A Better Sort of Pig

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In May, I went to Iowa, primarily to learn more about so-called conventional agriculture, those thousand-acre farms growing corn and soybeans, planted, tended and harvested largely by machine. (We have plenty of the other type — what’s variously called traditional, or alternative, or non-conventional — in the Northeast.) But thanks to an auspicious combination of topsoil, climate, topography and weather, Iowa is among the best locales for farming in North America, and I saw a wide range of practices.

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(Photo Credit: Quentin Origami via Flickr)

Posted in Farming, Travel

Is Factory Farming Even Worse Than We Know?

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If you’re not already anti-factory-farming, this will do it: The Humane Society just released an undercover investigation (watch the video if you can stomach it, or scroll down the link to find the full report) into the obscene abuses of female breeding pigs and piglets by Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest (and probably most profitable) producer of pork. The video leaves me pretty much speechless.(More links here, at Vegan.com.)

I’m usually not one to cry “boycott,” but if you, like Paula Deen, are a Smithfield supporter – in fact, if you’re still eating industrially raised pork (or chicken or beef or fish for that matter) – get real. Any industry (and Smithfield is hardly alone, though it does seem to be performing most egregiously) that operates with such infuriating disregard for the welfare of their animals deserves all the trouble we can muster.

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Free-Range Almost as Bad as Factory-Farmed?

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Check out this James McWillams article called Why Free-Range Meat Isn’t Much Better Than Factory-Farmed. McWilliams says that “when it comes to farming methods and harm, free range is better,” but “better does not mean acceptable.” He goes on to suggest that it is nearly as harmful and morally dubious to kill a factory-farmed animal as it is to kill one that was not raised in confinement (follow his logic from start to finish and see what you think.)

As far as I know, McWilliams is a vegan. If he wants to personally and/or publicly object to raising animals for food that we don’t need, I have no problem with that. I understand and appreciate that a notable contrarian like McWilliams needs to be careful about flat-out telling people what to do, but in a way I’d have a lot more respect for this article if it were called Be A Vegan. By working to discredit free-range farming, he is in practice giving us all an excuse to buy into a system of industrial livestock production that he admits is worse. McWilliams may be right that none of it is perfect, but if it’s truly a more moral and less harmful system that he’s after, wouldn’t his time (and ours) be a lot better spent rallying against what’s worse (and ubiquitous) than picking on what’s better (and small)?

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Please post them in the comments section below.

(Photo Credit: Socially Responsible Agricultural Project via Flickr)

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Is the U.S. One Big Factory Farm?

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Food and Water Watch just released this amazing interactive factory farm map of the United States, which is fascinating and terrifying at the same time – I can’t stop clicking through it. Below “the fold” are some eye-opening numbers that come attached to the map. I’ve been doing some digging of my own, but it’s (quite literally) tons of, shall we say, waste to wade through.

Take the map for a spin, and if you find anything interesting, or surpising, or frightening, or hopeful – please post it in the comments section.

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Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Why It’s Better if We Can’t Afford Meat

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Beef ranchers are complaining that the domestic market is “withering,” and therefore the quality of meat will decline.

This, of course, assumes that we’re not smart enough to buy better beef. From many perspectives – that of the person who wants only organic beef; that of one who wants only local beef; that of one who wants grass-fed beef, or “natural” beef, or humanely raised beef, or all of the above – the price of “normal” (that is, industrially-raised) beef is already too low. Suppose one wanted higher quality beef, and were willing to pay for it? Suppose one were willing to eat less beef in order to keep one’s food budget more-or-less stable? Wouldn’t a decline in industrially raised beef be OK? And who cares if it becomes even “worse?” It’s already produced with almost no concern for quality.

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Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Politics of the Plate

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By Barry Estabrook

All’s Fair: Cloned Cow Wins Iowa 4-H Competition

One of my favorite events at our rural county’s annual agricultural fair is when the youthful 4-H club members show their prized cattle. Well-scrubbed teenagers clad in white shoes, white pants, and white shirts proudly lead their well-groomed bovines into the arena where they are judged and ribbons awarded. You almost expect to see a pipe-puffing Normal Rockwell peering from behind his easel on the sidelines.

I don’t think I would have gotten the same warm, nostalgic feeling at Iowa State Fair  a few weeks ago. Tyler Faber, age 17, took home the blue ribbon in the “Big Steer” category for a 1,320-pound behemoth named Doc. The beefy steer, it turned out, was a clone.

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Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Blue Potatoes and Organic Certification

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By Clotilde Hryshko

The following is the CSA newsletter I gave out during pickups the week of 8/30/10. 

Last year I finally found a blue flesh/blue skin potato that tasted great and was versatile in the kitchen.  I celebrated Labor Day with the CSA by giving them to you that week.  I continue the tradition again this year.  These Purple Majesty potatoes are excellent for potato salad, mashed, roasted, fried or any other use on a (expected) cool Labor Day weekend.  It’s also my not so subtle way of reminding you to honor the physical labor of others.

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Posted in Farming, Produce

Eggheads

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By Edward Schneider

Look at the pictures above, of the chicken house at Flying Pigs Farm in upstate New York. 

Now read this.

Do you see why those who have recently been deriding “locavores” as cranks are missing the point? It isn’t always about carbon footprint or ideology: it is often just about plain good food.

Posted in Farming

Garden Candy

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By Edward Schneider 

I’ve said before that it gives me a thrill to pick and immediately cook produce from my father-in-law’s garden in the UK. I’m a city boy and the son of city folk: my father was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and, although my mother’s parents kept a few chickens in their yard outside Czestochowa, Poland, their emigration to Brooklyn when my mother was twelve marked the end of animal husbandry for them. So, I am innately ignorant of tilling the soil. My limbs, like those of Mrs. Sullen in George Farquhar’s 1707 comedy The Beaux’ Stratagem, were not made for leaping of ditches and clambering over stiles. Much less for hoeing and weeding. 

But I’ve long harbored the illusion that, apart from die-hard Londoners (who are just as bad as us New Yorkers), Britons are universally garden-mad and raised to be familiar with small-scale agriculture centered on a quarter-acre behind the house or in a public plot (an allotment). Some of you who have read more than a few of my posts will know that Jackie’s father has always been an enthusiastic horticulturalist whose big garden yields everything from fennel to rhubarb to elderflowers. Granted, when he bought the house, back in the 1950s in a then-new suburban development, he picked the one with the largest garden, but all the houses in his neighborhood sit on pretty substantial parcels of arable land.  

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Posted in Farming

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

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By Clotilde Hryshko

Thanks and recognition goes to some of the friends of my daughter Marya – Ellie, Gabe, Kim, Marya and Nick – for their efforts on the wood stacking and garlic harvest. These jobs are perfect for the young teens – a chance for some money, camaraderie, and that critical opportunity to do a job and see its completion. I’m sure they won’t remember them as the best days of their vacation but the other parents and I will continue to be smug about its importance.

My summer vacation is really more of a flip-flop. Jim took the girls away for 10 days. They traveled to Alaska where he has a brother and a sister. They camped and went salmon fishing, meeting up with more family. Marya caught 2 fish this year and the youngest, Yelena, caught one (fly-fishing).

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Posted in Farming