A BEEF WITH LIBERTARIANS

Many of you know I've taken the moniker Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer, and I'm sure that many folks chafe at my oft-libertarian leaning diatribes.  Today, I'll switch the tables and show why I can't just take the pure libertarian view.

 In a recent post on the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education website, Steve Horowitz takes a swipe at those of us who advocate buying locally.  His timing coincided with Small Business Saturday, an effort put forth the day after Black Friday.

 He makes the case that nationalism Trump style is akin to localism locavore style.  Noting that big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target often employ 400 people per outlet and purchase goods made by income-increasing folks in China, he chides anyone who would dare to offer a moral argument for shopping locally.  "It is not clear why people more near to us geographically should have moral weight than those further away," he says, using improper grammar.  I think this sentence is missing a second more somewhere between have and moral, but that's beside the point.

 He equates "Made in the U.S.A." with Trumpism, which is the same argument as buying locally.  And since he apparently can't stand Trump, he feels obligated to impugn the entire notion of geographic considerations when purchasing anything.

 I wonder what he would say if instead of working from the top down we worked from the bottom up?  For example, would he say my son or daughter is no more deserving of my care and protection than a child living in Shanghai?   The Biblical injunction to care for your family first has a reasonable and moral imperative that we help those closest to and most known to us before helping those in distant lands. 

 To say that my next door neighbor bears no more concern or care from me than someone I don't know in China is simply anti-relational.  Paul Harvey used to say that freedom is best when we're free to do what we ought, not just what is easiest.  Otherwise we're as free as a driverless car or a train without a track.  He was right, of course.  Freedom without responsibility doesn't work.  And freedom without morality doesn't work.

 My libertarianism is tempered by a neighbor-centric mindset, and I suggest that's a better way to build functional and secure communities than a who cares morality.  The imperative to care more for those close to me, those I know, lies deep within the compassionate breast.  Libertarians, such broadsides do not give you credibility.

 Are you glad I finally took a swipe at libertarians?

HERE WE GO AGAIN

Today's front page news is a partnership between Smithfield hog farms and Dominion Power to put plastic bladders over factory farm manure lagoons and pipe the methane off to electric generation.  Like too many news articles, it doesn't give enough details to satisfy me, but having witnessed many of these projects in the past, I'll hazard a couple of guesses.

 First, this is being touted as an environmental victory.  Probably both companies will get wined and dined at some environmentalist gala, receive a plaque, and be lauded for their earth-saving endeavors.  Nature Conservancy and Sierra Club will grin ear to ear for this great climatic victory.

 Second, because it fits the mindset for tax concessions, you and I as taxpayers will undoubtedly foot a large credit or concession--probably even grants--to defray the costs and help the project pencil out.

 I have a couple of questions about this whole thing, the first being:  so am I no longer an environmental steward if I raise pigs on pasture and in the woods to fulfill their heritage roll?  You see, by fawning over this techno-project, the media, environmentalists, and bureaucrats--the governor will probably get his picture taken with the CEOs of the companies as they lay the first bladder--it demeans those of us who don't start with a factory farm that requires a monster cesspool in the first place.

 The second question is what happens to if and when factory farming bites the dust?  Whether the public wakes up and quits eating factory pork or whether we run out of enough new generation antibiotics and vaccines to keep the pigs alive in such horrid conditions, what if factory farming becomes obsolete?  The only way this works is to start it with a factory farm that concentrates too much manure in too small a place.  You have to start it with an anti-ecology paradigm.

 This is classic misapplied green washing.  We doctor up a sick system with some green lipstick and call ourselves noble.  This is hogwash--pun fully intended.  I'm not upset because I don't get the recognition; I'm upset about this because it makes people think they're doing much better than they are.  This project will not make money without subsidies and fleecing the taxpayers, many of whom abhor the factory farms this helps keep in business.

 Meanwhile, those of us out here plodding along with pig-respecting systems in natural settings that democratize the manure into nest-absorbing quantities must compete with subsidized and publicized industrial factory counterparts.  The icing on the cake is that those folks have the audacity to call us elitists because our pork prices are higher than theirs.  Even food justice advocates point their waggly fingers at farmers like me, calling us uncaring elitists.  Where are they when these kinds of projects get the limelight and standing ovations?  A flood of letters to the editor from environmentalists should blanket the newspapers.  You won't hear a whimper.

 The capacity for human stupidity can hardly be fathomed.  This is just another case of doing bad and feeling good about it.

 Have you visited pigs in a pasture?

FOOD SECURITY

I'm returning today from speaking in Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, to organic farmers in the Atlantic provinces of Canada.  As an out-of-the-way place, food security becomes more important.

 All the time I was here, the common lament was that the province imports literally 100 percent of its pork because no abattoir exists to legally process it.  One of the largest agricultural exports on the island is potatoes.  They have a perfect climate and good soils for growing spuds.

