of eating local is restoring our relationship with the food, the land and those who grow and produce it. Build relationships with the farmers and it will change the way you eat. As farmer, philosopher, and writer Wendell Berry has said: “Eating is an agricultural Act

 

Read the entire article and other great content at Land and Table.

Why We Farm! Or a guide to relational farming…

Farm fresh produce

The ritual begins during a fading Texas evening. I open the rear hatch of my van, and pull two picnic-worn coolers out onto the chapped pavement. I clear the beads of sweat from my forehead before opening the big white cooler and pick out a healthy specimen of cantaloupe. Behind me stands a small gathering: two newlywed couples, a gurgling baby in a baby carrier, a father and daughter, and a doting grandmother perched over the infant. Their task in this ritual is to watch.

“These were picked this morning,” I say, carefully handing my charges to the first couple in line. The husband flips the fruit around in his hand, inspecting the tiny ridges, and nestles his nose into the plant’s navel. He sniffs in the aromatic perfume with pleasure and satisfactorily deposits the fruit in his wife’s handbag.

I move onto the blue cooler, pulling out a crinkling store-labeled grocery sack stuffed with purple pea snaps, bell peppers, okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, banana peppers, basil, and oregano.

“Eighteen dollars and fifty-eight cents.” I recite from the yellow receipt, and the husband hands me a crisp twenty.

“I hope you have change,” he states, subtly reminding me of my lack of change the previous week.

“Yeah, I do,” I say, quickly shuffling through the stuffed envelope of coins and cash until I find the right amount. After he is done, the couple stands there and admires their food while I move onto the next couple’s order. The wife occasionally glances back to her mother-in-law and infant and smiles.

“My baby girl just loves the squash you gave us last week. I mashed it up, and she just took it right down.” I turn my head far enough so she can see me smile, and reply, “I’m not sure if anymore will come this season.”

“Really?” 

“But I’ll check to see if any will be here by next week.” My brother, Gerred, owns and runs the farm, I just run the business side of the operation. I often find myself telling customers that I must check, since he keeps a constant check on the farm's pulse.

“Thank you! I like using it as her baby food.” I listen as she describes how long the produce has been lasting in their fridge, longer than any produce they could purchase in a store. I listen on as her mother-in-law, a woman whose eyes light up at the red beefsteak tomatoes, describes just how good the cucumbers were last week. 

“Best cucumbers I’ve tasted in my life,” she states and goes on to describe the thin skins and moving down to the rich, succulent meat of the vegetable. Having eaten some earlier that day, my own mouth revisits the textures and flavors. One by one, I finish the orders, finally passing off cantaloupes to the father and daughter; the former sniffs the fruit without saying a word, while the latter chuckles, “I think he’s really going to enjoy himself tonight.” Everyone trickles off except for the newlywed couple with the infant, who now sleeps soundly in the growing dusk.

“You know, this coming growing season we’d love it if you would grow some acorn squash,” the husband requests, “I can eat that all day! Oh, and we love spaghetti squash.”

“Do you think you could give me an estimate of how much you’d eat in a month?” I ask. They provide me an answer and I mentally log the numbers for my brother to consider.

“We’ve enjoyed your produce,” are their parting words, “I don’t think I could ever find better produce at the store.” They scurry to their car, and the ritual ends, and I watch my charge, my food, become another item in someone's fridge. As I drive home, my mind wanders to the farm work, keeping communication with our various buyers, trying to determine what they will want next growing season, and all the feedback I need to get back to my brother. It’s that time of year, a transition from summer to fall, zucchinis and cucumbers will dissipate to allow in cabbages, lettuces, pumpkins, and squash; as I calculate the figures of how much we can make on our small plot of land, I consider the grand scheme that has brought me to this most basic of professions.

* * * * *

Where does your food come from?

Why farm? Why choose a profession and lifestyle that runs against a cultural tide of sharply dressed, well groomed talking heads, who preach the advantages offered by fancier, cleaner, and more lucrative careers? American culture may claim to romanticize agrarian life, but the love is less than legitimate. USDA statistics show small farms and their farmers have been declining in size since the 1940s, even though number of large farms producing single crops have grown. Yes, the dirt and grime attend to the farmer as an occupational certainty, but any college management class will inform you that “employees” are more motivated more by “intrinsic rewards” than “extrinsic rewards,” or, more simply, workers want to feel as if their work has lasting value. What greater reward could be given than the foreknowledge that one is satisfying the hunger of humanity and your community? The answer lies with the changing idea of American food philosophy, what I would call a purpose-driven understanding of the role of food and American food suppliers in culture.

