Just because the canary is alive …

I was, in a textbook sense, very bad today. I pushed a nice Virginia lady to near tears, told a cherubic Ohio mom that what she did was fucking evil and, in an exasperated moment of utter despair, equated the work of a bunch of “family farmers” to the evil doings of Wall Street at it’s worst.

Actually, you should know, I believe what those “family farmers” do is far more reprehensible than Wall Street. The brokers and money changers, they just make you poor. Industrial farmers, the people I talked to today, their work is tearing apart the very health of our society — degrading the animals they raise, polluting the environment and, if you did a little research, you’d learn and take heed, damaging your health.

Oh, and you should know — the “farmers” and “ranchers” that are perpetrating the atrocities of factory farming, they actually believe that what they are doing is right and just.

It’s legal, even.

Just like Wall Street!

Me, I’d rather just get financially raped by Wall Street than have to face the horror that the people on the front line of our food supply are, I dunno, shockingly ignorant? mindbogglingly clueless? utterly inhumane?

So while I was, I admit, audacious in my outrage, what I learned today is that outrage may be our only salvation.

Because these people who produce our food are not listening.

And , er, uhm, well, they are also not really glomming onto the subtleties of our fear — or obvious atrocities of reality.

I was trying to be polite. Trying to be politic. I don’t think I did a very good job. But if you measure my performance against how I actually felt, you would be applying for my sainthood. Because I was that consumed by confusion, twisted into rage, with a side dish of infuriation. I don’t even care if that is not a word.

B.T., by which I mean Before Today, in a biblical “marking time” sense, I didn’t much think about the people who grow our food. Well, that is, I should say the people who grow your food. Pretty much, I know the people who grow mine.

There’s some stuff I pick up at Costco, sure — Marcona almonds, some basic house cheese for the random sandwich or omelet — and I tend to run to the my local food co-op every so often to pick up supplies.

But when I am thinking, mindful — not consumed by the all-consumingness that is an internet startup — I, really, know who grows my food. Even a lot of the stuff I pick up at the co-op.

There’s Marty from Spence Farm. I have a make your own CSA with him and have been to his farm a few times, met the family and even volunteered at a fundraising event he held.

And there’s Seedling Pete. I stayed at his farm one weekend when I needed to get away. It was really lovely, quiet and peaceful, with a small band of farm workers who are part of the farm, not just expendable parts of the harvest.

I get a lot of chickens, and last year’s turkey, from Greg Gunthorp. I actually have not only been to his farm but learned how to catch a “wild” pig while I was there — or at least learned that his pigs live in his woods and when someone orders one, he goes and runs, crazily, through the woods to catch it. Holy Shit! And how holy, really.

Oh, and Mick Klug and Crazy Tomato Mountain guy. I haven’t been to their farms but I know people I trust who have and, well, we all know that Mick is known to throw a punch or two when the nuances and importance of sustainably raised produce is the topic at hand. He’s pretty serious in a way one can only respect.

I buy meat from Rob at Butcher & Larder and sometimes, now, from PQM — they both use farmers and ranchers I have met and whose animal husbandry is exceptionally humane. Before them, I had farmers I trust come sell meat in my home so I could make it available for myself. My friends were grateful for the residual benefit of access to honorably raised meat.

We have to eat meat, I believe; but we also have to do it responsibly.

I try to live by that and get to feeling guilty if I succumb to a package of, say, Niman Ranch sausage. My mother, I think, is at this point afraid to make me a sandwich, for fear I am questioning her motives and intent. I also get pretty woosey about eating meat out if the restaurant I am at doesn’t really follow what I believe are: The Rules.

I am sure by now you think I am a kook. As I look over this post, it certainly reads that way.

But maybe it is just that I tend to read — a lot — about our food supply. And what I read scares the crap out of me.

I don’t retain a lot of facts about it. I don’t have to, really. I am just me, choosing what I want to eat and what I feel is responsible. To be honest, I don’t really have time to get involved with the politics of food beyond posting a few articles on Facebook — which is, I believe, a personal endeavor — or having a conversation with people who, pretty much, already heartily agree with what I think.

I am blessed in that I can construct a life where I don’t, really, have to think much about it. And I realize, well — we are all believing that. It is a delusion. That we don’t have to think much about it. And frankly, that’s why we are where we are. And, friends, where we are is so not cool. In fact, it is horribly, horribly wrong.

B.T., I thought it is important to know your farmer, but, I’ll admit, I never really gave much though as to why. Had you asked me, B.T., I would have mumbled something about community or, possibly, if my mood was dark, something vague but scary and probably involving Monsanto, Whole Foods or another evil empire.

A.T., as in After Today, I realize that if you don’t know your farmer, you are probably eating something grown, raised or harvested — let alone processed — by someone who, really, you should not trust. And I realize that I need to jumpstart my research and remembering. I need to pay more attention to the food community and not just worry about my own food. I need to worry about the food of people who don’t know to worry or, maybe, don’t have time.

Maybe that is to say I need to worry more actively — and proactively.

Because today, I met the farmers and ranchers who grow your food.

And they frightened me to the very core of my being.

Wait, let me back up.

First off, I should tell you that today I had the pleasure of meeting the people at the front lines of producing food — the fine folks of the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. I was invited to a breakfast they hosted. A “conversation” they were starting with people like me. (Whomever they thought “me” was.)

Now, it might seem frighteningly elitist of me but I will admit that B.T., I assumed that the people on industrial farms were just a sad lot of people who got stuck in a horrible spiral of debt and oppression by The Man. I did. I felt bad for them. And I think, generally, that was all my psyche could admit was reality. I felt they must have had lives that had gone horribly wrong somewheres. But I didn’t have the means to help them and I could only hope that some day they would come to their senses and just leave.

That’s as far as my thinking could go. Beyond that, a cliff, a place I couldn’t even imagine.

But, and I know you already know this. I was oh so very wrong.

The reality is, and you really should be really scared by this, the people who live on the “family  farms” that house the CAFOs that produce the majority of our food are, in fact, proud of what they do.

I shall pause here for you to gather yourself again. When you are ready, we can go on.

Ready?

OK.

The people who run the CAFOs are proud to raise pigs confined to sunless outbuildings with scientifically controlled environments that strip the animal of all dignity. Proud to stuff a million chickens into their farming operation to “live” in the filth of “dust” (chickenspeak for dried shit flying around as breathable) where they never, actually, ever experience the crazy antics of their inherent chicken-ness. Proud that they’ve harnessed so much technology that they don’t even have to ever feed a pig or pick a weed in the field.

They said, and you can be sure I heard this right, there were “no bugs” in their fields — so forget swatting a fly.

Of course, of course. Progress.

WAIT! What? In what natural world are there no bugs? I mean, I hate bugs but, really, NO BUGS! WHAT THE HELL DID THEY DO TO THE BUGS?

Oh, crap! Yes. Bees. Bees are bugs! And we know what is happening to the bees.

Maybe the bee researchers need to go hang out on some Nebraska monocrop farms and see what’s happening there because, really, it is a mystery to all of us but, and I kid you not, the Nebraska farmer I was sitting with said, no bugs.

(BTW: the people I spoke with today, they’d never heard of the word “monocrop,” even though it was their livelihood. They are that detached.)

But this is the thing you, dear reader, need to understand. It isn’t the pigs stripped of dignity or the chickennessless chickens or even the mysterious lack of bees that is the problem. No, The USFRA exists because these “family farmers,” the ones who don’t ever feed a pig or pick a weed or worry about swatting a fly, they think they are misunderstood.

Which is the only point at which we found common ground. By which to say that I didn’t understand them, before I met them — because I didn’t realize they actually believed in what they were doing.

So, clearly, they are misunderstood.

And they hosted  this breakfast because, well, they want to be understood. They want all of us to think of them as “family farmers” and they realize they are represented, mostly, by comically scary food conglomerates that everyone justifiably hates — the likes of Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson, BPI (aka The Pink Slime-ers).

So, they’re banding together and taking what seem to be the most homespun family types of their ilk on the road. To state their case in the most familyesque way.

“Hi, I am *Peggy Sue and I am a soccer mom from Nebraska. My family, (ZOMG I have six kids!), has been farming for seven generations and I love my farm and what we do everyday in our chicken house!”

“And I am *Scottie Boy and my family is from Oklahoma, we have three kids who love to get dirty, and though my wife says I don’t do anything but eat her brownies I swear I work all day tending to my soybean fields.”

It’s all downright Norman Rockwellian until you find out that what Peggy Sue’s family does is raise a million chickens in enclosed steel structures that deliver scientifically prescribed doses of the cheapest crap that some greedy corporation can mix together and force Peggy Sue to buy so as to make those chickens growand by grow I mean an unchikenly fast hypergrowth — fast enough you’d think they are sprouting out of a comic book.

Oh, and if that isn’t enough to make you question Peggy Sue’s basic level of sanity, she actually feeds that chicken-esque detritus to her grandkids.

I did, I did, I  misunderstood Peggy Sue. I didn’t realize that about her — and her “family farmer” cohorts as well. In my heart, honestly, I didn’t think they ate that shit themselves.

I mean, it is one thing for a mom in a big city far removed from the farm to not have time to pay attention to the poisonous scariness of, say, a Tyson chicken breast, as an example. It is a whole other thing for a woman who lives the horror of factory farming day-to-day to serve that stuff to her own grand kids.

You should know that Peggy Sue assured me that it is all OK because — are you sitting down — “God made animals to be tools for mankind. They aren’t equal to us.” By which she means the horrors of the lives of the animals they are responsible for raising are, well, condoned by the Almighty.

It is hard to imagine but the atheist, me, was technically the Godless half of that conversation. Technically.

It is all, in a word, horrifying.

And not the kind of horrifying you see in a docuwhatever about a despot African warlord with an army of murderous children in bondage. I mean, really. That is horrifying. But, well, it isn’t gonna happen here, right? With the kids that play on your lawn and that, maybe, you’ve gotten to know, right?

No, this is horrifying because these freaky people are sitting across from you eating pancakes, and, well — they are in charge of the food supply.

As I went through the rest of my day, post-breakfast, processing this horror, I vacillated from blind rage to deep sadness to outright fear. I cried in the whirlpool at the club for an hour (a middle aged woman crying in a whirlpool is not a pretty sight), cried in the kitchen at a client’s restaurant (crying at a client is not an awesome idea), and cried on the scooter ride home (crying while driving a scooter in the city is dangerous at best).

I decided at one point these folks were suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. At another point I came to realize they were basically an American Khmer Rouge, brainwashed to support a system that believes it is doing the right thing while killing people.

And then I ended up just hopeless.

It seems, at so many turns, that we live in a world where people are so divorced from the very essence of life — compassion — that we now have a food supply that is unfixably twisted and distorted, horrifying and lacking in nutrition — so not what any God anywhere could ever have wanted or dreamed up.

I may not believe in Him but I do think I can claim a general knowledge of His, well, acceptable realities.

So yes, I was, of course, inappropriately outspoken at the breakfast. But how can one not rail against the inhumanity of a million-strong chicken “family farm?” How can you not shame the industrial pig farmer?

It was interesting. The CAFO pig farmer was aghast and catching an F-Bomb, to, it seemed, the point of needing smelling salts for the outrage of it all — I do declare!Preposterous if you consider that she has stomach to get up every morning and face the horrors she inflicts on pigs each day.

The misplaced righteousness of the evildoers. Gets us commie liberals every time.

But you know, maybe, just maybe, I ended up realizing that inappropriate outspokenness is what is needed. Maybe we need to tell these people that what they are doing is, in fact, fucking evil. Because it is.

Because from what I witness this morning — they are too clueless, methinks, to understand nuance. They trot out their homespun families and talk about, oh, how hard it was for grandpa to weed the fields or tend the pigs. They marvel in the technology that manages the carefully calibrated environments these animals live in.

They are frightening. And they are the front line of producing your food.

It is time for you to tell them all to go to hell. When you do, make sure it is loud and proud. And carry some smelling salts. They seem to need it.

*the names have been changed because, to be honest, the whole experience made me so  blind with rage that I didn’t even think about their damn names, all I wanted to do was figure out how to get them out of business.


Addendum: there is a companion conversation that also occurred over on the blog Points and Figures. The blogger, Jeff Carter, is the lead investor, I take it, in Tallgrass Beef and he also is a former board member of Merchantile Exchange (Think: Wall Street for food). I’ll let you come to your own conclusions about his comments and, well, Tallgrass Beef.

160 thoughts on “Just because the canary is alive …

  1. Pat Butkus March 29, 2012 at 11:59 pm Reply

    Dear Ellen: I so totally appreciate your outrage. I really do think your next column should be about the single mom with 3 kids working 2 jobs trying to put food on the table for less than $14 per day. Where is the happy medium? Not trying to be disrespectful, but how can the majority of America do it?

  2. elliecm March 30, 2012 at 8:26 am Reply

    Pat, obviously I am not living that life and would never have the hubris to pretend I understood it in any capacity. But I do think it is really sad when people toss out the “poor people gotta eat” argument because, well, those poor people also very people who can’t afford health care after the “food” gets them sick. So suggesting that shoving crap down their throats in the name of “humanity” is appalling. The farmers yesterday trotted out how great cheap food is because they are feeding the hungry and poor and, really, I find that is disgustingly elitist. I demand we should have more hope that we can actually support at-risk populations with healthy food instead of shit. There is no happy medium, Pat. There is taking responsibility for the community in an honest and healthful way or there is a broken society. And until people stop tossing around this idea of our needing oceans of polluted, dead, food that is completely lacking in nutrition because we feel bad for poor people, we aren’t going to move forward in actually helping them live healthy lives.

  3. [...] in her very frank blog post about industrial farms rebranding themselves as “family farms” doing the Lord’s [...]

  4. Ralphie March 30, 2012 at 9:03 am Reply

    You need to get some mental illness counseling.

  5. elliecm March 30, 2012 at 9:11 am Reply

    That’s productive. Lemme guess, you are factory farmer who thinks your GMO crops are awesome.

  6. Amy G. March 30, 2012 at 9:12 am Reply

    You are very fortunate to get to eat simple foods close to home. That is a good choice and so is the choice to buy affordable, healthy foods from a grocery story that come from the types of large farms you mention. I know many large-scale farmers and they are good stewards of their land and care-takers of the animals and they have strong values and pride about providing food that is nutritious and safe. Your blog is missing any science or real evidence to back up your claims that the farmers you met are doing anything wrong. You come from a single and extreme point of view. Please open your mind and put away your narrow assumptions about today’s farming and farmers. You clearly know very little about it.

    • elliecm March 30, 2012 at 9:19 am Reply

      Thanks for writing something productive, Amy. You are right that I don’t list “facts” about why raising a million chickens in one operation is wrong. I tend to invoke Justice Potter Steward in that I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of farms I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["factory or industrial farming"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and I know it is wrong. May I suggest that my view is extreme only because I have had the time to educate myself on the topic and that the growing resentment and fear in this country about what is going on in our food supply only indicates that my view is getting less and less extreme. If you think I do not understand, and if you think my mind needs to be opened, may I suggest that you give me some facts that would support what you are suggesting instead of just telling me to accept that what those people are doing is right just because there’s science behind it. After all, there was science behind the work of Josef Mengele and, er, well, that really wasn’t all that awesome after all, now, was it.

      • Matt Reese April 3, 2012 at 7:59 am

        First, I really appreciate your idea and future effort highlighted in the blog you just wrote about last night. I hope that is a fun, and enlightening journey for you. But, this initial step toward open-mindedness does not make up for your extremely poor conduct and lack of professionalism at the breakfast and in your blog. I comment more on this in my blog at http://ocj.com/2012/04/breakfast-with-the-foul-mouthed-food-blogger/.
        It is not my intent to in any way discourage you from trying to have open conversations with those in agriculture (most of whom you consider Big Ag), but it is my responsibility to inform farmers about the level of hate that is directed (many would argue misdirected) at them. Whether you want to admit it or not, there are two sides to this story and there are very good, real, honest, hard working people on both sides. Those people in “Big Ag” do not deserve to be the target of such blind hate. I think you have seen that they do not treat you in that manner, even after you treated them so poorly. You are so concerned about “chicken-ness” which is fine, but please try not to forget the importance of some good old fashioned human-ness as well. Best of luck to you as you move forward. I hope you find the answers you are looking for. You will find, minus the hate, most famers will be happy to help you find those answers.

      • elliecm April 3, 2012 at 8:46 am

        Matt, I commented on your blog post. Adding here:

        Matt, I definitely respect your need to write this post and your point. And, you are a far better writer than I am for certain.
        I was definitely freaked out. I expected and thought that I was going to meet Monsanto. Instead, I met people. Your wife. I have about 20 years of growing fears wrapped up inside me. My friends’ kids are sick. the Pink Slime. The GMOs I keep reading are killing all the bugs and causing cancer, already, they aren’t that old.
        You may argue with my points and I admit at every turn that I don’t have a lot of facts. I don’t think this is where this discussion takes place.
        But I offer that stuff up to share that I did walk in with determination. I was angry and confused. The emotions I felt as my close-minded little brain when I was confronted with — actual people — were frankly too much for me.
        I doubt, in the talks you guys have around the country, that you will meet many as vocal as me. I am quite sure, though Portland might be rough, that people won’t be so willing to share the dark crevices of their fear. But you probably also won’t meet someone so open to engage in the comments back on their blog — and then, in order to learn, make a project out of reaching out.
        I appreciate your linking to my latest post. I hope you and your will wife will take me up on my offer and be the feature of one of our “meals.”
        As I mentioned in the comments of the blog — comments from a Slow Fooder who was really pissed at me for what she felt was “communication killing behavior” — sometimes getting to a point where to sides can at least converse isn’t pretty, nice, and polite.
        But if we get there, don’t we all win?
        I don’t for once blame you for writing a post that rails against me. But now that it is out of your system, as I had to get my rage out of my system, I hope you’ll take my outreached hand and start anew.
        I’ve got May free. If you & your wife let us drive to Ohio, Grant and I would love to break bread and see if we can, us four, solve the problem of food in America.
        Extend my sincere apology to your wife. or, even better, let me do that myself.Matt, I definitely respect your need to write this post and your point. And, you are a far better writer than I am for certain.
        I was definitely freaked out. I expected and thought that I was going to meet Monsanto. Instead, I met people. Your wife. I have about 20 years of growing fears wrapped up inside me. My friends’ kids are sick. the Pink Slime. The GMOs I keep reading are killing all the bugs and causing cancer, already, they aren’t that old.
        You may argue with my points and I admit at every turn that I don’t have a lot of facts. I don’t think this is where this discussion takes place.
        But I offer that stuff up to share that I did walk in with determination. I was angry and confused. The emotions I felt as my close-minded little brain when I was confronted with — actual people — were frankly too much for me.
        I doubt, in the talks you guys have around the country, that you will meet many as vocal as me. I am quite sure, though Portland might be rough, that people won’t be so willing to share the dark crevices of their fear. But you probably also won’t meet someone so open to engage in the comments back on their blog — and then, in order to learn, make a project out of reaching out.
        I appreciate your linking to my latest post. I hope you and your will wife will take me up on my offer and be the feature of one of our “meals.”
        As I mentioned in the comments of the blog — comments from a Slow Fooder who was really pissed at me for what she felt was “communication killing behavior” — sometimes getting to a point where to sides can at least converse isn’t pretty, nice, and polite.
        But if we get there, don’t we all win?
        I don’t for once blame you for writing a post that rails against me. But now that it is out of your system, as I had to get my rage out of my system, I hope you’ll take my outreached hand and start anew.
        I’ve got May free. If you & your wife let us drive to Ohio, Grant and I would love to break bread and see if we can, us four, solve the problem of food in America.
        Extend my sincere apology to your wife. or, even better, let me do that myself.