 What do spuds and pigs have to do with each other?  Well, tubers are great pig food. 

And whenever you have commercial production of something, you have waste.  Lots of waste.  Tractor trailer loads of waste.

 Food safety regulations shut down the last abattoir on the island several years ago.  That eliminated pig growing.  That eliminated waste potato feeding.  It's a domino effect that happens all over the first tier world:  government intervention destroys local food processing options, then stimulates waste and food insecurity.

 The biggest culprit in food insecurity is not big farmers, big business, lack of knowledge or lack of interest.  It's harassment of local food processors by the tyrannical hand of government, all done in the name of protection. 

 When will we begin mistrusting government as much as we mistrust Monsanto?

WOW, ALBERTA IS ROLLING

I was just in Alberta over the weekend doing a speaking gig and heard some incredibly encouraging numbers.

 Alberta has a burgeoning farmers' market scene that spins circles around anything I've seen in the U.S.  According to their stats, 15 percent of Albertans routinely shop at farmers' markets.  If you take their expenditures and spread it across that number, it means the average farmers' market shopper spends $1,600 per year.

 If you spread that across the entire province, it means the per capita expenditure by all Albertans in farmers' markets is more than $200 per year.   In other words, that includes the 85 percent who do not routinely go.

 In our county of Augusta, which includes Staunton and Waynesboro, we have 100,000 people.  To put what Alberta is doing into perspective, that would mean that the Staunton-Augusta Farmer's Market would be $200 X  100,000, which would be $20,000,000.  That's $20 million if you missed it.  Currently, our local farmers' market takes in between $100 and $200,000 per year.

 So when folks ask about possibilities and opportunities, this is the kind of thing you need to tell them.  Can you imagine what that kind of participation would mean to the local agrarian economy and community? 

 Lead on, Alberta.  And thank you for creating a real benchmark.

 Why do you think so few people buy local food?

DUPLICITOUS ENVIRONMENTALISTS

I'm just returning from doing the two-day Stockman  Grass Farmer business school in Calgary, Alberta, with fellow farmer/rancher/SGF columnist Steve Kenyon.

 Steve has been practicing first class prairie development and soil building through bio-mimicry in Alberta for a couple of decades and is a great sidekick as a faculty member.  He doesn't use bison to build these prairie soils; he uses electric fence, water pipe, and cattle. 

 One indisputable fact of carbon sequestration is that perennial polyculture grasses like prairie and pasture pump carbon into the soil while tillage and annual monocultures deplete carbon.  Nobody contests that.  And nobody contests the need to put carbon in the soil.

 Canada pays a carbon credit to farmers for practicing modalities that minimize carbon loss.  You'd think that would be a good thing, right?  You would be wrong.

 Last year, a couple from whom Steve rented 320 acres for 14 years passed away.  He took these 320 acres and through prairie management built fertility, increased carbon, and diversified the vegetation and animal life on the acreage.  The deceased couple's baby boomer children decided to get as much money out of the acreage as fast as they could and switched managers, leasing it to a canola crop farmer.

 Of course, he could pay more and in a moment you'll see a reason why.  He did not plow down the prairie; he simply nuked it with herbicide.  Not once, not twice, but three times.  Steve's prairie vitality was so vibrant it took three applications of herbicide to finally kill it all so canola could be planted.  The farmer used no-till, the darling of the carbon program, and received a check for $60,000 for practicing good soil stewardship through the carbon credit program.

 Steve received nary a penny.  Why?  Well, grass isn't a crop.  It never registers on programmatic radar.

 Dear folks, when well-intentioned environmentalists ask for government programs to help things, they seldom realize that by the time the agricultural industrial complex gets down writing the regulations it seldom accomplishes the original intent.  In this case, it incentivizes eliminating the prairie and depleting soil carbon.  This happens routinely; it is not an isolated case.  We simply can't expect government programs to do the yeoman's lifting in responsible living.  That is up to individuals and how we purchase things day to day.

 Can you think of another instance where a government program did the opposite of its intentions?

GRATITUDE

Today is Thanksgiving, time to be thankful and express gratitude to people, God, trials, successes and failures.

 For me, the must humbling, grateful thing is to realize that I can participate in land redemption.  Having watched soil grow, carbon sequester, immune systems strengthen, and patrons by the thousands find healing through integrity nutrient-dense food, I'm thankful to say that I have not sat on the bleachers watching.

 Both the responsibility and privilege of being able to extend redemptive capacity in such a practical, visceral way, whether it's to earthworms or earth muffins (greenies), feeds the mind, body and spirit with sacredness.  Perhaps the most common urban questions I'm asked is:  "Okay, I want to help.  What can I do?"  People yearn to be helpful, to be pro-active and I can honestly say I have never wondered for something to do. 

