This weekend, at the 2015 Food Freedom Fest, I had the privilege of spending time with some very inspiring people: farmers who are bucking the industrial farming system in favor of using cutting edge practices that honor the natural biorhythms of the earth, the animals, and the food they are growing. These were biodynamic farmers, raw milk farmers, grass-fed beef farmers, producers of eggs from pastured chickens, and farmers who are raising cattle alongside poultry and pigs in a beautiful, harmonious, integrated system. These farmers are usually running smaller scale family farms, and they are at risk.
In a tour of the renowned Polyface Farm, led by the wonderful heretic farmer Joel Salatin, he explained in great detail how the future of our small scale family farms is at risk, all while showing us the incredible potential of farming. He showed us a future of farming without chemical pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, or other chemical cocktails; with lower costs and greater yields; with happy and healthy animals that don’t require constant medication; and with greater bio-diversity and bio-density year over year. He showed us a way to feed the world many times over while being stewards of the earth, instead of raping it.
His farm is a glowing and inspiring example that many other farmers seek to emulate. And yet, much of what he’s doing is illegal.
Joel and other small-scale farmers like him are under constant threat by the USDA of being shut down.
Why? Well, regulations that were designed with massive, industrial-scale factory farming (and all the problems that come along with that) are being inappropriately imposed on small-scale farmers, often shutting them down or burdening them with massive costs that are prohibitive for small businesses.
Small farmers being raided by troups of armed officers at the crack of dawn? Inspectors using tactics of intimidation and aggression to force compliance to rules that have no logical application in these contexts? Tons (and I mean that as a unit of measurement, not a turn of speech) of the most nutrient-dense, local, and truly seasonal food being confiscated and destroyed? It sounds absurd and it is. It’s hard to fathom this is happening right here in the United States, the “land of the free”.
For us, as consumers, this has serious implications. It threatens our access to real food – raw milk, pastured eggs and poultry, grass-fed and finished beef, and pastured pork. And without this access, a very key element of our food supply is eradicated: choice.
Check out these chickens at Polyface Farm. Now this is how chickens should live! (if you listen hard, you can hear Joel in the background)
I don’t care whether you drink raw milk or not, but I sure do want you to have that option. I don’t care if you decide to buy conventional or grass-fed beef, but I want you to be able to make an informed choice. And when you do buy grass-fed beef I want it to be from cows who lived their whole beautiful, healthy lives outdoors on grass as they are biologically designed to do; not just their first few months and then brought into the feedlots for finishing like all the other industry cattle. I also don’t care if you are comfortable eating GMO food or not – but I’d like both of us to have the choice and a way of knowing, for sure, whether GMO ingredients are present in our dinner.
Let me cut to the chase:
The future of your food is at risk.
I’m not trying to be an alarmist. I’m not trying to scare you (well, yes I am – just a little). I simply want you to know what’s going on at the most fundamental level of our food supply: our farmers are at risk.
This is a very complex issue and there’s no way I can do it justice in a short blog post. If you want to learn more, I strongly recommend you watch the documentary Farmageddon or the upcoming short-film, Farming in Fear. Both of these documentaries highlight the plight that our small farmers are facing. I’ll bet you don’t realize how bad it is. I sure didn’t.
Here are four simple but powerful things you can do to protect the future of your food. If you have to choose, the first and last are the two most important on the list.
- Buy directly from your local farmer. Buying food directly from your farmer is the most basic and important way to economically support that farmer. It’s just basic supply and demand: the more you buy from small-scale farmers, the more you increase the demand for what they produce, which thus increases their ability to supply to you. It makes their business viable and can inspire others to farm. There are so many ways to do this: at your farmer’s market, at your local coop, by visiting the farm directly, by joining a buying club, or by joining a CSA (see #2). How you do it is far less important than that you do it.
A great place to get started with this is the website FarmMatch.com. It’s a giant database of farmers, farmers markets, buying clubs, and even restaurants that use truly farm-fresh produce, meats and dairy. If you don’t know where to start, start there.
- Join a CSA. CSA is the acronym for Community Supported Agriculture and the idea behind it is that you buy a share of the season’s produce at the beginning of the season, and the farmer brings you your share of the harvest throughout the growing season. It can be a beautiful system: you help offset the financial risk that the farmer assumes at the beginning of the season, and you receive your bounty throughout the season as it becomes available. Talk about truly local and seasonal!
- Get to know your farmer. This can be chatting with her at the farmer’s market. It can mean going out to the farm and visiting it. Incidentally – a farmer’s willingness to show you around her farm is a great test of her integrity. Those farmers who are going out of their way to do things differently LOVE to talk about it and can’t wait to show you what they’re doing. Those who aren’t proud of what they’re doing aren’t typically keen to show it off.
This can also mean simply being in relationship with your farmer as you purchase from them. Here in Portland, OR, I’m part of a “herdshare” where I have paid a small amount to become a part owner of a herd of dairy cows. Every other week, the farmer brings fresh raw milk, cream and butter into town for members of the herdshare. I talk directly with her at least every other week to confirm our order, say hi, and generally build that relationship. Not only is the milk some of the best I’ve ever drank in my life, I just love knowing that I’m a small part of that farm’s immediate community.
- Support the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund. I put this last on the list, but in many ways it’s one of the most important things you can do. The FTCLDF is a not-for-profit organization that “defends the rights and broadens the freedoms of family farms, while protecting consumer access to raw milk and nutrient-dense foods”. If you watch either of the documentaries I recommended above, it is the FTCLDF that provides lawyers free of charge to these farmers. It is protecting the farmers’ rights to produce real, nutrient-dense, chemical-free food, and it is protecting YOUR access to that food. If you want to support your local farmer, this is a powerful way to tell them “I’ve got your back.”
Please share in the comments below how you’ve been supporting your local farmers. And feel free to share any farms you particularly love that you’d like to encourage others to support.
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