"The magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain't normal."
-Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm (and my personal hero)
This statement gets right to the heart of why we farm and why we've decided to focus our efforts on a CSA. The advent of grocery store chains and prepared foods has created a vast disconnect between the people who grow the food and the people who consume it. Shoppers have shifted their focus to the shiniest apple and the best deal on pork chops, instead of considering how the tree that apple came from was fertilized, or how that pig was fed and handled. It is never our intent to guilt people into buying our products, but when you know as much about factory farming as we do, it is unconscionable to us that this faceless farming has become the new norm. The food on your plate has a story to tell, indeed. We believe that people should know their food and their farmers, so I'd like to share with you the details of our farming practices so that you can be an informed consumer, even if you are not one of our customers.
Husbandry: We breed our own cows and pigs so that we can oversee the lives of our animals from the very beginning. We breed naturally, keeping a bull and a couple of boars on the farm. We understand the benefits of artificial insemination, but it can be complicated and time-consuming so we let the boys do the work. We also choose not to use farrowing crates for our sows – again, we understand the benefits, but such a confined environment is stressful on the sow and does not mimic at all what she would experience in the wild, which is very important to us. Instead, we have a maternity ward in the barn which has recently been renovated by a friend of the farm and we are ecstatic with the results. The girls each have a pen dedicated to lounging in their hay nest, with a "rub rail" to keep the piglets safe from the weight of their moms, and a pen where they can eat and drink. We wrestle with the idea of allowing the sows to farrow outside, weather permitting, but so far we haven’t been able to draw up a plan that keeps the piglets safe from the elements to a degree that we are comfortable with. The cows are free to birth in the fields.
We're committed to raising our cattle and pigs outside for many reasons. It is incredibly beneficial to their health to have fresh air, ample room for exercise and exploration, distance from their own manure, and sun. In our opinion, the quality of life of our animals is equally as important as their physical health, and they clearly enjoy being outside. Lastly, and honestly, it is much less work for
us - confining animals on concrete means hauling out manure constantly. Raising them on pasture means they are perpetually fertilizing our fields.
Feeding: A large part of raising cattle is growing grass. Our fields are fertilized naturally with manure only – no herbicides or pesticides are sprayed. Our cows are happy with grass and hay, and actually have a deep love for tomatoes in the summer.
Our pigs are raised on pasture, too. They like to forage through the grass and dig through the dirt. We feed them a non-GMO, soon-to-be certified organic grain mix from Stone House Farm in New York (its important to support other local, organic farms!). They also get non-GMO barley fodder for breakfast every morning. We have many friends of the farm who donate fallen apples, pumpkins, acorns, etc. when they’re in season. People may think pigs are, well, pigs, but I can guarantee that given the choice, they would choose acorns over donuts every time. In the future, we hope to plant a nut and fruit orchard of our own for the pigs to live in.
Choosing non-GMO feed is important to us for a couple of reasons. Corn and soy are very nutrient-rich and so are staples in a pig’s diet, but they’re also some of the most genetically-modified foods out there. We believe in following nature’s template as closely as possible, so we like to support other farms who share this philosophy. I also personally believe that genetically-modified foods haven’t been around long enough to really know the effects they could have on animals, humans, and the environment. Unfortunately, most of the research that has been done on them is done by the companies that manufacture them and stand to profit from their proliferation.
Medication: As I’ve mentioned above a few times, we weigh the benefits and risks of things often. We absolutely reject the idea of using antibiotics daily to encourage growth in our animals. But, on the extremely rare occasion that one of our animals is sick or injured, we will treat them with antibiotics if our veterinarian recommends it. This sentiment is shared by some of the best farmers I know and is a large reason why many farms who are committed to organic practices choose not to get certified.
I cannot stress enough how much we love and respect our animals. When it comes time to slaughter a cow or a pig, it never gets easier emotionally, and I hope it never does. These animals make the ultimate sacrifice and I am honored to be so deeply involved in the circle of life and the food system.
Know your food. Know your farmer. We are happy to provide any further information.
Real food enthusiast following nature's template