      • Amy G. April 3, 2012 at 5:03 pm

        Please visit the website findourcommonground.com
        CommonGround is a movement of volunteer women from farms all across the country. Their goal is the create genuine and open conversations between farmers and consumers. They aim to show that when you take away the language of fear and sensationalism and walk onto a farm, yes even a big one, it’s not so scary. It’s just good people doing their best to grow good food with the same values their families have always had.

      • elliecm April 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm

        Thanks for posting this! We’ll definitely be in touch!

      • Amy G. April 5, 2012 at 11:11 am

        Please visit findourcommonground.com
        CommonGround is a movement of women volunteers from farms around the country. Their goal is to create open, genuine dialogue between farmers and urban consumers. The website has a lot of credible information that will hopefully ease your fears about food and farming. CommonGround aims to show that if they remove the sensational fear language and learn more about modern farming, consumers will see it’s not so scary at all; just good people growing and raising food with the same values they’ve had for generations.

      • elliecm April 7, 2012 at 8:10 am

        Thanks for this, Amy. I think for our one hundred meals project, we should definitely sit down with this group!

      • DebB April 30, 2012 at 11:00 am

        Anyone who has smelled the stench of the Va Eastern Shore knows the horror of factory farming and gmo crop farming. The soil is as dead, the animals are abused and the people are sick. What was once a thriving healthy farming community is now a vast wasteland where the residents rely on welfare and gambling and fast to survive. The argument of the poor having no recourse but to buy the cheap food is just another myth fostered by the people who want to keep the poor, well, poor. If the Snap folks used their dollars wisely and actually cocked food instead of going for the quick and easy microwave stuff, they could eat very well. Most farmers markets accept Snap and EBT. As far as the produce section of the market goes, there are now vegetables growing in greenhouses as large as 60 acres per building. The produce is grown in a solution instead of dirt. The “grower” claims the crop is organic and pesticide free. I doubt it. These places have names which invoke the image of a lovely tree lined farm of yesteryear like Backyard Farms or Maple Leaf Farm. They are modern day warehouse farms with one goal. Tricking the public into buying their products.

  7. [...] Finally, one major omission that I will admit did come after I hit the “Publish” and thanks to one of the Senior Beets Wendy Aeschliman to highlight it as it owns piece,”Ellen Malloy Says What Most People Are Thinking“,  it deserves it, Ellen Malloy’’s blog, “The Backyarditarian”!!!! [...]

  8. pointsnfigures March 30, 2012 at 10:58 am Reply

    I don’t know why you criticize factory farming and GMO crops. That is elitist. For the few to determine what the many should do. People have to eat. I agree, we ought to treat our animals correctly, but we also need to feed the world.

    Why not campaign against the subsidies the factory farms get from both political parties in Washington? Why not campaign for better more transparent labeling standards? Even the term “organic” is lobbied.

    The market should be a free, unfettered, relatively unregulated market. You’d see the costs of all foods go down.

    Plus, it has been scientifically proven that organic veges aren’t any better metabolically for you than factory farmed ones-but they might taste better. You pay more for the taste.

    I find it extraordinarily offensive when someone wants to force me to do something. What if I want to pay only 10 bucks for my turkey instead of the high prices at Gunthorp? What if that stuff doesn’t matter to me-and all I care about is cheap food and view each and every foodstuff as a commodity?

    People have to eat. We have to feed the world.

    • elliecm March 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm Reply

      Jeff: I commented to you earlier but I see it is not connected to your post. So, I thought I would take the opportunity to further respond.

      You say you do not know why I criticize factory farming and GMO crops. Well, it is because invited to share my opinion by USFRA. They asked paid me to come and share my thoughts.

      You then claim my opinions are elitest because you don’t think that the few should determine what the many should do. Yes, as I posted below, as of a couple years ago, four companies control 83.5% of the beef-packing industry, 66% of pork packing, and 80% of soybean crushing. Two companies sell 58% of US seed corn. The few who run industrial agricultural conglomerates are determining what all of us should do. So, I guess by your argument, the Cargills, the Tysons, the BPIs are all elitest.

      I would love to campaign against subsidies that factory farms get from Washington. But, according to these farmers, they do not get subsidies. But if I am invited back, or anywhere else, I will fight that battle. You ask that I campaign for better more transparent labeling standards. Uhm, that is part of my argument. And yes, the term “organic” is lobbied. I hate to tell ya, I am not a big fan of what has happened to the term “organic.” So, not sure what your point is there.

      Jeff: your idea that the market should be free and unfettered is naive. For all intents and purposes, the only real draconian regulation when it comes to food is against those who want to sell food that isn’t industrial. Dairies are not allowed to privately sell raw milk to adults who want to buy it. Small-scale farmers are put through business busting regulations that are designed to keep them from being able to butcher and sell meat. While the USDA’s laissez-faire self regulation has flooded the food supply with tainted peanuts, poisonous meats, and a court had to order the FDA to curtail the reckless dependance our ranchers have on antibiotics. Jeff, have ya heard about pink slime? Did you know that the beef producers didn’t want us to know what they were doing? They didn’t want to tell us, didn’t want us to find out.

      That is what your utopian unregulated market brings. Not choice. Lack of information, disinformation, outright criminality.

      Now, as for your bizarre attempt to discount healthily raised food by stating that science has proven organics aren’t any better metabolically. Please. Let’s be adults here. You can’t find any science that says conventionally produced vegetables are healthier than properly raised vegetables. And do note, I do not say organic on purpose. The organic label is ridiculous and has been co-opted by industrial agriculture that realizes it is on the wrong side of history and is desperately trying to confuse the populace in order to make more money. I am sure there is a lot of organic food that is not awesome because it is raised industrially and not in the spirit in which the organic food movement intended.

      I so agree with you that I find it extraordinarily offensive when someone tries to force me to do something. Like force me to eat GMO crops. Or force me to drink milk laced with hormones or meat pumped full of antibiotics. And while I can understand that someone who was on the Board of Merchantile Exchange has a vested interest in the commoditization of food, I don’t know why you are so insistent that I agree with you. (And, I feel really sorry for you as well as beautiful food and the community of the table is one of life’s greatest pleasures.)

      People have to eat. YES! WE have to feed the world. OF COURSE. Can we not kill people while we are doing that feeding of the world? Can we not pass along American lifestyle diseases to these people we are so benevolently feeding?

  9. melissa mcewen (@melissamcewen) March 30, 2012 at 11:10 am Reply

    I was the weirdo in ag school who wasn’t actually from a conventional farming family or a farm at all for that matter. Most of the other students in my classes were from farming families and some of them grew up on factory farms. While ag school had a few Monsanto-sponsored professors, there were some hippy types too who really inspired me to eat outside the industrial system. But it didn’t matter. These kids had already made up their minds, it was part of their identity, almost like an ethnicity. It’s no surprise to me that many of them were ardent supporters of keeping the Chief Illiniwek mascot.

    It’s weird seeing them on Facebook, since I am “friends” with some of them, posting the PR videos and articles that the industry has been forced to make. At least they are on the defensive, but I think that makes some of them even more passionate about their identities.

    • elliecm March 30, 2012 at 2:50 pm Reply

      Yes, the biggest problem with arguing with people is that they become more entrenched in their beliefs. Which is what happened to me when they tried to convince me their 20,000-pig confinement pig hell was, in fact, a family farm. I am now committed to telling as many people as I can about the horrors of their food. The funny thing is, they are claiming they want to have conversations — I think stepping off the farm and hearing what we all think is going to send most of them running back to their little god-fearing communities for good.

  10. Anne Honzel March 30, 2012 at 11:33 am Reply

    Have you considered entering New York Times’ contest calling on “carnivores to tell us why it’s ethical to eat meat? Written entries of no more than 600 words to ethicist@nytimes.com. Entries are due by April 8.

    I wish I could – but I don’t quite have the background in the whole crazy Factory Farm world that you do. I think there is a strong argument to be unraveled regarding “ethical” meat eating – which is currently being confused by factory farming practices which are maintained to – to torture animals, poison people, and make a huge profit at everybeing’s expense.

    The ethical argument should not be over-simplified against eating meat – but specifically against the inhumane practice of the way meat is being “made.”

    I share your vision of humane sustainable farms. And our ability to provide nutritious “ethical” food for everyone – I think our world is making the ability to eat “real” food, much more difficult (impossible for some!) than it need be.

    • elliecm March 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm Reply

      I hadn’t considered it but maybe I will. I believe that eating properly raised meat is far better for future health of all animals than abstaining from meat altogether. Use your dollars to support the way the world should be is my motto.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 9:38 am Reply

      One more follow up to this. I started reading “every 12 seconds” last night. To further torture myself, I guess. It is a book that makes your head spin. A good read also.

  11. Grant Kessler March 30, 2012 at 11:51 am Reply

    pointsnfigures, We need to question factory farming and GMOs because:

    – it is the current food system and look around, we are an unhealthy people. This is the first generation growing up now that has a shorter life expectancy than its parents. We are obese, suffering record levels of diabetes and heart disease. These are “lifestyle” illnesses caused largely by diet. We should address that. It should concern us. And if you think our country’s general health is not a general concern, why are we discussing healthcare? Because poor health costs us money. We pay very little for food and a lot for healthcare. Why not reverse that?

    – It is also incumbent upon us to take care of our environment. Factory farming has a negative impact on the environment so that is another reason we citizens have a right to discuss and question factory farming. A factory farm is not a balanced ecosystem like a diversified farm is. It therefore requires extreme use of limited natural resources to produce chemical inputs and the farm’s outputs are at quantities that the environment near the farm, and downstream, cannot absorb. See: Hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

    – Factory farming involves animals and their care. We have a right to demand that animals are treated better and live normal lives.

    – GMOs need to be questioned because they are not well-tested and proven safe for our health. If you disagree and believe they’re safe, then great, let’s have a label on packages so you can choose the GMO food at the grocery store and I can choose the non-GMO food. What’s so hard about that?

    And I completely agree with you that we need better labeling and should level the playing field by removing subsidies. Interestingly, many of the farmers I spoke with yesterday didn’t seem to know they receive subsidies…or didn’t want to talk with me about it. The corn-based diet America eats is a giant subsidy and needs to stop if we want to offer other foods and farming to our people. If you want healthy, less expensive organic and pastured foods for everyone, remove the subsidies, yes!

    • ninime July 15, 2012 at 6:47 am Reply

      Why are we discussing healthcare? Because of its (lack of) availability and affordability, not because people get sick.
      Explain, please, how farmers can receive subsidies and not know it–and how you know they do receive subsidies.

      • elliecm July 23, 2012 at 4:48 pm

        One can track subsidies given by the government easily. Public information.

  12. PaleoPeriodical March 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm Reply

    Wow, looks like you brought out the GMO trolls! I just can’t comprehend the blindness there. If they believe in God, then they should be stewards of the earth God gave them, not a blasphemous idea of the earth that lines their pockets.

    Thank you for this. Thank you for strengthening my resolve to do even better on this front. More and more, I’m coming to the realization that a wholesale rejection of the world is necessary to protect our health, our sanity, and our future. After wrestling with this for years, I sadly know no other way.

  13. candidwines March 30, 2012 at 12:55 pm Reply

    Ellen,

    Reading this leaves me flattered, truly flattered, that you enjoyed the wines we “traded” for tomatoes. I don’t mean this to be a plug for my business as a wine distributor, but you have written the piece I would like to write about wine. If the growing number of wine consumers who ask the folks from whom they buy wine “who made this, and how did they make it?” continues to grow, I have real hope for the growth of genuine sustainability in wine. As is, I continue to see bottles sold on marketing mythology that reek of chemicals applied to the soil and in the winery.

    I would propose that wine, which is for pleasure, not health (we certainly do not have to “inebriate the world” to borrow and modify the phrase) has abused the romantic image of farmers in remote spots as much or more than CAFO’s (without the harm to the animals, but with the harm to the environment). Try searching for the real story of whence that less that $3 wine named after a gentleman whose full name is Charles, ignore the fluff, and find the New Yorker article, and you will see what I mean.

    For those reading who think Ellen is a nut-job, I won’t pretend you’ll be interested in my thoughts either. For those who think that it might be a good thing to know your farmer, or at least one of your farmers and buld a relationship that allows you to ask a few pointed questions, I hope you’ll do the same with the next glass or bottle of wine you buy. Ask who made it. Ask who grew it. Ask if they would submit a list of ingredients for the back label. Ask what they do in the vineyard. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by some, and as shocked by others as you might be by a CAFO visit. (Yes, there are “wineries” that oblige HAZMAT suits, though I’ve never seen one pictured in a marketing brochure).

    Keep it up Ellen,

    Damien

    • elliecm March 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm Reply

      Damien, you are a thoughtful and amazing guy! Keep fighting the good fight! and get me the name of the wine I loved so much. It was delicious!

      • candidwines March 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm

        It was Pircas Negras from the Famatina Valley in Argentina. I have to admit on this one, I do not know the producers, but we work closely with the importer, Paolo Bonetti at Organic Vintners. I do however look forward to someday meeting as many of the families as I can who are part of the 500+ strong coop of organic farmers who supply the grapes for the wines. For more, see Paolo’s site: http://www.organicvintners.com/products.htm

        Fyi, the wines run roughly $12-$13 at retail, which you can take or leave as an argument for how expensive organics has to be. We will inebriate the world in a responsible way, damnit, even in “this economy”.

      • elliecm March 30, 2012 at 2:35 pm

        Thanks! MAN I loved that. I am gonna get some today if I don’t get rained out on the scooter ride home. that is pretty cheap price for that quality and commitment.

  14. Geoff Rhyne March 30, 2012 at 3:18 pm Reply

    After being made aware of this discussion(!) by Rob Levitt’s post on Facebook, I had to read this post! After reading the comments by some of the above, it has become more obvious than ever that this discussion(!) needs to take place.
    For a proper discussion to take place, sides need to come together to materialize what I would deem to be an effective conversation. As made obvious by some of the incendiary responses, there is an incredible amount of shallowness being brought to the table by those who support the CAFO/GMO model. Consistently, the argument is about food supply and cost. Often times it turns into a complex political issue, and given the structure, I can understand why….that is a topic for a later, well, discussion. However, as a simple man, I find that Ellen touched on a great point in compassion. When solving issues, I am a believer in starting at the root of the issue. Everything in life has a root, a genesis, a foundation….compassion.
    Compassion is an element of humanity that knows no barriers of religion. ‘Nuff said on that.
    At the core of good food, humane treatment of animals, and land stewardship is compassion….and with serious passion! I can feel Ellen’s angst as I have it in me as well. The frustration lies in not seeing and understanding that in another. It just doesn’t make sense that another could not care about the consequences these practices have not just on these so called “commodities” that provide our nourishment, but also on our children, our grandchildren, our friends, the land…I intentionally left out “ourselves” because this has nothing to do with the selfish individual. Neither does compassion….
    In terms of food supply, my first thought is what hogwash! Food is aplenty! The most dangerous thing humanity could do is to limit the diversity of agricultural crops. According to scientists, we have already lost 75% of our crop diversity. The Ireland potato famine in the 1840’s shows the dangers of uniformity in agriculture. Heirloom varieties/diversity allow for flexibility as well as insurance against pests/disease. As mentioned above, distribution is more of an issue of in regards to food more so it’s availability. Through discussion(!), we can develop better channels of distribution.
    The idea that this is an elitist discussion is absurd. Financially, I’m a blue-collar dude who works my ass off with fair pay. My wife’s a teacher. This is not an elitist discussion financially, period. Socially, this is not an elitist discussion. The desire behind the discussion is to bring good, clean, fair food to the masses–to our families, to our friends, to those who WE feel compassion for. Elitist? I’m afraid not. Trying to “be the change that I wish to see in the world?” Absolutely.
    At the end of the day, there are plenty of moving points on both sides, and I am not naive to that. The fact of the matter remains that there needs to be an open dialogue that allows for progress towards a root goal, a foundation to build upon. Hopefully it can start with compassion. Thank you Ellen for an insightful, emotional expression that provided a spark.

    • elliecm March 30, 2012 at 5:33 pm Reply

      Geoff, you know I adore you and appreciate your reasoned approach but the problem is, this was a place for the two sides to come together. And these people are really approaching the conversation reasonably. We asked about subsidies and they claim they (industrial farmers) don’t get any. We tried to talk about monocropping and they claimed they never heard of it and don’t raise their crops that way. We asked about compassion for the animals and they claim that their chickens, 1,000,000 chickens in steel buildings with no access to fresh air or sunlight, are happy. We asked how big is too big a family farm and they said nothing was too big. They demanded that people should be able to choose to eat industrially raised food and then said that our wanting the choice to know how our food was raised was too complicated — forget the choice to purchase raw milk! They claimed they are feeding the world and then when we brought up that they are making the world sick with the food, that health care is not their problem.

      We are now fighting a zero sum game and, frankly, we are losing. Soybeans are now virtually all GMO. Sugar beets, GMO. Corn, CMO. Factory-raised pork, feedlot beef. This is all the standard in America. And our brethern, the citizens of the country, have no clue. They think that because there is a pretty picture of a farmhouse on the label of their sausage that it is, in fact, from a pretty farm. They think that because the egg carton says “naturally raised” that the eggs are, in fact, raised in a natural way. They aren’t aware that their food has fundamentally changed in the last 10-15 years and that the change has transformed our entire food system from food based to foodlike.

      Geoff, my take away after sitting down with these people is that we are fighting a propaganda machine that is unconquerable without outrage. Would I love that it had a foundation of compassion for these deluded family farmers who are now just drones in the industrial agriculture machine, sure. But know this — they have been brainwashed far more than you can imagine and they aren’t going to change their indoctrinated beliefs without a fight.

  15. joshbrusin March 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm Reply

    Amy- like it or not Ellen’s voice is shared by a growing number of people who would make better choices if they had them. Part of the reason why Weber Shandwick put on this discussion was because farmers feel that consumers don’t like them anymore. Think about that. Focus groups are hard but if you listen and learn from people you don’t like you move forward, rather than stubbornly stick to your guns.

    Farming has walked down an ugly path for the past few decades and as that path gets narrower they’re realizing the consequences of their actions.

    I don’t raise chickens and I ate a Pepperoni Tombstone last night and I agree with Ellen completely.

    And by the way – she’s not “fortunate for simple foods close to home”- she has created that. It’s a pity she’s feeling so hopeless as she gives others so much hope.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 9:42 am Reply

      Oops. it was Ketchum! And, er, YOU ATE A TOMBSTONE PIZZA AFTER ALL THIS! Me, I drank some wine and stared at my fridge in fear.

  16. Mike Haley March 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm Reply

    Wow, what an experience! Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully share your thoughts on the subject. I hope you found a way to keep in contact with these farmers so they can gain more insight to why you have so much passion around your food in the future. I am glad you were able to take part in the discussion and I look forward to following along future posts to gain more perspective on food and farming from you.

    I am a grain and cattle farmer, and most likely you would not approve of many of the practices on my farm either. I have no problem with this, we are all entitled to our opinions and I am gracious that you have been able to find farmers that are able to supply you with food that was raised to the standards that you have come to expect and approve of.

