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Virginia State Delegate Moves to Defend Farmer and Private Property Rights

Good News for the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia!  A state delegate is proposing legislation to address local government abuses of power with respect to small farms and private property rights.

Joel Salatin will be among those attending a news conference today to discuss the legislation, named the ‘Boneta Bill’, after Martha Boneta who suffered from abuse at the hands of county officials.

 

For Immediate Release:
January 2nd, 2013

Contact:
Andrew Clark
(703) 580-8774
Aclark@scottforva.com

Delegate Scott Lingamfelter Introduces “The Boneta Bill” In Response To Property Rights Infringements By Government

– Legislation will address actions by local government to fine farmer for hosting birthday party and selling produce and crafts on private property-

Please sign up here to receive periodic updates as House Bill 1430 moves through the Virginia General Assembly!

WOODBRIDGE – Today, Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Prince William and Fauquier) announced that he will be holding a press conference on Tuesday, January 8th at 11AM in House Room 1 located in the Virginia State Capitol, 1000 Bank Street, Richmond, Virginia, to discuss his introduction of House Bill 1430, also known as “The Boneta Bill”.

The press conference will feature several high profile property rights advocates including constitutional lawyer and co-author of The Law That Governs Government, Mark Fitzgibbons and Virginia farmer and lecturer Joel Salatin, whose many books include Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front. “Our farm has been featured in numerous documentaries like FOOD INC., New York Times bestsellers like Omnivore’s Dilemma, and countless media from ABC News to National Geographic, but what most people don’t know is that if state and local food and farm regulators had their way, we would not exist,” said Joel Salatin, co-owner of Polyface Farm.

“The Boneta Bill” is named after Martha Boneta, a local farmer in Fauquier County who has been in a legal dispute with the county as a result of several zoning ordinances and permits imposed by local government officials. Martha’s dispute and the “Pitchfork Protest” in her support in August were the focus of national press coverage and grassroots support. In Lingamfelter’s estimate, the actions taken by her locality violate fundamental rights and unfairly restrict her property rights.

Lingamfelter commented, “Property rights are one of the most fundamental rights in a free society. In the United States, we the people are the sovereign. We the people have the right to farm just as our Founders envisioned with what they called the pursuit of happiness. Since being elected to the House of Delegates in 2001, I have been a steadfast advocate for the protection of property rights in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Martha Boneta’s rights have been wrongly challenged. I am bringing legislation in the 2013 Session of the General Assembly to improve the Right to Farm Act here in Virginia so small farmers like Martha will enjoy fully their property rights. It’s not about demonizing anyone in this controversy. It’s about standing by property rights and our Founder’s vision.”

Background:

Martha Boneta owns “Paris Barns”, a small historic working farm in Fauquier County, Virginia that produces farm fresh seasonal vegetables, fresh and dried herbs, honey bee products, a variety of eggs, hand-made soaps, and wool crafts made from alpaca, llama, and sheep. All of which are produced on Martha’s farm by volunteer help. Visitors to Martha’s farm are given the opportunity to actively participate in the historic tradition of farming. Unfortunately, Martha has had to close down her doors and put a disclaimer on her website that visitors are no longer welcome and that they are no longer able to purchase her farm fresh produce or handmade crafts.

What her website does not say is that the closure of her farm is due to local government actions that have made it impossible for her to remain open as she intends.

In August of 2012, Martha received national media attention after she held a birthday party for eight 10-year-old girls, one of whom was the daughter of a close friend. County government officials informed Martha that local ordinances required a permit to be obtained prior to hosting such an event and that she would be fined $5,000 for doing so. Martha was also charged with two additional violations with up to $5,000 fines apiece – one for advertising a pumpkin carving and another for operating a small shop on her property that Martha used to sell her fresh produce and handmade crafts. County officials made these claims and levied fines without ever stepping foot on her property to actually see her operations.

When Martha informed the county that she had obtained a business license to operate her farm store, local bureaucrats told her that the county regulations had been recently changed to require additional permits to sell items like handspun yarns and birdhouses.

In a sign of solidarity, nearly 100 of Martha’s supporters protested an August meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals carrying pitchforks and questioning why the government is mandating permits to host small gatherings on private property. This “Pitchfork Protest” was reported on Fox & Friends, The Washington Examiner, The Blaze and dozens of national and Virginia news sources. Additionally, Martha’s struggle with overreaching and overregulating local government has gotten the attention of property rights advocates and constitutional scholars from across the country.

Martha has filed a lawsuit in Fauquier Circuit Court to prove that zoning officials and local bureaucrats have overstepped their legal authority and have violated her constitutional rights. Michelle Rosati, Martha’s lawyer and member of the Federalist Society, is also claiming that the county has violated Martha’s due process rights and her rights under the Freedom of Information and Right to Farm Acts.

