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Do you trust "Certified Organic"?

The birth of organic food is one of humble beginnings and grassroot effort in an attempt to regenerate farmland and provide clean food for those who sought it over sixty years ago. In the mid-1960’s, the moment was ripe for turning back to nature; DDT was in the news, an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara had blackened California’s coastline, and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River had caught fire due to chemical pollution. “Ecology” was on everyone’s lips and was closely followed by “organic”. Early on, “organic” carried connotations far exceeding mere chemical-free food production. It implied a disdain and rejection of the war machine (also a hot button issue of the Vietnam era), since the same corporations—Dow, Monsanto—that manufactured pesticides also made napalm and Agent Orange, the herbicides with which the U.S. military was waging war against nature in southeast Asia. This correlation was very real in the minds of the early adopters, which was largely made up of young people who decried the war.  The early efforts at growing food organically was trial and error by scattered amateurs who were poorly connected and had almost no support network. In fact, the USDA was actively hostile to these efforts, viewing it as a critique—which it was—of the industrialized agriculture it promoted. Largely due to these factors, the organic food and farming model stayed relatively small and obscure--compared to the industrialized food sector--in the twenty-five span from the mid-1960's until about 1990. It did, however, grow in a sort of behind-the-scenes manner driven by increasing consumer demand. Because of this burgeoning consumer demand, by 1990 organic agriculture caught the eye of some of the largest food corporations in America—and subsequently—the eye of food governance. A bill, called the Organic Food and Production Act (OFPA), was passed in Congress. Ironically, it instructed the Dept of Agriculture—the same agency who had treated organic agriculture with undisguised contempt—to establish a set of national standards. Even today, many of us in the beyond-organic food world look back on that moment in time and see that move as a grave mistake. Since the early ‘90’s—and even more in the 2000’s, the organic food movement has seen consistent growth, and is lauded by many as the complete answer to corruption and fraught industrialization in the food industry. From a marketing standpoint—as well as from a consumer view, organic was the unalloyed good in a food world gone awry. But what many people don’t know is that the growth was fueled by corporate buy-in (from the largest food corporations in the world who wanted a piece of the pie), who viewed organics through a dollars-and-cents lens rather than the pure-food-and-farming vision the early adopters had. In my view, corporate buy-in is what gave rise to the organic food movement. However, it also caused it to become corrupted. Consequently, the organic food movement—like its cousin Industrialized Food—has become riddled with fraud and deceit. In an effort to maintain purity and consumer trust, the National Organic Program (NOP), which was the result of the USDA's "national standards", set up a third-party review board that allows or disallows materials (products used in both production and processing) into the NOP. This review board is called the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). Over the course of the past 20-30 years, as more large-scale growers seek entrance into the organic marketplace, OMRI has been pressured—and I suspect bribed and bought—into allowing more and more questionable materials into the NOP. As a result, a number of “organic version” pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides (cides=“death“ in Latin) are now allowed in the organic program that would certainly have been shunned by the early pioneers. But they are a necessary ingredient to the industrialization of organics. Similarly, certifiers are localized third-party groups, with usually several in each state, although they are allowed to certify in other states as well. For example, here in PA one of the certifiers is PCO (Pennsylvania Certified Organic), who is known to adhere to stricter rules and regulations than some certifiers. For this reason, some organic farmers choose to certify with the less rigid certifiers (which is always the result of a pass/fail system). You see where this is going, as organic became mainstream and therefore, mass-produced, it becomes increasingly similar to its conventional counterpart in that it's a race to the bottom in terms of quality. The only difference being that little green “USDA Organic” logo to buoy consumer confidence. Perhaps one of the most glaring cases of fraud in the organic sector involves imported grain. In most areas the world over where organic agriculture is practiced, there’s a