    While we may always disagree on farming and husbandry practices I do value your perspective. I invite you to visit my website to check out my farm, if you ever have any questions in the future that I may be able to answer feel free to shoot me an email, you are always welcome to share your thoughts with me and ask for feedback, farming or just life in general, I am open to the conversation.

    • elliecm March 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm Reply

      bully for you, Mike, for stepping up to the plate. The farmers I met with yesterday don’t seem interested in continuing a conversation. We’ve tweeted them, they haven’t responded. And the USFRA is deleting comments on their FB page — comments that aren’t even inflammatory. It doesn’t look very good for them to do that. In fact, it looks like they don’t want to have conversations at all. And you know, that is what is so scary for all of us. Unless we toe the party line, we are shut out of the conversation entirely about what is happening with our food. And the news is bloody frightening. The farmers we want to support are strangled by regulations designed to support industrial ag and not small family farms that are diversified and, well, wholesome. Why does Monsanto get to sue farms who happen to have GMO seeds blown into their fields? WHY? REALLY. That is just insane. Please, tell me some logical explanation for that. Why does the beef industry not let us come and film the slaugherhouses if they think what they are doing is right? Why is the dairy industry so intent on shutting down sale of raw milk unless they know it is, simply, better? I would love for someone, anyone, to answer some of the questions and more. They are hard, but if you all don’t want a freaking revolution on your hands, it might be in your best interest to actually respond. (Oh, and what say you on 1) when a farm is industrial? and 2) how big is too big?). Those were some unanswered questions from yesterday. Thanks, for being sane, if industrially. All we want “on our side” is a discussion that is productive, honest, open and free from the bizarre, twisted crap that people tend to throw around. (OK, also, pink slime. Really? disgusting, right? I mean, really? REALLY? what say you there? why don’t you guys ever admit when what you are doing is just frankenstein freakshow because your insistence makes us think you are, in the words of an awesome lady, drinking the kook aid.)

  17. Mike Haley March 30, 2012 at 7:07 pm Reply

    Wow, lots of unanswered questions! I am sure you know I am not capable of answering all of them, but I will try to answer what I am capable of when possible. First though, we just met and I think it would be wise to slow down a little bit and not try to tackle all of this at once.

    Lets pick out one issue from all the questions. I want to know more about your concerns, why you are upset. If you would like, so we don’t clutter your blog up we can talk privately over email or if you prefer right here.

  18. Kate March 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm Reply

    Ellen,

    I am that “cherubic” mom of three that you called evil yesterday. I wasn’t in need of your smelling salts at hearing the words, just surprised to hear them at what I considered a professional gathering.

    I have some questions for you. You obviously already have made up your mind that I give no thought or care to the animals that we raise, so I am not trying to change that opinion. What I want to know is how do you propose that we feed the world? You don’t like the way that we are doing it, and even go as far as saying that we are poisoning the world. So, what do you propose instead?

    I wanted to thank you again for attending yesterday at what for you was not a pleasant experience. I think that the dialogues truly need to be opened and I apologize if you feel that you did not receive any appropriate and timely responses from the group. I look forward to continuing the conversation with you, Grant, and Josh, and any others who feel the need to chime in.

    I am proud of the continuing legacy that we are leaving on our farm for our children.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 9:29 am Reply

      Hey Kate.
      I actually said what you do is evil. Not you.
      And THANKS for responding. My post on the USFRA FB page, where I said, basically, “I wrote a blog post about the conversation, please share with your members” was deleted. And no one from USFRA responded to any tweets. Then, some dude called me a zealot. So, it all looked mighty suspicious. And I would say, as intelligence for you and your group, you can’t afford to look suspicious as you attempt to open up this conversation. Because to all of us, the industrial ag business is very secretive and seems hell-bent on making sure we don’t know what is going on. Unforch you farmers have that monkey on your back and it won’t just go away because you seem like nice people. In fact, it ends up backfiring as you saw in my blog. So, from a marketing perspective, you all need to be open, responsive and communicate super clearly. Just my advice since I give out marketing advice for a living.

      ONWARD:
      How to feed the world. EEK! That is tough. I don’t know. But what I do know is that hunger in the world is a distribution problem, not a quantitiy problem. So, we have to start by agreeing there.

      I see corn being grown for fuel and that makes me think, well, we can’t use the “we need all this corn for the poor starving kids in Africa” argument. Then I see all the empty calories on supermarket shelves from all the soybeans (ok, and corn) and I think, well, this isn’t actually feeding anyone, so we didn’t really need to grow those crops because we are concerned with all the food deserts in America.

      When it comes to pork, I turn to my experience with the Chipotle group. They are building a fast food giant that is working as hard as possible to serve “responsibily raised” pork (I am using that term because I don’t know what else to call it, I am sure you believe you raise your pigs responsibly so I need you to know that it isn’t a “dig” just a convenient phrase cause I can’t think of anythig else). When Chipotle was in early growth, there was a time when every new Chipotle put a new family farm in the pork business. Then, around 300, they couldn’t find any more pork farmers. So, it wasn’t that they couldn’t get enough “repon. raised” pork, it was that they couldn’t find enough farmers who would do it their way.

      So, that makes me think: we don’t have to turn to conventional/highly industrial methods to feed the world. What we need to do is be willing to pay more for our food if we can and do more to make “healthy” food available to at risk people.

  19. raylindairy March 30, 2012 at 8:01 pm Reply

    Ellie you’re in great hands with Mike, when the time comes I would also love to join into the conversation. For now you and Mike get to know each other and one of these days when I am in Chicago maybe we can grab a coffee or even some of that “booze” from Columbus you tweeted about earlier today.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 9:16 am Reply

      I would love to, Ray! Especially since you are in dairy. The dairy situation freaks me the hell out. I drink Kilgus milk almost exclusively. When I don’t drink Kilgus I guility drink Kalonos because I use the bottles as mini greenhouses when I start my seeds. I would love to learn more about dairy and I know my garden husband, Grant, also in the string would love to as well. He has written about dairy on his blog.

      • raylindairy March 31, 2012 at 11:47 am

        Awesome! I would love to be able to read through all the comments first and wrap my head around them. While I do that is there a specific question you have or would you like to chat with Mike for a while first?

        BTW I have meetings several times a year in the Chicago area and as I mentioned maybe we could actually meet in real life for coffee or something stronger. Normally I am either in the Rosemont area or Downtown.

        Thanks again for allowing a few of us to join the conversation.

      • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 11:54 am

        I know, this has been hard to keep up with. One question: why does the dairy industry go to such lengths to quash private raw milk sales? I mean, if I wanted it, I could get access to pot or cocaine easier than I can raw milk. The thing is, I don’t want drugs. But I do want raw milk. Without extraordinary effort, I can’t even buy it on a black market.

        Yes, I would love to meet for coffee. And, again, I am sure Grant would too.

        No thanks to me. Thanks to some of you who are brave enough to actually communicate with us. Your USFRA has much to learn from you.

    • raylindairy March 31, 2012 at 1:39 pm Reply

      Sorry for the delay I was trying to get our herdsman home to enjoy the rest of his Saturday and also beat a storm by finishing early and sorted some animals before replying.

      Here is some of the history of milk regulation as I have read it (most of it happened way before my parents even thought about me) combined with some of my opinion.

      Raw milk is something that decades ago was a public health issue that had many contributing factors including but not limited to sanitation, refrigeration and disease transmission. Because of these issues many areas and I think L.A. was the first created rules and regs on milk. Currently milk is regulated from before the cow makes it all the way to the store by many health ordinances and laws. Dairy farms are subject to health inspections similar to restaurants. Everything from water trough construction to the temperature the milk is stored and even how far off the ground I store supplies.

      Over the years some areas had special requirements for milk to be sold raw and CA is one such area where we have several licensed raw milk sellers. Personally I choose to not drink raw milk however I feel if it is going to be sold it needs some control to it and if allowed by the state or overseeing agency the seller should be following the law.

      With advances in refrigeration, animal health (vaccine technology has made huge strides) and product testing I personally feel the risk of raw milk is significantly less than when the regulations were put into place decades ago and if a person of there own choosing understands the risk involved with raw product versus pasteurized that is their individual choice. However raw milk is still raw and I personally err on the side of caution and would suggest pasteurized if asked my opinion.

      I hope that made some sense sometimes my fingers and brain don’t work together and I type out of order of thought. I tried to keep it as concise as possible yet address the your question. If I missed anything or is I need to clarify something please ask.

      • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 2:34 pm

        Thanks and seriously, you are awesomely responding. The background is helpful. But I guess I still wonder why the milk lobby is so rabidly controlling it. Why do they care that much about fringe milk buyers? Do dairy farmers, such as yourself, believe that we should have access to the milk we want? I mean, for myself, I want the choice.

        I get a lot of people in this discussion supporting the idea of choice as a justification for industrial — that people should be able to choose to buy industrial food. But when it comes to my choosing to drink RAW milk or wanting GMO labeled food so I know what not to buy, etc., they seem to stop the discussion and call me a fanatic or elitist.

        That doublespeak is precisely the very reason why people like me distrust big ag.

        So, where does a dairy farmer stand on this issue? Should I get access to raw milk if I want it? Or be able to get access to the whole story about how my food is raised? Should I have a choice?

      • raylindairy March 31, 2012 at 7:40 pm

        Sometimes the customers wants move faster than the ability to accommodate the need and I think it is no different here. With that in mind there also has to be a mechanism in place so people fully understand why they are making a choice and not just make that choice because it is popular. At the same time the suppliers (including farmers) need to start openly discussing and understanding what it is that the customer wants especially is it is completely opposite of where we as a society have come from (i.e raw equaled safety issue so pasteurized must be safe).

        So my personal opinion is basically that if there is a way to safely allow for raw milk consumption and the customer wants it and knows the risks involved then we should look into the feasibility of it happening. Does that mean I will support it 100%, probably not, however it is not something I would discourage if it was thoroughly researched and found to be easily and safely implemented. I have no answer for what others may think however I truly believe the root of raw milk issues are based solely on public health however today’s public is a more educated public and knows more about food safety than before.

        My family drinks milk from the store because my wife and I are not comfortable with the possible risks. A little known factoid is I personally only drink chocolate milk, I never acquired a taste for unflavored milk because of a severe food allergy to milk that I grew out of at about 16.

      • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 7:54 pm

        Ok, the chocolate milk thing is hilarious and I so appreciate you sharing that.
        And I appreciate your thoughtful response.
        But, and I am gonna push here because I think it is important. You didn’t actually address my question.
        I know, I am so hard! WHY? My mother has no idea why I can’t give up but I just don’t. Ugh.
        And yet I think this is a big part of the problem that we all find ourselves in. “we” ask pretty straight forward questions (it seems to me)
        and we don’t get answers.
        To me, “the industry” happily wants to shove crap in my milk I don’t believe should be there — hormones and antibiotics and, man, I saw a picture of a label of milk that had some fish oil in it (why!!!)
        And yet it gets all preachy and worried about my well-being when I want to drink raw milk.
        seems disingenous (sorry, I am a lazy speller)
        Even more so when you extrapolate it to the food “complex”
        Which brings us to pink slime. The beef industry is agahst that I dont wanna eat that crap because they demand it is good for me. It isn’t it is crazy shit that I wouldn’t feed to my dogs.
        And the reason I can’t drink milk is that the food overlords are worried about my wellbeing.
        Load. Of. Poop.
        So, please, since you are so kind to converse and seem interested in breaking down walls.
        Riddle me that.
        Thanks, Ray.

      • raylindairy March 31, 2012 at 8:31 pm

        Oops I apologize I misunderstood your question.

        I hope I am addressing your question this time and if I’m not keep pressing and even re ask it. Just ask my wife how many times she has to ask me to do things.

        Simply I think times are changing and we need to look at how to effectively meet the demands of customers who want to try new products.

        I personally can’t answer for the rest of the dairy industry but if I had to guess I would say they are stuck on the safety issue and not open minded to look into a way to sell the product.

        Funny you mention antibiotics I have been thinking of a blog post on the topic, I will let you know when it is done and hopefully it can help.

      • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 9:27 pm

        I would love to read the antibiotic post. The peeps I spoke to at the breakfast said they never, ever EVER used antibiotics unless it was this compassionate heroic act. OK, I am exaggerated but that was the message I felt they were trying to convey. They also said they got no subsidies. None. Didn’t even know what the hell I was talking about. I felt I was in a Star Trek episode.

        Anyway, so, this is my take away: you are prolly a super nice guy and want to do your job well. But, the fact is, you are in bed with horrific cabal of commodity groups, lobbiest, large ag and, frankly, they aren’t. All they want is profit and if you want to get a glimpse of what that looks like, go check out the freaky greed at http://pointsandfigures.com/2012/03/31/food-fight/. WTF with that guy?

        So, my worry with all this USFRA get to know your farmer stuff is that you, the seems sane nice farmer guy trying to get by, are being thrown under the bus. And run over repeatedly.

        Because, well, the fact is that you have answered my question to the best of your ability, honestly and openly, and yet the answer is really not there. Is it? And it is because you aren’t in charge of the answer. But it is your product that is impacted by that non-answer. And until I get an answer, it is your product I will vilify. Specifically yours, actually, since I tell people the first step in any “get real food in your body” campaign is to just buy clean milk. Don’t do anything else, I tell them, but commit to never buying commercial milk again. Anyone can do that. It is one thing to focus on. It is easy and obtainable. And doing it can change their life and perspective. It is a great first step. Sometimes an only step. But even that step is a positive action they can take in their life.

        So, I am sad because, well, you are a dairy guy. It is you, specifically, that uniquely loses in this scenario.

        I feel like I did before I went to the breakfast when I thought all the industrial farmers were trapped in a system they couldn’t escape from and by which they were hypnotized. (You’ll note in my blog I worried that y’all were suffering from Stockholm Syndrome at one point.) But there is also nothing I can do about it but stick to my own guns about the food I eat, get more committed and hopefully share the gospel with others. I feel quite helpless otherwise, unlike my friend Grant, who is indefatigable in the fight.

        But, in sum, I am not sure the USFRA initiative will work because, well, think of it this way: I feel bad for the hit man because he is just carrying out orders he has to carry out to stay alive, but I certainly am not gonna exonerate him for the murder, you know? (Sorry, inflammatory reference but I don’t know another good analogy.)

        From a marketing perspective, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t think what USFRA is a good bet for y’all. It is so overshadowed by The Evil Overlords that, well, the truth is that from my vantage point, they are just attempting another smokescreen. Another way to make what they are doing palatable to all of us — without actually answering hard questions, peeling back the layers, and telling us all what we are wanting to know (and our numbers are growing, with each beef recall, with each story of a dairy farm being attacked by feds, by each bizarre and insane act by Monsanto).

        I wish I could tell you different, but I think that is the reality.

        Because, really, the industry is stuck on a safety issue? I read this and the suggestion that dairy industry is concerne for my health falls flat: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2006/12.07/11-dairy.html

        Again, it is sad that you farmers are going to continue to get run over. But if you toss your lot in with Monsanto & Company, I can’t separate you. And it isn’t fair to ask me to, either. Is it? Is it really?

    • raylindairy April 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm Reply

      Ellie

      Please know I can sell raw milk legally in CA however it is a personal decision to not do so. However I am glad those who want to sell raw milk can because it meets the needs of customers like yourself who are looking for that product. On our dairy farm we have toyed with the idea of processing some of our own milk into yogurts and even possibly cheeses. However we still would choose to not sell raw milk.

      I personally am just one of many farmers who collectively make up those who grow and raise food, I can only answer for myself and not the whole. Do I think the whole needs to ask itself tough questions, yes I do. We as the whole might not like the answers however we need to also embrace change if we want continue to move forward. I am going to take some time and thoroughly research the milk regulation history to better answer your concerns.

      It is not my goal to convince you of anything rather I would just like to learn from you and the others who have commented here. In the end if I better understand I might even be able to help my fellow farmers understand.

      Meanwhile here is just a snapshot of a few of the things we do here on my families mid sized dairy: http://raylindairy.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/is-my-milk-safe/

      • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 2:40 pm

        Thanks for sharing, RAY! And yes, I totally would appreciate anything you can find out and share here. And I completely respect your not selling raw milk. It is a risk, to be sure, for a farmer to do that and it should be his personal choice if he wants to take on that risk or not. So, I’ve got your back there.

        Thanks for the link. I am very much looking forward to reading more about your farm.

        And really, if at the end of the day I had all of you or even some of you asking tough questions you weren’t asking before my big stink, then I would say HORRAY! for all of us! Because this is really all I ask: that the people who are at the nexus of our food supply really, really think about what they are doing. Think about how it impacts the world beyond their farm. And maybe start reaching out to us fanatics of they want out of industrial ag and don’t know how to start.

        I am sure there will be people who choose industrial. I can totally accept that because it is a decision they deserve to make. I don’t (despite the people on this string who demand I am elitist and want the world my way or the highway) expect the world to bend to my will because it is what I want.

        But what I do want is transparency. I want to be able to go visit a factory farm or a slaughterhouse and be able to inspect it as readily as I can go to one of my farmer friends’ places and inspect that. I want cameras in slaughterhouses, not ineffective spot checking by USDA. I want soil tests to be public record. Why not? What’s to hide? If you choose industrial, you should feel comfortable showcasing all of it.

        Because when the choice to stay industrial is made without good long thinking about the macro ramifications of the choice, and if they are making it because they just don’t think there is another way — well, that is just not acceptable. I don’t think you farmers believe in Jeff (points n figures) ideology of profit at any cost. I am sure you wince as you read his pronouncements and declarations because you know it is highly unproductive and isn’t going to help you one bit. And I don’t think, as people, you respect that line of thinking because, well, you are people, the stewards of our land and you have more respect for your legacy and daily effort than that.

        But the fact is: Jeff is the embodiment of how your effort manifests in the world. And I think it is important for you farmers to read and understand him and his ilk as it is for you to understand me and mine.

        I think you’ll find that those that stand with me want to stand with you, the farmers. We want to be your partners in this effort of feeding everyone and nurturing the earth. And I think that all we really ask is that you come to terms with and face the realities of industrial agriculture. If, at the end of the day, you choose it, we have to accept it. We do. And I really feel that you would be hard pressed to find one of my world who would look you in the eye, after a long honest discussion and not respect your decision. They might not agree with it, but if it is arrived at honestly, they’ll respect it.

        My worry, though, is that the Jeff’s of the world will not. The Jeff’s of the world see you as the catalyst or blockage to their flow of cold hard cash. They don’t care if you develop cancer from the prolonged exposure to pesticides and herbicides. They don’t care if you can have a better quality of life because your gain is their loss. The more they can get out of your farm at the cheapest costs possible, the better.

        And they, right now, have more power than we — you and I — do.

        We have to change that, together. Because you and I, we are on the same side. We both want you to live in a world where you can make the most healthful, sustainable and intelligent decisions. Where your choices can be informed and not polluted by corporate propoganda. Where you can look in your soul, and not just at a study funded by industrial scientists and make the best decision for everyone — you, me, your kids.

        I mean, I think there needs to be more of me around, I know there does, so we can support you. I’m working on it! I SWEAR!

        But until I can find them, remember who your partner is, remember who wants you to win. It’s those of us out here buying the food. Not the people that fund a way of life that leaves you with little choice.

      • Grant Kessler April 1, 2012 at 9:38 pm

        Ellen, this response to Ray is beautiful and I would just like to second it wholeheartedly!

