is this what we really think, heil hitler and all?

is this what we really think, heil hitler and all?

I’m sure Ms. Esther Simpson is a lovely lady.  Tea with her would be very nice and I’ll bet she has some interesting stories to tell. But that’s not why I’ve been thinking of her for nearly five months.

The reason she has been on my mind since before Thanksgiving is because of her comment on an article titled Is That Really a Heritage Turkey  published in the Atlantic November 22, 2011.

The article is “a quick primer on turkey origins, a discussion of the different types of species and, as you shop for the highlight of your Thanksgiving meal, a bit of advice for finding a true heritage turkey.”

The author, Nicolette Hahn Niman,  raises true heritage breed turkeys herself and in the article clarifies the complicated past of what we call “heritage breed” turkey today.  Anyway, the article is a good read and if you’d like to be sure you’re getting the real deal, is an excellent reference.

But, as always when I’m bowled over by an article in The Atlantic, it’s usually because of the comments. We’ve talked about this before; those Atlantic readers have turned commenting into a form of mean ridiculing sport that I don’t think I’ll ever find acceptable.

Here’s what Ms. Simpson had to add:

And of course, I could not help myself:

Ms. Simpson’s comment wasn’t in the least mean-spirited, but it is a perfect illustration of how smart, well read people are completely blinded by their absolute belief in science and academia compounded by their lack of nuanced connection with nature and agriculture.

Turkeys did not turn themselves into Frankenturkeys incapable of walking or reproducing naturally.  Turkey were hardy, healthy, capable birds with actual parenting skills before people decided they wanted birds with massive amounts of white breast meat.  Turkey  freaks were created by breeders who started fiddling with the dials to satisfy customer demand.

But that fact is apparently either unknown or irrelevant to Ms. Simpson and those like her.  According to them, today’s big breasted white battery turkey in its state of man-made misery is apparently NOT eugenics. But helping the turkey return to its former self-sufficient state, that IS eugenics. Heil Hitler and all.

Eugenics is the idea that one can improve the human race by careful selection of those who mate and produce offspring. Eugenics was a popular theory in the early twentieth century but is no longer taken seriously, primarily because of the horrors of the eugenic efforts of the Nazi regime in Germany.

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Why is this silly exchange still on my mind? Because it is the perfect example of well-meaning, highly educated people believing that farming is something you can learn from a book and manage from a distance.  From her computer screen, Ms. Simpson is in no danger of having to find out how one-dimensional her understanding is.

Again and again we trust ridiculously short-sighted agricultural solutions.  Esther Simpson, like most Americans, believes that the hothouse varieties of livestock we have created,  requiring lots of special feed, care and midwife assistance are the more important varieties worthy of a future. After all, they are the only farm animals most people know.

Quick: what color are pigs? That’s easy, white or pink, right? Wrong. Pigs come in all colors, shapes and sizes, particularly the heritage breeds that are becoming so popular these days. All pigs, even the sweetest, pinkest Wilburs and Arnolds will become feral if allowed to fend for themselves.

Virtually all heritage breed pigs have one characteristic or another that would violate the Invasive species order which is based on how they look – not their genotype or dna

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Yet it has been decided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to enforce what they call the Invasive Species Order (ISO).  What that means is that because of a feral pig problem, in Michigan, possession of pigs with certain physical characteristics automatically makes you a felon, punishable by jail time and a hefty fine. To be perfectly clear, the DNR has the right to kill properly confined animals  on any Michigan farm or private game preserve, arrest the farmer and levy huge fines.

I am in complete disbelief  by the actions that have been taken against pig farmers already.  And especially by the millions of Esther Simpsons in the world who will never comprehend that heritage breed pigs are under unreasonable, unconstitutional attack. Or she will defend the corporate line that this is all for the public good. Or maybe she doesn’t know about heritage breed pigs at all.

Pastured pigs are being enjoyed by diners everywhere as a delicious improvement over  leaner, less tender confinement pork. And the hardier heritage breed pigs are able to live a healthier, more enjoyable life than the standard confinement hog who is selected for uniformity, leanness and fast maturation.

My question is this: Which pig genes are more valuable? The ones capable of reproducing on their own, who still remember how to be good mothers, and are more hardy and self-sufficient?   Or the hot-house hogs in need of intensive management, medicated feed, elaborate infrastructures  and are forced to endure such unpleasant pig lives? Our lack of concern for protecting biodiversity is the worst sort of arrogance. Sustainable Table will explain why heritage breeds are so very important here.

This is not a matter to be ignored. Farmers are being stripped of their livelihood with NO COMPENSATION for businesses that were perfectly legal before April 1, 2012.  It does not matter that their pigs have been properly confined and cared for – it is a species elimination, not a feral pig elimination.

