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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:

[mp_list_products category=”featured“]

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.

Congratulations to Joel Salatin for 30 Years of Full Time Farming

We'd like to congratulate Joel Salatin, his family, and the team at Polyface Farm for making it to today: 30 years of full time farming by Joel at Polyface!

Joel is a very unique man.  He has been a visionary leader of the sustainable farming movement, a prophet of sorts, calling people back from the destructive ways of modern industrial farming to return to a sustainable agriculture model that utilizes technology appropriately while honoring God's design in creation.  Take a few minutes to read this reflective note from Joel written this morning and posted on the Polyface Farm Facebook page, and rejoice with him on this momentous occasion!

Joel Salatin

A note from Joel…….

Sept. 24, 1982 marked my first day of full time farming. It was a Monday, just like today, and the Friday previous
I had cleaned out my desk in the Staunton News Leader newsroom and waved goodbye to my fellow journalists.
Everyone thought I was making a huge mistake. Farming? Anything but that.

Even farmers thought I was making a huge mistake. And then to know that I was not going to use chemicals. That
I was going to pasture chickens and pigs. That I wasn't going to build silos and plow the soil. How could anything be
as ridiculous?

This morning I awakened to a farm festooned with balloons. I had mentioned the day and its 30-year importance in
passing a couple of times during the summer, but frankly have been too covered up with responsibilities to plan any
big celebration for myself. No worries. I'm surrounded by the most loyal, grateful, creative, dependable, conscientious
team of young people you can imagine.

I've been crying all morning.

I think Eric and Brie led the plans. Overnight, they and accomplices decorated the farm with balloons, strategically
placed to intercept my morning routine at every step. From the clothesline beside the backdoor to the equipment
shed, balloons lined the path. The Massey Ferguson tractor they knew I would use to move the Eggmobile had
balloons anchored to the wheels. As I approached the Eggmobile to hook it up, balloons cascaded off the front.

As is my routine, I went out to get the morning newspaper–once a news junkie, always a news junkie–and the farm
entrance literally floated with ballons and our entrance sign had an explanatory addition in huge letters: Happy
Anniversary Joel Fulltime Farming 30 Years.

Tears welled up uncontrollably as the reality of the love and support of these young people overwhelmed me. To
be this age, farming, surrounded by this kind of enthusiasm and honor–could it get any better than this? And then
I had to chuckle: take that, friends, farmers, experts. All you folks that said I was throwing my life away, being foolish.
Can you see me now? Ha!

I always check the cows in the morning. Yes, balloons on the 4-wheeler (my personal Japanese cow-pony). Streaming
behind me, the balloons followed me up the three-quarter mile farm lane to the farm pasture. And as if that weren't enough,
all along that route, from the trees and bushes, balloons heralded the celebratory day. We're here! We've made it
this far! Touchdown! Hallelujah! Say it however you want to; scream it from the rooftops. We're still here. And not
only have a survived, we've thrived.

Tears streaming down my face, I topped the little knoll before coming to the cows and there, adorning every electric
fence stake in the cross fence, were more balloons. The cows, mostly lying down on this 38 degree morning (we
actually had the first patchy frost of the season), simply burped up another wad of grass cud to chew on. They looked
at me completely ordinarily. Nothing much upsets their routine. Nothing is as placid as a placid cow.

With gratitude and a deep sense of blessing welling in my heart, tears streaming down my cold cheeks, I headed
back to the house for breakfast, the newspaper, morning emails, and desk work. My spirit is overflowing today.
Teresa and I had a dream. We worked at it. We prayed over it. We babysat it. We lived and loved it. Today it shines
like a burning bush, attracting people from all over the world to come and see. Thank you, Lord, for 30 wonderful years.

And lest you're wondering, we don't think we've hardly started yet. Now we're not just a couple of people standing on
the shoulders of our parents, but we're a tribe, with the next generation and the next and a whole team of players
plugging the gaps where we're weak and leveraging our expertise where we're strong. Look out, world. Here we come.

Thank you, family. Thank you, Polyface team, staff, interns. Thank you, patrons who have stood by us monetarily,
supporting us with your smiles, your eating, and yes, your dollars. Polyface Farm is charitable, but not a charity. It is
a business, but not only a business. So raise your glasses, folks. Here's to another 30 years. Thank you.


Learn more about sustainable farming and local food in the Local Agriculture and Farming group.


What's So Healthy About Squash?


Recently, our friends blessed us with a ton of extra squash from their abundant garden.  I sautéed a lot of it for dinner, froze some for future meals, and steamed some. As I was working on a picture of it for my recipe blog, I wondered, “What’s so healthy about squash?”  I mean, we pick it from our gardens, so it must be pretty healthy.  So, what are the health benefits of squash?

Squash is a super-food!  Packed with nutrition – vitamins, carotene, and fiber – it is huge in helping fight diseases, great for filling up with (but not out), and provides you with all your vitamins in one helping.