deficit of organic grains. For example, here in the US we only grow 20% of the organic grains we use, and import 80%. To make up this deficit, the “Stan” countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc.) of central Asia have stepped in to fill the void. The grain from this region is largely exported through the port in Istanbul, Turkey. In March 2018, a shipment of “organic” grain from these countries was found to be fraudulent and 25,000 metric tons of corn was refused entry into the U.S. Although the NOP issued a memo four months later (in July 2018) to organic certifiers to be wary of these high-risk countries for grain fraud, no more action was taken to limit imports from the "Stan" region. There’s evidence of domestic fraud as well, as one can well expect given the significant price hike from conventional to organic. In 2019, an Iowa commodities broker, Randy Constant, admitted to more than $142 million in “organic” grain sales, the vast majority of which were fraudulent. During the years of 2010 to 2017, he sold over 11 million bushels of grain with more than 90% of it falsely marketed as organic, some of which included grain grown from genetically modified (GMO) seed, which is banned by the NOP. While there has been some action taken to bring the perpetrators of these fraud schemes to justice—especially here in the states, much of it has been slow and complicated, with almost a sense a reluctance from the NOP. Which begs the question; “How much “organic” grain has been both imported and sold domestically since the above cases have been uncovered?” And that of; “How many crops are entering the organic food and feed sector daily that are not truly organic?” Given the fraud that’s has taken place, not to mention the host of questionable material “cides” allowed in the organic sector, the “certified organic” food movement is something of a house of cards in terms of consumer confidence. I purposely say the “certified organic” movement because I believe the original vision for food and farming that’s natural and chemical-free is still alive among many farmers and eaters alike. Truly organic food (even more if it's beyond organic) in the marketplace is still the most viable alternative to mainstream food, which is to say the alternative to GMO’s, glyphosate (a known carcinogen), synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, and the like. But “certified organic” has become a mere shadow of what it was meant to be and may be the most misleading label out there today, given the fraudulent activity found in many corners of the program. Some of the early pioneers in the organic movement suggested that the organic food chain couldn’t expand into America’s supermarket and fast-food outlets without sacrificing its ideals, and it appears they were right. The industrialization of organics has sparked a dramatic shift away from the founder's vision for small locally oriented farms producing high-quality food to what is now a subset of Big Industrialized Food procuring pseudo-organic food on a large-scale globally oriented business model. When organic food appeared in big-box stores, it became just another label designed to bolster the confidence of eaters who were distanced from the producers of their food. As always, distance obscures transparency and accountability. With transparency and accountability missing, deception is easy—because regulators are easily bought and sold on the corporate level. And then, it’s only a matter of time before consumers see through the illusion and trust is lost. The good news is there’s a rising revolution of farms and food producers who are serving the “brightest and best” in the consuming populace with “beyond organic” vegetables, meat, and dairy products. It’s a revolution of sorts that includes small-scale direct-to-eater farms and clusters of concerned, educated consumers. Bypassing the need for organic certification with direct consumer relationships, this growing know-your-farmer know-your-food movement is the future to trust and transparency in the food supply. At Pasture to Fork, we place little to no emphasis on organic certification, mostly because all our production models far exceed of the requirements of the NOP. We do, however, emphasize producer/consumer relationship, localized foodscapes, full transparency, and optimal food quality and nutrition. What’s more, we believe truly organic food production is more about the producer’s beliefs, thoughts, and worldview than it is about a pass/fail certification process that can be fudged on or a set of rules that can be bent. Which is to say you can learn more about me by seeing my reading material (which indicates my interests and worldview) than having me fill out a bunch of certification forms. And that’s the View from the Country. This image depicts the books that have had the most impact on my views in farming and food production, health, and business, but not only that, on my life and worldview overall. 