Of course, the Michigan Pork Producers Association is all in favor even though these heritage breed hogs have admittedly caused no outbreaks of disease.  You can read their response to the Invasive Species Order here. At the least, very disappointing. And predictable. Read this excellent article to see how successful Big Pork was in whisking this order straight into effect. Disheartening to say the least.

This article from Mother Earth News offers an excellent and detailed explanation of the situation and the contact information for Governor Rich Snyder, who has the ability to rescind the ISO. The article tells the sad story of Dave Tuxbury who after being served a search warrant, killed his entire hog population; pregnant sows, baby piglets and all.

Even if you’re not a Michigan resident, you need to contact Governor Snyder because Pennsylvania, Kansas and New York are all poised to pass similar legislation.  This has the potential to become very ugly people. Make yourselves heard on behalf of these farmers; they really need to feel your support.

18th century Edmund Burke is a wealth of tat-worthy quotes to live by

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”             ― Edmund Burke

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OK people. You know what you need to do. Ready? GO-GO-GO-GO-GO

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This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

what kind of future are you planting?

what kind of future are you planting?

I’m kind of excited about a few new things going on around here.  I’ll admit I have never been all that fond of gardening chores.  I think it’s the relentlessness. I enjoy gardening some days, and I find a job well done very satisfying.  And then I’ve had enough for a while.

Today, the garden I slavishly weeded yesterday has weeds. Already. Overnight. Can you think of a better word than relentless? Thankless? Never-ending? Merciless?

Yet, each year something about the garden draws me in a little deeper.  I have threatened to do this for a while, but resisted. Last year, I even went so far as to buy most of the supplies but didn’t get to the project in time.

But this year is the year. I’m leaving the kiddie pool and am headed definitively towards the deep end. Maybe too deep – we’ll see how long it takes before weeds are overtaking even my dreams…

What am I talking about? Starting my own seeds, silly! This year I’ll have veggies you can’t buy at the store… the secret to amazing pickles? it’s all about amazing cucumbers…

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As ambivalent as I am about gardening,  you know what I am wholeheartedly fond of? Good food.

Food from the kitchen garden hooked me.  Get used to it and there’s no going back.  Recipes now begin not at the grocery, but in the seed catalog.  Like the old timers, I’m  starting to plan things I want to cook a year or two in advance – because to have the right ingredients, I have to grow it myself.

I’m sure I’ve gone way overboard, but I’ll give it my best. I’m planning things that add pleasure to my winters, are fun to give as gifts, go well with my other favorite things like cheese and charcuterie and in general will add summer sunshine to dark snow-filled days.

And don’t think I’m planting just for myself.  I’ve got a few treats in store for the Ladies too.  Fodder beets and pumpkins anyone?  I can’t wait to dish those out once fresh grass is a distant memory.

This quirky-sweet book, Eat More Dirt by Ellen Sandbeck, has been on my shelves for some time, and it’s always good grazing. I savor a morsel here and a bit there, then put it back and forget about it. I bought the book a while ago, sometime just after 9/11. Who knew then that I would be living on a farm with a bunch of funny bovine Ladies?  Surely not me…

Today, this quote from the introduction really grabbed me, I suppose because it so well explains what’s been happening to me since we bought this farm:

“ We love that which we know intimately.  No lover ever knew his beloved better than a gardener knows his garden.  Learning to love a single small plot of earth is a good start toward learning to be protective of our beautiful little planet.”

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But do I own this farm? Or does it own me? I’ll have to get back to you on that…

This is no kitchen garden – it’s a field! Freshly plowed, ready for disking & soon to be planted with corn, fodder beets and pumpkins plus a few surprises to come…

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This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

Is it Ethical to Eat Meat?

Is it Ethical to Eat Meat?

THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.

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Have you heard? The New York Times is calling all carnivores to tell them why we believe it is ethical to eat meat.

Since this is a topic front and center in my mind nearly every day and I planned to discuss it with you anyway,  how about right now?

The stingy 600 word limit was a real hardship for a chatty girl like myself; hopefully Word’s word count tool is accurate!   I sent my blood, sweat and tears off into the electronic sunset, and from there, who knows?

Weigh in with your opinions in the comments below, but do play nice. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on the matter.

So, here it is; my big New York Times minute:

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This question of whether it is ethical to eat meat cannot be deeply understood by anyone with clean hands.

My point?  A formal decree from above is not coming. Fancy panel of judges or no, there isn’t a single right answer to this dilemma.  Like death itself, we each have to wrestle this contradiction alone. The real ethical question?