 It has always been right there outside the back door.  One day it's spreading compost.  Another day, like yesterday, it's pruning junk-type trees and chipping them for a carbonaceous diaper to make compost.  Another day it's planting a tree or tomato.  The idea that I might not be able to participate never crosses my mind.  For that, today, I'm thankful.

 When my daughter Rachel was about 12 years old, she and a couple of friends did a little newsletter.  At Thanksgiving, I remember Rachel writing how thankful she was for "work," because "think of what a chaotic world it would be without it."  Amen.  And work done properly is noble.  All of us who know our work is righteous and who get to passionately enjoy it every day are blessed indeed.

 How are you participating in the healing?

CALIFORNIA FIRES UNNECESSARY

Finally, someone nailed the California fire problem.  An opinion piece by Silas Lyons, executive editor for north central California for the USA TODAY Network in that newspaper's Wednesday edition poked around the problem as well as anything I've seen lately.

 He and I both lament the devastation and grieve with those who have lost their homes and for Paradise, businesses and entire livelihoods.  That all of us, through instant media, must share the emotional trauma of this is a burden we may not have been programmed to bear, as humans.  But know it we do, and grieve we do.

 After that, though, comes the time of evaluation.  And he says poignantly:  "Many of us are also good and angry.  Like New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, none of this is a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention."

 The only thing worse than tragedy is tragedy created by neglect.  So what's the neglect?  He puts his fingers on it in the rest of the column: "dry forests, tangled with brush. . .  In response to rapacious logging, environmental lawsuits shut the chainsaws out of the forests without any reasonable plan to replace their work of thinning and fire-breaking.

 "We pursued policies of aggressively extinguishing small beneficial wildfires, instead letting vegetation build up until there was no such thing as a small, 'good' fire anymore . . . "

 The pre-European American landscape was not a vast wilderness like baby boomers learned in history class.  Neither was Australia.  Neither was New Zealand. It was a manicured landscape by indigenous peoples, producing more food than it does  today.

 The anti-human, anti-animal, anti-cow, anti-livestock veganistic urban radically ignorant environmentalist cult surrounding land use management, epitomized in California's demographics, is expressing its result there more than anywhere.  The ecological firestorm resulting from wealthy elitists divorced from dirt-under-the-fingernails involvement with the land, but injecting themselves and their hubris into it, is the political fuel for this very real human suffering.

 Thinning the trees, yes with chainsaws and chippers, to compost all the factory farm manure in the state would be a great starting point.  Then bringing in herbivores to graze all that understory:  goats, sheep, cows.  Yes, those burping, farting herbivorous pruners, the ultimate human security.  And underneath that pruned biomass a newborn healthy population of methanotrophic bacteria, gobbling down methane and transferring it to glomalin.  Wow, what we could have if we'd only pay attention to authentic ecology.

 So while we weep over the real human suffering, we should weep more over our own ignorance, our failure to steward.  Included in that, of course, is hydration.  A farmer cannot build a pond bigger than a bathtub in California.  If the state were covered with ponds, imagine what a difference it would make.  Nothing is more important in parched landscapes.  If all the money currently spent to reimburse and rebuild homes and infrastructure from these explosive fires were spent on carbon management and hydration (permaculture style ponds in high valleys), the state would be habitable again and the earthworms would dance.

 How many of these fires and how long will it be, do you think, before people realize that integrated symbiotic mega-fauna and mega-flora are nature's template?

FOOD, ULTIMATELY NONPARTISAN

I had one of the most exciting days I've had in a long time yesterday.  I spent the day with three attorneys at the top of federal government agencies.  I won't divulge more specifics than that, but they were high enough to be presidential appointments.  That's high.

 They spent the day with me--I even cooked them omelets (Teresa was gone for the day)--to see what could be done to cut through regulatory hurdles that make it difficult for farmers to sell and for local consumers to buy from farmers.  These guys came in with President Trump, and they will go out if he loses the next election.

 This is not a post to beat Trump's drum--he does that enough himself.  It is a post to help you understand that food is THE ultimate bipartisan bridge.

 What did I tell them?  We had numerous far-ranging discussion threads, but the main one I pushed toward the end of the day was this:  Republicans are viewed as the friend of Monsanto and everything corporate.  It's unfair, of course, because President Obama named Michael Taylor, the Monsanto attorney who shepherded genetically modified organisms into existence, as his czar of food safety.   Yeah, right.

But the perception is there, nonetheless.

 Can you imagine what the left would do if Trump championed a directive mandating the right of people to purchase the food of their choice from the source of their choice?  The justification, of course, would be a foodie's dream.  It would guarantee you and me the right to sue the government for discrimination if I couldn't buy raw milk from a farmer, or pepperoni from that food crafting deacon at church, or chicken soup from Aunt Matilda.

