In my last article I wrote about the importance of knowing your grocer. Now let’s go a step farther toward getting connected with your food.
Tip #4 – Know Your Farmer.
You should meet and know personally everyone who provides you with life-giving food. You can’t do that if you shop at a supermarket. Anyone who has read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” knows how it turned out when Michael Pollan tried.
Visiting farms is fun and educational. Your local chapter leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation can give you a list of the farms closest to where you live. Choose one or two that you might consider ordering from, and pay them a visit. Most sustainable farmers welcome visitors and enjoy showing you their operation. There are no hazmat suits, no manure lagoons, no ammonia or fecal particulates to inhale. Just green pastures with plants and animals living the good life.
You can get a good idea of your farmers’ practices and connect with your food sources by offering to help with chores. Or go for broke – do an internship!
Many farmers offer their produce and meats at farmers markets. Visiting farmers markets is another way to get to know your farmer. Before you go to the supermarket, always visit your local grocer and farmers market first. Then if you still need something else that requires a trip to the supermarket, at least you’ve already gotten most of your foods from healthier local sources.
Since both sustainable farmers and conventional farmers bring their goods to farmers markets, the first time you go to a farmers market you need to figure out who’s who. Ask a lot of questions. Take notes for when you return to the market the next time. Here are some questions to ask:
Q: How do you fertilize your crops?
A: A sustainable farmer will not use petroleum based fertilizers. In the farmer’s answer to this question, you should hear words like compost, manure, biochar, worm castings, soil microbes, minerals, and humus.
Q: How do you keep pests away?
A: There are many ways to control insects, pests and fungus. Some farmers will use vinegar water or cayenne pepper in water. Others use integrated pest management (IPM). IPM means something different for each farmer, so ask for specifics. Sometimes it means that the farmer will use an insecticide, but only if he sees a problem. Or in the case of an orchard, the farmer may spray up until the time of blossoming and then stop, so the fruit does not get sprayed.
Q: What do you feed your chickens?
A: Chickens should be out on the pasture, eating insects, worms and grass. They may be given a supplemental feed of some grains, but their entire diet should not be grains.
If a farmer uses the term “free range” or “cage free”, ask if the chickens are out on grass. In conventional poultry operations, free range and cage free means inside a chicken house. Also be sure the birds are not raised on a “100% organic vegetarian feed”. Chickens are omnivores. They need grass, insects, worms, and small rodents if they find them.
Q: What do you feed your cows?
A: The answer here is grass, grass, and more grass! 100% grassfed is best. Grain finished beeves are fed grains for 3 to 6 weeks before slaughter. You would think that after years of being fed only grass, 3 to 6 weeks of grains wouldn’t hurt. Think again. In about 10 days to 2 weeks, all of the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is gone from the fat of the animals eating grains. CLA is a very important nutrient that we get from the fat of animals that eat grass. I will cover the health benefits of CLA and the health detriments if it is absent in Tip #5, Buy Meats from Grassfed Livestock, and Eat the Fat Along With the Meat.
Q: What do you feed your pigs?
A: Pigs should be raised in forests and pastures. Pigs like to root for tubers, munch on mushrooms, catch small rodents, and forage for nuts and a variety of plants that grow wild in the shade of tall trees.
Q: Do you use hormones or antibiotics on your animals?
A: No. If animals are being raised properly, on pasture with access to grass and sunlight, they will not need antibiotics. Sometimes an animal becomes ill, and antibiotics may be used to save its life. Once it is well again, antibiotics should be discontinued. But if daily antibiotics are necessary, there’s something wrong with the operation. Good health is the normal state of an animal’s existence. If animals are prone to illness every day, their food and living environment are abnormal.
Look for farmers who use sustainable practices, even though they aren’t certified “organic”. Many farmers do not certify, but their farming practices are far superior to the organic standards. They don’t certify because the fees are exorbitant and the paperwork is too time consuming. The organic standards can actually hold back a farmer’s efforts at producing the best food possible. You can review this in more detail in my previous article, Tip #3: Avoid Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)”.
Small farmers who don’t certify would rather use better-than-organic farming methods, produce higher quality food and pass the savings on to you. That’s why at the local grocer or farmers market the prices are more reasonable than certified organic in a supermarket. These sustainably raised, non-certified foods are higher in nutrient content because they aren’t shipped long distances or kept in storage for months before they’re distributed to the supermarket. A local farmer often picks the vegetables the same day he sells it, or maybe the day before. And since fresher food means tastier food, there’s more flavor to savor. Higher quality and more flavor at lower prices – what’s not to like?!
So you see, it takes a little work on your part to find farmers that produce real food in your area. But once that’s done, you’re on your way to a healthier, tastier menu for your family.
If you want help with your search for real foods, find your Local Chapter Leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation here.
Just scroll down to find your state. Click on the state to find the Chapter Leader closest to where you live. Local Chapter Leaders maintain a resource list of local sustainable food sources in your area. Along with farms, farmers markets, CSA programs, raw milk cow share and goat share programs, food buying clubs, and local grocers, often the list will also include restaurants that feature sustainably raised foods on their menus, holistic health care providers, and more.
Stay tuned for the next topic where we discuss grassfed beef, pastured poultry, and forested pork, and how healthy animals make healthy humans, a healthy planet, and a healthy local economy!