Will we humble ourselves by taking a ruthlessly honest look at the toll our lives extract from others? My guess is we’d rather shield ourselves from introspection with dueling data, finger-pointing and clever bumper-sticker retorts.

Nature has an uncomplicated relationship with death. Nobody, two-legged or four is spared. We try hard to find a loophole, and Nature humors us. But she never lets us hide from her truth for long.

To Nature, death is just part of life. Creatures are born, creatures die.  The dead feed the living and the living eventually become the dead. Nature builds in harsh but perfect circles, not the logjams and cul-de-sacs we construct to avoid uncomfortable truths.

Remember the scene in the movie Cold Mountain where the old lady kills the goat?  The loving kindness the Goat-lady gave that trusting goat as she pierced its heart is a stunning moment.  Is it cruel betrayal or the heartfelt kindness of a true shepherd?  That goat didn’t suffer one bit, but sweetly laid down its head in eternal sleep, feeling safe in the trusted shelter of the Goat-lady’s lap.

Somehow, the intentionality of the Goat-Lady’s act really jams our brains. The abrupt killing contradicts the peaceful mercy of that death. The dichotomy rocks our certainty. We’d rather cover our eyes.

I raise cattle with love and tenderness, and I admit I cry every time I deliver one to slaughter. I don’t like slick words like “harvested” or “processed”. I prefer the unvarnished facts. A cow was killed because I decided it would be so. I won’t shirk my sadness or culpability with a perky elevator speech selling the rightness of my decision.

My beautiful, one-and-a-half-inch thick piece of well-raised beef is carefully cooked: rare with a perfectly browned crust.  I eat my steak mindfully with gratitude and pleasure. That steak is meaningful to me. I appreciate its full, bittersweet cost and I don’t waste a single scrap.  It’s delicious.

Recently, I plowed a field so I could plant some Monsanto-free organic vegetables.  A commendable act most Vegans would agree.  In doing so, I disturbed nests of bunnies and a home some peace-loving groundhogs have enjoyed for some time.  It was traumatic for those little creatures, and the hawks that trawl my pastures were elated. Thanks to my vegetables, there was a new all you can eat buffet in town. I didn’t kill anything myself, but I knew creatures would be living there. They live everywhere. Ethical?

We need to step away from our computers, books and chattering brains and deepen our understanding of Nature’s ways.  Only by maintaining a distant, academic understanding of Nature can you believe in the moral superiority of tofu.

When someone comes up with a real, actionable plan to free the animals, not rely on industrial foods and feed the soil in a sustainable way, my mind is open. Today, the most ethical thing I can do is provide a joyful, carefree life for my meat.

In this way, and only this way, I say yes.  It is ethical to eat meat. Life is grand, messy, confusing business.  I accept my assignment of hands-on, eyes-open, deliberate participation.

That’s as ethical as it gets.

Doing the same thing again and again expecting different results.  Isn’t that the definition of crazy?

Doing the same thing again and again expecting different results. Isn’t that the definition of crazy?

THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.

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Don’t you ever wonder about the confidence we have in technology and science? For example, have you ever made a decision based on all the information you had, felt really smart about it, but later learned there was a massive hole in your understanding that made all your genius wrong?

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Let’s get it straight right now: I’m not anti-science. I’m just in favor of pursuing scientific knowledge with a healthy portion of doubt and caution on the side.  Maybe my lack of sophistication is showing, but I’m still pretty darn impressed with the feat of genetic engineering involved in grafting a fruit tree onto hardier roots.  Even though according to this website, it seems to have been used as early as 5000 BC.

“Agriculturalists are charmed. Naturalists are alarmed; ” proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Of course my work here raising these old-fashioned cattle probably seems kind of irrelevant and quaint to many people who focus on producing maximum output at all costs.  Man is apparently wired to admire things that are complex in procedure and require lots of human tinkering.

Meet Claudia, the High-Tech Cow

Like the breeding program at Fulper Farms, a NJ dairy featured in this NPR article. This is the story of Claudia, a very desirable (and lovely) Holstein dairy cow.  The breeding goal of this farm is to replicate her until they have a farm full of Claudias.  This is the way most modern dairies approach the problem of producing enough milk to pay the bills.

Technological advances like artificial insemination and embryo transplant have made the rate at which humans can forever alter an entire breed of livestock scary-fast.  In just a few generations, we can really make a lasting impact on a breed of livestock and it often takes several generations to know for sure if what you have achieved is good or bad.  And by then, it’s usually too late to take it back.