 The roll out messaging would include the notion that the answers to nutrient deficiency, food pathogens, farmer suicides, and the stranglehold of the industrial food complex is to allow consenting adults to engage in food choice.  Bring all the new bedroom lingo into the kitchen.  Wouldn't that be the coolest thing?  It would make the left's head explode, the ultimate stealth takeover.

 It would be equivalent to Dan Cathy, founder and main owner of Chik-fil-A responding to the protestors over his "one man one woman" position saying:  "we believe in the Bible so much that we believe in respecting life, so we're going to start getting our chickens only from farms where chickens can express their chickenness and be fed non-GMO food."  Wow, that would have turned the tables.

 The left owns the ecological, integrity food space.  If the right championed that from liberty rather than more government tyranny, it would muddy the partisan waters, which is always fun to see.

 What food would you like to buy that is currently illegal?

HERITAGE TURKEYS

Let’s talk heritage turkeys. Would you know one if you saw it?

The top gourmand food outfit in the U.S., Slow Food, recently financed a
factory farm barn for the largest heritage turkey producer in the country.
Why?  Because he couldn’t control them.  The top heritage turkey producer
in the country is now a factory farmer.  

Several years ago we did blind taste tests with a couple of our Washington D.C.
chefs:  Polyface pastured turkeys versus heritage turkeys.  Guess who won?  
Polyface.  Know why?  Because we can control ours and put them on fresh salad
bar every day or two, keeping them away from yesterday’s stale area and excrement.

Heritage birds roosting in a foot of poop and staying on the same worn-out area
every day don’t hold a candle to Polyface pastured turkeys moved around to fresh
grass and fresh roost areas.  The difference is not in the genetics; it’s in the production
model. Don’t be fooled by slick nostalgia.

If you want a heritage turkey from someone who only grows half a dozen, fine.  But
commercial production requires control, and regular turkeys are far more controllable
than heritage.  That means here at Polyface our regular-bred turkeys have a far more
sanitary and happy life than the average heritage bird.  Proper movement, proper green
material, and proper hygiene are more important than whether all of the genes came over on
the Mayflower.

Furthermore, the Polyface goal is to offer a credible alternative to factory farm turkeys. To prove that we don't need a single factory farm in the world. Offering a pastured turkey at an affordable price is the first step toward this goal. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

McDONALD'S DISSAPPOINTS INVESTORS

Whenever I'm asked how we'll know if our side is really making progress, I always respond:  "The day McDonald's starts closing stores."

 The business community is abuzz over poor performance at McDonald's--domestically, not in foreign markets.  Apparently American sales are flat lining.  In response to profit needs, they raised their prices.  No more customers, just higher prices.

 And interestingly, a growing discontent among franchise owners indicates frustration over a solution.  It's not a mutiny yet, but definitely expanding and accelerating discontent over not being able to pay loans these folks took out to buy into the celebrated brand.

 Is this an early crack in the castle?  We can hope.  Sometime I want to do a blog on all the businesses that would not exist if everyone spent money like me.  The one at the top of my list is McDonald's; it epitomizes everything that's wrong in our food and farming system.  And wields incredible influence over how soil is treated, how animals are treated, and how our microbes are fed.  As an influence peddler, it makes a big ripple.  Time to rein it in, don't you think?

 How about a great American McDonald's out, like the Great American Smoke-Out?

 How long has it been since you or anyone in your family entered a McDonald's?

WHERE'S THE MEAT?

In a wonderful headline ":Your Doctor, the Meal Planner," the Wall Street Journal publicizes a trend wherein hospitals are opening food pantries and sending patients home with fresh veggies.  Some hospitals are even growing the food on their lawns.

 This is a fabulous development and I applaud every effort to heighten nutrition.  Buried in the story, however, is a red flag.  "Two major food companies, U.S. Foods and Baldor, donate surplus produce and canned food."  The food bank sends over food too.  Oh boy, here we go again.

 You do realize, I suppose, that these companies can deduct their donations as charitable giving and take it right off their tax bottom line.  It ain't all altruistic.  And of what quality is this "surplus?"  That word is code for "salvage."  In other words, this is wilted, blemished, crashed, dented, sell-by expired food.

 And beyond that, I notice that nothing--nothing--is said about meat and poultry.  I get it; we love to applaud and celebrate even a tiny step forward.  But remember, any movement creates inertia to continue the same path.  In other words, someone like me trying to nudge in there finds it harder when "it's already being taken care of, thank you very much."

 And since when have doctors and hospitals been the nutrition experts?  Medical training includes about 3 hours of nutrition classes.  The notion that U.S. Foods, which handles industrial factory chemicalized food, and their buddies the food banks are going to get discharged patients into nutrient dense food is comedic.  Forgive me for pessimism; I've seen this over and over and over and over.  The way to bet is that over the next couple of years, most of these efforts will slip into an industrial-food salvage provision and whatever gardens got started will fall into disrepair.