In an age when food has cheapened with advances in science and technology, we have allowed the doctrines of food and food production to shift, even from my grandfathers’ time to my own, when he grew apples in Washington state during the 1960s. He lived under the philosophy touted by the US Department of Agriculture, which made the US farmer out to be a national hero. He says to have grown food to supplement his teacher’s salary, but the country also saw a national icon and international competitor for American interests, and the American farmer had an built in intrinsic value that extended beyond profits.  

My grandfather’s generation of men sat in darkened movie theaters and watched Frank Capra's classic series, “Why We Fight!,” which taught them why the nation’s role in World War II was necessitated. My grandfather went on to rivet B-17 wings for the war effort, and when he was done, he found that his country needed him in a new capacity. The Government had gifted my grandfather and all American farmers with a new vision: The farmer could forget about the people and the land, and see only a machine, carefully oiled, static, and prosperous for the faithful user. For farmers like my grandfather, any affects that the land experienced were of no concern to him. The system made him more money as long as he kept improving the “machine,” and the food appeared unchanged. If the soil was affected, he could believe that a fix would be over the horizon. The miracle workers of World War II had made a new miracle. 

* * * * *

Industrial farming has taken the heart out of our food

The USDA produced films that showed the miracle of modern food production: thousands of individual farms brought together in a large corporate system to supply supermarkets with a cornucopia of produce, meat, dairy, and canned goods from disjointed regions of the US; the laboratory extending into the field, making larger, more nutritious, and better tasting crops; and the consumer, offered the convenience of this food, enjoyed the prosperity of American ingenuity. The purpose for growing food was simple: Be a part of a new miracle and make more food with less land using whatever means suited that end. It was a system that begat success, so long as the system’s management was carefully regulated. Our food philosophy had shifted, and despite this growth, one factor from previous generations of farmers remained: The community knew the farmer, and the farmer had a social accountability to that community which the government could not override. Even as farms began to cannibalize each other to remain in the system, the farmers were still “independent agents," able to still create life-filled nutritious food, instead of merely "safe food."

The USDA first began to preach this system during World War II, praising farmers for working alongside the government to slowly bring this massive food supply system to being, accepting the government’s aid, and producing what they needed for the war quotas. In one film titled, “Henry Browne, Farmer,” the farmer was described as a “soldier of production” who must produce the right amount of "oil and fats" to combat the Japanese agricultural production. Government had a reason for centralizing farming, out command the marketplace. The farmer’s duty would not be divided between field and national duty.

The national audience grew accustomed to this changing view of farming. Originally, our former food doctrines allowed for a collection of decentralized family farms that occupied the 1910s and 20s, and these businesses had not satisfied the nation's stomach during the depression. Food had lost its plentifulness in the land of plenty, and the government was determined to make ordinary food into something it could have never been on its own, and for a broader use in the world stage. The farmer still had his local connection, he still provided food for his neighbors, but the marketplace was making a way for him in the world, a way that my grandfather would fill, and now, a way my brother and I could fill: the way of mass production, yielding a greater world, filled with complacency toward the simplest action of our humanity. 

The modern world driving home I see different farms as I drive home from my delivery run. These farms are still run by grandfathers, with some migrant workers that drift through. Some have families who work together, but most do not. The crops I see are one of three: Corn, Sorghum, or soybeans, grown to fill the stomachs of cows and humans as cheaply as possible, while the farmer remains accountable to state regulations only. And what a world those regulations have built. The fields are still alive with food, but the food is empty, plastered together with an assortment of chemicals, pesticides, and other toxins that render the life still imagined in the soil a hopeless corpse; at least they can say our food is safe, free from the bacteria that harms us. The plants grow as they are supposed to, guided by their genetic modification, but they remain merely signposts set against the sky of what this world has become. Vastly rich, but hollow-shelled, flavorless, and impotent. The modern farmer can assert he has the same reason for growing food as his predecessors, for although he still feeds that masses, his food has no heart left to give to the table. That's why we don't farm anymore. The life that was found in the fields, is no longer life to us. It doesn't provide substance to our bodies, it doesn't even provide a bottom line for the farmer, it just replicates mindlessly, without thought.

* * * * * 

The beauty of the harvest

I return to the farm after the delivery run and help my brother plant the fall crops. I think about the series "Why We Fight!," and wonder, if I made a documentary entitled, "Why We Farm!" what would it try and communicate to an audience. The answer slowly comes to me among the rows of peppers and tomatoes. I mentioned in the beginning of this piece that I consider my work a ritual. This ritual is the familiar way to be a farmer, or the way I have found familiar. For far too long, farmers have become familiar with growing food better, but I want to be familiar with growing food right.