        I figure I eat about 90-95% local/sustainable/organic and I can give you first names for every farmer on my dinner plate. I am not even remotely wealthy. I work hard to choose this food lifestyle – no, it is not cheap. But, I am accomplishing it. So I hope everyone here understands that my motives have nothing to do with elitism. They have nothing to do with me. I am already accomplishing what I want. I advocate for small, diversified farms and what I perceive as a healthier food choice because I want those food types to be more readily available and less expensive. They can stand side by side with the conventional for the consumer to choose, fine.

        But, as Ellen says, the true costs of conventional need to be included in the conventional sales price – environmental, health etc. before we have “fair food choice”, it seems to me.

        I love Ellen’s point too that we need to feel like more conventional farmers have carefully studied their methods, habits and impacts and are choosing to farm conventionally because of this careful examination. When I hear a farmer here say they’re totally comfortable eating GMO foods and feeding them to their kids, I am shocked…but if they’ve thought about it, I can fully respect that. I would prefer not to pay for their healthcare in any way, but I can respect that they’ve made a thoughtful decision.

        Ray, regarding raw milk, you yourself point out that it is available in California and I believe it has been for some time. You also surmise that the reason the large milk lobby and corporate milk producers continue to rail against raw milk is both safety and an unwillingness to switch to a new product. Those points explain why “large dairy” itself has not embraced and marketed raw milk. They do not at all explain why large dairy won’t simply step out of the way and let small dairies who have a plan proceed with selling raw milk. We are asking why large dairy impedes and encourages the government to impede sale of a product that is totally possible. Let the small, nimble producers sell it. Why not?

  20. elliecm March 30, 2012 at 8:09 pm Reply

    Oh, hey, ok, I will write tonight. You made this easy. Let’s talk here because I think transparency is step one.

    OK: Two questions:
    in your mind, what makes a farm industrial?
    and
    when is a farming operation too big?

    For me: a farm is industrial when technology is more a part of the day to day operations than actual husbandry or, I don’t know how to say it, plant interacting. When bugs and weeds are completely eradicated because a GPS-enabled herbicide delivery system is precisely calibrated to deliver a dose of killing spray. And when animals are fed, watered, antibioticked based on a scientifically prescribed system and/or the animals live in confinement and humans don hazmat suits to interact with them.

    When is a farming operation too big? When technology or “slave labor” is needed to sustain it. And I say slave labor loosely because I don’t know the term for those migrant workers who do not make enough money to support a normal cost of living.

    Thanks, Mike. I don’t know if you have a thing so you can see when I post. if not, I’ll shoot you an email.

    • Mike Haley March 30, 2012 at 9:03 pm Reply

      First, not trying to avoid the question here, but these two questions can vary vastly based on perspective and knowledge. I personally do not think there is a right or wrong answer but I will provide my thoughts.

      OK, thinking about it a little more. My response for both of these questions is the same and please hear me all the way through because I’m sure some of this will strike you as very different from your opinion.

      When is a farm too big and has become industrial? In my opinion size does not matter, its more about the personal connection each family, owner, individual or whoever is in charge has with their crops and livestock.

      Don’t get me wrong here, in order to stay in business we need to be profitable. But I feel if the personal connection has been lost and the operator no longer enjoys what they do on the farm it most likely is approaching this line. As a farmer, I feel its important for me to have that connection and for me to be sure that the people who work alongside me with my farm do too. There is a line crossed when it becomes more about profitability than enjoyment and a way of life. This all gets very vague though when we start talking about what we have to deal with, there are parts of my job I do not like and makes me wonder why I continue to do what I do. Government regulation (control) is a huge part of this, at times I can be stuck in the office filling out mountains of paperwork to make sure I am compliant when all I really want to do is take care of my cows and plant some seeds.

      You mention technology as part of this equation. I am partially a geek. I love technology, the fact that I can use it as I farm excites me. Yes, I have GPS on my tractors, and at times they can even steer themselves. This allows me to be more efficient and guarantees I do not apply more pesticides on an parcel of ground than what is needed so the technology actually can have environmental advantages. I also have a deep connection to the soil on this farm…. our family has been here for generations and I want to be sure its healthy for generations to come. I don’t let technology come between me and the soil or crop, I use technology to improve the connection. There are many many more reasons why technology is important to me and I imagine they will most likely come up in later discussions.

  21. pointsnfigures March 30, 2012 at 9:07 pm Reply

    All I know is that the internet is a great truth detector. If I want to buy grass fed and finished beef, I can go to tallgrassbeef.com and buy it. If I want mass produced corn fed beef, I can go to the store and buy it. It’s my choice.

    If no one wanted it, no one would produce it. Some people don’t care about food-just the cost of it. Why take choice away from them? That’s what you are advocating.

    I understand the meat market pretty well. Traded it. I don’t care that four companies control whatever percentage. Makes no difference because there are plenty of substitutes, and lots of competition.

    Who is the largest organic produce seller in the world? Wal mart.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 8:37 am Reply

      Jeff, out of the box, your original comment, “That is elitist. For the few to determine what the many should do.” And yet now here you say you don’t care that a few are determining what the many should do.

      These kinds of flip-flopping arguments showcase your shifting priorities. Seems like you pull out of the whatever it is serves your personal interest at the time.

      You’re investor in Tallgrass beef, so I trust you are aware of the gigantic walls that USDA puts up to make it more difficult for small producers to get their product to market. And yet you made your loot as former meat commodities trader and seem determined to keep the Wall Street of Food alive.

      And, I guess I gotta ask: if you believe so wholeheartedly in the free market and feel that is the best system, what’s your response to all the horrors that are currently occurring? So far, all I can deduce is that demand people have the right to choose to eat the e. coli-laced Canadian meat that entered our market this week.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 9:58 am Reply

      To be clear, also, I have never been one to seek out “organic” and gave up on it long ago as any sort of hope for our food supply because it was obvious it was going to be hijacked by industrial producers. Industrially raised organics, thanks to a USDA overrun by big ag, is worse, in my mind, than regular industrial. Because people who buy organic must care about their food and want to have a choice of buying cleaner food. And their dollars are diverted from where they could do some good.

  22. marcushollmann March 30, 2012 at 10:45 pm Reply

    Interesting blog. Especially, since yesterday your tweet was: “On my way to a “casual conversation” with @USFRA. I intend to tell them to stop pretending they are all farmy whilst poisoning people.” Doesn’t appear you went there open-minded either. Rather on a mission – very similar to what you accused the farmers off…. Very unfortunate.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 9:14 am Reply

      No, I admit I am not open minded at all on this. And yes, very similar to the very things I accuse the farmers of. But I didn’t invite them to break bread with me so I could explain my views. In fact, if you read the post, you will see that I didn’t participate in the politics of food much, outside of FB postings.

      In some ways, I thought I was invited in because of my extreme views (the week prior I had a petition on my FB page to get a local dairy to not convert to GMOs).

      So, I am not sure what your point is here. But if it was meant to discredit me as a close-minded person, well, I am a close-minded person when it comes to these issues. And I already called myself elitist.

      The point is: what are these farmers going to do about people like me? Are they going to open up our minds (Mike is, below) or are they going to label us zealots and move on to easier, less educated on the topic, types.

      If these farmers are, in fact, actually not evildoers then they will easily be able to sway us to understand. Liberals are, at their core, very understanding people who seek to know the truth and understand all sides. You should us that to your advantage.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 12:20 pm Reply

      Actually, Marcus, I need to correct my earlier statement. They didn’t just invite me to come talk to them — they paid me to come talk to them. They didn’t pay me to have an open mind, they paid me to come in and ask questions. They wanted to hear what I, specifically, thought

      Here:

      I’m reaching out to you on behalf of the U.S. Farmers and Rancher Alliance (USFRA), a new coalition of more than 75 farmer- and rancher-led organizations and agriculture partners working together to answer American’s questions about their food. We would like to invite you to a casual breakfast discussion with real farmers and ranchers in USFRA’s movement – the ones who actually grow and raise our food.

      We are contacting you as we are familiar with RIA and as well as The Chef Whisperer and would love to hear your POV on the conversations happening around food production in the U.S today. We are bringing together a small group of Chicago-area food leaders and food bloggers to have a casual dialogue with farmers and ranchers about today’s food. This is not a panel discussion, we’re not promoting any food brand/type of food and we’re not expecting you to blog about or publicize this unless you want to.

      So, please bring your appetite and any questions you have for farmers and ranchers from across the country for this informal breakfast conversation.

  23. Grant Kessler March 30, 2012 at 11:04 pm Reply

    Mike, Ellen, thanks for keeping it public. People are reading and learning from your conversation! And Mike, thanks for your patient, thoughtful tone.

    I’d like to ask, if you feel you have not crossed the profitability/enjoyment line you describe, how do you reconcile ANY pesticide and chemical input at all into the soil you are connected to? Your pinpoint GPS application is better for the environment only in the sense that it uses LESS chemistry. Not zero chemistry. Sorry not to be able to meet you in the middle on this, but surely even the smaller application of pesticide ends up in our food system, in our water, in the nervous system of our bees. Doesn’t that bother you? What is your definition of healthy soil exactly?

    • Mike Haley March 31, 2012 at 12:09 am Reply

      Grant, No worries. I don’t expect you to meet me in the middle here as I am just after a little understanding of your perspective and mutual respect for each other. As long as we can accomplish that I am happy.

      There are lots of ways to determine how healthy soil is. I pay attention to the PH, look at soil samples to see what nutrients are lacking, and how much soil organic material is present. That’s just the beginning though, I thinks its also very important to pay attention to the earthworms, beneficial insects, as well as pay attention to how plants and weeds that are growing. With a little bit of knowledge about different plant and insect’s habitat I can also judge how healthy the soil is much like when we look for crayfish and macroinvertabrates to tell how healthy the water is and if my farming practices may be effecting the local watershed.

      On translocation of chemicals to food, bees, etc. It is a concern, one I take seriously. That is why I read all the labels very carefully and try to take as many precautions as possible to keep it from happening. I am not going to say that all the pesticides I apply always stay put and not end up in food, that is why the FDA monitors food to determine if there is any pesticide residue present. (I am not an expert on the whole FDA monitoring program so if you want more information here is a link to check out http://bit.ly/H2cTST ) If it means anything to you I do eat the food from the grocery and food I grow as I’m comfortable with its safety.

      As I started with, you are entitled to your opinions and I by no means want you to change your eating habits just because I have a different opinion. In fact I encourage you to eat organically produced food as I live in a community with several organic farmers and they do a fantastic job. I enjoy talking to them and learning what works best for them, in many cases I have implemented practices they suggested as a way to help improve the soil fertility and profitability of our farm.

      Thanks for the question, hope my response helped a little bit.

      • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 9:06 am

        UH! Trying to keep up! Mike, I differ with grant on the ‘cide issue. I think a utopia of no inputs would be awesome but I am realistic enough to understand that it likely isn’t possible. But the GPS tells me that you do monocrop and to me, that is, really, where the system goes off the rails.

        The fact is, life needs diversity to survive. And if you are planting one or two things over and over and over, to the exclusion of any other life forms, then you are not supporting the diversity life needs.

        So, I guess to me, a farm is industrial when it specializes to the point of killing off diversity. The earth can’t support that without measures so extreme as to have long-term impacts on everything from health of the product being produced to the environment.

      • Grant Kessler April 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm

        Just drove three hours through empty corn fields in central Illinois. It seems odd to me that there is not a single weed sticking up in them. Somewhere, deep down in me is this thinking that we live within a natural system…but that we’ve created so many unnatural constructs that “nature” is about gone. That’s so saddening. It just strikes me that there is nothing natural or healthy about “soil” in an empty corn field if nothing will grow there.

        I realize we are not going to just suddenly end conventional agriculture. Of course that would cause a food shortage and problem. I’m not advocating that. I am advocating a move back toward more natural systems, over time. For example, Mike, could you envision a willingness among us to have fields of row crops broken up more by small diverse farms, so that we have maybe even something like “zoning” that plans for a diversity throughout a given county? This could allow conventional ag and that food type on grocery store shelves, but also be working to improve our ecology that is so badly out of balance. There should be bugs and weeds and bats and turtles and things.

      • elliecm April 2, 2012 at 7:54 am

        Wow. Who ever thought of that zoning thing? That is brilliant. I think Mike describes a farm community that is very much diverse. And Marty and Pete both are in diverse farm areas. Mike … my question is this: are most farming communities diverse? I think people like me and Grant, driving through Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, just don’t see diverse farm communities. And that is scary.

  24. [...] do you think of this? I commented and she retorted. Might be fodder for a [...]

  25. Leo March 31, 2012 at 8:11 am Reply

    There are so many issues to address when looking at what we think of ourselves and how we treat our bodies and environment through our food system. Jesus Christ aside, there is no other myth perpetuated in our culture more than that of the farm and farmer. SOME AMAZNG FACTS Local foods available through CSA’s, farm markets, road side stands, on the farm markets and food co-ops is about 1.5% of the total food market. The people you see at the Saturday morning farm market with the dirty hands and the sun wrinkled faces (ourselves included) are a tiny minority of food producers. Only 4% of Americans live on farms and that’s because most food producers dont live on farms. They own food factories that they manage and no sane person would want to live on. A factory is what it produces. Most of America gets its food from pork factories, egg factories, milk factories…….not farms, not from farmers.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 10:01 am Reply

      As a small farmer who works his land himself, Leo, what do you think about this new US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance? And how does their campaign to get us all to believe that those factory farms are “family farms” impact you? The woman I sat with has a million chickens on her “family farm” and wants me to believe that she cares deeply about those chickens. How does that kind of campaign impact what you and Mike are doing?

  26. The Chinese Mom March 31, 2012 at 11:07 am Reply

    We should all be equally outraged and frightened about what’s happening to our food supply. These factory farms and companies care about one thing and we all know it’s all about profits. We can do our part by being educated about this, supporting those who are passionate and want to elicit change and then do the best to our ability to seek and buy the cleanest possible food for our children that we can afford.

    What I learned recently after looking into the USDA’s definition of all natural: it has NOTHING to do with how an animal is raised and ONLY defines how it is slaughtered. This means you can cram all the crap into a chicken, including antibiotics and other drugs, and call it “all natural” as long as you treat it nicely after the fact by not adding preservatives, coloring, hormones, etc (now why you would add hormones to a dead chicken is beyond my understanding). So the next time you are at a grocery store feeling better buying the label that Perdue has slapped on its chicken as “all natural” or any other brand thinking it’s OK and less expensive than organic, know that you are being fooled.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 11:46 am Reply

      Laura, you might be interested in reading the blog post written by “Points and Fingers.” It gives a great insight into the lengths these corporate folks will go to demand that people want industrial food. I brought up some points to which I should be interested in hearing his response, such as: if people want industrially raised food then why don’t companies advertise the reality instead of co-opting the bucolic farmy image?

      You can check that out here:

      http://pointsandfigures.com/2012/03/31/food-fight/#comment-481940711

      Also, this guy is the money behind Tallgrass Beef. Makes one wonder about them I mean, he blatently supports profits at all costs so I can only imagine that they are cutting corners and making decisions that don’t really line up to what we all may think they are about. Has anyone we know seen their operation and know what is really going on down there?

  27. Bruce F March 31, 2012 at 3:21 pm Reply

    Hi Ellen,
    Thank you for putting this all online. I agree emphatically with your statement that industrialization is the end of diversity. Everything it touches ends up that way, soil is no different.

    Sounds like you should join the Garden Party – http://www.feralscholar.org/blog/index.php/2010/06/28/manifesto-of-the-garden-party/

    On raw milk… you mentioned in the comments that it was hard for you to find. On the off chance that is still the case I’d like to point out where friends of mine buy it, legally, direct from the farmer in DuPage county (or Barrington, see below). While they can’t advertise to the general public, here’s a copy of the email they send out to people who contact them.

    “Thank you for your interest. we currently have 15 guernseys and one jersey cow. In Illinois you do not need a co-op or cow share, you just have to pick up at our house and bring your own containers. we serve over 250 families in the Chicago/suburban areas. We try to make pick up convenient for both of us. We milk 2x a day, so you would be getting that day’s milk. Pick up is from 9 am to 9pm. The cows have a well balanced diet of organic hay, grass/pasture, minerals/sea kelp and a little organic corn(about 5-8% of their diet) at milking time. We do not use hormones or antibotics. The milk will last 7-9 days in fridge, trying to keep it as cold as possible. the milk is $9gallon, $4.5 half gallon,$5/quart of yogurt and $6/pound for paneer cheese (when available) and $5/doz for organic free range eggs. There is no minimum purchase. i would need to know what day you would be coming because we have a schedule of people that come everyday so we would need to schedule you in! We are located in glen ellyn and the cows are about a mile away in carol stream. Right now there are some days that are busier than others. if you can tell me a day and how much needed i can see if we can schedule for that day. we ask that you stay on that same day for pick up. . We do not deliver or have drop off points currently. legally, customers are supposed to come to our house to pick up. we are in the township of glen ellyn, between st. charles and Main street. The address is 903 forest ave, glen ellyn 60137 I hope this information helps and hope to hear from you soon, Kelly Boge

    P.S. we just started in our new barrington location and so far it has been successful. we are currently doing saturday from 10am-2pm. we are at the point that we may open another day/times. the address for the barrington site is:
    23385 W. Old Barrington Road, Barrington ”

    Contact email – kellyboge [at] gmail.com

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 4:34 pm Reply

      Bruce, I know and I used to use a group like this but I don’t have a car so it is hard.

  28. Mike Haley March 31, 2012 at 3:41 pm Reply

    Ellie, looks it will not let me respond to your last comment so I am starting a new thread here.

    Thank for the thoughts considering the ‘cide issue and glad that we can have an open discussion around my use of them.

    For others following the conversation we are talking about monocrops and the use of GPS technology. While the use of GPS is growing fast on larger or ‘monocrop’ farms it is not it is used. For instance a vegetable farmer that grows a couple dozen types of crops has a larger value for GPS than I do on my grain farm as straight rows are very important when applying plastic and drip irrigation, not to mention accuracy in driving to not damage anything is critical as their crops are worth a ton more than my corn and soybeans.

    Before I go into my thoughts on monocropping I wanted to touch on your point about illiminating diversity. Even for a true monocropper I do not think this is a goal, however illiminating noxious weeds and other undesirables that will have a very negative effect on the crops and the health of the livestock they raise.

    I am continually amazed to find how definitions differ on a term when you go from a rural to urban communities. To me the term monocrop always meant only one crop year after year, however a few years ago when I became interested in the foodie movement and started having discussion with individuals like you I began to understand that others defined it broader than that. I now understand that the popular culture meaning of monoculture revolves more around a certain type of farming and a rotation of only a few crops. This difference in definitions of simple terms can often make it difficult and impede conversations like the ones we are having. So please point out to me and help explain differences in terminology on agricultural issues between us as we move forward in discussions.

    So a little background on my farm, my great great grandfather Charles was an orphan and worked his entire life to build enough equity to buy our farm in the late 1800’s. He did this by share cropping and working for/with other neighbors in the community. Back then his major crops where oats to feed the horses, corn to feed the cows and chickens and pigs, some barely and hay. My great great grandmother Emma also had a large garden that she grew most of the produce in to feed the family and on good years to sell to people in town. For the most part most of what they did was subsistence living and used proceeds from selling pigs and horses to pay the mortgage.