 Some half-hearted effort gets big press for being earth-shattering when it's actually a feel-good deal for corporate tax evasion.  Meanwhile, the folks who suddenly got canned green beans in their grocery bag from the hospital are given a feel-good notion that they've now entered food security and health.  Why start sprouting mung beans on your windowsill?  Why get two chickens for the apartment to eat scraps and lay great eggs?  Why put a hanging herb garden on the balcony?  Why do anything else when you've been told you've reached the pinnacle of nutrition?--a bag of leftovers from U.S. Foods.

 And let's not even discuss meat and poultry.  They're too hard.  I'd be glad to supply our local hospital, but they aren't interested.  Am I being too pessimistic?

TOLD YOU SO

The one thing I don't do is prophecy.  But a couple of months ago when environmentalists and eco-foodies were celebrating the in-your-eye jury ruling against Monsanto regarding the school landscaper who allegedly contracted cancer from using Roundup, I think I was the lone voice on our side that did not celebrate.  I said "it ain't over."

 It wasn't.  Only two months after the jury verdict, a judge has already thrown out $200 million of the damages and opened the door to throw out the whole shebang.  This is the first of some 8,700 suits filed against Bayer, new owner of Monsanto.  How would you like to buy an outfit with these pending suits?

 I guess it's no big deal for Bayer, which already has 24,300 suits against it over the blood thinner Xarelto, 17,000 over its birth control implant Essure, and 2,700 over its birth control product Mirena.  What's a $300 million suit over Roundup in comparison?

 The Wall Street Journal headline says it well: "Roundup Setback Doesn't Faze Bayer."  Notice how cavalier it all is?  Just a little setback.  And of course now that the jury ruling is set aside, Bayer will appeal the rest of the award, a measly $78 million.  Bayer has every reason to be unfazed.  It's professional at settling tort cases. 

 Its cholesterol drug Baycor faced 14,000 claims and experts predicted a crippling $10 billion payout.  What happened?  About 3,100 were settled out of court, Bayer won the first three cases that actually went to trial, and the whole kerfuffle cost a measly $1.16 billion.

 When are people going to learn that justice comes from personal responsibility?  Nobody held a gun to that landscaper's head to use Roundup.  He had access to the same information I have.  Why in the world would you call Monsanto and ask if their product causes cancer?  This is almost comedy material if it weren't so serious and deadly.  It's like calling Tyson and asking:  "Do you abuse your chickens?"  Seriously.

 When are we going to learn that you can't trust the government; you can't trust the courts; you can't trust big business.  If you want true security, come home.  Home to neighbors, community businesses, local farmers, and most importantly, your own kitchen.

 Where do you buy your food?  On a scale of 1-10, rate your level of trust over the vendor/venue for the different places you buy.  What can you do to shift the mix higher on the trust scale?

FOOD RECALLS

 

"Millions of pounds of ready-to-eat slaads and premade food items at several big-name retailers such as Harris Teeter, Kroger, Whole Foods, 7-Eleven, Trader Joe's and Walmart have been recalled due to the potential risk of listeria and salmonella contamination."  So read the headlines in yesterday's USA TODAY.

 This latest catastrophe was in leafy greens.  Amazingly, ask the average person where the big risk to food-borne bacterial illness occurs, and she'll say "factory farmed animals."  In fact, that is not the case.  Roughly 90 percent of all tainted food is leafy greens.

 While this is not a defense of factory farms, it is an indictment of ignorance and perceptions.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, should buy leafy greens from the supermarket.  They are far more fragile than even factory meat and poultry.  I can hear the backlash from such a strong statement.

 Fortunately, leafy greens are the easiest thing to grow in your house or a season-extending cold frame, solarium, or hoop house.  They love cool weather and have a fast turnover.  They don't require lots of space to grow significant volumes.  Nothing in the food system is as conducive to personal production as leafy greens, unless you include sprouts.

 This latest recall was all processed leafy greens into ready-to-eat foods.  Notice the broad range of supermarkets carrying this.  All this material came out of one vendor:  
Bakkover.  Isn't it amazing how all these different retailers have essentially the same item, including Whole Paycheck, also known as Whole Foods?  Where's the difference in the marketplace?

 This is the real tragedy of our country's food police.  It stymies real innovation in the food marketplace by making it hard for differentiation to occur.  When everything must be pushed through the same licensing, compliance and protocols, the opportunity to bring all of us something really different is more difficult.  This recall was in the most heavily  regulated segment of our food system:  ready-to-eat.  And it all carried a nice bold "Government Approved" sticker.  Folks, don't buy any ready-to-eat industrial food; period.