Be The Change You Wish to See

For the past several decades, multi-national corporations have gradually corrupted the once-local food sector with cheap unhealthy ingredients and mass-production of highly processed food-like substances. Once upon a time this was only true in the conventional food arena, but as always, much wants more. As the organic sector garnered attention, the food giants of the world eyed it as a new frontier, and only a few years later we see it eroding as big box stores become the principal purveyors of now faux organic food. As if corrupting the quality of food were not enough, the agenda also includes undermining the craft-food sector in a continual price war (made possible by tax-dollar subsidies, of course). Not to mention wining and dining politicians and regulatory agencies to effectively eliminate food choice. For nearly as many years, the integrity food movement has complained and griped about all of the above. When GMOs quietly began appearing in food over 25 years ago, we essentially lost that part of the battle. And ever since, the craft-food crowd has been grousing about the experiment on an uninformed society and how children are being poisoned with toxic glyphosates and noxious ingredients. They call for legislation and beg for contributions to our lobbying efforts. Stand up to the pernicious industrial food complex, they say, and give us your money to help exposure efforts and non-profits. And what you get for your money is more losing and more complaining. Legislative efforts and exposé endeavors cost the offending companies virtually nothing. Lobbying—if anything is won—becomes so watered down by the time it’s passed that it’s virtually meaningless, and the exposés rarely make the mainstream news. At the end of the day too many of us still revert to buying their goods and services, and Big Food knows it. Oh, we may have moved our food purchases to the organic section in an effort to boycott them, but they own that too—under separate "pure" brands, so no worries there. Corporate America wants it both ways; they want us to buy their goods and services and they want their exorbitant profit, cushy market monopolies, and woke virtue-signaling. And since the vast majority of society doesn’t opt out of the formally accepted supermarket food system, they continue to openly repudiate the ever-increasing number of health-conscious customers with pseudo food that's made to appear healthy. Obviously, what doesn’t work is complaining and griping while consistently ceding our patronage to bully corporations who hate our values. What doesn’t work is integrity food producers who criticize the FDA and USDA for being in bed with the industry yet accept their oversight, which ultimately leads to dissolution of certain high-demand products because of regulation.  Do we too, think we can have it both ways? Can we aid and abet “the system” while at the same time opting out? If “the system” openly disregards our values, how can we possibly support them? For myself, I can’t pretend to abide by regulatory edict while underhandedly marketing unapproved products under an alibi label. Sure, it’s frightening and disconcerting to openly tell health and agriculture departments (pseudo-governments?) who we are and what we do, and that we have no desire to partner with them. But can we risk our values by affiliating with an industry who would rather see us out of business because they’re aligned with corporations who hate us? Opting out is hard (be it going against status quo regulation or eschewing the “affordability” of supermarket food), but the liberty that comes from being true and honest to ourselves and living by our convictions is sweet. While I don’t disdain folks who spend time contacting congressmen and pushing for remedial legislation, I’m not convinced that it’s the best path forward. Frankly, I’ve given up on lobbying and legislation. People ask what we think of the new farm bill. And I must say that I haven’t even read it. I don’t care about the farm bill. I know it has potential implications, but to change it requires a lot of lobbying effort for a minimal difference. If all the people who have their pants in a wad about regulation and corruption and combating these things were to put their resources to practical use, what a difference we could make. Remember, where we put our effort—it grows. If we put our effort into more legislation—legislation will grow. More deception. More hard-to-understand legal jargon on many reams of paper. However, if we opt out of the system, food producers feel it in their pockets. Speak with your dollars, move the market. We have surrogate decision makers if we rely on Congress to fix the food supply. Let’s not leave our children's health to surrogates. Find alternative sources, vote with your food dollars, exercise and develop intuition, and become skilled at vetting provenance. If we become expert at these, we could stop being riled up with all the legislative efforts that occupy our time. These are the things that will change the food culture. Plus, if we stop being vexed with the status quo and focus on positive change we make ourselves far more attractive to seekers. Positivity and effectiveness entices people. Remember Margaret Mead’s succinct quote; “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” And that, is The View from the Country.