In "Why We Farm," I would say I grow food because I imagine myself being a part of the world that takes longer to mature, to achieve success, but remains a work in progress. I grow food so it becomes rich again, full of life, and containing the DNA it was supposed to contain. I grow food because I imagine one day, when I have kids, I will want them to grow as they were intended to grow, at a slow, steady pace, ready at the right season to accomplish what they are supposed to accomplish. I grow because a mother sees her child starting that journey, and believes the food I am growing will yield an abundance for the body. I hope that people will see the value in the food, the richness of nutrition, the communities that knew the seminal work that made any table look like a feast. The joy of the God-given command to, “Be fruitful.” I grow food, and the reasons why sprout up to say hello without fail every season.

Now, I am hoping you will ask yourself a similar question to mine, “Why am I not farming, or at least growing food in a pot?” I think the answer is easily found. You only need to look in a mirror, and see a face that is packed full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and rub it until you know it’s real. Then, stand at the edge of your child’s room or find them in the yard and watch them play, see their muscles attached to tendons attached to bones moving back and forth; lastly, I go to the fridge, and take a stock of what is contained inside. Consider the value of that food, whether it was made to give you strength, or whether it was made just to fool an eater. I believe the answer to your question will come easily. 

Attending to Cooking

We think food is someone else's responsibiliity until we are ready to eat it.

So said Joel Salatin in Folks, This Ain't Normal. In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser said that Americans know less about food than we do about celebrities and cars, but we spend more on fast food than on entertainment, education, media, literature, and personal technology combined.

While we spend our time socializing instead of gathering food for ourselves, the powers-that-be decide what we will eat–through marketing, subsidies, cost, and availability. Production always meets demand, and convenient food is exactly what we as a nation have collectively, however passively, demanded.

To the extent we use convenience food, to that extent we are not cooking. And when we don't cook, we don't know much at all about our food. We don't eat well either.

Many people, such as the rapidly diminishing vocation of farmers, used to give most of their attention to growing or preparing food. Now, we don't give any attention to it; plus, we waste a lot of it! Do you know where your next meal is coming from or what it will be? Do you have a stock of food in case there were a crisis? A community's food used to be stored in cellars; now, it is centralized in the big box store–absolutely artificial, when you think about it. (It's trucked in from states away when there is abundant land surrounding your very own town.)

Animals, albeit, don't have a lot of cognition or responsibility, but at least they never forget to do their foraging, and they never makes themselves sick and dead by their eating choices. We are so advanced we are almost going the other direction again, and devolving (figuratively speaking) in our food-gathering abilities while we chase whatever it is that we chase after.

How have we as a nation gotten to this place? By ignoring our historical, traditional moorings. By focusing on the immediate world of popularity and fragmentation rather than wondering where these trends will take us. We forget from whence we came, forget the sustainability of our surroundings, and don't even think about whether our habits will sustain another generation or two.

Kitchen Renovation additions

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Value cooking as the time-honored skill that it is. (Of course, we love it when other people cook, but sometimes don't want to do it ourselves.) Cooks are nigh unto physicians in the abilities they have to direct people's health. Food is such an inherent need of humanity that anything related to its production process is a wonderful thing. Cooks need more appreciation in this day just like farmers do. And not just celebration on TV, or remuneration at a restaurant, but allowing the people in your household the time to focus on cooking and all it entails.
  • Make home-cooking a priority in your household. Allot the necessary time for it. Plan ahead. If you will be gone all day tomorrow, do you know what are you going to eat?  Prepare some food a day or two beforehand. What times this week will you be crunched for time–such as between work and an evening meeting, or before an early-morning garage sale? Plan ahead so you aren't caught food-less and forced to eat out, or eat less-healthfully, during those instances. Crockpot cooking or bulk cooking can really help with this!
  • Where's the virtue in fast-as-you-can cooking? The French, perfecters of the culinary arts and great gastronomes, don't think that way! Magazines in the checkout aisle boast meals made in 15-30 minutes. I like the America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated mindset over the Taste of Home/Quick Cooking mindset, personally. What's the best way we can make this dish into something excellent? rather than What's the quickest way we can make this dish taste homemade?
  • Some people have designer kitchens and a whole wedding-registry of appliances, but rarely use them. Other people do use their kitchens, but are sometimes inhibited by a lack of efficient space or helpful tools. What can you rearrange in your kitchen, or what other cooking or storage equipment could you purchase, to make food preparation a little easier? Is there anything making it hard for you to cook? and what could you change about that situation in order to help yourself out?
  • Mindfulness in eating is better than multi-tasking. Enjoy the cooking process, and the eating experience. Again, as the French would say, it's a lot better, in many tangible and intangible ways, to concentrate on the meal while you are eating it, than to try to seem productive by eating fast food then getting on to the next task. Eating outside in the summertime really promotes mindful, relaxed eating, I have found. One can step away from the clutter of the kitchen or the call of electronics in the house, and be truly refreshed.