 When is the last time you heard about tainted food at the Farmer's Market, or from your garden?  Industrialization of food is risky, and different types of food bear more risk than others.  The most risky one is leafy greens. 

 Do you have a 5 ft. X 2 ft. space where you could grow your own leafy greens?  This is about the footprint of a refrigerator.  An entertainment center.  A dog kennel.  An easy chair.  How about it?

WINNING THE LOTTERY

No, it wasn't me.  Have you missed me?  I apologize for being away a few days.  I've been teaching the Stockman Grass Farmer marketing and pastured pork production schools in Indianapolis and Dallas so have been a bit out of pocket.

 This morning, riding the shuttle to Dallas airport to fly home, everyone was talking about the lottery and what they would do with all that money.  The consensus seemed to be "buy a beach house."

 I did not participate in the discussion but listened to all the silliness.  Why are we so silly?  We've just seen yet another recall of a million pounds of tainted food, Costco announced it's going to develop its own factory farming system to produce 60  million chickens for its rotisserie sales, industrial food wants to put nanoparticles into our bloodstream, and these folks would take $1 billion in winnings to just buy a beach house?  Really?

 Where is the outrage at these things?  I did a radio show yesterday with "To Your Health" and the host asked me why more people didn't agree with my assessment of things.  My answer, as always, was simple:  "INERTIA."  We're all comfortable in our routines, the daily schedule, the entertainment/recreation portfolio, our political pigeon-holes.

 What would it take for me to get as many readers on my blog as the Kardashians have on theirs?  As a culture, we're fixated on football and beach houses while buying risky food.  Okay, enough rant for one day.  So I ask, what would you do with a lottery winning?  For the record, I have never and don't intend to ever play the lottery.  I think it's evil.  For sure, it's the most targeted regressive tax (albeit voluntary) in the country.  Rich smart people know better than to play it.  Mostly ignorant poor people play it.

 So if the winner decided to give me the lottery check, what would I do?  I'd help every struggling local food entrepreneur punch through the labyrinth of government regulations, from zoning to labor to food police, that keeps them from bringing food to market that is nutritionally superior, safer, and more authentic than what the current government agencies endorse and encourage.

 

What would you do?

A NATION OF FAST FOOD

Have you seen the latest press releases from a new study by the Centers for Disease Control?    According to the study, 34 of 100 Americans eat fast food every day; said another way, more than 1 in 3 meals is a fast food meal.

 Of course, that doesn't count junk food meals or heat-n-eat premade, pre-processed meals.  This study is just someone pulling into a fast food joint and ordering a meal.  Men patronize fast food a little more than women.  Wealthy patronize more than poor; obviously, the wealthy have more important things to do with their time than cook.

 The most important finding, in my estimation, is that people under 40 eat fast food more than twice as much as those over 60.  It doesn't say if that means people over 60 eat out just as much, but it's not fast food.  I suspect that people over 60 tend to eat more at home, like DOMESTIC CULINARY ARTS!           

 What's the takeaway from this study?  First, was it necessary?  Did the government really have to take my money to study how many people eat fast food?  Of course not.  Interesting, yes, but critical to our country's well-being and worth taking people's hard-earned money to learn?  No.  So first, it's a shameful waste of money and illustrates how little regard bureaucrats and politicians have for the value of a dime someone actually earns with the sweat of their brow.

 Second, it means if you want to stay viable in the food business, you'd better figure out how to either enter fast food yourself, or failing that, to get people to exit fast food.  I reiterate my belief:  the truest sign that someone "gets it" is if they eat leftovers, and that means taking leftovers for lunch.

 Third, it shows that for all the yakking about nutrition and better food and health, most folks either don't want to hear it or disbelieve it.  Those of us trying to chart a different path have plenty of work to do.  Either that, or people who say they care, really don't.

 Fourth, the trend line is ominous.  Wouldn't you think the millenials who are supposedly into health and wellness would move the fast food trend down?  But no, it's actually trending up since far more young people eat fast food than older folks.  That means not only do we have a lot of work to do, we're actually still losing.

 A shot of reality for those of us evangelists for local integrity food is good once in awhile.  Even though Omnivore's Dilemma sold more than 1 million copies, it put barely a dent in the national foodscape.  And how many readers of that wonderful tome took their grandbabies to McDonald's last week?  Hmm?

 What would be your percentage of fast food meals?

HEALING COWS

A research paper just completed by Stanley, Rowntree, Beede, DeLonge and Hamm in Agricultural Systems  Vol. 162, pg. 249-258 examined the differences in greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sequestration in high density controlled grazing models versus low density conventional models.

 That the study called "adaptive multi-paddock grazing" actually removes more atmospheric carbon than it adds.  This system also uses half the rangeland required in continuous grazing, low density systems.