 

House Bill 1430- The Boneta Bill

In response to Martha’s story, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter has introduced legislation for the upcoming 2013 General Assembly Session to strengthen Virginia’s Right to Farm Act (VRFA) and protect farmers against future encroachments by local government.

The original intention of the VRFA was to protect the rights of Virginians to engage in a tradition and way of life that has been fundamental to the citizens since the founding of the nation. Despite the VRFA, the ordinances enacted in Fauquier have restricted the traditional citizens’ ability to farm and run a small business, which has its roots in the Commonwealth’s founding.

House Bill 1430 will strengthen the VRFA and ensure that the heritage and traditions of farming in the Commonwealth of Virginia are respected at all levels of government. By amending the defining section of the VRFA to include the byproducts of farm produce and the sale of items incidental to farming, House Bill 1430 ensures that government officials cannot take action to restrict or prevent the citizens from engaging in commerce. The bill also expressly sets forth that any county ordinance is void if it were to violate constitutional rights on agricultural property, such as speech, assembly, religion, and other freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights.

“In November of this year, over 74% of Virginians voted to strengthen property rights by amending the Constitution of Virginia. Just as that amendment will protect Virginian’s against overreaching governments, House Bill 1430 will ensure that no government official, elected or appointed, will restrict the right to property that our Founding Fathers, many of whom were Virginia farmers, held as inherent and sacred. The Boneta Bill adds teeth to the Virginia Right to Farm Act to protect property rights and individual liberties.I am looking forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly and with local government in asking them to stand with me to protect farmers, small businesses, and our Virginia way”, said Lingamfelter.

The original Press Release was posted here.

 

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.

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.

 

 

A Battle Won! US Dept of Labor drops Draconian Rules on Family Farming

US Dept of Labor

In a late Thursday press release, the US Department of Labor announced that it was dropping proposed regulations of family farms related to children working on the farm.  From the announcement:

"the Department of Labor is announcing today the withdrawal of the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations.

"The decision to withdraw this rule – including provisions to define the 'parental exemption' – was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms. To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.

"Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders – such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H – to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices."

This story, developing since 2011, and today's development demonstrates several important lessons:

  1. The overreaching federal government will try to regulate almost anything to the benefit of their large corporate clients, who seek domination of their marketplace by shutting down smaller competitors.  In this case, they were trying to regulate and be more able to destroy one of the most basic relationships and forms of work in human existence – that of children working with their parents in the production of food.
  2. An oppressive government bureaucracy, especially one as unaccountable and unresponsive as the federal executive agencies, will only expand and use their power to the extent that the people allow them to.  They will push until they feel enough resistance, and then will back off.
  3. This struggle for liberty and the freedom to work with our children and produce food is a long road.  It is a long war, in which there are many battles.  In this battle, the aggressor once again made a strong thrust into the heart of the American way of life, attempting to gain a tight grip on the aorta of productive American family farms, with which they cold later squeeze at will to weaken and eventually kill the heart of family farming forever.  They have failed this time, but they will be back to try again. 

In fact, they will likely try tomorrow – some small farmer somewhere in American will undoubtedly receive a visit tomorrow by an FDA or USDA bureaucrat, seeking to dictate to them how they must raise their animals or grow their produce, all in the name of "public safety".  It is in these small skirmishes that the battle must be joined and met with the force of numbers.

If you care about true food and the liberty to grow it, or want the ability to be able to choose whom you buy it from, then you need to connect with other likeminded Americans in your local area and be ready to rush to their aid when they are the next victim of this growing food police state.  We need to remember that our forebearers faced this same type of tyranny in different ways, and we should be ready to resurrect their immortal words from the Declaration of Independence and bring them to the fore when the next battle erupts and the food police ask what objection we have to their intrusion in our farming affairs:

[You have] erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

 

 

Centralization in the Food Economy

 

A full discussion of food will include the social-political and cultural aspects of the environment in which the food will be cultivated, harvested, prepared, and eaten. If our society and culture in general is messed up, our food’s quality will not escape unaffected. It is good for us to then to examine our current system, and the centralization that accompanies it.

Authority and relationships go hand in hand. Without any relationships or knowledge of the people or situation, authority will be blind and arbitrary. Without authority or rules, relationships will have an arbitrary basis (i.e. no basis) for love, faithfulness, or even clear communication. Thus only God, who alone has absolute knowledge of everything, has absolute authority over everything. And when He has a special saving relationship with a people (or person), that people is even more accountable to His authority. We, on the other hand, are limited in knowledge and relationships, and thus limited in our authority and power. While we should not be individualists, we should have an emphasis on local authority and relational power. The more centralized and impersonal the relation is, the more limited the authority should be.