Let's all pay more attention to cooking real food from scratch at home. What do you need to do in your life in order to make this happen?

Thanks for reading!

Join Us at the Reformation of Food and the Family Conference!

We're very excited about a big event coming up in two weeks.  It's the Reformation of Food and the Family Conference in San Antonio, Texas July 12-14, sponsored by Vision Forum Ministries. 

True Food Solutions will have a booth there and we look forward to engaging many likeminded reformers in discussions about the challenges and solutions we're finding as we work to transition away from the modern industrial food economy to a more natural and sustainable food system.  In thinking about this upcoming event while gardening the other morning, I recorded this short video.

 

Here's some info on the event from the organizers.

You do it three times a day, seven days a week and fifty-two weeks a year. If you live to be 85 years of age, you will experience it more than 90,000 times. It is called food, and it was designed by God as the fuel of life. But to describe food merely as fuel falls short of the depth and breadth of the biblical message. Frankly, there are few subjects which are addressed as often in the Bible as food. Hundreds, if not thousands of Scripture verses, incorporate various types of food, directions about food and spiritual lessons in which food is an element.

In food we see the love of Jesus Christ for His Church, the wisdom of God as Creator, the mercy of the Lord on the sons of men, and a vehicle for structuring and organizing the life and dominion labors of mankind.

Discussion Topics Include:

  • Food as Family Culture

  • The Theology of Mealtime

  • The Politicization of Food

  • The Future of Food in America

  • The Joy of Culinary Wisdom

  • Avoiding Food Heresies

  • Food and Frugality

  • The Art of Hospitality

  • Informed Stewardship of the Body

  • And Many More!

 
Speakers Include:

  • Joel Salatin

  • Chef Francis Foucachon

  • Doug Phillips

  • And Many More!

Reformation of Food and the Family Conference

Are you coming to the Reformation of Food and the Family Conference?  If so, please be sure to leave a comment below and RSVP to the Food Conference on Facebook.  Even if you're not able to come, please Like the Food Conference Facebook page to get updates, and keep tabs on the True Food Solutions page for updates before and during the conference.

Finally, look for some special news and promotions that we'll be doing in conjunction with the conference that will give both attendees and those at home the chance to participate in some great activities and giveaways.  Spread the word!

 

 

Joel Salatin responds to the "Myth of Sustainable Meat"

Joel Salatin

We're big fans of sustainable farming practices that follow God's design in creation, and as such, we're big fans of the sustainable farming prophet of our day – Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm.  Joel recently wrote a reply to an article published in the NY Times entitled “The Myth of Sustainable Meat” written by James E. McWilliams that was published on April 12th.  Joel's response to this industrial farming propaganda piece is, shall we say, eloquently devastating and a pleasure to read.  It will make you smile, for sure.

This letter is yet to be published by the NYT, but the ladies at the Polyface Hen House were kind enough to share it and we have republished it here for your edification.  The italics in the article below are added by the editor for emphasis.  Bolding is from the original article. A few thoughts from the editor will follow.  Please be sure to share your thoughts in the blog comments!

 

To the New York Times and everyone interested in truth:

The recent editorial by James McWilliams titled THE MYTH OF SUSTAINABLE MEAT contains enough factual errors and skewed assumptions to fill a book and normally I would dismiss this out of hand as too much nonsense to merit a response.  But since it specifically mentioned Polyface, a rebuttal is appropriate.  For a more comprehensive rebuttal, read the book  FOLKS, THIS AIN’T NORMAL.

Let’s go point by point.

First, that grass grazing cows emit more methane than grain-fed.  This is factually false.  Actually, the amount of methane emitted by fermentation is the same whether it occurs in the cow or outside.  Whether the feed is eaten by an herbivore or left to rot on its own, the methane generated is identical.  Wetlands emit some 95 percent of all methane in the world;  herbivores are insignificant enough to not even merit consideration.  Anyone who really wants to stop methane needs to start draining wetlands.  Quick, or we’ll all perish.  I assume he’s figuring that since it takes longer to grow a beef on grass than on grain, the difference in time adds days to the emissions.  But grain production carries a host of maladies far worse than methane.  This is simply cherry-picking one negative out of many positives to smear the foundation of how soil builds:  herbivore pruning, perennial disturbance-rest cycles, solar-grown biomass, and decomposition. This is like demonizing marriage because a good one will include some arguments.