    Fast forward to today. Our main crops are corn, soybeans, wheat and hay, decorative mums and normally some type of cover crop that follows wheat (normally clover but we have like to experiment with other crops like rye turnips and radishes as well). My mother and sister still tend to a garden, but unlike generations before us we do buy a lot of our food from the grocery. As far as livestock all we currently have are cows, we raise their calves to finish and sell as freezer beef to others in the community. today its no longer about subsistence living, instead we hope to have good years to be able to have a newer car, save up money so our kids (I do not have any yet) can go to college, a nice house and have access to things like high speed internet no different as the rest of today’s society.

    I guess my point here is that I do fit the current cultural definition of a monocrop farmer, but my great great grandfather’s practices 200 years ago did not differ too much from mine today after you take away the advancements of technology like tractors and GPS.

    Wow, that ended up a little longer than I thought, hope you were able to follow my thought process.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 4:33 pm Reply

      This is awesome, Mike. Thanks for sharing this. I think I for one do not think of today’s mono cropping as same as your grand dad and I don’t know why.

      Did your granddad grow the same number of crops in the same size field on the same size farm as you? I have an image of your grand dad having smaller fields so that there was more diversity next to each other growing at the same time.

      My friend Linda here with is thinks it is inputs and outputs and how the inputs and outputs are managed. So just throwing that out there.

      But frankly, I think it is all super murky and hard to communicate.

      One question: are you typical?

      • Mike Haley March 31, 2012 at 6:58 pm

        Ellen, you are correct as my grandfather did not farm near as much as my dad and I do afterall he was just starting out and had limited resources and technology at the time simply would never have allowed him to do so. However looking at how much he did farm with two of his three sons I think he invested about the same amount of time back then as I do today as they had to do almost everything mannually or with actual horsepower. I have no way of knowing how big his fields were back then, I do imagine they were smaller. The phrase “back forty” comes to mind when talking about what some think of feild size as it references the forty acres located in the back corner of a farm. Our feild size ranges from one to one hundred acres and average about twenty acres. I am sure that is larger than what the average feild size was in our area 100 years ago but still small enough to support some sort of diversity IMO.

        Am I typical? I appologize in advance as I dont know a way to answer this without coming off as political… Each farmer is unique and I dont like to put us all in one box. I live in a very diverse area as on a typical day I can have exchanges with neighbors who farm grain crops, dairy, pork, poultry, CSA’s, organics and we still have lots of subsitance living farms in my community (Amish). More to the point of your quetion though, I do not believe my practices vary to much from others in my area that you would consider industrial, but will vary drastically from region to region mainly due to the differences in soil types, cimate, and size of local community (it dont make much sense to start a CSA in western Kansas).

        I think that gets to the heart of your question, if not let me know.

      • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm

        Hey there. I am still thinking. This is a toughie. I am not as militant (or you could say hopeful) as Grant. So, I am trying to sort through some feelings here.

      • Mike Haley April 1, 2012 at 6:59 am

        I understand, you got me thinking as well. Pounder it a while I look forward to hearing more thoughts.

      • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 9:41 am

        OK. I totally slept on it and here is where I am.
        1) I don’t like that you made such a point to invoke your grandpas farm and told me you are just like him with some extra tech if, in fact, your farm is likely significantly larger, more monocroppy and (I don’t know but assume) uses GMO seeds. It seems duplicitous. Just because, say, your house sits on the same partial of land or is the same house doesn’t mean that you are “same same, but different.” Because really you are different, just on the same land. So, I get the desire to talk about the familial lineage, but really, it breaks down the conversation from my end because I end up feeling like you are trying to tug on my heartstrings to manipulate me. I don’t imagine you did it on purpose, you seem like a nice guy, but from a rhetorical perspective, it doesn’t work.

        2) Farming on a human scale involves humans making decisions through the experience of interacting with their farm and products and not by scientifically determined inputs. The problem with science at that level on a farm is that the science can not respond to the terroir of the land. Like, for pigs — not every pig is the same freaking size or has the same metabolism or the same needs — just like two dogs from the same breed and family are, in fact different — so you can’t just approach them as with a uniform scientifically prescribed anything. Because when you do, you are not farming on a human scale. So, the minute you are using formulas to farm and not determining the needs of the farm by experience, you loose me. And to the guy who I sat next to a breakfast, who asked me when a farm becomes industrial, that is my answer — farming becomes industrial when the decisions made are not individualized to every tree, every row, every animal.

        3) Is that a lot of hard work: YES! It is a shit ton of work, labor. Backbreaking. Guess what, if people don’t want to do that, get in another line of work. Don’t just sign up with The Man and start farming on a non-human scale but it allows you to keep the farm but not work so damn hard. I mean really. I am all about families staying on their farm — but when the ends don’t justify the means I am not sure it is such an awesome ideal. That is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

        When I discovered, almost five years ago, that I could no longer do my job because it had simply become too punishing, I got out. I didn’t stay in and apply technology. Well, I did at first but I realized that it really wasn’t the answer. It really wasn’t going to fundamentally help my community. The answer was to keep pushing, keep trying to figure it out and arrive at a pointwhere I can deliver the technology to other publicists and to chefs at a super affordable price in a way that, at its core, supports the community. (I love technology too.) Has it been hard? HELL YES! I haven’t gotten a paycheck since 2009. I am crazy ass broke. I have been so stressed out most of the time that I do things like go into my hoop house and I can’t muster the energy to even think about what to do with the food. Breaking an egg seems like too big a project to take on. I almost lost my house.

        But I would do it again because I believe in the idea of “right livelihood” that suggests the key to true happiness is by doing the thing you were born to do in a way that contributes completely to the community.

        4) It is true that farms vary and I appreciate that and there is certainly and obviously a gradation of industrial. I know farmers I wholeheartedly respect and who farm on a human scale who just gotta spray some fruit. I get it. I am not, despite what some of the USFRA folks wrote on Twitter and in this comment section, a fanatic or a zealot. And I appreciate the people who work on farms need to make money, more than just “enough to live” but enough to live the supposed American dream like anyone else.

        But my point is: cheaper food isn’t the best path to that ideal. I think, as a culture, we need to focus on producing and buying food that is costs what it is actually worth. And I guess I look to smaller industrial farmers — especially ones like you who are willing to converse — to consider their actual impact on the future of food. If you are selling to Tyson, you are not part of the answer, you are the very nexus of the problem. You are making decisions every day to support the basic destruction of our society. You have farm more power to make an impact that me: a single person who can just make impact by choosing to buy a proper steak instead of an industrial steak.

        After that breakfast, I cried most of the day because I found out that our food supply isn’t just Monsanto, Tyson, etc. It is people, nice people, choosing to make the decisions. It was more, frankly, than I could take emotionally. Because it is easy to shake your fist at the injustice of a conglomorate whose only goals is to deliver growth to shareholders every quarter. But it is less easy to have a 20,000-pig farmer look you in the eye and tell you that she is making the best decision for her family. I mean, I am sure that her motives (and they are right) are to keep her family fed and get those kids opportunities. And I want her family to eat and I want her kids to have opportunities.

        But at what price? And why is that her best option?

        That is the part that gets me upset. That the drive for corporate profit has created a world where this woman actually believes that a confinement pig operation is her best option. And that she has to believe that is true. Because I really, really believe she thinks that is true. And, technically, it may be, from a “let’s make it through today” financial perspective.

        But she is really no better off than your sharecropper great, great, however many great grandad. Because he had the chance to make a better life. She will be in bondage to whatever company she contracts with forever.

        And what is the lesson she teaches her kids with that?

        Here in Chicago, I get asked at least once a week where people can get organic or at least not completely polluted wheat. Farro. Rye. Something like that. The market is there. There are not enough farms to supply it. And, I assure you, the community is willing to pay the prices. I dunno if we are FB friends but if you go on my page, about a week ago, I had a petition for a small local dairy who was considering using GMO corn (I suppose silage) for their cows. The community clearly communicated that they would pay, whatever it took, to keep that farm clean.

        There is a community that will support the change. It is growing.

        Chipotle was putting one family pig farm in business for each store opened, back in the early days. When they hit 300, they couldn’t find more people to be pig farmers. The market is there, we just need people who are willing to make the right decisions.

        OK, back in your court, Mike.

      • Mike Haley April 1, 2012 at 1:02 pm

        Very good perspective Ellen, definitely some points to ponder.

        I assure you I was in no way trying to manipulate your thoughts as I was just trying to give you some perspective as I see it. Of course now I can see how it was perceived differently. I did not know my great great grandfather and can only speak from stories that my granddad told me of him. Personally I do think if he had the options I do today he would choose those… I am getting off point and confusing the issue again so on to the next point ;)

        I believe farming is a form of science AND art, if we rely on one more than the other we begin to see negative results. I agree, when farmers first started using technology on farms it was to make things easier and it began to take out the individual interaction between the farmer and his land, crops and livestock. There is an issue with that however in that it can only increase productivity to a certain point because, as you point out, you are neglecting the needs of each plant, animal or soil particle. The new trend, partially made possible by GPS, is to use technology to focus more closely to each individual plant and soil type. We map our fields and take several soil types, apply as close to the right amount of fertilizer and lime to each part of the field as possible. Before we spray we scout the fields to determine what weed speicies are present in different parts of the fields, we can then put that data into the GPS computer and apply the right amount needed for each part of the field as necessary compared to in the past where you just blanket apply a higher rate. In areas where they have irrigation soil moisture sensors are used to not over water plants. I can keep giving examples of how technology is allowing us to focus more on an individual but its probably a bit off topic of your point. So more to the point, I do scout my fields, I do pull weeds by hand when that is the best option, I like to know my crop and the situations that are occurring during the growing season. Do I know specifically what each individual plant needs, of course not.

        On your third point, I do think I work hard. That’s my choice and I am not going to ask for respect for the work I do. That is because I enjoy and love what I do. I brought up the fact I am a fifth generation farmer earlier because I am proud of it but more importantly I do not want to goof up, destroy any chance that my great great grand-kids will not have the chance to continue the legacy of what generations before me started. This means I not only need to concentrate on economic sustainability but also environmental and ecological sustainability. I think this is fairly common across most family farms no matter the size.

        I did see where somebody called you a zealot. It upset me, its derogatory and a form of racism. From the other side of the isle though how do you think I feel when I am called an industrial farmer and what I did was f****** evil. I am not pointing fingers, I am not upset, and realize you were not talking specifically about me but I did feel some of the pain. As you said to Marcus in an earlier comment that you are close minded. I can respect that as I can also respect the fact that you are open enough to at least have these conversations with me, an individual who’s actions you fundamentally have a problem. However name calling does break down communication and I think we all should learn to move past the name calling and focus on these conversations first and foremost.

        I agree, there is a market out there for organic and non GMO. Trust me I watch it, someday I may be a farmer that supplies that market but it will have to be in a way that I feel is best for my land, my crops, my livestock and most importantly my family.

        I understand by this point I may have lost you, if you didnt follow anything I said above please do hear this. I realize I am not perfect, but all I can do is strive to be better. I feel a large part of that is listening to my customers as well as to others like yourself who are most not not willing to buy from my farm.

      • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm

        Actually, the technical bits helps me a lot. My image of industrial farming and spraying is, indeed, the blanket scariness. Not someone walking fields, taking soil moisture and applying specifically. I am sure there are those who would balk at any spraying. Again, I get that there is some instance. And I frankly don’t mind technology driving that instance to keep it as controlled as possible.

        Name calling can indeed break down the conversation. But here, it seemed to open it up. So, go figure! I don’t mind that the guy called me a zealot. It says more about him than me. And I don’t mind someone calling me close minded because, especially in that instance, the whole point was that I was close minded. And frankly, the whole point of USFRA is for you all to find out just how close minded and scared we all are. So that people like you can step up and start to talk to us in a way that we can understand.

        So this is the question: why are GMO crops best for your land, crops, livestock and, yes, most importantly your family?

        I guess that is really the crux. That is the point I can’t seem to understand.

        I am not perfect either, BY A LONG SHOT! And I certainly make decisions about my food based probably as much on not fully substantiated fear as I do good hard facts. I admit that. And I am not sure, in this world of scary freaking headlines, anyone could blame me. I see that you are the type who doesn’t.

        But I can’t wrap my head around why a Roundup Ready Soybean would be better, in the long run, for you (& yours).

      • Mike Haley April 1, 2012 at 2:21 pm

        GMO’s… I understand your concerns, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to others who share those concerns and I have learned so much from these conversations.

        Do I, and if I do use them why? Yes, we do utilize some GMO seeds on our farm but not 100%. We use them on some fields but not on others, in some crops and not others. We carefully choose production practices and products to use. .

        We do not grow any GMO wheat, and to be honest I do not believe that is even an option. But I have thought about the “what ifs” were it to be on the market. About ten years ago we were having a major problem controlling bluegrass in the wheat. It just could not be done and would decrease the yield by about 60%. I wanted so bad to have the option for Roundup Ready wheat at that time as it would be a very effective tool for me to use. Once the bluegrass was controlled for a few years I probably would have shifted away from it again as other than the bluegrass (and wild onion) our wheat don’t have a whole lot of weed pressure therefore on a normal year do not spray any herbicides on it. So, to control the bluegrass instead I had to turn to using a different herbicide one that I spray before I plant the wheat and has a much longer half life (the rate that the chemical naturally breaks down) than roundup so it can control the bluegrass in my wheat fields through the fall until the wheat is able to outgrow it in the spring. This is a very similar scenario to why I do grow 100% Roundup Ready soybeans.

        I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with eating foods from GMO crops but I am comfortable with the food safety side of the GMO crops on my farm, just this winter I discovered edamame (yeah I am sheltered), I love it! This year I plan on harvesting some soybeans early, I want to try home-raised edamame.

        On corn, we normally do not grow GMO corn. Most years we see no reason to. However as you know this year we didn’t have much cold weather, the soil only froze twice on my farm. The amount of corn borer that looks like survived the winter scares the begeebers out of me!!! Therefore we made the decision to buy 50% corn borer resistant (GMO) seed this year. The other option would have been to wait and see, and if corn borer was indeed going destroy my corn crop past an economic threshold I would have most likely made the decision to hire a crop duster to spray an insecticide on our fields. I feel making the corn plant unappetizing to the corn borer is a better option in this situation. I understand others do not feel that way, and some even think I should let nature play its course and risk the chance of not having any crop at all left in the field. I feel as a farmer it is my responsbility to carefully consider the tools I use knowing the choices I make need to be in the best interests of consumers, the environment and the farm.

        For now, I have to head back to the field but I can provide more if you like later.

      • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 2:50 pm

        Thanks for sharing this. I am not sure I can ask you to let nature play its course in the situation you have described here. The bug situation this year is going to be frightening for sure.

        Lemme ask you this: does that 50% GMO corn in any way shape or form mutate the future corn or the corn of the guy next to you?

        That is my concern. That the GMOs are impacting the future. Not that you use GMO one year. My concern is that their impact is longer term than people are willing to face.

        Also, I have a chef friend who is desperately looking for non-GMO rye or buckwheat. He’d love local but Kansas can feel local if there is none here to be found. Anyone? Anywhere? Able to help him out? I realize it is too late for you to consider but maybe you wanna talk to him for the future. He has a mill in his restaurant and wants to help supply other chefs here in Chicago. His name is Jared Van Camp (@jaredvancamp on twitter) and you can tell him I sent ya.

      • Mike Haley April 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm

        Great question Ellie! Planting GMO corn will not cause my corn or my neighbor’s corn to mutate, especially for that growing season. Keep in mind though that the seed that GMO corn produces will also carry GMO traits as it is inherited. When I checked into growing non GMO a few years back I was told that simply rotating my fields to a different crop will most likely get rid of any contamination issues for volunteer corn and at max it would take two years for my crop to test 100% GMO free. Yes, it is also possible that my corn can cross pollinate with my neighbor’s who happens to be organic if planted within 600 feet and pollinate the same week (unlikely timing though as he plants his corn later as a method to control weeds). His seeds get tested to ensure they are GMO free, and the last thing I want is for him to lose his premium and be upset for me as the reason. It is a concern I take very seriously. Rather than going through all the research around this here is a good fact sheet from Ohio State http://bit.ly/H8tUrZ
        As far as rye and buckwheat, these crops are not GMO, and I seriously doubt they ever will be. It costs a lot of money for biotech companies to make sure all the research and criteria are met for the FDA to approve each crop. It is a long process, I think I heard it takes 10 to 15 years before all the conditions are typically, if they ever are met. Therefore biotech companies would never look at a crop like rye or buckwheat as a potential crop for GMO traits as just not enough acres are planted, they would never get a return on their investment. I reached out to your friend on twitter, I will pass this along to him when he responds.

      • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm

        Ah, you called me Ellie. Not everyone does. Only close friends. I will take that as a sign.

        Question one, the obvious one: who told you that “simply rotating the fields would mostly likely get rid of contamination issues and max it would take two years for your crop to test 100% GMO free?”
        And who told you that there is no instance of pollen drift? Because, if there was none, then why is Monsanto spending so much time and energy suing every farmer who’s crops are infected by their GMO patented seed stock?

        I mean, a company as big as Monsanto isn’t going to chase down a tiny problem. They would only go after problems that impact their gigantic bottom line.

        So that kinda makes no logical sense. What am I missing here?

      • Mike Haley April 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm

        My wife is calling me for dinner so I will try to respond quickly here.

        1)Who told me rotating will get rid eliminate GMO contamination within 2 years? The owner of Swarts Farms, he sells non GMO seed here in Ohio and also helps farmers find a market to sell their GMO free seeds to. Each load would also be tested as well to make sure that their was no contamination and to ensure food labeled GMO free was labeled correctly.

        2)I don’t think I said there is no instance of pollen drift, if I did it was not meant that way. Steps must be taken to make sure that drift dont occur if planting in an area with other IP crops like GMO or organic.

        The whole Monsanto lawsuit deal is a whole nother story in itself, not to run from it but wait till later so we can discuss it separately from the two issues above.

      • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm

        No worries. I might have to pack it in for the day as well and take up the topic tomorrow or Tuesday. In meantime, hopefully we will hear more voices. And I will do some reading to ask better questions.

        1) Swarts Farms. Where is he getting the data?

        2) Precisely what steps?

        3) Does it bother you that other attempts man has made to control nature (insecticidal properties of DDT were discovered in 1939 and not banned until 1972) turned out to be oopsie daisies? (can you tell I am tired, who calls DDT an oopsie daisy?)

  29. Bruce F March 31, 2012 at 3:41 pm Reply

    Forgot to add Kelly Boge’s website – http://www.iloverawmilk.com/

  30. Bruce F March 31, 2012 at 4:03 pm Reply

    And to add a little fuel to the fire–More heat, less light!– why do we “need to feed the world”? By what right do we claim this (White Man’s) “burden”? Hell, we can’t even feed (as you point out distribution, not production is the problem) “our” own people. People were feeding themselves just fine until this bit of doublespeak helped support the idea of overseas “markets” for our struggling “family farmers”.

    I clicked on through to Mr. Points and Figures site. After seeing his photo, I remember him from the Merc. (Kids… Personal attacks are baaaad.) That said it looks, and sounds, like he’s still a smarmy douchebag.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 4:35 pm Reply

      You know, you have a really good point here, Bruce.

    • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 5:53 pm Reply

      Bruce, not sure if he is a smarmy douchebag but I would certainly say that he has a fundamental difficulty answering questions, which certainly exhibits a lack of elemental grasp of his argument — or more probably the reality that his Master of the Universe stance is, essentially, unfounded.

      It is sad because it really makes me question what is going on with Tallgrass Beef. I mean, if he is so profit driven and he is such a primary investor, how can they not be resorting to the kind of cost cutting that occurs in Big Ag? Especially as he worships at it’s alter? As a business owner, I am keenly aware of what can happen when an investor is hellbent on something to the extend that Jeff is hellbent on profit.

