Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Is Green Always Greener?

Farmer Knows Best
The dark side of going green.
By Blake Hurst
Tarkio, Missouri

Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of agriculture and an organic and sustainable food expert, has announced an initiative entitled “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.” Sixty-five million dollars will be spent “to begin a national conversation to help develop local and regional food systems.”

America, it seems, has been operating at a knowledge deficit when it comes to farmers, and farmers lack the social skills to close the gap between eaters and producers of food. Still, one can only imagine what a Know Your Farmer program designed by government will involve. As I survey the farmers living around me, it’s clear we need some sort of sensitivity training, memberships at the local gym, nose hair trimmers, and a new barber. Most of us have been farming for decades (the average American farmer is 58) and are working land that has been owned by family members for generations. Yet any quick perusal of the current literature about agriculture would indicate that our days of farming are numbered. In the current jargon: We are not sustainable.

Local food is seen as a good thing because it travels a short distance from farm to consumer. This cuts the production of greenhouse gases, is presumed to guarantee freshness, and connects consumers with “their” farmer. “Food miles,” the number of miles food travels to your table, has become an important metric, and marketers are trumpeting their allegiance to local producers.

This is mostly harmless, and farmers will benefit if they can capture some slightly larger percentage of the food dollar by selling at the farm gate or through a local USDA-subsidized farmer’s market. I love showing people my farm, will talk with anybody about agriculture, and am more than willing to “know” my consumer. Even so, I imagine the experience will be a letdown for her. I’m sure to disagree with most of the views a typical Whole Foods/farmers’ market customer holds about what they eat. The opportunities for confrontation are legion, and maybe some of that $65 million should be set aside for arbitration as foodies find out what “their” farmers actually believe about food production.  Read more.

People talk a lot about going green, buying local, and carbon footprints but no one ever talks about these three contradicting each other. This article stood out because it does just that. Too many people are trying to tell farmers how to farm and consumers what to buy without doing any real research. It is assumed that buying local is always better, grass-fed cows are always healthier and greener, and shipping food always creates a larger carbon footprint. Yet again, we are confronted with misconceptions. Buying from your local farmers market is a great way to support your local economy and farmer; however, fertile land with optimal climate for different food products should not be ignored.

A final note on this article, Hurst's mentioning of grass-fed cows. As you know by now, we raise hogs but we know plenty of people that raise cattle. Activists criticize feeding cattle grain instead of grass because it's "not natural." Activists criticize the carbon footprint created by farmers when they ship their produce, such as cattle, across the nation or globe. However, upon further inspection, Hurst's notes, "corn-fed cows produce about half the green-house gases cattle fattened on grass emit." Agriculture is a balancing act that farmers must deal with on a daily basis. Through research and common sense perhaps activists, farmers, and consumers can find equal ground. Until then, I'll just keep clicking away in an effort to correct the plethora of misconceptions out there.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Journalism Ethics Out the Window

When did ethics, fact checking, and overall good reporting become optional? "The Problem with Factory Farms", written by Claire Suddath, both shocked and horrified me; however, it was not the content but her journalism--or lack thereof. Her interview of David Kirby was biased, contained as many comments as questions, and she never once challenged any information--even false. This article was clearly the work of an activist, not a journalist.

The article claimed, "The farmer can't even eat his or her own animals." In reality, yes we can. In fact, we have a pig, which we hand picked out of our own barn, resting comfortably in delicious pieces in our freezer. Kirby also criticizes companies because they "tell them [the farmers] exactly how to build the farm, what to grow, and what to feed." For one, we choose how to build our farm, the company only provides blue prints for the buildings. This is handy since none of us are building engineers. We have never been told what to grow and the feed is provided by the company to insure optimum nutrition during the different stages of growth. In addition, Kirby's definition of a CAFO is severely lacking; however, Suddath does nothing to correct him or even follow up on the issue.

Another point this article made that shocked me was Kirby's views on manure. "It has nowhere to go." He claims, "You don't have enough land to absorb their waste." I am sure if Suddath or Kirby consulted the Department of Natural Resources, they would find such claims to be false. In fact, DNR will not issue a permit if the farmer does not have a manure management plan in place and land enough to apply it. This article also claimed that "this kind of stuff" is not regulated. Please visit the Missouri DNR website and you will quickly find just how regulated "this kind of stuff" really is.

Finally, as my rant lingers on, I must comment on Kirby's closing statements. "There's no farm house on a factory farm..." and his claim that the pigs in a CAFO sound like "kid's being tortured...all night long." Not only does our family live only a few hundred yards from our barns but we have never had any problems with the sounds of "kid's being tortured." Of course, pigs squeal and make noise but, like any other animal, they eventually settle down and most pigs even snore. We farm land, we raise pigs with concern for their health along with the environment's, we live on the farm close to the barns, all the above mentioned are things Kirby and Suddath claim don't exist with CAFOs. Yet another misconception.

Bottom line, this kind of reporting, especially by major periodicals such as Time, is dangerous to agriculture, farmers, and the economy. Spreading misconceptions to consumers is both irresponsible and just bad reporting. I for one am sending an email to Time magazine to complain about this biased, misleading article. If you care about agriculture and maintaining affordable food in this country, I urge you to do the same. Email the Editor at letters@time.com.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Confinement Situation

I can't believe it! I just can't believe it! I had no idea adopting a dog could be this difficult. Allow me to back up a bit. My family and I had been discussing a dog. We decided to adopt instead of going to a breeder. We were even happy to pay the adoption fee. Sounds like a good plan that helps both a needy dog and an overcrowded shelter, right? Turns out, not so much. Apparently, adoption shelters don't really want to adopt there dogs. Who knew?

