Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

Posts tagged ‘organic’

What is sustainable?

There is no clear legal definition of sustainable agriculture and that opens the door to anyone who wants to claim that their farming practices are sustainable. It also opens the door for anyone who wishes to define sustainable agriculture to suit their own agenda. Ironically, not all agree to the vague and self-described definitions.

In reality, sustainable agriculture is as old as the hills. Most farmers know about the “Circle of Agriculture” especially in raising livestock.

You don’t raise more animals on your land than what the land can adequately handle meaning that the land should be able to safely absorb the nutrients from the manure produced by the animals (no runoff) and used to raise enough grain or grass to feed the number of animals without using synthetic chemicals or fertilizers.

Going back to the word sustainable as it applies to farming. To easily understand the new agriculture lingo is simple revolving around the principle of methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources.

Unfortunately, there are many who have inserted their own words into the simple definition of sustainable agriculture to meet their desired goals or motives. These goals have nothing to do with farming and in doing so, what sustainable agriculture is has become terribly muddled.

A handful equate sustainable agriculture from a Utopian ideology that being an imagined community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens. In other words, utopia is a perfect “place” that has been designed so there are no problems. This would be a self-chosen lifestyle not agriculture.

Others have included sustaining the communities in which they live. Small scale sustainable farms support their communities through their purchases which are needed to live and farm. That falls into the category of a sustainable economy.

A few have decided that sustainable agriculture should include worker’s pay. Others have decided that farms should only be owned according to race and gender. While there is nothing wrong with a racially and gender diverse farmer community, as it should be, it’s really not something that should be dictated by the elitist group that I mentioned above. As far as what should be paid to farm employees that is more like a labor union than a sustainable farming group.

These are just a few descriptions of what those who know better have decided what sustainable agriculture is and if these methods aren’t incorporated into your farm you are somehow evil and you aren’t a sustainable farmer.

I’m certainly in agreement with the Circle of Agriculture and employing the simple definition revolving around the principle of methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources. According to USDA, utilizing more ecologically sensible practices, that poses no harm to the environment is a fully sustainable method of farming. I think that is closest to what sustainable farming practices are.

The one thing that we haven’t addressed in all of the made-up definitions is the economic sustainability of the farm.

Farming is more than a full-time job with long hours, blood, sweat, and yes, sometimes tears. Unless you’re independently wealthy, retired, or practicing a choice of lifestyle, farming is a business not a hobby. Which brings us down to what is sustainable.

In 2016, Americans spent an average of 9.9 percent of their disposable personal incomes on food—divided between food at home (5.2 percent) and food away from home (4.7 percent). USDA ERS

Almost equal to one-tenth of one dollar in disposable income spent on food doesn’t leave much for the farmer’s income. Most of that ten cents goes toward processing, packaging, transportation, and marketing and what is left over goes to the farmer’s gross income. From that the farmer has to pay the cost of production.

There isn’t much left over for the farmers spendable income. If one were to incorporate all of the definitions mentioned above, the farm wouldn’t be sustainable it would be bankrupted attempting to take care of everyone’s pie in the sky sustainability definitions.

As long as one practicing farming methods of balance with the land, water, and air, is caring for the welfare of their animals, does not use up or destroy our natural resources and environment – you’re doing a damn good job.

Maybe while the think tank Utopians are at it, they should find a way to sustain the independent farmers. Try marketing their products, start a “Buy Local” campaign, or pay the real cost of producing food. Until you walk in a farmer’s shoes to make a living, stop telling us how or what.

Eggs and Philosophy

Undercover Video reveals a not so pretty picture

A recent undercover video taken by Direct Action Everywhere and released on the Now This facebook page shows the worst of the worst about hens involved in egg laying.

The video made me sick and I’ve a message for industrial agriculture – “clean up your act”.  The conditions of the hens and the environment they are living in are horrific.  It’s actors such as this that make it hard for those of us who don’t even think about animal husbandry being such as what is revealed in the video.  Animal agriculture is going to have to start standing up and condemning these types of practices and behaviors.  Don’t make excuses, own it, and fix it!

The hard truth and what makes the point of rubber stamping for humane practices an armed weapon for those opposed to animal agriculture is that this particular farm is “Certified Humane”, a project of Humane Farm Animal Care.  According to the organizations website, the program certifies products from farm animals that meet program standards related to practices required in the raising of the animals. Farms and ranches are monitored annually and may use the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® logo. Charges levied are to cover inspections and program costs which include promotional materials which help promote the products of the producers that are Certified Humane®.  Trust me folks, the fees applied aren’t cheap and certification predominately include large numbers of animals produced.

The organization has a “Humane Farm Animal Care Scientific Committee”, presumably who develop the standards that farmers and ranchers must meet for certification.  The Committee has some heavy hitters participating on it and I must wonder, what in the world they were thinking when they lent their names to something that doesn’t even come close to the definition of “humane practices”.