 This is yet another confirmation of a couple of things:

 1.  Cows are not the enemy; their poor managers are.

 2.  Cows are one of the most efficacious greenhouse gas emissions reducers on the planet IF they are managed like their wild herd counterparts.

 3.  We have good farmers and bad farmers; you should patronize the good ones.

 4.  Most cattle are raised in an anti-ecological way.

 5.  What I've been saying for decades is true, imagine that.

 So mob stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertilization is not only a cool turn of phrase, it's actually scientifically accurate to describe a redemptive, healing type of cattle farming.

 This is the problem with Cowspiracy, What the HealthThe UN Long Shadow Report and countless other anti-cow diatribes:  when you study dysfunction, it leads to inaccurate conclusions.  If you study truth, you might just stumble on the truth.  The science always takes awhile to catch up with the philosophy.  Look at the lag time for high fructose corn syrup, anti-microbial soap, and the USDA's food pyramid.  But we're getting there, team.  Don't give up.

 What do you think is true but science has not yet caught up?

BEEWARE HONEY

According to an article in The Economist,  the three top food targets for adulteration, in order,  are milk, olive oil, then honey.

 The fact that American per capita consumption of honey has doubled since the 1990s but domestic production has decreased by 35 percent over the same time period is creating lots of incentive to adulterate honey.  

 When honey is expensive and in short supply, a little bit of corn, rice, or beet syrup can be pretty lucrative.  Right now, America is producing 73,000 tons of honey a year, but we're importing 203,000 tons, primarily from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Uruguay and Asia (half of it). 

 According to Norberto Garcia, chairman of the United States Pharmacopeia Expert Panel on Honey Quality and Authenticity (how's that for a name?) "Honey fraud is a threat to national food security."

 People who wonder why I don't put much stock in labeling laws, from GMO to anything else, need to appreciate the official Food and Drug Administration (FDA) definition of honey:  "a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of plants or secretions of living parts of plants and store in honeycombs."  This definition does not recognize the difference between aged and non-aged honey in the honeycomb.  Watery fresh honey needs time to cure and dehydrate.  As The Economist points out, this definition does not "take a clear position on whether something sold as honey should be free of additives."  In typical government-speak, it does not preclude other things.

 Folks, if Bill Clinton can get off by asking what the definition of IS is, you can see how clever fraudsters can add high fructose corn syrup to honey without saying so on the label.  You get a bunch of attorneys in a court room parsing this vague definition, and pretty soon you could sell Kool-Aid as honey.  When are we going to quit putting faith in labels, or the government? 

 This is why the trite "know your farmer, know your food" is one of the most profound statements in modern times.  Unless and until we unplug from People magazine and our freaking video games and social media, putting attention instead on the authenticity of our menu's origins, we're going to be duped, dysfunctional and dishonest.

 On our farm, we offer authentic raw honey from bees we know in hives we know from blossoms we know.  Anyone can come out and follow a bee.

 Have you replaced the sugar bowl with genuine raw honey yet?

WRINGING HANDS, SUICIDAL FARMERS

A prescient Sept. 10 posting by Civil Eats titled "Is the Second Farm Crisis Upon Us?" documents the increasing hemorrhaging and suicides in farm country, comparing the current trajectory to the 1980s farm bloodbath.  The stark data presents a tragic trend, largely unpublicized, in rural America.

 The fact that the average person picking up pretty pictures at Wal-Mart doesn't have a clue is symptomatic of our bifurcated and myopic culture.  We don't know because we don't care.  We don't care because we don't have to.  We don't have to because we're still exploiting nature's wealth accumulated over millenia across the North American continent.  We're drawing down the bank account (commons) but it's slow enough not to startle.

 The post quotes numerous experts and I list them here in order to make a point:

Farm Aid, Farmer's Legal Action Group (FLAG), Federation of Southern Cooperatives, National Young Farmers' Coalition.  As usual with these kinds of stories, the orthodox consensus paints the cause and cure with shallowness and cliches.  Centralized production, big bad agri-business, free markets (actually, a change in the way government intervenes in the marketplace), lack of agency mental health support, reduced federal budgets for food welfare, yada, yada, yada.

 While my heart bleeds for the problem and the issue, and especially the struggling farmers, painting them as victims in a grand conspiracy of public disrespect does not solve the problem.  As usual, not one voice in all these supposedly caring organization dares to mention the fact that the robust direct farm-to-consumer commerce enjoyed pre-1967 has been largely criminalized.

 Where is the person who dares to offer loss of freedom and return of choice as both the cause and cure of the problem?  If my neighbor and I, as consenting adults making voluntary choices could engage in food commerce without government buzzards eating the insides out of our food exchange carcass, thousands and thousands of farmers would be able to exit the dehumanization of industrial commodity centralized agriculture.