You see, we still don’t really understand how DNA is bundled.  When you breed animals with a focus on one single desirable trait you’d like to increase, you’re at the same time amplifying several other unintended traits that are likely to be not so nice. And those traits are both physical and behavioral.

Often times, since the animals are intended for food anyway, it doesn’t matter that they can’t reproduce on their own, if they have any parenting skills or if their skeletons and hearts are up to the task of supporting their massive, fast-growing bodies. Doesn’t matter, because these animals aren’t intended to live long enough to be healthy adults anyway.  Which, while I don’t think it’s kind, I suppose the logic is sound.

Other traits affect behavioral characteristics and create animals more difficult to handle, more nervous or aggressive.  Intensely focused programs breeding animals for one trait can interrupt the social patterns relied on by many, many generations causing incidents of suffering and brutality caused by rogue individuals.

I’m no scientist, but I am pretty observant. And the more I observe, the more apparent it becomes that there’s a rhythm and scale to things for a reason.  Nature imposes a system of checks and balances that often seems harsh to us, but serves her purposes well.

As original as we like to believe we are, animal breeding programs, like hemlines and hairstyles are subject to cycles and fashion. Don’t believe me? Look at a few pictures of yourself from the 70’s. How’s that polyester pant suit looking to you today? I dare you to wear it to work tomorrow…

Fashions in animal breeding follow consumer demand for things like all white breast meat, low-fat pork, low-fat dairy and of course the ever-popular larger quantity for lower price. And, like that polyester pant suit, these demands are more likely to be created by companies steering us towards their higher profit choices than by what we actually prefer.

Cows like Claudia serve this dairy well today, but if all cows were like Claudia, without the structured diet and care Claudia gets, her ability to produce huge quantities of milk quickly becomes a liability.  The nutritional requirements to keep a high producing cow like Claudia healthy and fertile even when she’s not producing milk are not easy to meet in a simpler, less manipulated environment.

So, my question is this: Is high production more important than profitability?  If you think it’s painful filling your gas tank each week, imagine being a farmer.  I’m not sure people are aware how reliant conventional farming is on petroleum.

Petroleum is needed to manufacture the synthetic fertilizers conventional farms are so reliant on.  Petroleum is needed to run the gas guzzling machinery needed to grow and harvest the large quantities of grain these cows require. And energy is needed to manage the tons of manure produced by too many cows for their farms to handle. Not to mention the energy requirements of milking and transporting milk.

Please don’t take this as a slam for farmers like Claudia’s owners,  the Fulper family. I have nothing but admiration for what is an obviously well run dairy.  It just seems apparent that by focusing only on this as the single approach to the problem of low profitability, we are eliminating diversity in all areas: genetic diversity of livestock & seedstock, rampant loss of biological diversity and economic diversity as well.  A broader base of smaller, local dairy processors and a variety of applications for milk is needed to offset the market dominance of a small number of mega-processors.

If a cow can eat more simply, be productive longer, require little to no veterinary care and be significantly less reliant on petroleum products, is that not also increasing profitability?  If a dairy makes less milk but that milk is of the highest quality and costs significantly less to produce, are the numbers irrelevant because they lack enough zeroes to impress our Fortune 500 jaded minds?

My old-fashioned cows could not be more self-sufficient.  They harvest most of their own food, stay fat on very simple food we can grow ourselves, require almost zero veterinary care, thrive in simple facilities and remain productive members of the herd for four or more times longer than the typical Holstein dairy cow.

And a dairy farm using cows like mine has not one top shelf product to sell, but two.  Give us time and we’ll come up with even more.  The beef from these cows isn’t an afterthought sold at auction barn prices. It’s a first-rate gourmet product adding a second income stream to broaden the farm’s security.  And in these times of dairy volatility, having milk in more than one bucket sounds like an awfully good idea to me.

If you listened to the NPR clip as well as read the story, you’ll notice that they clearly stated that despite the technological advances, the farm is less profitable than it was in the 50’s and 60’s when they had a fraction of the cows and did more by hand. WHAT?

It’s true. Our industrial system of meat and dairy was productive and useful in its time. But all things run on a spectrum and that time seems to be waning. The system will be around huffing and wheezing for a long time, but shouldn’t we be working on a backup plan?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t count imported Milk Protein Concentrate from China a backup plan…

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

in which the Kerrys are coming

in which the Kerrys are coming

Still a little shy, our new Dexter & Kerry neighbors are settling in!

Still a little shy, meet our new Dexter and Kerry neighbors

Something’s happening in the neighborhood that I’m pretty excited about. I wasn’t sure how the Ladies would take the news, especially Molly since she takes her duties as a Heritage Breed model pretty seriously.  But surprisingly, they seem pretty excited about it too.

