In my journey with our farm, I have learned a lot. I think the most worthwhile knowledge I have gained is the importance of knowing more about the food my family and I eat.
The Legacy of the Factory Farm
I grew up, like so many of us, with mass produced food with no faces, the ‘food pyramid’, and fast food. We didn’t ask questions. We just trusted that this food was ‘ok’ and it was good (or good enough) for us. I have since learned, that is far from the truth.
Growing up I was around what is now referred to as factory farming. This was not necessarily viewed as an unhealthy way to grow food. The producers grew lots of animals in small spaces and this was seen as efficient. The corporate buyers would then take the products and process them. I did not see this as wrong, bad or less than desirable. This is just ‘how it was done.’ Now, I want to know the farmer that made my food.
In the factory farming model, the consumer does not know where the food came from, they can’t talk to the person whose hands tended the crop/the animal and it is not possible to even thank the person directly that grew the food.
Our culture has evolved into a society of faceless food and consumers. So much so that kids don’t even know how food is produced. They think a chicken nugget just appears. They do not know it was formerly a clucking chicken. Hamburgers have no correlation to cows. Milk is just a white liquid. We must change this. We must appreciate our food and the effort it takes to produce this food in a healthy, sustainable manner.
What’s the Difference?
A quick comparison of factory farm raised ground beef and small farm, pasture raised ground beef has a number of differences. Namely, and one of the most important differences for our family, the package of ‘conventionally’ produced ground beef may include meat from 5, 10, or even more cows. Compare that to the local farmer’s ground beef. That package comes from one cow, uniquely identified by the animal identification number on the package. My local beef producer is someone I can speak to face to face about exactly what their cows eat. How they are grown. Where he/she processes her meats and when that processing occurs. This is all aside from the tremendous difference in nutrition in the sustainably produced meats compared to the conventional meats.
My local produce growers are equally important. We have the choice of buying produce that was picked who knows when (most likely before it was even ripe), put into storage or shipped up to thousands of miles to get to the local grocery store OR we can buy produce that was picked ripe (with the full benefit of the nutrition) and picked within days or even the day of a market. An added bonus, we can talk to the person that grew that produce and learn more about varieties of produce that we can’t get in our local grocery store. All this while supporting a farmer that is most likely not using large amounts of herbicides and pesticides on the produce and they are using seeds that are heirloom varieties rather than genetically modified seeds.
We don’t buy a lot of dairy products since our farm produces milk and cheese, but, we do try to support other local dairies. The differences in commercial dairy farms and your local family dairies are significant. Notably so is the way these animals are treated. Conventional commercial dairies a lot of times are farms where the animals are not on pasture. These animals live in confined quarters. Some of the largest commercial dairies have milking going on up to 23 hours per day.
Animals on these types of dairies are in high stress situations, crowded and unable to function as a ruminant should (cows and goats are ruminants and need roughage/hay/grass to have a properly functioning system). Animals in conditions like these pass stress hormones on to us in their milk. The animals have a shorter life expectancy due to the fact that they are not able to produce milk at their optimal potential due to improper diets and high stress. Cows/goats on pasture live longer, happier and more productive lives. Grass fed/pasture based meat and dairy has higher levels of vitamins and contains fats that our bodies are more capable of digesting and breaking down as well.
Questions to Ask
All in all, I have learned to ask questions about the foods we eat:
• Where did it come from?
• Do I know the farmer that produced it?
• Is this food more nutrient dense?
• If we eat the commercially produced foods, are we wasting our money on the emptier calories we’ll ingest?
• How far did that food travel before it came to our grocery store/market?
• Was this food sprayed with chemicals that may or may not adversely affect us?
• Will buying this food benefit our local economy?
• How can I make a difference?
Start With One Item
You don’t have to completely empty your pantry and freezer. Make small efforts. Find one portion of your monthly food purchases to look for local alternatives. Don’t overwhelm yourself and feel like you have to change all at once. We’re still learning and still transitioning ourselves. Maybe you decide that from now on, you’ll only buy tomatoes that are grown local and seasonally. You don’t have to pick all produce. Start with one item.
Go to your local farmers markets and meet the farmers. Ask them why they grow the particular tomatoes that they do. Ask them how they grow them. Ask them how they like to prepare them. Learn about canning tomatoes so you can enjoy your delicious local tomatoes all year. Start small. Even small changes make huge differences for you and your local farmers.
How do you know your food?
KNOW YOUR FARMER.
About the AuthorStacy is originally from Texas and represents the "Lone" in Lone Palmetto. Stacy has been involved with breeding and raising goats since 1995. She served on the National Pygmy Goat Association national board of directors and served on various national committees within that organization. She is a former president and former show chair for the Tejas Goat Club. Stacy was a co-coordinator of the 2004 National Pygmy Goat Association National Convention and Show; also serving as show chair for the event. Upon moving to North Carolina, Stacy joined the North Carolina Pygmy Goat Club and served as their show chair. Stacy was a 2010 recipient of a New and Beginning Farmer Scholarship to attend the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Annual Conference. She was also selected to represent South Carolina at the 2011 Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference at Penn State University. She serves on the steering committee for the South Carolina Women in Agriculture Network (SC-WAgN). Stacy is the lead parlor worker at Lone Palmetto Farms and handles most of the marketing for the farm.
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