 But with freedoms gone and choice nonexistent, both producer and consumer fall under the tyranny of bureaucrats who wield paperwork and sheriff's badges to insure that Wal-Mart stays atop the food game.  Am I angry?  Yes, with righteous indignation.  That black farmers have been prejudicially hurt by current policy and paradigm should outrage the social justice community.  But no, they don't see answers in liberty; they see answers in targeted hand-outs, customized exceptions, and concessionary morsels from the public trough.

 Where, oh where is the outrage over the fact that I can't sell a glass of raw milk to a neighbor or friend?  Where, oh where is the outrage over the fact that I can't sell a pot pie to a friend without a porcelain-fixtured approved bathroom conjoined to a quintuple-permitted kitchen?  Where, oh where is the outrage over the fact that I can't make one pound of homemade beef jerky and sell it my cousin?

 Our farm crisis is a crisis of food freedom.  It's a crisis of commerce, of choice, of consent.  It's a crisis of personal responsibility being as valuable as government oversight, or said another way, personal ownership versus the nanny state.  But nobody, not in this Civil Eats post nor in any of the organizations cited, from Farm Aid to whoever, dares to breathe the loss of food freedom as either a cause or cure to this farm crisis.  Until they do, they're all bogus.

 What food would you like to buy that's not available at Wal-Mart?

MEANINGLESS FARMING

"How do we get our STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) students to care about farming?"

 When a question this specific happens twice in the same day, I sit up and take notice.  A couple of days ago I did an interview with a Florida college student whose questions included this one.  Then later in the day I had a visit from faculty and the  public relations team of a Cincinnati school where I'll be speaking in April, and they asked the same question.

 I do not live in the world of higher or secondary education.  My cocoon, if you will, revolves around the farm and our highly engaged young people on staff and internships.  Most of the people I engage with are interested in what I do.

 So these questions popped my little bubble.  I thought people were coming around to the importance of stewardship, food, and farming.    It shows how easily we become myopic, enjoying our tribe, living in our little world.  How quickly we can forget that my blog has a few thousand followers but Kim Kardashian has millions.

These questions, coming from folks who live in mainstream academia, speak volumes about the hubris and techno-cult of modern orthodoxy.  We have plenty of work to do.

 How did I answer them?  Here it is. 

 We live in an age of techno-worship, where drunken hubris leads many to think we'll finally and completely cut this umbilical cord that anchors us to ecology:  soil, plants, animals.  That we think we can levitate into Star Trek fabricated pill nutrition indicates not evolutionary advancement, but devolutionary ignorance of life's foundational building blocks.  The only way a civilization can enjoy the luxury of STEM advancement is in a bountiful nest created and sustained by landscape stewardship.  Absent soil, water, and breathable air--the commons--STEM won't have a place to operate.

 I am profoundly frustrated that folks on the inside of the STEM bubble apparently disregard resource stewardship--unless it involves some high tech machines or software.  Driverless tractors and infra-red cameras mounted to drones do not ultimately caress our ecological womb.  Caring farmers do.

 Would you be happy with a robotic marriage partner?  Will the earth be happy with robotic caretakers?

CAN-DO EXCITEMENT

How hard is it to raise some chickens in a portable shelter?  I'm amazed at the number of people stymied by something this simple.  And so it was a joy to receive yet another testimonial yesterday from a fellow who decided to take the reins of his destiny into his own hands.

He built a 56 square foot portable chicken shelter (I'm guessing it's 7 ft. X 8 ft., although he didn't say) and has 14 chickens in it.  Want to know the coolest part?  Total cost of materials:  $3.40.  Yes, you read that right.  The decimals are in the right place.

For less than one latte at Starbucks, this guy's in the pastured chicken business.  Kudos for his ingenuity and for refusing to be a victim of time, money, and lack of expertise.  You don't have to know everything to start.  We don't know much about anything when we start--talking, walking, pooping (where to put it).

Life's great adventure is starting.  Just start.  You can't Google experience, so just start.  For a little bit of time (what are you going to do with it anyway, watch TV?) and a cup of jo, you can be up and running with your own chicken enterprise.

Chickens are not real demanding.  They need some shelter, predator protection, something to eat and a bit of water.  They don't need laundry done or dishes washed or toilet paper.  Compared to kids, they're much simpler. 

The portable shelter offers ease of entry to poultry; housing does not have to be expensive or complicated.  Chickens will enjoy their $3.40 scavenged-together scrounge shelter just as much as a Taj Mahal coop complete with paint and toys.  Chickens really don't care what it looks like; all they care about is functional.

I'm sitting here typing this wearing my "I LOVE CHICKENS" t-shirt, so this is an appropriate posting for today.  They're fun, ultimately utilitarian--what else works happily all day eating garbage and giving one of life's most perfect foods, the egg? 

What's keeping you from building a $3.40, 56-square-foot portable chicken shelter?