As for his notion that it takes too much land to grass-finish, his figures of 10 acres per animal are assuming the current normal mismanagement of pastures.  At Polyface, we call it neanderthal management because most livestock farmers have not yet joined the 20th century with electric fencing, ponds, piped water, and modern scientific aerobic composting (only as old as chemical fertilization).  Hence, while his figures comparing the relative production of grain to grass may sound compelling, they are like comparing the learning opportunities under a terrible teacher versus a magnificent teacher.  Many farmers, in many different climates, are now using space-age technology, bio-mimicry, and close management to get exponential increases in forage production.  The rain forest, by the way, is not being cut to graze cattle.  It’s being cut to grow transgenic corn and soybeans.  North America had twice as many herbivores 500 years ago than it does today due to the pulsing of the predator-prey-pruning cycle on perennial prairie polycultures.  And that was without any corn or soybeans at all.

Apparently if you lie often and big enough, some people will believe it:  pastured chicken has a 20 percent greater impact on global warming?  Says who?  The truth is that those industrial chicken houses are not stand-alone structures.  They require square miles of grain to be carted into them, and square miles of land to handle the manure.  Of course, many times that land is not enough.  To industrial farmers’ relief, more often than not a hurricane comes along just in time to flush the toilet, kill the fish, and send pathogens into the ocean.  That’s a nice way to reduce the alleged footprint, but it’s devilish sleight of hand with the data to assume that ecological toxicity compensates for the true land base needed to sustain a factory farm.

While it’s true that at Polyface our omnivores (poultry and pigs) do eat local GMO (genetically modified organism) free grain in addition to the forage, the land base required to feed and metabolize the manure is no different than that needed to sustain the same animals in a confinement setting.  Even if they ate zero pasturage, the land is the same.  The only difference is our animals get sunshine, exercise, fresh pasture salad bars, fresh air, and a respectful life.  Chickens walking on pasture certainly do not have any more leg sprains than those walking in a confinement facility.  To suggest otherwise, as McWilliams does, is sheer nonsense.  Walking is walking–and it’s generally considered to be a healthy practice, unless you’re a tyrant.

Interestingly, in a lone concession to compassion, McWilliams decries ranging hogs with rings in their noses to keep them from rooting, lamenting that this is “one of their most basic instincts.”  Notice that he does not reconcile this moral imperative with his love affair toward confinement hog factories.  Nothing much to use their noses for in there.  For the record, Polyface never rings hog noses, and in the few cases where we’ve purchased hogs with rings, we take them out.  We want them to fully express their pigness.  By moving them frequently using modern electric fencing, polyethylene water piping, high tech float valves, and scientifically designed feed dispensers, we do not create nor suffer the problems encountered by earlier large-scale outdoor hog operations a hundred years ago.  McWilliams has apparently never had the privilege of visiting a first-rate modern highly managed  pastured hog operation.   He thinks we’re all stuck in the early 1900s, and that’s a shame because he’d discover the answers to his concerns are already here.  I wonder where his paycheck comes from?

Then McWilliams moves on to the argument that economic realities would kick in if pastured livestock became normal, driving farmers to scale up and end up right where we are today.  What a clever ploy:  justify the horrible by eliminating the alternatives.  At Polyface, we certainly do not discourage scaling up–we actually encourage it.  We think more pasture-based farms should scale up. Between the current abysmal state of mismanagement, however, and efficient operations, is an astronomical opportunity to enjoy economic AND  ecological advantages.  McWilliams is basing his data and assumptions on the poorest, the average or below.  If you want to demonize something, always pick the lowest performers.  But if you compare the best the industry has to offer with the best the pasture-based systems have to offer, the factory farms don’t have a prayer.  Using portable infrastructure, tight management, and techno-glitzy tools, farmers running pastured hog operations practically eliminate capitalization costs and vet bills.