Keep it Simple On Thanksgiving Day

Each and every one of us—when hosting guests for Thanksgiving—desires to not only to serve the best food possible but also to have such a climate in our home that causes our guests to feel at ease. Preparing excellent food is an art in itself, and to be the hosts who have it all together—calm and composed—requires even more preparation and self-control.As you know, achieving the above for a major hosting like Thanksgiving is a stretch, and if your home is anything like one certain Fisher household, it’s usually a bit more chaotic than that, and underlying chaos is really hard to conceal from even the most unassuming guests. However, let’s focus on having things on more of an even keel when the big day arrives.To minimize chaos, we advocate being proactive. Please don’t think we’re experts because we have a long repute for procrastination (I more so than Esther), but all considered, we have learned a few things about turkeys (and about people). Here’s our list; Reserve your turkey early enough to avoid having to scramble to find one the day before (believe me, we encounter these folks every year).Keep it simple. So many folks watch a cooking show or two and have these grandiose ideas about how to cook a turkey—and all the trimmings—to perfection. Remember, cooking shows usually feature career chefs who have lots of experience cooking anything. For most of us, that’s just not reality. Cooking is an art form and must be learned as we go. Excellent food prepared in a simple, tasty manner really wows people.Prepare as many dishes—especially cold dishes—in advance as possible. This not only keeps the cook from becoming too frazzled, but also helps to avoid ruined or less-than-perfect dishes due to “too many irons in the fire.”Narrow down the number of offerings. We humans are much more likely to over-complicate things than keeping it too simple. When we host, Esther and I will trim down the menu to a few first-course dishes, and even fewer desert dishes (yes, we’ve been uncomfortable going into it for fear of offering too little). We’ve found it allows us to put more energy and focus on the few dishes, have plenty of it prepared to excellence, and folks are satisfied and awed. Eschew the temptation to attempt a fancy four course meals, invest more time actually enjoying the guests, and enrich their experience by being a calm and composed host. For what it’s worth, those are our aspirations for a manageable hosting. While we realize that simplifying an event like Thanksgiving dinner is not the goal for all, our experience has been that it actually enriches the experience for both the guests and the hosts. For now, this is The View from the Country. Quotes worth Re-quoting ~ “Everyone has complicated lives, but the more you can simplify it and make it work for you,the better it is going to be.” ~ Lewis Hamilton “I find that as you get older, you start to simplify things in general.” ~ George Clooney Cooking the Turkey Early –   In keeping with the “Keep it Simple” article above, we’ll share our experience in cooking the turkey early. We know just how unnerving it is to be cooking the turkey Thanksgiving morning while hoping and praying that it’s cooked to perfection at the exact moment when all the guests have arrived, the other food is ready, and everyone is seated around the table anticipating the carving of the turkey. While some folks may have the ability to reach that ideal, Esther and I have found it difficult to achieve. Therefore, we started cooking the turkey in advance. Our creed is that low and slow is the best way to cook pastured proteins (due to the exercise it gets in its lifetime). Plus, we’re traditional oven cooks (no fancy grills or convection ovens for us). Starting the evening before the holiday, we’ll rub the turkey liberally with our bright yellow pastured butter and sprinkle it with plenty of salt, pepper, or other seasoning of your choice (Esther has been told that much of her cooking success is due to the liberal use of butter and salt, which we find plausible). After buttering and seasoning put it in the roasting pan and turn the oven to 400 degrees for an hour (high heat in the beginning helps to get heat to the core of the carcass faster). After an hour reduce oven heat to about 250-260 degrees and bake it for the remainder of the night (we’ll usually put the turkey in at about 9 PM). I know all night sounds long compared to the 20-30 minutes per pound rule most folks tout, but remember, it’s low heat, which doesn’t dry out like high heat does. Also, the poultry industry is adamant in its advice to always use high heat when cooking poultry. Why is that? It’s to kill the bacteria the carcass collects in the less-than-clean high-speed automated processing line (think tens of thousands birds per day in a single processing line). This concern becomes nil in a farm-raised bird raised outdoors and processed in a clean small-scale hands-on facility. The next morning we’ll remove the turkey from the oven when it’s well browned. Timing is dependent on the size of the turkey, but a 15-18 lb. bird will usually be ready by 7 or 8 AM. We leave the turkey in the roasting pan and wrap the whole pan in a heavy blanket to retain heat. This process is beneficial because it then allows the bird to “rest” in its own steam. Steam is one of the best natural penetrating agents ever to be discovered and having the steam circulating in the pan for a few hours helps to break down the meat proteins, acting like a natural tenderizer. One of our biggest challenges has been moving the turkey from the pan to the serving plate without having it fall apart. If you take this route of cooking the turkey early, don’t worry about it not being hot. Being the turkey folks we are, we’re usually looked to to provide the turkey when gathering with Esther’s family. We’ll cook the turkey at home and after traveling 2-3 hours (with it still wrapped in the blanket) it’s still quite hot when serving it at 10-11 AM. The beauty of cooking early is that it not only takes the stress away of having it ready at exactly the right moment, but also frees you (and the oven) up to prepare other food after the turkey is done. Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.

