Tuesday, December 15, 2009

From the Intertubes

Many of my readers (all five of you) probably read the same blogs I do about farming, food, horses, World Domination By Apple Products. But in case you don't, in case you foolishly rely on moi to provide real information about farming and food, I thought I would pass along some content that has stirred my soul.

There are many more eloquent authors than I that seem to speak directly from my brain. I wish I had the ability to pen some of these discussions, but for now I will just nod vigorously and do my best to listen.

First up is a piece by Howling Duck Ranch that discusses the conundrum of large predators going after your product. Bears in the apple trees is not really a problem I, or most of us, will face. And that part of the discussion is not what grabbed me. Here's the salient quote:
We have developed strategies for competing with all aspects of nature, from traps (mice and rodents), to fungicides, herbicides, insecticides (molds, weeds, bugs), to windbreaks and rip-raps (erosion by wind and water). We have become so conditioned to these agricultural weapons that we no longer see them as such. We certainly don’t see weevils on par with squirrels, or squirrels on par with grizzly bears. Many bear enthusiasts would not object to a farmer spraying crops to prevent weevils from destroying it but would be horrified if the same farmer shot a bear to protect his apples. However, if you were dependent upon the apple crop for your livelihood, or to keep you from starving, you wouldn’t. The privilege of a full stomach affords us the luxury of seeing these two actions as vastly different. Today, most North Americans would tell me to go buy the apples from the store and save the bear because they are no longer engaged in direct economics and can afford to be blindly unaware of the cold hard realities of what it takes to put food on their tables.

In my own baby attempts to grasp Farming, I have already hit the cognitive disconnect between people who believe food comes from grocery stores (my entire family and neighbors) and myself. When foxes took my hens, I bought a .22 rifle, hardly a supreme act of Crazy. And because the foxes show up at random times, the rifle is parked next to my back door, loaded (but with safety on). My family recoils at the sight of this wee rifle, sitting out in plain sight! The nerve! Such an act of violence! I hope, for their delicate sensibilities, I will never have to actually use the rifle to protect my hens, but I would. You see, to them, this whole farm thing is a game. If I lose my flock to predation, I can just go to the store and buy food. It's not like I am going to starve or anything. But to so many hard-working people, it IS their livelihood and they will suffer if they lose their crop.

I'm not advocating extermination of all predators. I believe in living in balance. That fox kills my chickens, yes, but he also kills mice and (hopefully) potato-eating voles. I don't actively hunt him, or trap him, and I don't shoot them on sight. He is welcome to cross my land at will. Just stay away from the chickens and we'll get along just fine.

The most salient point, however, is the comparison between bears and weevils. Opposed to the shooting of bears? Reconsider your stance on pesticides, or mono-cropped dead zones, or CAFOs.

The next literary gem is from the great Joel Salatin, polarizer and minor deity for the small, sustainable farm movement. His piece is the forward of a book I intend to buy on the legislation of Raw Milk sales. Joel certainly has a way with words, but he is dead right.

Isn't it curious that at this juncture in our culture's evolution, we collectively believe Twinkies, Lucky Charms, and Coca-Cola are safe foods, but compost-grown tomatoes and raw milk are not?

In my small enterprise, I have considered what I would do with "excess" and I have few real choices. I can compost it, feed it back to the animals, but I cannot, ever, sell it. For my pasturing plan, it would be better to raise two lambs a year instead of one, because they need companionship. I cannot eat two lambs a year and I am loath to hold the lamb over in my freezer for an additional year. Unless of course, I can find a vacuum sealer that won't burn the meat sitting for so long. But let's assume I can't, that if I raise two lambs a year, I must consume or dispose of two.

There is no way I am going to sell that lamb to strangers. Who would buy it? I have a single lamb for sale, a no name operation. I've seen the ads on craigslist and I think they are crazy. No way would I buy a single animal from some stranger on craigslist. I could ask some farmer friend of mine to sell it as part of her products. That farmer might already have a customer base, and a brand. But she may not want to take the risk on the animal, who was raised outside of her quality control. I could possibly give it away or donate it to a charity, like hunters donate venison. There is less implied liability if the meat is free. I could make an arrangement with a friend who doesn't have land to raise this lamb for him and he incurs the risk and the butchering cost.

Most of these options are scary and some of them are illegal. I am all for food safety. We have the technology now to keep our food safer via refrigeration, etc. But we need a way for farmers to provide micro scale products without the legislative road blocks. Long time ago, New Hampshire had a state run, USDA inspected processing facility. I could bring my lamb there, pay my fee, and it was legal for me to sell the meat. No longer. And to see what has happened to the private butchering market, you only need to look to an enterprising pig farmer in Vermont.

I am small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but it is unlikely that even if I had amazing success at this whole farming venture, that I would ever attempt to sell any of my products. Which makes it all the more important to thank the farmers who do, who play the game, get inspected, pay the overhead, deal with the hassle, to provide real food for our tables. Thank you.


Austen said...

Oh Daun, I missed you!

B said...

I'm so glad you're back. You have forced me to look at what I'm eating in a whole new way.
I've become more proactive in my spending. I buy from farmer's markets and farm direct as much as I can. I love the taste of pastured chicken, I'm still getting used to grass-fed beef.
I'm also doing the leg work to have my own personal supply of organic farm-fresh eggs.
Thank you for all the amazing information!
Thank you for coming back, I missed your posts!

Wiola said...

I don't comment here really as I know nothing about farming but just wanted to say that I do indeed learn about the aformentioned solely from this blog ;) In fact, I only read two 'farming' blog and the other one only because it has fabulous photograps!
Great to see you posting Daun :)

Anonymous said...

Well, thank you for quoting me and linking our blogs! I'm always interested to know what others are up to. I must say I'm flattered to be on the same post as Joel Salatin.

I've enjoyed perusing your blog. I think you are well on your way and far beyond the 'baby steps' of farming.



Breanna said...

New reader here, thanks for the info! This is a topic that has been weighing on my mind for a while now, and I hope to someday be in a position to do as you are doing, raising most of my own food. Commenting on the lamb thing: we had friends who would raise three pigs every year, and let all their friends know that a half or whole pig would be available for anyone who wanted to buy it. My family bought one several years in a row, and that was some of the best meat I've ever had. But it's a thought for you, spread the word among friends and family and see if anyone is interested.

Rhyadawn said...

I have missed this blog! I find it so informative, and truly something that I strive for some day

Rachel @ Swans' Down said...

I just found your blog and have enjoyed reading your past posts. I'm beginning a similar type of journey here in New Mexico.

With regard to what to do with the extra lamb, please consider the possibility of offering it as dog food. Fresh, raw meat is a wonderful species-appropriate diet for our much-loved canine companions.

Best Wishes,
...and Zazou too! (the meat-eating Basenji!)

Daun said...

Thanks for your astute suggestion. I do feed my dogs a raw diet already, and they will surely benefit from the trim from any animal harvested from my farm. A sentient, feeling animal will give its life to feed others and out of complete respect, I do not waste any of that animal.

However, I will surely find a home for the quality cuts, either with a friend or I might hold over a lamb for aged mutton, a delicacy I am currently learning about.

So many options! Thanks for your ideas and welcome to the blog!

Rachel @ Swans' Down said...

It's so nice to see more and more people feeding their dogs that way. Not only does it eliminate waste, but they are so much more healthy for it.

I've subscribed to your blog and I look forward to future pots!

...and Zazou too!