Finally, McWilliams moves to the knock-out punch in his discussion of nutrient cycling, charging specifically that Polyface is a charade because it depends on grain from industrial farms to maintain soil fertility.  First of all, at Polyface we do not assume that all nutrient movement is anti-environmental.  In fact, one of the biggest reasons for animals in nature is to move nutrients uphill, against the natural gravitational flow from high ground to low ground.  This is why low lands and valleys are fertile and the uplands are less so.  Animals are the only mechanism nature has to defy this natural downward flow.  Fortunately, predators make the prey animals want to lounge on high ground (where they can see their enemies), which insures that manure will concentrate on high look-out spots rather than in the valleys.  Perhaps this is why no ecosystem exists that is devoid of animals.  The fact is that nutrient movement is inherently nature-healing.

BUT, it doesn’t move very far.  And herein lies the difference between grain used at Polyface and that used by the industry:  we care where ours comes from.  It’s not just a commodity.  It has an origin and an ending, start to finish, farmer to eater.  The closer we can connect the carbon cycles, the more environmentally normal we will become.

Secondly, herbivores are the exception to the entire negative nutrient flow argument because by pruning back the forage to restart the rapid biomass accumulation photsynthetic engine, the net carbon flow compensates for anything lost through harvest.  Herbivores do not require tillage or annuals and that is why all historically deep soils have been created by them, not by omnivores.  It’s fascinating that McWilliams wants to demonize pasture-based livestock for not closing all the nutrient loops, but has no problem, apparently, with the horrendous nutrient toxicity like dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey created by chemical fertilizer run off to grow grain so that the life of a beef could be shortened.  Unbelievable.  In addition, this is one reason Polyface continues to fight for relaxing food safety regulations to allow on-farm slaughtering, precisely so we can indeed keep all these nutrients on the farm and not send them the rendering plants.  If the greenies who don’t want historically normal farm activities like slaughter to occur on rural acreage could understand how devastating these government regulations actually are to the environmental economy, perhaps McWilliams wouldn’t have this bullet in his arsenal.  And yes, human waste should be put back on the land as well, to help close the loop.

Third, at Polyface, we struggle upstream.  Historically, omnivores were salvage operations.  Hogs ate spoiled milk, whey, acorns, chestnuts, spoiled fruit and a host of other farmstead products.  Ditto for chickens, who dined on kitchen scraps and garden refuse.  That today 50 percent of all the human edible food produced in the world goes into landfills or greenie-endorsed composting operations rather than through omnivores is both ecologically and morally reprehensible.  At Polyface, we’ve tried for many, many years to get kitchen scraps back from restaurants to feed our poultry, but the logistics are a nightmare.  The fact is that in America we have created a segregated food and farming system.  In the perfect world, Polyface would not sell eggs.  Instead, every kitchen, both domestic and commercial, would have enough chickens proximate to handle all the scraps.  This would eliminate the entire egg industry and current heavy grain feeding paradigm.  At Polyface, we only purport to be doing the best we can do as we struggle through a deviant, historically abnormal food and farming system.  We didn’t create what is and we may not solve it perfectly.  But we’re sure a lot farther toward real solutions than McWilliams can imagine.  And if society would move where we want to go, and the government regulators would let us move where we need to go, and the industry would not try to criminalize us as we try to go there, we’ll all be a whole lot better off and the earthworms will dance.

Joel Salatin

Polyface Farm

 

A couple of observations on the wisdom that Joel shares here:

  1. Intensive management using modern tools is one of the key elements that makes pasture based farming not only yield a much better product, but does so in a much more ecologically balanced way.  Its detractors usually ignore this by creating a strawman that seemingly just lets the hogs run wild, so to speak.
  2. Pasture based farming is much more efficient at nutrient cycling, because it uses the natural order of creation to accomplish it rather than requiring massive systems built by man.  Much easier to move the cow to where it will deposit its black gold than to have pumps, pipes, manure lagoons, and sophisticated disposal systems to get rid of the mess that was concentrated by man.

 

 

Joel Salatin responds to the “Myth of Sustainable Meat”

Joel Salatin

We're big fans of sustainable farming practices that follow God's design in creation, and as such, we're big fans of the sustainable farming prophet of our day – Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm.  Joel recently wrote a reply to an article published in the NY Times entitled “The Myth of Sustainable Meat” written by James E. McWilliams that was published on April 12th.  Joel's response to this industrial farming propaganda piece is, shall we say, eloquently devastating and a pleasure to read.  It will make you smile, for sure.

This letter is yet to be published by the NYT, but the ladies at the Polyface Hen House were kind enough to share it and we have republished it here for your edification.  The italics in the article below are added by the editor for emphasis.  Bolding is from the original article. A few thoughts from the editor will follow.  Please be sure to share your thoughts in the blog comments!