Making Your Vote Count

As you know, last Tuesday was election day. According to FairVote, presidential elections bring out about 60% of the voting population, while mid-term elections only attract about 40%, and odd year elections even less. While I have a lot of thoughts on the act of voting and elections that I won’t go into in this post, I believe America has become overly obsessed with seats on the federal level—and the elections thereof, while paying too little attention to local seats, where votes arguably have more influence. Until about sixty years ago, most Americans did not pay much attention to who was president and what he did and were far more connected and involved in what was happening in local politics. That said, even in local elections we have to ask the question of whether or not our life habits and worldviews align with the principles we pretend to vote for. In other words, are we aiming to change the world via the ballot box, or are we actively seeking to change the world with our lifestyles, spending habits, and whatever cultural influence we have? Due to an avid interest in the power of commerce in general—and the food industry in particular, I am increasingly distrustful of corporate business, especially multi-national chains such as Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Amazon, etc. and have arrived at the point where I don’t patronize them more than I absolutely have to, which is to say not at all. Why the dislike? While there’s more than one reason, to put it in a nutshell; corporations who reach the size of the ones I just mentioned attain monetary clout and consequently, policy-making influence that skews the playing field of commerce in their own favor, and a detriment to local and national economies. As Natalie Winch writes in Ditching the Drive-Thru; We may have separation of church and state in this country, but we do not have a separation of government and capitalism. A few years ago, I walked past a man outside of Walmart (yes, I was walking into Walmart while he was walking out) who was wearing a “I Voted” sticker on his coat. Noticing the sticker, I was struck by the irony of it. While he may have voted at the polls earlier in the day, he also voted with his dollar at one of the largest supermarket chains in the world. In all reality, we have to question which vote carried the most weight and influence, especially given the fact that we vote so often with our dollars between the times we vote on a ballot. The irony is this; each time we cast our “monetary vote” we not only create demand for more of the item we just voted for, but we also support the manufacturer, each and every middleman or broker who drew an income from handling or brokering the item, and most of all, the retailer. This—in the case of mass importers like Wal-Mart—has far-reaching tentacles that cross oceans and cultures into foreign lands with values very different from our own—often even opposing ours. While that is heavy in and of itself, even heavier is the fact that because we chose to patronize that multi-national giant, we kept those dollars from supporting a domestic company who may be far more aligned with our values. The same could be said of corporate restaurant chains such as McDonalds, who is the biggest purchaser in the world of not only beef, but also the number one consumer of pork, potatoes, lettuce, and tomatoes, and the second-biggest buyer of chicken, after KFC. Do we know how that food is produced? Very commercially, for the lowest price possible, and to the detriment of our greatest national resource known as soil. Plus, giant buying clout such as this is bad for any semblance of free markets, and for any purveyors in the market. Corporations of this size jump suppliers over fractions of a penny. I may have a thorn in my flesh, but that kind of buying power is bad for the world. So then, should we ask for the feds to intervene? Should McDonalds be brought before the courts for creating a monopoly? In my opinion, no. While they play by the same questionable business ethics many multi-national corporations do, they’re not solely at fault for their position and power. The consuming populace has given it to them. Should knowledgeable consumers like you and I boycott them? Absolutely! The food they serve isn’t good for us, their buying habits support terrible food production models, their presence in every town and village displaces smaller businesses founded on better values, and their corporate clout sways lawmakers, regulators, and agricultural policy alike. At the risk of sounding crass about electing government leaders, let me say that I feel most Americans place far too much emphasis on it. True, we need good leaders who have the good of their constituents and the good of the nation at heart. Yes, I am highly concerned for the future of our country if we stay on the trajectory we’re currently on. But I’m far more concerned about the state of our nation’s culture today than I am about voting “the right person” into office. I believe politics is downstream from culture, and acting out good common-sense values in culture today is urgently needed. Which is to say the way we spend our money and how we live out a visceral example of what we stand for is a needed cultural influence, which is perhaps as needed today as voting in the ballot box, especially if we only vote every four years. As consumers of earthly goods, we have a responsibility to the culture to act and spend in accordance with responsible values. While I’m not opposed to prayerful voting in the polls and would certainly encourage incessant appeal to God for godly leaders, I’m more concerned about careful daily consideration to who and what we support with our monetary vote and how we act out our cultural influence. And that’s the View from the Country.