I had heard the Kerrys were coming, and now the Kerrys are here. It’s true – I’ve seen them myself. And with the Kerrys are a few of their smaller Irish cousins the Dexters.

Until now, we were one of the few farms in these parts with old-fashioned heritage breed cows.  Here and there I see a Dexter or some Scottish Highlands; there’s a farm with beef Devons a couple of hours away and a herd of ethereal British Parks I’ve been wanting to see. Devon crosses are popping up here and there, but mostly, until now, any heritage cow friends I’ve made are from Virginia,  New York, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Known as "the poor man's milch cow", Ireland's Kerry cattle are famous for their longevity and ability to thrive on poor forage.

I’ve had a little crush on Kerry cows for some time, but have only managed to meet one just once in my travels. That’s all changed now since recently, a small herd owned by the Grossman family has taken up residence at Pasture Maid Creamery in nearby New Castle. So, not only will these Kerry Ladies (and their man) be living nearby, their milk is being put to the test by a real, professional cheesemaker, Adam Dean.

While our Girls are an old-fashioned breed from North Devon England, Kerrys are a similar type of indigenous cattle from Ireland. In fact, the Kerrys with their lovely horns look very similar to the Ladies, but are just a little smaller and are black instead of red.  Like our American Milking Devons, Kerrys are also famous for their scrappy ability to make rich milk and excellent beef while eating nothing but grass.

The introduction of Kerry cattle into this professional dairy herd is a bold and proactive response to the ever-increasing costs of farming inputs. By breeding their herd of modern  dairy breeds to a Kerry bull, the Dean family of Pasture Maid Creamery (not  the Dean’s brand in cartons – look for glass bottles of Pasture Maid Creamery pasteurized creamline milk) is shaping their herd in a way that will reduce their dependence on expensive grains and fuel as they continue to produce excellent milk and beef.

When the milk is clean, sweet and rich you don't need exotic equipment & ingredients to make great cheese.

After visiting my new Kerry neighbors, I came home with some booty and fresh inspiration: a gallon of Pasture Maid creamline milk and a dozen farm fresh eggs. I re-started my cheesemaking engines by making this pillowy soft, fresh buttermilk cheese.  Its pure, rich deliciousness is a true reflection of the beautiful milk.

I’m struggling with brain jam because I have so many things to say about this milk and cheese. But, rather than torture you with one long runaway spew, I’ll restrain myself. More to come,  you can count on it. Don’t believe me?

Get your own Pasture Maid Creamline milk and try for yourself. Your brain will cheese up with excitement too.

Molly doesn't see why I think this is a big deal. "Bring it on with a side of fresh grass", she says.

Moo-re to come….

in which Suki does it her way

in which Suki does it her way

Suki's newest little one

Nag, nag nag. That’s what I heard Suki saying to her good friend Zay the other day. I’m sure they were talking about me, but that’s OK.

I was only suggesting that the weather was balmy and dry which is a rare stroke of luck in February, don’t you think?  If you’re going to have a baby anyway, wouldn’t it be a good idea to pick a warm, sunny day?

What-ever. With lots of eye-rolling.  OK, Suki, do it your way.

So she did. Last night I was pretty sure we’d be meeting our new friend today. So, I gave Suki her own room. Before dawn when I checked this morning, everyone was inside except guess who? Suki.  Somehow, Suki managed to escape and off she went by herself to take care of her very important business.

Fortunately, I have been placing big bales of hay in wind-sheltered places just in case. One mostly eaten bale in the most sheltered spot offered the perfect, fluffiest bed.  Since Suki may well be my smartest cow, I was pretty confident that’s where she’d be.

Hello, hello.

It was still dark but quiet and still. I grabbed my lantern and set off over the hill. And sure enough, that’s where she was with her new little calf. Dried, fed and taking a nap. Very, very far from the barn.

While Suki enjoyed a special breakfast, I carried our new friend up to the barn. A long snow-covered uphill hike carrying about 40 pounds of awkward, squirming calf. And, let me just say – this morning I have no doubt I’m not twenty-six anymore.

We were just in time because as soon as Suki & Co. were safely tucked inside and buried in hay, the wind whipped up and things took a turn for the nasty.  So our little friend is getting a challenging start to his/her new life, but so far, so good.

The pinkest ears I've seen yet.... probably trying to figure out how to get back inside that warm cozy cocoon - this place is COLD!

One down, six more hellos to go…

Like babies? Check out some other hellos:

In which we say hello
in which we say hello again and again and again
in which whine enough already
in which Sprite gets game
in which we begin a new round of hellos
in which we say hello Sammy
in which we say a surprised hello