Summer Squash is very helpful in preventing diseases such as cancer, inflammation diseases (like arthritis or asthma), heart disease, and so on…  This is because of the vitamin C, Beta-Carotene, Folate, and Fiber that Summer Squash contains.  Summer Squash includes all the fruit within the species of Cucurbita pepo.  This includes: Delicata Squash, Acorn Squash (one of my favorites!!), Gem Squash, Heart of Gold Squash, Spaghetti Squash, Zucchini, Yellow Summer Squash, and so on….

Like Summer Squash, Winter Squash also is filled with a lot of different health benefits.  These include Beta-Carotene that fights Heart Disease, Cancer, Cataracts, Type 2 Diabetes, and also reduces inflammation within the lungs and emphysema.  Besides Beta-Carotene, Winter Squash has large amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin B6 Vitamin C, Niacin, and Potassium in it.  Winter Squash includes: Sweet Mama, Sweet Potato Squash, Pumpkin, Sugar Pumpkin, Sweet Dumpling Squash, Toadback, and so on….

There you have it…  Squash is healthy!! So, if you are looking for a fruit that contains several vitamins in it, lots of fiber, and helps to prevent tons of different diseases…  Squash is the answer!!


Getting Started with Bees: An Aurora Farm Update

Opening a hive

My brother, dad, and I recently drove two counties over here in our homestate of Texas to pick up 8 local bee hives. The bees and their honey will form the backbone of our "artisan" product offering to our market-garden customers, and are a welcome addition to our current stock of sweetless produce. The adventure of picking them up was a success, but not without a fair share of trouble. The easiest way to minimize the hassle transporting bees is by performing the task at night when they are sleeping in their hives. We chose a moderate evening to move them.

"Summertime is when we transport our bees," Dad mentioned, referring back to his days as a beekeeper on his family orchard. Of course, the weather in Washington State was different than Texas. It is imperative that bees be transported at 50 degrees above Farhenheit, since bees tend to cluster at temperatures below 50, and when the hive is jarred on the journey to a new location, the clusters began to break apart, and the bees die. I would have enjoyed transporting during a Texas fall evening, but at least that night, Texas experienced a surprisingly low high of 85. A moderate wind also gave some relief to the chore. 


Frames full of bees

We arrived at the property where a first set of hives were kept, and unload our trailer and my brother. His task was to collect all the empty bee boxes, and dead hives he can pick up. Dad and I continued on into the night to a property where the remaining hives are.

We placed the most important tool for transporting bees, a smoker, behind us in the truck bed. If you ever have to light a smoker and travel to where the hives are, it is a good idea to pack even more fuel for the smoker then you anticipate using. In our case, the wind blowing through the bed burned through fuel out quickly. When we arrived at the location, we decided to attack the hive without the smoke. 

The hushed rustle of a thousand wings emerge from the inside of the box. That is the sound is the winged creatures during their sleep. The pioneers had their homes built for them, but they were the ones that carved a place on the land, collecting pollen, and building stores of honey in comb.

Four of the hives have not survived the year, and so they are quickly loaded onto the truck. The front lights fork into the grass, and illuminate our large, netted hats, as we head out to grab the "live" hive. Our gloves are slaked with sweat. We formulate a plan for moving the hives while dad secured the hive boxes together with a staple and hammer. It is best to secure the hive boxes several days before the move, since the bees do not take kindly to someone hammering on their home in the middle of the night (and who wouldn't!). Soon enough, the hammer's pounding made us wish we had not run out of smoke! 

The hive began to stir as we reached underneath the shallow crevices at the bottom of the box. The hive creaked; it was weighed down by the the bees, and the full honey combs they have stored over the course of the season. Later we find out that this is the strongest, most menacing of the hives. 

As their home became airborne, The bees begin to swarm out in droves, colliding into our protective clothing and helmets. We stumble sideways, bearing our cargo to the lowered tailgate of the truck. As soon as our cargo is deposited, it is a race to get away, and dive into the tall grass.

At that moment, every single killer bee documentary I watched flashed through my mental theater. If I could advice my younger self of anything, it would have been to never watch those National Geographic specials! The do not make the process of collecting bees any easier.

It did not get any better when I found I had not secured my helmet correctly, and two bees had slipped inside the netting. I retreated (although it appeared more like a route), and slipped the helmet off as I did, batting the bees away. I definitely would have benefited from having my dad check my gear. Thankfully, no harm was done. In fact, I survived the night without a single sting; my brother suffered 5; my dad, 3. 

It took 20 minutes for the hive to settle down so we could approach it again. When we finally did close the truck bed, the guard bees were still whacking into our clothes. Another 20 minutes, and we were off toward the first set of hives.