      • Bruce F March 31, 2012 at 8:05 pm

        He’s not alone in following his ideology: profit is the only god, all the rest is fluff.

        As far as his personality goes, fair enough. All I think of is Niedermeyer from Animal House.

      • elliecm March 31, 2012 at 9:04 pm

        It is totally freaky, to be sure. I don’t think I have ever personally interacted with someone so… Gordon Gekko-y. Scary! And to put it in perspective, my cousin’s FIL was second in command at the Fed. That guy was totally sane compared to Jeff. I am sure you’ve bumped into plenty in your day. Yeesh.

  31. Grant Kessler April 1, 2012 at 12:08 am Reply

    It’s so wonderful to see thoughtful, if difficult, conversation happening here! Sorry to have blipped out, but I’m reading eagerly and will jump back in soon!

    • Mike Haley April 1, 2012 at 7:04 am Reply

      I agree, I feel like this conversation is productive in at least helping Ellen and I understand each other’s viewpoint a little better.

  32. pointsnfigures April 1, 2012 at 12:48 am Reply

    Niedermeyer from Animal House. Hah. Thanks for the insightful analysis.

    Actually, ask an small organic farmer if he/she could survive without profit. Profit isn’t a bad thing.

    Coase, it’s the theory that makes the world go around. We have more choice and better food in the US today than we did 20 yrs ago.

    • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 8:24 am Reply

      I don’t need to ask them because you are off point again.
      No one says profit is a bad thing, Jeff. Profit at any price is.
      You are still not answering my questions. Why? Is it that you can not? Is it that you will not?
      My respect for your viewpoint is not bolstered by your statements, you are actually proving to me that I am on the right path because I ask questions you can not answer.

      Do you make these profit any price decisions for Tallgrass Beef? Do your customer’s know that you don’t care about the animals or proper slaughtering? And that you claim to be the purse strings of that operation?

  33. Leo April 1, 2012 at 9:14 am Reply

    Ellen- the biggest impact a marketing move like the one from the farmers and ranchers alliance or from the organic certification board has on small farms is two fold. First, big ag wants to confuse the consumer about what a family farm is or what organic means. Through aggressive marketing they re-define these ideas which are reallly core values for a lot of small farms. Our land and the means we take to be good stewards of our farm through organic practices is a reflection of who we are. Raising tens of thousands of chickens in a dusty, metal pole barn and stating “I care” is a reflection of who that women is and big ag knows most consumers don’t value the food on their table as long as it’s cheap. A recent article in the Atlantic states that we spend 18% less on food today than we did 60 years ago. And the funny thing is food is everwhere (like the gas station and menards) ! Secondly, pretending a ten thousand pig factory is a family farm hides the fact that their pork factory is a pollution bomb exploding daily degrading our water, air and food. Ultimately, only a small fraction of people benefit from a food factory complex at the expense of our environment. ” In 1967, 26% of what we spend on food wnt to those who made it…and 6% went to advertisers, lawyers, etc. In 2007, the lawyers and advertisers took 15% of spending, while only 14% went to those making the food. “-Atlantic , April 2012

    • elliecm April 2, 2012 at 7:42 am Reply

      Thank you, Leo. It is really awesome to have the perspective of the small farmer.

      I would agree with you that marketing is the biggest problem we face. The Purdue website talks about the care they put into “raising our chickens,” for instance, http://www.perdue.com/What_We_Believe/
      And I can’t blame consumers for buying into it. Why should they assume the horrors? To me, that is the crux of the problem: that the realities are not openly shared or even partially shared. And that Big Ag does so much to try and block any attempt people make to get at the truth.

      One thing: you mostly sell direct to customers, correct? And I assume that when you sell direct to the customer, you retain significantly more profit percentage, yes? Meaning, the more we buy directly from a farm the far better off that farm is. Is it possible for you to share the percentage you retain? How much does your price have to match the grocery store?

      I realize you are private but a “industry average” for direct to customer profits would be an interesting additional figure to have.

  34. Kate April 1, 2012 at 9:37 am Reply

    Ellen,

    Evil industrial hog farmer here. I think we finally found our common ground! It’s Kilgus Dairy and meat goats. Who would have thought? I am fortunate enough to be part of the IL Farm Bureau Livestock and Diary Grassroots Issues team, and for our last meeting, we toured (and purchased from) KIlgus! What I want to point out is that Kilgus family also belongs to the IL Farm Bureau. I apologize that your experience with USFRA has been negative. Can I ask a personal question in that, did they just “pay” you by buying your meal, or were you given a stipend? The reason I ask, is because I cannot see the benefit for either sides to have been put through what happened. I am saddened that this has upset you and made you cry three separate times. I also am saddened by the situation. I am not trying to get you to change your mind, in fact, I respect the options that you have chosen for yourself (and family?, haven’t heard anything about kids/partner, so don’t want to assume). All I am asking is that you give me (the actual family farmer…it’s not just a line I’m trying to throw down your throat), the same respect to do what I think is right.

    We are on our way to church for Palm Sunday, and I cannot write more, but I do want to write a “day in the life” sort of vignette for you. Not to see that I am right, but just to see that I don’t feel you can “clump” us all into the industrial box.

  35. jennifer April 1, 2012 at 9:38 am Reply

    Wow, lively conversation. Ellen, thanks for speaking up on these issues. From my own experience starting our organic farm I’m certain that most Americans have no f%#@&ing idea re the dangers (environmental, health, social) that our industrial food production is exposing them to.

    We feed 400 families and ship 6 wholesale crops with 30 acres of diversified production. It CAN be done, and done profitably, especially if we can educate consumers. I heard a stat (sorry, no source) that less than one half of one percent of Chicago households get their food through a CSA. Could you imagine if we could just bring that up a half a percent to one percent?

    Running a business profitably is important of course, but to run any business solely chasing profit is, well, soulless. As a more experienced organic farmer once said to me, ” I just want to make as much as my average customer.” That stuck with me…I also want to keep my hardworking staff employed at a living wage and I daydream of a day where we can offer an affordable (and actually useable for non catastrophic care) healthcare; not to mention a crazy luxury like a whole week of paid vacation.

    As far as this bull#@*% about “feeding the world”…when possible communities should feed themselves. I won’t get in to the whole localvore debate as I don’t really consider myself hardcore (olive oil, citrus, not going without, sorry! But I will make sure that my non local items are responsibly raised/produced) But it makes NO SENSE to have a effing cucumber (or zucchini, or tomato, etc) in a Midwestern grocery store in season. And there are some great options for season extension as well.

    Whelp, that’s my two cents. I hope this conversation continues and thanks again for ditching the “PC” tone and getting pissed off; you wear it well.

    • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 9:44 am Reply

      Thanks, Jennifer. If you would, there are some people here that have commented specifically about things that you could probably more fully respond to. I am a single gal living in Chicago so I don’t have direct experience to offer them. I would appreciate if you or Bob would. And your friends. We need more voices of people who are actually doing it.

  36. Geoff Rhyne April 1, 2012 at 10:33 am Reply

    Wow…check out this conversation! Ellen-to your points, I get it and understand. I do think it is a brutally tough battle that currently seems like “we” are losing. I would venture to say that the machine of big ag is evolving at their natural pace while the movement of rising against that is gaining real traction. Thus, I embrace this tortoise mentality and strive on.

    Jeff, I feel is missing the point. All recognize that profit is good for business. Let’s move beyond some of this tit for tat and have a true discussion about what is going on here. Wal mart is the highest organic produce seller in the world? Love the marketing angle that it presents, but seriously. When a third of America shops at your store every week, it’s just a numbers game at that point.

    Their needs to be outrage. Their needs to be noise. This conversation needs to be broadcast, with all due respect, on a grander stage. It is obvious that momentum is building. Look at the conversation happening with Mike and Ray. Incredible understanding between the sides with both learning from the other.

    Kate, I fear, is coming from a different angle. However, I do appreciate her willingness to engage.

    I look forward to reading more, and perhaps participating more. A wonderful “seed of change” conversation.

    • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 12:42 pm Reply

      Thanks, Geoff, for commenting. You are always uber thoughtful.

      Indeed this conversation needs to be on a grander scale. But you know, before I went to that breakfast, I believed that the grander scale was too much, too overwhelming. And so I didn’t really do much outside my own world to fight for change. To speak up in bodacious outrage and say “this has got to bloody stop!”

      The Arab Spring didn’t start at NATO. It started with one guy speaking out — loudly. And it grew because people stepped out of the routine of life and demanded change. They spoke up, even if it was just them standing in the street waving their fist in the air. Those people in the street, they didn’t wait for a better platform, a grander scale. They recognized that change happens person by person. And so, in time, more joined the guys waving his fist in the air. More started waving their fists alongside him. Soon, they hit a tipping point. Change occurred.

      Was it perfect? Was it pretty? Was there not unnecessary blood shed? No.

      But if we wait for a grander scale, Geoff, we’ll find it won’t come.

      So join me in the street as I wave my fist. Tell your friends to come join. Start making a stink — loud, outrageous, clear. Wherever you decide to make it. Here, somewhere else. But somewhere where at least a few people can see it. Somewhere it isn’t subtle, isn’t a quiet hopeful toiling away at your own decisions and thinking that is enough.

      That’s where I was before the breakfast. In my own world, talking to people that agree with my ideals. And you know, it wasn’t making any difference. We need to make a difference.

  37. blue April 1, 2012 at 1:43 pm Reply

    I want choice. I want to have the ability to buy a whole pork loin at Sam’s Club for 1.97 per pound then take it home and cook it. Which I do about every month. I don’t give a damn that the pig might not have room to frolic. The pig is food that keeps me alive. One of the undepinnings of your belief system, as it appears from what I’ve read here, is that treating the animal in the same way we treat human beings is important. This is incredibly dangerous and an extremely ideological frame of reference. The human destruction that would take place through starvation if it were not for factory farming would be astounding in its scope. And the poorest of people would suffer the most. The fact is that a small minority of people worldwide could be provided with important meat protein from the community farmer. Without pesticides and chemical fertilizers, production rates would dramatically drop. Then what? Death from starvation. that’s what. That is truth. You clearly don’t like the way things are done in corporate food production. Good for you for standing up and griping, and good for you for living your life according to your beliefs. I applaud it. However, the choice that Jeff Carter/pointsand figures is writing about is the choice that I can buy the food that I want, even if you don’t like it, or I can buy the food that is locally grown using methods acceptable to you and others like you. He wants choice of one or the other, you do not. That is why he calls you elitist. It appears that you would eliminate the high production farming in favor of that which suits your belief system, that is anti-choice. Everyone has the opportunity to buy the food you favor, there is likely a Whole Foods Market or mail order operation available to anyone in this country, if THEY COOSE. You don’t want them to have a choice, you want to eliminate the factory farm that provides the inexpensive food most people want and/or need. You assume that people would choose the alternative you support if they ONLY KNEW the difference. That is not true. I know about the chicken production facilities and the gross conditions… I saw an “expose” opn one of the news magazine tv shows years ago (maybe 60 Minutes?) that had chicken carcasses rinsed in the most discusting water I’ve ever seen. My solution to solve that problem is to rinse it and cook it really well to not get disease. I still eat a LOT of chicken from big producers. I have not been sick. And how they treat my food when they are raising it is irrelevant to me. I love my cats and when I had a dog, I loved it as well. Our furry companions also consumed the factory farm meats that we would/do feed them from the table. They didn’t care that the cow couldn’t turn around and they didn’t care that the chicken had its beak trimmed. It is about eating to survive. As I wrote earlier, treating animal food sources with the same ideals as we should treat humans is incredibly dangerous and an ideological extreme. Stop anthropomorphising the food supply. It is a peversion of our ability to feel compassion, and it will lead to ruin of many a human being through starvation.
    To address the guy who wrote above (paraphrased) that we might not have the responsibility to “feed the world” in his reply to the points and figures guy, you are a sick twisted excuse of a human being if you are willing to let human beings starve as a result of your pursuit of this war against high production food. Ideology over humanity? Animals and the “earth” above people? Sick twisted ideological freak.

    • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm Reply

      “Anonymous Blue” Thanks for posting.

      I can’t seem to get you or Jeff to address my question about choice. Maybe you will here. I hope so.

      You say that I am against choice. But what I see is that 97/98% of our industrial food system is controlled by a tiny number of corporations. So, a few conglomorates, who choose highly industrial methods, are controlling the food supply. How is that creating choice?

      Precisely how is their lack of labeling creating choice?
      How is their extraordinary efforts to keep the dairy farmers from selling me raw milk creating choice?
      How is their extreme measures to keep me from seeing what really goes on in the CAFO operation or the slaughterhouse creating choice?
      I think it is great that you believe that rinsing and overcooking your food is enough for you. But what if it isn’t enough for me? Do you demand that I have to accept your culinary standards?

      Monsanto has cornered the market on industrial seeds, and converted our core crops to GMO, including alfalfa, a perennial crop that doesn’t need particular weed control Recently, Monsanto bought Seminis, meaning now they are going after backyard gardens as well. How is that choice? Seriously, I am being serious. This doesn’t look like choice to me. I need to understand how that creates an “environment of choice” for you.

      It is one of the questions Jeff seems unwilling/unable to answer. And until someone does, your arguments look unsubstantiated. In fact, it makes me, the “fanatical” one look like the level-headed one.

  38. blue April 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm Reply

    First, thank you for posting my response. Appreciate that.
    And I ‘d like to say that I am 100% behind raw milk and the rights of small farmers to do their thing. When I was still living with my parents as a teen in rural Maine, we got our milk right from the tap at the dairy farm up the road. We talked with the farmer, our family friend, as he milked the cows in his 8 stall milking room and watched the milk go through the tubes into the stainless steel tank from which we were drawing our twice weekly supply. I remember having to shake the glass bottle every time we drank it because the cream separated and if i didn’t I remember mom being angry because I wa taking all the cream off as I poured it! I was the “kid” the farmer hired to clean his milk room a few times per year and I worked for him haying in the hot sun in the summer.
    As to choice. My post addressed it. I said choice involves being able to buy either the small farm food or the conglomerate food. I also said that it appeared youdin’t want others to enjoy the same choice. Ok, I dont dispute that a bulk of the food is produced under the control of a few limited producers. But to say you have no choice is not accurate, Ellen. I emntioned this also in my post by referenceing Whole Foods Market and the mailorder firms that could provide youwwith the food youconsider preferntial. The idea you put forth that just because much of the market is comprised of the food you dont’ want is the same as you having no choiice is simply not true. It is a falsehood. It is harder to get the food you want but the choice to get what you want still exists for you, and others who feel the way you do. It is not a point you can argue. I still live in a rural area in Southern Maine and there is a beef operation that is selling meat (http://www.harrisfarm.com/beef.html) near us that we could buy from. They are one of dozens in the area close enough to drive to. For us, the meat is too expensive to buy. I hope that will change some day… we’re trying to make it happen. I want the choice to buy from these local folks when the time is right OR to buy from the local walmart/shaws supermarket/hannaford supermarket. Alternatives DO EXIST for me and for you. and by mailorder, they exist for anyone wiht a credit card, a computer, and in the purvey of Fedex/UPS/ US Mail. As to labeling, I addressed that in my post by stating that I had seen a segment of 60 minutes(?) outlining the conditions in the factory chicken meat production. The info is out there, Ellen. Just as my mother, who died from smoking related emphasema, said that in the 1940’s and 1950’s she and others knew that smoking was bad for her even before the warning labels on the pack.
    You stated that I did not address your question of choice. I did. Do you support my right to have mass-produced corporate food if I want it?

    • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 2:59 pm Reply

      I need to run some errands and will respond when I get back. I don’t want you to think I am ignoring you and frankly, thanks for responding when Jeff wouldn’t.
      But before I go I will say that yes, if you want it, I would support your right to buy slop and eat it. Why not? That’s just culling of the heard, in my book! :^}

      Will respond further when I get back.

      • blue April 1, 2012 at 3:25 pm

        IF enough people will demand non genetically modified, then it will be produced and available because when people want something, there is money to be made at it. You are also asserting that because the trajectory is so steep, that therefore there would be no non-modified soybeans today. That is not proven. If you can prove it, I will believe it. I find it hard to believe there would be no source of the unaltered soybeans, however. There are enough people who believe as you do to prevent that from happening. No hurry in responding. And, are you sure that I am going to die from the food I am choosing to eat? Or better stated, are you certain you will live longer than the rest of society because of your choice? This idea reminds me of the joke I heard a while back in reference to people who exercise like crazy to help them live longer… “Look at all those exercise nuts, lying in their coffins, dead from nothing.”

      • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm

        I said for the sake of rhetorical argument, based on the trajectory, it is a safe touchpoint that at the rate of adoption — to assume. And while I am not suggesting that there isn’t one soybean somewhere that someone at Seed Savers exchange hasn’t saved … I think it is fair to say that we can topline this as damn near to total market domination as one can reasonably get without just wiping out the seed. And of course, we are at the very beginning of this products lifecycle. The figure I started with was 1997. It is only 2012. That is just a blip in the potential market of this product. I mean, the numbers are better than Apple and I think we both agree that Apple’s market domination is rather, well, healthy.

        Do I have absolute proof, no, you know I don’t because obviously I would offer that up if I did. But I assumed you to be a reasonable debater. If you don’t want to be, that’s fine, that’s fine. It seems, you want to make me live up to a standard that is unrealistic so that you can prove that, in fact, there is one soybean somewhere that isn’t GMO and thus, bam, I have a choice! I can choose that one hypothetic soybean! And I am ok with that because, of course, this is a public discussion and we can let the readers determine who is being reasonable and rational and who isn’t.

        But, since I am, in fact, interested in pursuing this line of questioning, I will approach it from another angle. Your buddy Jeff entered this discussion by saying it was “bad” for the few to choose for the many. In his viewpoint, lack of choice existed when “few” chose for many. So, living to that standard, is the fact that, as of two years ago after impressive growth, 93% of the soybeans are GMO (Monsanto) demonstrating the few choosing the many? I mean, obviously, it demonstrates the ONE choosing for the many but let’s just go with Jeff’s argument incase you want to say that one person doesn’t make every decision at Monsanto or some other hairsplitting point like that.

        Does this paragraph, from an industry publication, from 2007, demonstrate an “environment of choice?”

        The United States (85%) and Argentina (98%) produce almost exclusively GM soybeans. In these countries, GM soybeans are approved without restrictions and are treated just like conventional soybeans. Producers and government officials in the US and Argentina do not see a reason to keep GM and conventionally bred cultivars separate – whether during harvest, shipment, storage or processing. Soybean imports from these countries generally contain a high amount of GM content.

        I am getting to this because you seem determined to brush me and my thoughts with the desire to restrict people’s choices. I can’t find one place in any of my comments where I am attempting to tell other people what to eat. And yet I will concede your point that lack of choice is horrendous. I agree with you. But I seem to be able to offer up some rather valid points that demonstrate that I am left with precious little choice and in fact the only “real” or “significant” choice is left to people like yourself who choose to ingest chicken that you know has been handled improperly, hoping a rinse and overcooking will cure all evils.

        In fact, I don’t, personally, care what you eat. I just don’t want you dictating what I eat by promoting — heralding — celebrating — the near total monopoly of our food supply by industrial producers.