 

To the New York Times and everyone interested in truth:

The recent editorial by James McWilliams titled THE MYTH OF SUSTAINABLE MEAT contains enough factual errors and skewed assumptions to fill a book and normally I would dismiss this out of hand as too much nonsense to merit a response.  But since it specifically mentioned Polyface, a rebuttal is appropriate.  For a more comprehensive rebuttal, read the book  FOLKS, THIS AIN’T NORMAL.

Let’s go point by point.

First, that grass grazing cows emit more methane than grain-fed.  This is factually false.  Actually, the amount of methane emitted by fermentation is the same whether it occurs in the cow or outside.  Whether the feed is eaten by an herbivore or left to rot on its own, the methane generated is identical.  Wetlands emit some 95 percent of all methane in the world;  herbivores are insignificant enough to not even merit consideration.  Anyone who really wants to stop methane needs to start draining wetlands.  Quick, or we’ll all perish.  I assume he’s figuring that since it takes longer to grow a beef on grass than on grain, the difference in time adds days to the emissions.  But grain production carries a host of maladies far worse than methane.  This is simply cherry-picking one negative out of many positives to smear the foundation of how soil builds:  herbivore pruning, perennial disturbance-rest cycles, solar-grown biomass, and decomposition. This is like demonizing marriage because a good one will include some arguments.

As for his notion that it takes too much land to grass-finish, his figures of 10 acres per animal are assuming the current normal mismanagement of pastures.  At Polyface, we call it neanderthal management because most livestock farmers have not yet joined the 20th century with electric fencing, ponds, piped water, and modern scientific aerobic composting (only as old as chemical fertilization).  Hence, while his figures comparing the relative production of grain to grass may sound compelling, they are like comparing the learning opportunities under a terrible teacher versus a magnificent teacher.  Many farmers, in many different climates, are now using space-age technology, bio-mimicry, and close management to get exponential increases in forage production.  The rain forest, by the way, is not being cut to graze cattle.  It’s being cut to grow transgenic corn and soybeans.  North America had twice as many herbivores 500 years ago than it does today due to the pulsing of the predator-prey-pruning cycle on perennial prairie polycultures.  And that was without any corn or soybeans at all.

Apparently if you lie often and big enough, some people will believe it:  pastured chicken has a 20 percent greater impact on global warming?  Says who?  The truth is that those industrial chicken houses are not stand-alone structures.  They require square miles of grain to be carted into them, and square miles of land to handle the manure.  Of course, many times that land is not enough.  To industrial farmers’ relief, more often than not a hurricane comes along just in time to flush the toilet, kill the fish, and send pathogens into the ocean.  That’s a nice way to reduce the alleged footprint, but it’s devilish sleight of hand with the data to assume that ecological toxicity compensates for the true land base needed to sustain a factory farm.

While it’s true that at Polyface our omnivores (poultry and pigs) do eat local GMO (genetically modified organism) free grain in addition to the forage, the land base required to feed and metabolize the manure is no different than that needed to sustain the same animals in a confinement setting.  Even if they ate zero pasturage, the land is the same.  The only difference is our animals get sunshine, exercise, fresh pasture salad bars, fresh air, and a respectful life.  Chickens walking on pasture certainly do not have any more leg sprains than those walking in a confinement facility.  To suggest otherwise, as McWilliams does, is sheer nonsense.  Walking is walking–and it’s generally considered to be a healthy practice, unless you’re a tyrant.

Interestingly, in a lone concession to compassion, McWilliams decries ranging hogs with rings in their noses to keep them from rooting, lamenting that this is “one of their most basic instincts.”  Notice that he does not reconcile this moral imperative with his love affair toward confinement hog factories.  Nothing much to use their noses for in there.  For the record, Polyface never rings hog noses, and in the few cases where we’ve purchased hogs with rings, we take them out.  We want them to fully express their pigness.  By moving them frequently using modern electric fencing, polyethylene water piping, high tech float valves, and scientifically designed feed dispensers, we do not create nor suffer the problems encountered by earlier large-scale outdoor hog operations a hundred years ago.  McWilliams has apparently never had the privilege of visiting a first-rate modern highly managed  pastured hog operation.   He thinks we’re all stuck in the early 1900s, and that’s a shame because he’d discover the answers to his concerns are already here.  I wonder where his paycheck comes from?