We made it back, the dead hives were on the trailer, and safely secured. It is always a good idea to secure the hives with straps during transport. Even with the weight, the hives could topple, and the disorganized swarm lost.

Lifting a frame

The hives at the first location were more easily loaded. Our smokers were loaded, and the smoke they produced was thick. Many people have the notion that smoke somehow puts the bees to sleep. This is not true.

The bees sense of smell is their most powerful sense, and smoke masks the bees alarm pheremones. Smoke also triggers their flight instinct when faced with natural fires. The bees retreat back into the hive and fill up on honey in case they have to move their hive to a new location. For us, it was a matter of minutes before we had moved each hive onto the back of the trailer. The final ropes were attached around the live hives and we headed for home. 

While in transit, the hives' weight already did their bit to slow our vehicle down, but it is worth noting that continued jarring will not help keep your bees calm and inside the hive. It is best to travel well below the speed limit and keep a slow, steady pace. The vibration of the engine will keep the bees quiet. 

Home for our bees was not on our land. We still haven’t prepared for the bees, so for now, they wait on a friend’s land, while we build a permanent platform. Unloading the bees required only smoke, and by then it was 4 AM. With our charges on a makeshift platform, we departed to the comfort of our beds.

Once we get our bees on the land, I'll check back in and share some more about maintaining hives..

Thanks goes to Robb Wokaty for input on some researched points.

For more info on how to get started with Beekeeping, check out Beekeeping for Beginners.

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.”


“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. 

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.



Why Food Can Rebuild Civilization


The technological improvements of our age, such as computers and phones, have made it easy to do some good things (like write this article), but also have made it easy to be superficial. This superficiality has damaged our society in many ways. What a ‘friend’ is has been cheapened to a click of a button, and can be de-friended at the click of a button as well. Arguments and debates often become fierce name-calling collections of facts without relationships, which anyone can participate in. Our friendly conversations are often something like “I am eating cheese” or “a funny thing happened to me”. Our culture is deteriorating because culture is built on relationships. Since our relationships are depersonalized, our music is from Nashville, our movies from Hollywood, and our food from McDonalds. While there may be exceptions, our ‘communities’ have largely become depersonalized and non-relational.

The problem is that people are still personal. We haven’t become impersonal, but how we think of people and their ideas has been corrupted. Man was not created to be alone, but was created to be a relational being, with God and with other people. When man separates himself from God and man and hides in the cyber world, he separates himself from the context in which he is to understand himself. He becomes part of the ‘lonely crowd’. He becomes part of what Tristen Gylberd has rightly termed “this misbegotten wreckage we call modern pop culture”.

So what is the solution? And what does this have to do with food? Food has much to do with this because it is an integral part of hospitality. And hospitality is a large part of the solution to our mess. 

For the most part, our cultural experiences are meant to be done with people because of the way we are made. This applies to food perhaps even more than other things. There is a long history of having fellowship around the table, of taking a break from work and enjoying each other’s company with food. Even in the Christian sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, unity and communion with Christ and His followers is participated in through the bread and wine. Eating together also requires some face to face interaction. It is this simple thing of eating together that can help us rebuild real community. We can resolve our theological, philosophical, and cultural differences much easier around food, than we can by writing long papers to someone you had never seen. Papers are good and sometimes necessary, but writings alone will generally not help as much as a dinner, a dance, and a song. Restoring personal relationships back into our culture and life is a rebuke to the self-centered society around us, and brings a thankfulness and love that is so rare today. Of course relationships are hard and will take some time to master, but it is something we will have to learn if our food is to be used to build civilization.

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
(1 Peter 4:9)

“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (2 John 1:12)


P. S. That said, take everything you read here with a grain of salt, and if you really want to get to know me, invite my family and me over for dinner. 🙂


Peter is the author of a new book which is available in the True Food Solution store, called The Christian Philosophy of Food.

Farmers’ Profit

The great thing about farmers markets or buying direct from farmers is that there is no “middle man” who distributes the food and takes a cut of the profit. Farmers are notoriously low paid, so when you buy direct from the farmer, he actually receives the money.

Farm workers in third world countries, where much of our supermarket fruit comes from, have some of the lowest paid jobs that exist. The money we pay at the grocery store goes primarily to transportation and restocking costs, with only a tiny fraction actually going to the people who do the hard work of growing the food.

These facts underlie the reasons for buying food locally. Farmers can be supported and appreciated, and money is not wasted on transportation. If you think about it, it really is a waste of resources on many levels to buy fresh food from halfway across the world—when it can grow in our own backyards.

Farm Buildings

Farmers are often willing to sell locally but there is a lot of bureaucracy preventing them from being as profitable and marketable as possible. If consumers seek them out and encourage them to keep offering their products on a private or small-business basis, many good results will be encouraged. Choose today to make an effort to purchase in this manner—from people who want to supply you with good food.

As Joel Salatin often asks, “Do you know your farmer?”

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