I can’t continue without describing the organization responsible for the undercover video, Direct Action Everywhere, is a network of animal rights activists claiming chapters in 160 cities in over 30 countries.  The organization, developed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2013.  It operates on the theory of “speciesism”.

Getting Educated about Speciesism

I’m not big on giving out labels or definitive categories so I had to do some research on this one.  The term delves deeply into the realm of philosophy.    According to Wikipedia speciesism is a prejudice similar to racism or sexism, in that the treatment of individuals is predicated on group membership and morally irrelevant physical differences.  Broadly speaking in the world of animal activism it means the exclusion of all nonhuman animals from the rights, freedoms, and protections afforded to humans.  June 5 is considered to be World Day Against Speciesism.  Who knew?

Without delving too deep into the topic of speciesism, it appears to me that it means every living thing is equal and has equal rights, no matter human or non-human.  I’m assuming if you don’t believe in this equality or you behave against the principal theory you are akin to a racist or sexist. I dunno, sounds good!

Of course agenda motivation is the driving force behind the video, why else would it be undercover?  Was it for the purpose of exposing Humane Farm Animal Care and name lending to a rubber stamping of the “Certified Humane” label?  Was it to expose the bad behavior of industrial agriculture?  Or was it a push toward the public to support veganism and animal rights? I think it’s all of the above.

On the other hand, what can be the excuses from industrial agriculture.  Historically industry will repeat all of the things listed above and describe the people taking the video as terrorists. They’ll say that the particular farm and the conditions revealed wasn’t like that when it was audited for humane standards and certification. My question would be, what changed in the farming practices between the standards audit and everyday practices?  Is it business as usual except when the humane farm animal standards audit is conducted?

No matter what your belief about what you eat, what is revealed in the undercover video is just plain wrong.  It doesn’t take a room full of philosophers or theorizers to figure it out.  You decide!

The “Walmarting” of Organics

Grocery giant, Walmart, has set its sights on organics planning to drive the market prices down nationwide announcing an exclusive partnership with Wild Oats. Walmart claims that they will sell a line of 100 organic products at 25 percent less than 26 national brand competitors.

“We’re removing the premium associated with organic groceries” says Jack Sinclair, Walmart executive vice president of grocery. Need I say more?

I believe that most of us are familiar with the Walmart plan and how they have operated in the past. Driving competitors out of business until it’s the only game in town and then having prices creep up hasn’t been in keeping with the mantra go to Walmart and watch prices falling!

From a farmer perspective the new Wild Oats deal tells me that it’s about capturing a rapidly growing organic market, 10 – 20 percent a year by most estimates, and driving the small sustainable organic family farmers out of business. In keeping with its history, Walmart tells the producer what it will pay for your product and you can take it or leave it. Walmart buys in large volume and to acquire the volume the company will need huge organic suppliers.

By the same token, Walmart customers are traditionally either/or from poor areas, low income, rural, or food stamp recipients. I do believe in food equality meaning that everyone should have access to affordable healthy food choices.

What I don’t believe in is driving the food prices paid to the farmer down to the point of the small scale family farmer becoming listed on the endangered species list!

Open the door for industrial corporate organic food production – I’ve written in the past about the “bastardization of organics” and as I’ve said before, it is not about the real organic food producers it’s about the “posers”. With ever increasing relaxed National Organic Standards occurring, the road is being paved by government regulations for anyone to claim organic. Obviously, history is repeating itself as it did when corporate agriculture took over mainstream food production ushering in vertically integrated food systems, contract farming, and the theory of get big or get out!

It remains to be seen if the new Walmart – Wild Oats plan will be successful. If my local Walmart is any example, I don’t believe that the store will capture new higher end customers. In finding a decent grocery chain, I drive 30 miles. To find a really exceptional grocer it’s 120 miles.

My local Wamart is disgustingly filthy, rotten produce is offered for sale, the employees are rude to the point if you ask a question they behave as if you’ve bothered them, and empty spaces on shelves abound. It has all of the qualities of “if you don’t like it, tough”!

Walmart’s increased sales have remained stagnant. The company sees a rapidly increasing organic market and the sound of cha- ching! The entire deal surrounds the almighty dollar. It’s definitely not based on any warm fuzzy feeling of doing the right thing or providing access to healthy food choices for the masses. I’ve not heard or read one word related to this deal about any claims of corporate social responsibility or being a good citizen in local communities.

Speaking to the local economy, the deal will not provide a boost. Walmart won’t be buying from local farmers they will be buying from centralized mass producers. Efficiency will be the name of the game which translates to cutting corners.

What I find humorous about the deal is that corporations, such as Walmart, have in the past viewed organics as a niche market equating those farmers to left over hippies. Corporate agriculture types snidely snickered over organics as not being technologically advanced in food production. I say, hop on the bus, Gus – be a poser!

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