I called a local humane society shelter...denied. I called a private animal shelter...denied. I contacted private shelters in two other towns...denied, denied.
You can imagine my frustration. I filled out the application form, I informed them of were I live, were the dog would stay, what my family was like, agreed to the adoption fee, gave them my veterinarians name and phone number, and if they would have asked for a urine and blood sample I probably would have given them that, too.

So, why was I denied? Turns out the humane society and private shelters in this area have a strict policy in adopting their animals. I was informed of this policy via voicemail, "Yes, I'm calling in regards to Buck, you had inquired about adopting him. We have a policy that requires all the animals we adopt out to be indoor pets so it looks like that adoption for Buck won't be happening. Thanks for your interest. Bye."

What?! I have been denied by every shelter in my area because I want an outdoor dog? Mind you every dog I inquired about were obvious outdoor dogs. I had applied for a German Shepherd, a shepherd mix, a Border Collie, and an Australian Shepherd. Also, the woman I spoke with about Buck was very excited because they had been having a hard time adopting him. Gee, wonder why? I have nothing against indoor dogs but refusing a dog a home because he/she would be outside seems ridiculous to me.

This brings me to another point. Being CAFO owners we are constantly under attack by groups like PETA, Sierra Club, and--here's the kicker--HSUS. For clarification, we are required by the HSUS to house our dog indoors, in a climate controlled building and are not to let them live outdoors. However, the HSUS require our pigs to live outdoors otherwise it is viewed as inhumane to house our pigs indoors, in climate controlled buildings and not allowing them to live outdoors. Do I have this right? Can someone please explain the logic to this.

Anyway, we are now the proud owners of a beautiful English Shepherd and couldn't be more pleased with our decision to go to a breeder. She is perfect in every way, enjoys running around our 3 acre yard, and has never once complained about her dog house. In fact, it is her cozy little hidy hole. She is part of our family but remains outside and she is very happy with this arrangement.

I just think it is a little ridiculous to force confinement on a dog while complaining about confinement of a pig. Perhaps the HSUS and other organizations like it should take a look in the mirror; they are just as much a confinement operation as we are. The difference is we don't force others to do the same.

While writing this blog I lumped my local humane society and private shelters together with HSUS. This was wrong and I apologize; however, I do feel my local shelters need to change some of their stipulations of adoption in an effort to adopt out more dogs. One thing that we all need to keep in mind is the fact that local shelters are in no way affiliated to HSUS. HSUS gives less than 1 percent of their multi-millions to local shelters. If you would like to help your local shelters please give directly to your shelter NOT the Humane Society of the United States.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Family Owned Means Family Farm

In rural Missouri there lives a family, this family has a farm. The farm on which this family lives has quite a few large barns. These barns are home to lots of pigs and these pigs are corporate owned. The building on the farm that's owned by the family is classified as...a CAFO.

The screams of discontent are already echoing through my computer's monitor. But before you click out of this blog let me just say with a big ol' grin, welcome to the Bacon Blogger, stick around and you just might learn something.

I am the Bacon Blogger and I am here to try and give the other side of the story. Yes, we have a corporate contract. Yes, we raise our pigs in a climate controled building with automated feeding and watering systems. Because of this are we still "real" farmers? According to the vast majority of the animal activists and those who adamantly support them we are not "real" farmers. Really? That's news to me. Then, what exactly have we been doing every day with these pigs and tractors?

Obviously, I can't speak for every farmer out there nor can I speak for every CAFO out there but I can tell you this, don't believe everything you read. One of the many misconceptions about this type of operation is that all CAFOs are corporate owned and migrant workers slave away in brutal conditions. Not true. Given, there are some corporations that buy the land, build the building, and hire workers (mostly locals) to take care of the livestock; BUT (and as you can see from the caps lock that's a big but), there are also companies that go directly to the farmer (a really real farmer) instead of just buying them out. Some companies, like the one we go through, keep families farming. The farmer still owns the land and the building, the only thing on this farm that is not the property of our family are the pigs however we care for them, no one else.

"What!?" You might be asking, "You mean the people who own the buildings aren't just a bunch of greedy, tycoon shareholders that rape the profit from the working man?"

It's true. Yet another CAFO misconception. Without our barns this family farm would not have been able to grow from 80 acres to over 500 acres and this farm would not have been able to provide jobs and financial support to four separate households, all of which are family. However, despite all this there are still people out there that claim we are not a family farm nor are we "real" farmers.

As stated before, I can't speak for everyone but I can speak for our farm. Just as not every vegan is a radical activist willing to kill for what they believe in, CAFOs are not animal warehouses filled with disgruntled swine. We DO NOT abuse our animals and we DO NOT "spray them down daily with antibiotics" (yes I've actually read that one). What we do do is care for these animals and keep them healthy. That is no easy task, either. We work seven days a week to keep this ship afloat and if that's not real farming then I don't know what is. These animals are our livelihood, not one family but four families livelihoods, we can't afford to mistreat our animals nor do we want to.

Bottom line, before you judge a CAFO why don't you try learning about a real CAFO from a real farmer.

I am the Bacon Blogger and we are real farmers.