        It seems that by your logic, your choice gets higher priority than my choice simply because my choice isn’t “corporate.” That you feel if I have a precious few places where I can, with great effort, get food I believe in then that’s all I deserve. But that I shouldn’t, by any right, demand that the steamrolling of profit at any costs conglomorates be at least kept in check. and I find that curious because, of course, your frustration with me was that you felt I was somehow restricting your choice.

        So, that’s curious, isn’t it?

        (For the record: I do not count Whole Foods as a choice. The company is run with the same philosophy and zeal for profit at any cost that Jeff likely applies to Tallgrass Meats. Greenwashing is, in my mind, worse than conventional agriculture because it diverts the money of people who would support it with clever marketing.)

        Now, onward. I see that, like Jeff, once you were faced with a difficult question that basically nullified your argument, you jumped ship and decided to go the “if people wanted it” route. That’s OK, I am patient and am happy to wind through any discussion you want to toss up.

        My question to you, when it comes to the “if people want it, they would buy it” argument begins thusly: if people didn’t want properly raised food, why does every industrial agriculture ad promote properly raised food? Why, if they really believe that our populace is clammoring for meat slaughtered inhumanely, sloppily and inexpertly at a rate, in a typical slaughterhouse, of one cow every 12 seconds (Imagine if you are the guy standing there with thrashing cows coming at you that quickly, just how accurate you would be at the job of stunning them with an air gun at a precise point in their skull when you do that job everyday, 12 hours a day, six days a week, with one :30 lunch and two :15 breaks — dontcha think you’d miss more than a few?) don’t you think that those smart companies would promote that?

        I mean, by your logic, the companies would sell more meat if they pulled back the curtain and let us come in and see what they were doing. Instead of lobbying and donating and manipulating the government into making it a felony to do so. I mean instead of relying on 60 Minutes, they should promote that filthy chicken water you saw.

        But they don’t. In fact what they are promoting is: lookie here, these are all family farms! They love their pigs! Why, Blue, do you think large conglomorates are projecting that image in their advertising? Why are they coopting the idea of the small family farm to communicate what they are doing? Is it because this is what people want? I mean I am in marketing, you tell people the part of the story that will sell the most product. That is the point of marketing in your capitalist society.

        So, maybe I am ignorant but can you explain that to me?

        Explain why Jim Purdue dons his workaday clothes and talks about his happy chickens who are always frolicking about. Why doesn’t he show the reality of a Purdue chicken’s life? Because by your argument, he would make more money because more people would know about forced molting, debeaking, the arsenic fed to chickens so they grow faster. You know the images, you saw them.

        Blue, I really am interested in knowing how you answer that question.

        As to the question if I am sure you are going to die. I was going to say of course not but really I don’t care, after all, who are you, Oh Anonymous One. I was being cheeky there, Blue, because I think anonymous posters kinda suck in a way since they don’t share who they are and thus, maybe, reveal that they work for Tyson or are on the board of a commodity group or otherwise have deep ties to Big Ag.

        But I do know this: I want choice as much as you do. And while I don’t care what you eat, I am really curious to know why you are so determined that I shouldn’t get to choose what I eat. I am curious to know why I shouldn’t have ready access to food I believe is of a quality that respects life — mine and the animals. I am curious why you embrace a culture of inaccess to information (the pink slime dustup this week clearly demonstrates a culture of inaccess to information but I would be happy, if you intend to apply your “Soybean Rule” to my statement about information access, to deliver up enough data on that to choke you so full you won’t be able to eat a dirty chicken again for at least a week).

        Why are you so hell bent on making sure there is an environment of relative inaccess to non-industrial food? I am happy for you to eat whatever you want. Why are you not happy for me to do the same? What is your motive?

    • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 3:08 pm Reply

      Something to think about while I am gone…In 1997, about 8% of all soybeans cultivated for the commercial market in the United States were genetically modified. In 2010, the figure was 93%. National Agricultural Statistics Board annual report, June 30, 2010. Retrieved July 23, 2010. So, the last figures reporting on market penetration of GMO soybeans were from 2010. It is now 2012. So if the trajectory of GMO soybean adoption continued at pace from when the last study was done until now, it is safe to say that for arguments sake, soybeans in America, essentially, are all GMO.

      How is this choice?

      • Mike Haley April 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm

        Not to interrupt your conversation here, but I wanted to say that this hypothesis is a very unlikely scenario as organic soybeans are GMO free and the demand and the number of organic farms has increased as a response to that demand.

        On top of this the premium for non organic GMO free beans has been steadily increasing, especially since more companies have began to label their products as GMO free.

        Therefore my guess is the time that NAS releases its report I would guess that the trend is actually going the opposite direction than you have concluded, if not at least remained stagnant. It will be interesting to see what the next report shows.

      • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 6:50 pm

        no interruption and thanks. and great to know how much non-GMO soybeans added to Ohio’s bottom line. That’s a good sign! It certainly debunks my original argument, but I think I am correct in extrapolating from Jeff;s original argument about “few choosing for the many” is, in fact, occurring in our food supply, yes Mike? (I will agree with any argument that you pose that the figure is changing for the better, I am looking for a snapshot of now and the years leading up to now….the general trend the world has gone in.)

      • Mike Haley April 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm

        To add to this, I just found that in Ohio last year 15% of Ohio soybeans last year were non GMO and it added a minimum of 32 million to Ohio’s economy due to the premium these farmers received. (Page 12 http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/images/OARDC_AnnualReport_2011_F.pdf )

      • Matt Reese April 1, 2012 at 7:42 pm

        With regard to non-GMO soybeans, Ohio company Bluegrass Farms just signed an agreement with South Korea to provide 20,000 acres worth of non-GMO food grade soybeans in the next year. This is just one of the contracts for Bluegrass Farms. They export quite a bit to China and Japan as well, but there is no consistent demand for them to have reliable domestic markets that are willing to pay the premium. Most of the non-GMO soybeans are grown within 70 miles of the high tech processing facility in Fayette County, near Jeffersonville. This is “Big Ag”
        at its finest providing a non-GMO product for the world.

      • elliecm April 1, 2012 at 7:55 pm

        That’s great, Matt, that there is a shining light there in Ohio! And I would love to hear about more of our Big Ag doing good. Thanks for sharing. We certainly hear a lot about other countries wanting non-GMO products and I am certainly happy we can create those exports.

        We could all, I am sure, deliver stories that support our point of view, though, so I think we should stick to the discussion at hand because, of course, our 20,000 acres are just part of the 75.0 million acres produced in America last year. And while we encourage big ag to not be evil as much as possible, the reality is, that is a blip, right?

  39. Lee April 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm Reply

    Great way to spend a Sunday! Love the conversation here. Just some thoughts on the above

    1) Pat & Blue – regarding choice and the need for cheap food. unfortunately that Mum Pat refers to might be feeding her kids for 14$ a day today, but these kids will have a much higher probability of having severe health problems, dying at a younger age than previous generations because of the quality of the food and the way the ingredients are raised. I know 3 year old girls that are growing breast. Thank the hormones in the meat and dairy for that.

    While mass produced food is perceived as being cheaper, I encourage you to do the following math: take all the external costs on society and environment created by our current food system, sum them up and add them to the price tags in the supermarket. I bet you the price difference will suddenly not be the argument of this discussion anymore.

    And we are not even talking about subsidies that are benefitting large conglomerates, while the small organic farm has to do without.

    2) Btw, I am pretty sure you can feed four people healthy, non-big agri food on 14$ a day. It’s just not going to be meat and chicken every night (which is not a healthy diet in the first place). I am a cash-strapped food entrepreneur myself and I can eat well, healthy and abundant on 3.5$ if I want to.

    3) Regarding the “feeding the world” issue – interestingly enough the discussion always includes “we need to feed the Africa that’s starving”. Fact is, that Africa was very well able to feed itself. Then globalization and the concept of comparative cost advantages hit and the first world got the third world to grow grain for export. Guess what seeds they bought and what farming methods they did apply? Now, their land is depleted and the productivity is going down and yes, they cannot even grow their own food anymore. What’s the lesson here? There are brilliant examples where biodynamic farming experts from the first world went back to the third world to train the current generation how they can heal their land and make it productive again. And you know what, they can now feed themselves. And while they train on the job to be better farmers, they will eventually be able to feed their neighbors, too. We just won’t be able to get that cheap grain anymore. bummer

    4) GMO – I do not know if GMO kills us or not. It might be perfectly save. But you know what – we do not know. I am inclined to think that if you change the composition of the food you consume that fundamentally, it will eventually effect you, as well. And not in a good way. But if you prove to me that it is safe, great. Only challenge here is that I would require a 50 year trial of GMO in actual human beings before I believe any claim of GMO being safe. Maybe we can have the GMO lobby all move to some Midwestern valley, eat GMO for two generations and then let’s see the outcome? I just know that I have a dear friend whose three year old girl has started to grow breasts. The reason? The hormones in our food supply. The ones in the meat and the ones trickling down into the groundwater from factory farms. It took a generation to see the negative impacts of hormones in our food. So assuming that GMO is safe because some lab rats did not die at first contact is naive.

    Regards
    Lee

  40. Matt Reese April 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm Reply

    It seems like you are off base here with your use of “mono crop” (among numerous other things). You think that if a farmer uses GPS that they plant only one crop??? I am not sure of the specific of Mike’s farm, but a typical crop rotation in most of the Corn Belt includes corn and soybeans, many include wheat. In addition, due to the soil biodiversity benefits, many farms are including additional cover crops such as annual ryegrass, winter pea, radishes, and wheat. Also, your Big Ag dairies make use of alfalfa and grass hay in the crop rotation (or buy from local farmers who grow a hay crop) which supports an additional crop in the mix, benefits the soil significantly (as alfalfa is typically grown for multiple years and has deep roots that biodegrade and enrich the soil). Soybeans and some hay and cover crops fix nitrogen in the soil naturally so that other crops (such as corn) benefit. I am guessing the “mono crop” you are referring to is corn. It is true that there are some corn after corn acres in the U.S, but only a small percentage of total acres.

    • elliecm April 2, 2012 at 7:37 am Reply

      We’re learning, Matt. I did, when I started, assume it was one crop — mono. And here in Illinois, when you drive by most farms, it is one of two: soybeans or corn. I am learning a lot from Mike, certainly. Though I am not sure your point, though. Soil biodiversity doesn’t really flourish with the limited range you have listed here. And of course, it is widely known that the use of GMOs greatly reduces the variety of, say, corn that is grown. So we are putting all our eggs in the basket of one variety of a vegetable when we choose GMOs. Hello Irish Potato Famine….

      • candidwines April 2, 2012 at 8:39 am

        Ellen,

        The questions of technological advance and mono-cropping is of particular interest to me in regards to wine production at vineyards we represent – one crop planted on one field with plants that will grow for decades is a great area to look at what mono-crop means, good and bad.

        A conversation I had in Sonoma with an 80+ year old farmer has been bouncing around my head in the context of this conversation. He and his family had diverse crops in addition to grapes for years through the early 1900’s, and all the way through the 60’s they were still selling prunes commercially, from plums that they had picked and then dried in the fields as they had for decades. When technology came to the prune producers, in the 60’s, it came with a regulation from the government that prunes had to be dried in drying facilities, indoors in order to be sold at all.

        I can not speak to the exact history, but I inferred from the conversation that the increasingly strong (and debt laden, thus supremely motivated) prune dryers lead the push to change regulations, in the name of public health, to phase out any sort of production that was not going through their facilities. The disappearance of a source of revenue for the farm, and a source of biodiversity for the vineyard was due to a collapse of the price of prunes that was ensured not only by technology, but also by a regulation passed that favored the new technology at the expense of an old process.

        For the Slow Food “fanatics” out there, I’d add that the prunes dried over 10 days to 2 weeks in the sun created a look on the face of the winemaker that spoke directly to the motivation behind the “Ark of Taste” project. Indoor drying takes something like 24 hours and, according to this family, creates a whole different prune.

        Where would the tipping point have been in regards to preserving the trees vs planting more vines, especially as wine boomed in the 70s, 80’s and 90s and prices per ton increased? Would a premium develop locally for sun-dried prunes that would have played into the decision? I do not know, but I do know that the decision was taken out of the family’s hands by a regulation that parallels in many ways the arguments against the sale of raw milk.

        What relation to mono-cropping? The farmer, who is not organic but like most every farmer I’ve ever met hates to spend money on inputs if he doesn’t have to, unequivocally stated that with the reduction of biodiversity has come increased pressure from pests and thus an increased need for pesticides.

        I suppose the relevant point in this for me is that none of these questions can be answered in a vacuum, and most of the issues that impact farmers I work with to which I can speak, have three or four or four hundred layers of complexity behind the final decision, and it is a mistake to think any one answer – more regulation, less regulation, more $ spent at Farmer’s markets, less spent on marketing by groups like the ranchers you met – is complete. Again and again and again, all lines of thinking on these topics lead me back to how important it is for people to know their farmer and ask questions of the people who grow at least some of the food they eat. It’s only then that we can approach something like choice in the food system based on what’s important to each of us and it’s incumbent on individuals to make the effort to reach that point.

        Damien

  41. Bruce F April 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm Reply

    I’d like to comment on the idea of “choice”. Not yours or mine, but more generally.

    I’ll lift it directly from another blog, Feral Scholar, that deals with issues of food and politics…

    http://www.feralscholar.org/blog/index.php/2011/07/17/1230/#comment-606892

    “…many things shape people’s food “choices”, just as many things shape people’s choices to do stuff like join the military, engage in prostitution, leave the land and work in a maquiladora, emigrate (legally or not) to a more affluent country, etc. Usually the claim that they do all this spontaneously, from free choice, is most loudly preached by the people who benefit the most from the structures that coerce the poor into these lose/lose survival strategies :-) but you knew that.”

    I can’t stress that enough. The people yelling the loudest about “choice” often are those who benefit, often without acknowledging so, from the structural issues that drive a lot of us crazy. People like Jeff/Points and Figures, or many of the industrial farmers (My Dad, age 71, grows gmo corn. It’s impossible for us to talk about any of this.) who join up with Monsanto & Co.

  42. John Hudoc April 2, 2012 at 2:03 am Reply

    Well, I guess I will leave my four dollars and two cents into this and unfortunately not be able to respond in time as I am wrapped up in my own world of meat cutting and trying to make a living. I have a much different perspective on all these issues as my food life can be summed up into thirds (cooking/chef, culinary educator/now USDA meat processor). I have seen many movements in food trends (from the global to the local, simplicity to science) and one thing I am sure of is that change can and will happen in time. It gives me great hope to see the next generation of cooks/chefs/writers and just my own friends become more active in their food. During many points in my career, I can recall that I really did not give one hoot only to source the best and disregard the costs. BUT..in the end we are all food hypocrites!

    Let’s bash the government, “factory farms”, big agriculture, the commodities markets and let the list continue but how many here reading this or commenting on “choices” whom haven’t had a tomato on their sandwich or eaten a lettuce salad in winter, how about a nice orange or a glass of lemonade in the summer (I myself fall into this category). When it comes to GMO’s it comes down to yield of crops so put that in your gas tank and drive to work tomorrow on how much you don’t like the GMO’s (but then we don’t want to support foreign oil) or buy that $1.78/# burger. Are we going to go out and protest the hundreds of people who will attend “BACONFEST” in just about every city in the US…but what about all those hams and hocks left over (I certainly won’t). How did we get all that bacon we love so much? Can we name those farms, how did those little porkers live and were they able to express their porkiness (whatever the hell that means) and in the end…do those consumers REALLY care amongst all that smokey goodness if it came from an industrial farm and if they did…find me the farms that could JUST supply that one event…AND that support your moral standards.
    It seems as we food hypocrites want to justify what is on our plates on a pastoral image of how our food is raised but 96% won’t get their hands dirty to do anything about it except threaten the use the almighty dollar (and then someone profits and we slam them too??).
    Additionally, I have met “micro farmers/hobby farmers” raising outstanding products on a small/medium scale with moral standards WAY beyond my own only to go work in a factory, work at hospitals and hang on to odd jobs just to keep the farm going, provide health insurance and animals fed or crops in the field as their practices may not be as productive as others. Additionally, I understand the commodities markets and how buyers will justify “market price” but then in the same sentence say they support local food systems and after it passes through the system charge 3-8 times the costs because its deemed “local” and as fools we buy it out of conscience…once again we are food hypocrites!
    Finally for the humane processing…I DO NOT support the mistreatment of animals but this is getting to the point of fanatics! I have learned to use the term “harvest” for slaughter but come on people the fact of the matter is the US consumes almost 72 billion pounds of meat annually (and we haven’t even included our pets yet!)* and we have to kill them…period. I currently do not have a kill floor but have stood on my suppliers, assisted in processing myself and I must say there is nothing humane about taking a life…just our own moral standards and guidelines we have created into something that is necessary to sustain protein in our diets.
    I apologize on such a long thought and have really enjoyed (and spent way too much time!!!) reading the posts. Keep the dialogue alive and the change is happening but we cannot unscrew a screwed up system since the last 10 years of awakening that has been going on for decades. Support your local businesses and the big ones will follow!

    *”Some we love, some we hate, some we eat” by Hal Herzog

    • elliecm April 2, 2012 at 7:32 am Reply

      John, thanks for posting. You hit the nail on the head.

      #1 Change can happen.
      #2 We need to stop being hypocrites about food to achieve #1.

    • Grant Kessler April 2, 2012 at 10:30 am Reply

      John, thanks for your thoughts!

      As I try to get at in my blog post here (http://myfoodshed.com/2011/01/14/how-big-is-small/), I think what I hope for and advocate for is incremental change. I think you’re right we are hypocritical if we’re stagnant and complacent in the food decisions you describe, but if instead we’re asking questions and learning and trying to eat better and more consciously on a daily basis, then that is the change we can hope for.

      Are we activists out of line to ask industrial/conventional farmers to step onto that growth path with us? After all, it is they who could teach us that there are only two bellies on a pig and that Baconfest creates an imbalanced use. It is farmers of all stripes who could teach us…if they would step out from behind their advertising and talk with us as they are doing on this post!

      Thanks to all who are talking!

  43. Holly Spangler April 2, 2012 at 7:37 am Reply

    I appreciate you passion. I heard EWG’s Ken Cook speak this winter, and he described the opposite of listening. It’s not talking, as you might think. It’s waiting to talk. Waiting to talk is the opposite of listening. In fact, he chided agriculture for waiting to talk, instead of listening. It’s a fascinating point. And on the flip side, your take on the USFRA meeting strikes me as a perfect example of that. I don’t get the sense that your were there to learn or to ask pertinent questions to further your understanding. I get the sense that you were there to confirm your beliefs, come home and write this blog. Were you listening? Or were you waiting to talk?

    • elliecm April 2, 2012 at 7:51 am Reply

      I was definitely there to talk. I was actually invited to talk. As I said in the blog post, I generally really kept to myself about these issues. I don’t speak on panels or write my Congressman or go try to convert industrial farmers. But USFRA asked my opinion, this is a portion of the invitation:

      We are contacting you as we are familiar with RIA and as well as The Chef Whisperer and would love to hear your POV on the conversations happening around food production in the U.S today.

      So, I am not sure what your point is. Especially as I do think, if you take time to read through some of the really positive discussions happening here, that there are a number of farmers (and a USDA inspector!) with whom a few of us are having really positive discussions and learning. Listening on both sides. Are we definitely asking a lot of questions, pointed questions, yes. I am not sure how that is bad?

  44. Grant Kessler April 2, 2012 at 10:34 am Reply

    So may I ask a simple question of all conventional/industrial/large farmers who are reading here?