From this thinking comes representative government and our Tenth Amendment. Also from this comes the vital importance of the family to society and culture. It is in the family that the relations are able to be close enough to establish what food we eat, what clothes we wear, and what music we develop. It is in the family that culture is passed on and developed.

When large institutions like Hollywood and government schools try to form culture, it ends up with cheap, impersonal Pop Culture. It affects music, dance, agriculture, communication, cooking, manufacturing, etc… While some good will usually remain in the centralized systems (like great action scenes in perverse movies), and while the centralized systems may think they are helping, they generally break apart relational and familial culture, society, and economics. Thus we get fast-food. Thus we get the processing and preserving to make food mass-marketable. Thus we get FDA raids on small farms.  Thus we get most of the modern food industry. 

Much can be said on how to rebuild our food system (hence True Foods Solutions), but basically it will be a return to a more local and relational system. How that is done is up for debate. How local do we mean? What can we learn from the corporations of today, and what should we throw out? How quickly ought this to happen? Etc… And neither will it be easy. Relationships are very messy. But in the work that has been put before us, so let us strive for reform, for decentralization, and for excellence.

"Woe to those who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is no more room,
and you are made to dwell alone
in the midst of the land."
(Isaiah 5:8 ESV)

 

Joel Salatin talk to farmers and local food activists

Joel Salatin

 

The folks from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply recently hosted a luncheon that featured Joel Salatin talking to farmers and local food activists.  His talk covers a wide range of issues, and in typical Joel Salatin style, he weaves a beautiful tapestry of agrarian and food related topics.  Listen to the speech here:

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Establishment wages war on family farms, entrepreneurs and craftsmen

Image from thesilicongraybeard.blogspot.com

This past year we have seen the government step up their war on the middle class. The headlines are at times unbelievable, but increasingly predictable. The independent farmer and craftsmen have always been the backbone of this republic and the stubborn defenders of liberty. As Jefferson remarked…

Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.

 

The feds made great progress destroying agriculture. The policies of the government have for many years caused the destruction of the small family operation while vertically integrating what was left. Then a steady flow of subsidies kept the big boys quiet and in line. To the great dismay of our statist masters and the bankers, we have seen a renaissance in small scale direct market farming. The thought of the yeomen farmer being resurrected from the grave has caused a flurry of attacks. I’m sure you’ve heard of the SWAT Team raids and undercover stings on the Amish. It seems that they are spending considerable amounts of time and money to catch evil Amish folks who sell milk outside the “proper” channels.

Mike Adams has uncovered proof that the FDA is using KGB-style spying and infiltration techniques to catch the terrorist farmers. Even the act of growing a garden is increasingly under attack…how dare you show an independent spirit, slave! Julie Bass faced 93 days in jail for growing vegetables in her own yard. Only after a nation wide effort to see justice done were the charges begrudgingly dropped.

And lets not forget the effort to nip entrepreneurship in the bud before it takes root. Here is just one of scores of articles where children’s lemonade stands have been shut down and fined. Our control freak society has even manifested itself here in the north country where the health dept has told our church it is illegal to give away slices of homemade pie to the public! Oh by the way, it may be illegal to live off the grid.

Read full article on North Country Farmer

The War on Decentralized Food

The FDA is emboldened. Recent raids on Rawesome Foods and Rainbow Acres attest to this. Despite public outcry, the agency continues to target private associations and the farmers who supply them. Clearly, the FDA understands that they are wading into sacred turf. They are meddling in private transactions, not public ones. Local ones, not inter-state. And they are taking the bone from the hungry mastiff. But they are emboldened by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and they are strutting out. This is the result of bad policy; bureaucrats begin to act as if they are above the consent of the governed.

The FSMA is bad policy which "leaders" of the local and organic movements supported. Pollan and Schlosser endorsed it. They must have been drunk when they wrote that piece for the NYT. Or under the influence of executive pressure. Either way, they abandoned the roots of the movement. The bill passed and we are only now beginning to see the results.

And don't be fooled into thinking that the Tester Amendment made FSMA tolerable for small farms. That amendment was no friend of freedom. It presupposed FDA authority over small farms selling local, direct, and intra-state and required them to prove themselves exempt. In other words, the government puts the burden of proof upon the heavily-tasked small farm. And it turns the tables on constitutional functionality.

There is one way forward, maybe two. FSMA needs to be marginalized, either by defunding or repeal. In our current environment, defunding seems to be the most obtainable but it is not a long-term solution. The other way forward is to convince our state and county leaders to push back and fight. This is certainly the method anticipated by our forefathers. If you have any other ideas, please share them.