Then McWilliams moves on to the argument that economic realities would kick in if pastured livestock became normal, driving farmers to scale up and end up right where we are today.  What a clever ploy:  justify the horrible by eliminating the alternatives.  At Polyface, we certainly do not discourage scaling up–we actually encourage it.  We think more pasture-based farms should scale up. Between the current abysmal state of mismanagement, however, and efficient operations, is an astronomical opportunity to enjoy economic AND  ecological advantages.  McWilliams is basing his data and assumptions on the poorest, the average or below.  If you want to demonize something, always pick the lowest performers.  But if you compare the best the industry has to offer with the best the pasture-based systems have to offer, the factory farms don’t have a prayer.  Using portable infrastructure, tight management, and techno-glitzy tools, farmers running pastured hog operations practically eliminate capitalization costs and vet bills.

Finally, McWilliams moves to the knock-out punch in his discussion of nutrient cycling, charging specifically that Polyface is a charade because it depends on grain from industrial farms to maintain soil fertility.  First of all, at Polyface we do not assume that all nutrient movement is anti-environmental.  In fact, one of the biggest reasons for animals in nature is to move nutrients uphill, against the natural gravitational flow from high ground to low ground.  This is why low lands and valleys are fertile and the uplands are less so.  Animals are the only mechanism nature has to defy this natural downward flow.  Fortunately, predators make the prey animals want to lounge on high ground (where they can see their enemies), which insures that manure will concentrate on high look-out spots rather than in the valleys.  Perhaps this is why no ecosystem exists that is devoid of animals.  The fact is that nutrient movement is inherently nature-healing.

BUT, it doesn’t move very far.  And herein lies the difference between grain used at Polyface and that used by the industry:  we care where ours comes from.  It’s not just a commodity.  It has an origin and an ending, start to finish, farmer to eater.  The closer we can connect the carbon cycles, the more environmentally normal we will become.

Secondly, herbivores are the exception to the entire negative nutrient flow argument because by pruning back the forage to restart the rapid biomass accumulation photsynthetic engine, the net carbon flow compensates for anything lost through harvest.  Herbivores do not require tillage or annuals and that is why all historically deep soils have been created by them, not by omnivores.  It’s fascinating that McWilliams wants to demonize pasture-based livestock for not closing all the nutrient loops, but has no problem, apparently, with the horrendous nutrient toxicity like dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey created by chemical fertilizer run off to grow grain so that the life of a beef could be shortened.  Unbelievable.  In addition, this is one reason Polyface continues to fight for relaxing food safety regulations to allow on-farm slaughtering, precisely so we can indeed keep all these nutrients on the farm and not send them the rendering plants.  If the greenies who don’t want historically normal farm activities like slaughter to occur on rural acreage could understand how devastating these government regulations actually are to the environmental economy, perhaps McWilliams wouldn’t have this bullet in his arsenal.  And yes, human waste should be put back on the land as well, to help close the loop.

Third, at Polyface, we struggle upstream.  Historically, omnivores were salvage operations.  Hogs ate spoiled milk, whey, acorns, chestnuts, spoiled fruit and a host of other farmstead products.  Ditto for chickens, who dined on kitchen scraps and garden refuse.  That today 50 percent of all the human edible food produced in the world goes into landfills or greenie-endorsed composting operations rather than through omnivores is both ecologically and morally reprehensible.  At Polyface, we’ve tried for many, many years to get kitchen scraps back from restaurants to feed our poultry, but the logistics are a nightmare.  The fact is that in America we have created a segregated food and farming system.  In the perfect world, Polyface would not sell eggs.  Instead, every kitchen, both domestic and commercial, would have enough chickens proximate to handle all the scraps.  This would eliminate the entire egg industry and current heavy grain feeding paradigm.  At Polyface, we only purport to be doing the best we can do as we struggle through a deviant, historically abnormal food and farming system.  We didn’t create what is and we may not solve it perfectly.  But we’re sure a lot farther toward real solutions than McWilliams can imagine.  And if society would move where we want to go, and the government regulators would let us move where we need to go, and the industry would not try to criminalize us as we try to go there, we’ll all be a whole lot better off and the earthworms will dance.

Joel Salatin

Polyface Farm

 

A couple of observations on the wisdom that Joel shares here:

  1. Intensive management using modern tools is one of the key elements that makes pasture based farming not only yield a much better product, but does so in a much more ecologically balanced way.  Its detractors usually ignore this by creating a strawman that seemingly just lets the hogs run wild, so to speak.
  2. Pasture based farming is much more efficient at nutrient cycling, because it uses the natural order of creation to accomplish it rather than requiring massive systems built by man.  Much easier to move the cow to where it will deposit its black gold than to have pumps, pipes, manure lagoons, and sophisticated disposal systems to get rid of the mess that was concentrated by man.

 

 

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