    Is there anything about our current food system that you would like to see change?

  45. Eve Lacivita April 2, 2012 at 10:36 am Reply

    I share your position and feelings on the food system, and reading this post made me angry. But not for the reasons you might expect. I’m angry because someone in a position that most of us would kill for – the opportunity to open a connection, not with the people who already agree with us but with the people we really need to reach if there is ever hope for change – essentially shut that connection down.

    As you’ve represented it – you sat down with a bunch of people who were deeply entrenched in their belief system. You wanted to change their minds. And when they weren’t changed within a few minutes, you publicly skewered them and humiliated them.

    OK, so big deal, right? You demonstrated public outrage and now they don’t like you, but who cares because they didn’t like you to begin with and didn’t want to listen anyway. I’ve been there and felt good about it; who wants to be liked by people whose values you abhor? Who needs ‘em? Well, actually… we do. Because it’s not the people who are already convinced of our position that we need to change. It’s the people who aren’t. And now they’re going to go home and spread the message that people like us don’t care to learn about why they do what they do, and that we actually are, as rumored, elitist arrogant kooks who are impossible to work with. So ALL of us in this boat are going to find it just that much harder to make change.

    Look, I believe in every change you’re trying to make. I’m trying to do the same things myself. And I’m appalled by the attitudes of so many farmers toward what they do. But upon discovery that someone who grows a monocrop doesn’t know what a monocrop is, I don’t think the appropriate response is to insult them for ignorance, drop an F-bomb at them and make them cry. I see that as an opportunity for education – I mean, education that is effective, not that drives people away.

    I’m guessing you’re feeling that this was a hopeless cause, that these people were so entrenched that there was no way to reach them. And I’m sure that 95% of the people in that room will ultimately be a lost cause, and it’s probably unrealistic to change mindset of the organization itself. But I’m not sure how you can come to that conclusion over the course of one breakfast. Were you – and I’m genuinely asking this – expecting that breakfast to be the endpoint? That after a couple of hours, people would just convert from a viewpoint held for generations? Was there maybe one curious soul in the room you could have reached over time, who then would be in a position to teach other farmers with similar backgrounds? I’d love talk with “Peggy Sue” about whether she even knows about folks like Marty at Spence and why she would or wouldn’t go his route.

    Of course you shouldn’t sugarcoat your views or kiss ass, and it’s good to express anger. But there are constructive and destructive ways of talking with people – ESPECIALLY people who disagree with you. And honestly, it sounds like what you accomplished was to widen the gap and reinforce the “us v them” mentality. I don’t think that’s an effective way to make change.

    To be clear – I really respect you and the changes you are trying to make. If I sound harsh, it’s because I know you’re in a position to represent the beliefs of me and mine, and I really wish you had used the “aha” moment about this enormous gap as the first step in a link to be very (VERY) slowly built. Because if we can’t close that gap, this is a lost cause. I’d love to talk more about how to make that happen.

    • elliecm April 2, 2012 at 10:45 am Reply

      Eve, thanks for sharing. Obviously your point is incredibly valid.

      But whether what I did was graceful or not, the dialog is open, here, in a way I have not seen in a long time. And I am so happy for that. I met Mike, read our dialog below on GMOs, and Ray is sharing thoughts about dairying. A USDA inspector is weighing in. Our Ohio Pig farmer is even sticking in a toe.

      Conversation doesn’t always start with nice people having tea and being courteous and polite. But if it is happening, wahhooo for us.

      Plus, we have a really interesting project that is going to come from this.

      So, maybe here, the means did justify the ends.

      That said, please, continue to voice your opinion. I am ok with being called on the carpet. I guess because I feel like if I am honest and my heart is true and my intention is to discover the truth, then I don’t mind someone telling me my method was Neandrathal and inappropriate, which is was. And if you were to ask my mother, I am sure she would tell you it usually is.

  46. Eve Lacivita April 2, 2012 at 1:55 pm Reply

    Thanks Ellen for responding. Especially since in re-reading what I wrote, I guess I got a little screed-ish myself… I’m truly delighted to hear you say that the dialogue is in fact becoming more open, and I can’t wait to hear more about the project you are pursuing. I am definitely all for honesty and saying what is in our hearts provided we leave others with dignity in the process. I’ll be following the ongoing conversation with much interest.

    • elliecm April 2, 2012 at 2:46 pm Reply

      No worries, Eve! I think it is awesome to see people with fire in their bellies about this. You should take some time to read the comments! They are really illuminating.

  47. kegski April 2, 2012 at 5:40 pm Reply

    I’m a wife and a mom of two. Mostly that defines me these days and has stood as a springboard for a lot of the things that rile me up. If it affects my kids, it gets my blood boiling.

    When it comes to being able to afford to eat the right food, at this time, until conventional farming gets turned on its heels, it is often more expensive. It is more time consuming. CHOICES are few, if any, in my local community and that is probably true of many. But fueled by that passion that is protection of my young, I do what I need to do. I cut back on luxury items, I take the time to research and find local farmers in line with my focus, I spend more time in the kitchen making from scratch, I *imagine the horror* tell my kids that “no, you cannot have the cheesy corn chip taco at that restaurant” and I brace myself for the backlash – which ironically rarely surfaces.

    Someone said to me recently that she just wasn’t concerned about GMO’s. That there is no proof that they do any harm. It made me sad, really and I wasn’t sure how to respond. I believe that people want to think everything is ok the way it is. We are lazy. We are truly a fast food society, both in our weights and in our work ethics. Nothing good should be hard is our new motto. We buy iPhones and all we can afford to feed our kids is chemical laden frozen meals and $1 hamburgers filled with “pink slime”.

    It’s about priorities. People need to wake up and and pay attention to the statistics. They teach their kids to look both ways before crossing the street but when it comes to food, they are daily handing them a potential death sentence, or at least a lifetime of medical issues.

    To a child, there is no difference between a store-bought chemical filled cupcake and one made at home with clean ingredients. To the parent, it actually probably costs less in the long-run to make them at home but the real investment is time. Time that is better spent on Facebook I guess.

    I don’t where all this fits into your dialog. I’m on the cusp of a lot of these discussions. I read and absorb what I can, but I’m in no way capable of providing a convincing debate on the topic – yet. But what I can offer is support for people like you and Grant. The ones speaking out beyond their circle of friends, the ones who will inevitably help parents like me do the one thing our instinct tells us to do – protect our kids. And our food is our most vital, most basic defense in doing that.

    So thank you for the article, and thank you for taking the time to read this!

    • elliecm April 2, 2012 at 5:53 pm Reply

      Thanks for posting, Kim.

      I am not sure if any of us know what the dialog is! We are all just getting out there and talking together, though, and that is good. And it is great to hear other voices and to discuss and hash out stuff.

      I am not sure I have ever had such a concentrated dose of learning about food as I have since Thursday. E-meeting folks who normally aren’t part of my world at all. It is really refreshing.

      Thanks and, well, Grant and I love homemade cupcakes if you ever have extras hanging about.

    • Grant Kessler April 3, 2012 at 6:59 pm Reply

      kegski, I think you say it very eloquently. I don’t have kids, but I am protective of the nieces, nephews and friends’ kids in my life and it is hard for me to watch them eat poorly. There is probably economic proof too that I can’t necessarily afford some of the food I choose to eat, but as you say, I make that a priority and try to lower other expenditures.

      Please keep talking – you can make a difference! I have had friends tell me they buy one thing or the other differently or think a little differently about their foods thanks to my chatter about it and that is a very humbly rewarding feeling. Keep at it!

      And, um, yes, we love cupcakes. Carrot cake for Ellen; me, preferably chocolatey something or other, but I’m flexible!

  48. [...] Please note that I have edited the foul language that appeared in its full regalia in her actual blog and from her actual mouth in conversations at the event in [...]

  49. the grass farmer April 3, 2012 at 8:45 am Reply

    Ellen . . . I love the lively discussion that you’ve prompted. I wish that I had more time to discuss my point of view. I left my comfortable lifestyle to pursue pastured livestock farming . . . I’ve leveraged myself to the hilt to offer meaningful choices in Chicago food. So you can’t imagine how your passionate words impact me. I am a super small producer, and that’s the way I like it. I raise 100 meat chickens at a time, I raise 75 turkeys per season and 100 ducks per season. I’ve got 6 head of red angus cattle and 12 breeder pigs (a Berkshire boar, 4 Berkshire gilts, 4 Large Black Hog gilts, and 3 classic commercial gilts) that roam my farm. So, yes I’m tiny but my animals all run to be with me (no feed bucket required) they know that they are going to get scratched and petted. I don’t pet them because they enjoy it I pet them cause I enjoy it. They are not my pets, they are business partners that I have great respect for. I grow and can my own veggies and some fruit and am able to eat from my farm all year long. I love this life and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Of course I am surrounded by monoculture farmers who look at me like I’m crazy, and to some extent they are correct. Grant and Ellen and all others in support of owning your last divinely delivered liberty, thank you for your loving support. Government (domestic and foreign) own absolutely every aspect of our lives, meat and grain, mortgages, 401K plans, health care system, airlines, real estate, auto companies etc – PLEASE force them off our collective American dinner table, and stay the fuck outta my mouth can you imagine a more violating experience then them forcing their garbage down our throat.

    • elliecm April 3, 2012 at 8:57 am Reply

      “Grass Farmer” Guy thanks for writing.

      It is certainly an intense debate, which you know I think it kinda needs because it allows people to stop tip toeing around and just say what they need to say. I kinda think that if we don’t ever get to say what is in our hearts and what rules our fears then we never let go of our own feelings enough to hear what anyone else has to say. It ain’t easy. I’m certainly being trotted out as a mental case “by the other side.” But you know, I can respect that and I can take it.

      I just think that, well, maybe everyone just needs to lay their cards on the table so we could see what we were dealing with.

      And, you know, this government thing is really at the crux of everyone’s problem. It is the one thing the Slow Fooders, The Industrialies, The Profiteers all have in common. That our government is really letting us down.

      Wonder how far we could all get if we banded together on this? After all, I am pretty sure all of us are represented, you know.

      But, and you are not gonna like this GrassGuy — no one has time but yet we all need to make time if we even hope to create some change.

      • the grass farmer April 3, 2012 at 10:06 am

        The “crux”, as you put it – is that the government is “letting us down”. The govenment has their agenda, they have they’re job to do, their mission, and it has nothing to do with doing what is best for US. The nature of a properly crafted political message is to make the politicians look good and to make the constituance feel good. The government’s not letting us down, we’re letting each other down. The crux is that we must provide for, and support each other. We can raise enough food for ourselves and each other, and help the gastonomically disinfranchized and make food “fair”. Ellen do you believe that if we tell American farmers what to grow and cast our dollar votes for food grown with integrity . . . they will grow it? OK, call me short-sighted . . . but I gotta believe that this can happen.

        We can line up series of small farmers, 10 to 20 acres at a time. There are enough postage stamp farms out there, left in the wake of monoculture. There are many unseen affects of corn . . . short supply of hay to winter my cattle this year as the economies of corn make it more expensive to raise livestock locally (hay fields being turned over to corn fields)

        I am aware that people like you and Grant do much to provide for your own needs and are teaching others to do the same.

      • elliecm April 3, 2012 at 10:27 am

        OK, the fact that we are letting each other down — that is a good point too, Grass Guy. Man, EVERYONE HAS A VALID POINT!

        1) There are not enough people willing to be farmers, period, let alone be farmers without GPS.
        2) Mike here on this string has what appears to be a really valid reason for using GMO this year. So, if we were to go down your road of all these small farms, we would also have to commit to someone like Mike, up front, to sustain him at the same rate of pay if his crop all went to shit. From my own first hand experience, even diehard CSA folks who think they are all superkalafragalistic don’t, when the shit hits the fan, do that. Seriously, I saw it happen before my very eyes when a CSA I supported had an intensely bizarre weather growing season, delivered next to nothing to us CSAers and the lot of them gave up on the farm. I tried to host a dinner with everyone so the farmers and people could get together and the farmers were too broken, in spirit, from the backlash.

        So, I would love for that to happen. But it isn’t going to happen. And I just don’t think we are ever gonna get to the other side if all we think up are things that aren’t going to happen. We really need to figure out what we can do that is actually doable. That could actually happen.

        I think that is where Grant and I are headed. To see if we can get out there, learn, and maybe figure out at least in our own lives how to make that happen. Maybe share with others and covert a person or two. I dunno … I just feel like what I learned this week is that we have to stop just thinking our way is the right way and maybe figure out how we can all find a way to work through this together.

      • the grass farmer April 3, 2012 at 10:36 am

        Then what’s the first step???? (in concrete terms, please)

      • elliecm April 3, 2012 at 10:56 am

        Well, were getting there, Grass… Hey, we just planted the seeds and you’re already asking us to mow! I seriously just thought this up yesterday morning on my dog walk and tossed it out to Grant. We can work as a great team since I am all “let’s go to a CAFO beef lot and see if we can get in and have lunch with the owners” and Grant is a little more able to distill it all down into reasonable steps.

        So, let us get there. I promise we’ll share as we go.

        In concrete terms, come to Soup & Bread on Wednesday at 5:30 at the Hideout. We’re starting there, making soup. Probably illegal ramp soup from ramps I harvest in my secret ramp patch I take a gigantic care in not overharvesting. I haven’t cleared this with Grant and he may kabosh for obvious great reasons that obviously never seem to occur to me until after he level-headedly points them out.

        I wrote in a response here why starting at Soup and Bread makes sense. But I think the question I need to start with, myself, is: when you are at risk, and you have to choose, which do you choose: food or shelter. I bring this up because the night is to benefit the Logan Square Warming Shelter. And as we go through this little maze, one thing that I think about is the fact that, in real terms I have never understood and I think most people in food have never understood, is that before we even get to our food, we have to remember that for some people the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid isn’t a given, it is a bunch of choices.

        I don’t think the project will go there much, that’s a whole different project for people smarter than the likes of me. But I do know that for me, I feel the need to start there. To keep it as a touch point. After all, this is my community and if I am going to do a project about community, I can’t just gloss over the people living next to me.

  50. Grant Kessler April 3, 2012 at 7:23 pm Reply

    Besides being illegal (shrug), I must say the other thing wrong with serving ramp soup from your secret stash is that I don’t know where your secret stash is, so I won’t be able to help you harvest! :-)

    Really folks, she’s that secretive about it!

    • the grass farmer April 4, 2012 at 9:38 am Reply

      Who can blame her ! ! ! ! !

  51. Grant Kessler April 3, 2012 at 7:35 pm Reply

    PS Grass Farmer, thank you for growing grass.

    This project is interesting. I have spent all my time feeling right about my food decisions, and I still do. But I am learning to see the value in *understanding* the larger farmers. I don’t totally know where it leads yet – if I knew that, I wouldn’t need to go on the journey. I have some hopes for where it leads, but that seems presumptuous. I want to set those aside a little to try not to have an agenda.

    Concrete steps? For me, it’s stay on the sustainable/local food path I’m on in terms of what I eat, but get on the “open mind” path for a while in terms of who I talk with.

    And also, eat soup!

    • the grass farmer April 4, 2012 at 8:08 am Reply

      Folks . . .don’t get me wrong I love my fellow farmers, because they enjoy the same farm lifestyle that I adore. Specifically they don’t seem to understand why I do what I do . . . why I can’t buy my food stuffs from Walmart and the local Caseys, like they do . . . but that’s OK. The government is the responsible party for shaping the world that they live in . . . force them to buy seed corn from one source . . . force them to sell back to the govt . . . who sells to the processing companys . . . who reshapes the food in unrecognizable ways, and puts it back on the shelves for them to buy at Walmart. I don’t understand that equation, but I don’t have to . . . I’m into short-chain farming the closer I get my tongue to the sun the better-off I am.

  52. Mike Haley April 4, 2012 at 2:17 pm Reply

    Ellen,

    Just catching up here. It’s been a very busy week thus far for me and I am totally lost as to where we left the conversation. To boot we are getting in the fields and my time is only going to be getting smaller. Great conversation happening here, but let’s move on to the next thought of 100 meals as we move forward!

    • elliecm April 4, 2012 at 3:52 pm Reply

      YES! LOTS of stuff. You should move on since you are busy! Don’t feel tied to here, ya know. We’ll ping you if we need some feedback but yes, let’s move forward!!! ONWARD HO!

  53. [...] Ellen Malloy at The Backyarditarian ranted about the large farmers rebranding themselves as small, “Just Because the Canary is Alive“.  This week, she and Grant Kessler, another friend of the Beet, announced their intention [...]

  54. Grant Kessler April 5, 2012 at 10:26 am Reply

    Hey USFRA and GMO farmer types! Many of you argue the consumer should be able to choose. I agree. Please read this article where we learn Vermont and its consumers want GMO labeling choice…but may not get it because why? Well, because Monsanto is threatening to sue the state if they pass the labeling law. And tell me where the choice is in that?

    We are frustrated that large chemical and GMO companies control our legislatures in this way. Do you find that frustrating? Can you understand why we’re frustrated? Would you consider standing with us to get more choice as you keep suggesting?

    Article: http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_25180.cfm

    And please also note the part of the article where the Monsanto lobbyist claims GMOs are ‘fully tested’ and the rebuttal is that, in fact, the FDA has NOT tested them. Is this true? If so, don’t you see the conflict of interest in this?!

  55. Grant Kessler April 8, 2012 at 11:04 am Reply

    Mike, this link just keeps taking me to my Twitter account. Can you send a more direct link without the Twitter redirect in it?

  56. The Discomfort Zone « My Foodshed April 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm Reply

    [...] my good friend Ellen Malloy also railed against these folks. It was a little nasty and so was her follow up blog post, but the fascinating thing is that good will come out of it. Despite the rocky start, Ellen and I [...]

  57. [...] It didn’t go over very well. But, if you look in the comments, it did, in fact, start a conversation. [...]

  58. [...] to sniff out what going on at Ellen Malloy’s blog,  The Backyarditarian, on her post, “Just Because The Canary is Alive“. This is all the backstory to Ellen and Grant Kessler’s, “One Hundred Meal [...]

  59. [...] It didn’t go over very well. But, if you look in the comments, it did, in fact, start a conversation. [...]

  60. [...] It didn’t go over very well. But it did, in fact, start a conversation. [...]

  61. [...] who reached out to me and Grant in the comments of a blog I wrote in reaction to experiencing the public relations stylins’ of the USFRA and, actually, those two amazing men were the catalyst for us starting One Hundred [...]

  62. Telling Me What To Do? | July 23, 2012 at 4:35 pm Reply

    [...] I was living in Washington, I followed this story when it came out in March. Like many things I read from out-spoken individuals who are against [...]

  63. ninime July 25, 2012 at 1:01 am Reply

    >One can track subsidies given by the government easily. Public information.
    OK, fair enough, good point as long as you aren’t making assumptions about who they are.
    I have no problem with farmers getting disaster payments when the weather causes them to lose their crops. I have no problem with farmers getting guaranteed minimum prices when the cost of production almost exceeds the price they can get. I have no problem with farmers getting some funds to help implement conservation practices because they have to do them to ridiculous standards. (Case in point: chicken manure has to be stored on concrete three feet deep while it’s waiting to be treated and used as an organic fertilizer.)

  64. The first meal. | MetaCookbook October 19, 2012 at 11:26 am Reply

    [...] at breakfast (I’m not clear on that). It definitely involved tears afterward. It involved a blog post, for sure. And then―amazingly―it generated a great deal of sane, rational conversation3. The [...]

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