Dare to be Different

The world, it seems, is full of shortsighted people.   Shortsighted people refuse to consider the future when making decisions. They refuse to acknowledge the world is constantly changing.   They will continue to make decisions based on the past – and they will continue to blame others for their circumstances. In reality, they have no one to blame but themselves. We need to make good decisions in a timely fashion.   Our decisions must be based on the future – NOT the past.   Nothing stays the same.  We may be entering into an era of change – unprecedented change. We need to be proactive in making our decisions – NOT reactive.   If we are too slow in making decisions, we will eventually be forced to abide by the new status quo and take whatever options remain. Our kids are hoping we make proactive decisions that are based on the future. Dare to be different. How long can you afford to follow the status-quo way of thinking? Unfortunately, being different is never easy. It requires that we think differently, act differently, and see things in ways that other people do not. It requires that we think for ourselves, and it requires that we act on what is best for our family, regardless of what others might say or do. When it comes to food and farming, we have been different for a number of years. When I was in my teens, my parents began to question why so many of their children lacked vibrant heath. With a little research, they began waking up to the fact that most of the food we were eating was very unhealthy and because of unhealthy foods our collective health was headed in the wrong direction. While almost everyone else was making decisions based on the so-called “healthy” nutrition claims on food packages, we began thinking, “It doesn’t matter how “healthy” your food is claimed to be if it’s highly processed, contains numerous unpronounceable ingredients, and has no resemblance to its raw form.” Several years later, as our knowledge and experience increased, Esther and I took on the baton and enlarged the vision to include growing “real food” for others in the surrounding area. You can’t get something for nothing.  Given the manifest food illiteracy of the American society, it’s not difficult to market certain foods as “better for you”—and many people fail to recognize that most of those health claims are based on only a slight improvement to the abject contents in previous versions of the same foods.   Plus, the “experts” who determine the government sanctioned food pyramid—along with doctors and dieticians who advocate it—lead the way in the propagandizing of the people via sleight-of-hand food claims.  As consumer concern over food quality increases, food manufacturers respond with more supposed “wholesome” foods. Within a few short years, many foods have become widely accepted as healthy, even though they contain numerous questionable ingredients. Even the organic food sector now includes an abundance of highly processed foods that are very unhealthy. Food literacy—learning about real food—is a journey, and not a destination. Almost the world over, we’re dealing with degraded resources—both in the soil our food is grown in and on, and the bodies we feed. Formerly we’ve used the word “sustainable” a lot, but have changed our mind about that. Who wants to sustain a degraded environment? We focus less on sustainability now, and more on active regeneration. Regeneration is about life. Vibrant life! Can our health be any more vibrant than the food we consume? Unfortunately, the degradation of resources—be it the universe or our bodies—is usually so gradually that the change is almost imperceptible. Likewise, many people consider themselves perfectly healthy until suddenly one day they’re diagnosed with a disease or illness. And at that point it’s very difficult to change their diet and lifestyle enough to reverse the diagnosis. Change before you have to. In his neat little book Tribes, Seth Godin spends a considerable amount of time discussing the status quo and its fear of change. He believes change is inevitable. I don’t think anyone can argue with that. Change is a normal and necessary part of life – and in most cases, the sooner we embrace it, the better off we will be.   Seth says, “Change almost never fails because it was too early.   It almost always fails because it was too late. By the time you realize your corner of the world needs change, it’s almost certainly too late. It’s definitely not too early.”   He goes on to say, “There may be a small price to pay for being too early, but there will be a huge penalty for being too late.” We agree. And that’s The View from the Country. Quotes worth Re-quoting ~ “The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different.” ~ Peter Drucker “Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” ~ Michael Porter

Freedom and Risk

In recent years, freedom has become a divisive term in this country. Increasingly, it’s your freedom against my freedom. Sort of like your truth and my truth. Have we forgotten that both truth and freedom are more than just words to be tossed about in whatever sense we wish them to be? I’m concerned that we’ve come to a warped sense of what freedom is and where it comes from. Perhaps the best-known line from the Declaration of Independence is where it says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The drafters of this document perhaps had a better understanding of where true liberty ultimately comes from than most Americans today. More on that later. In taking “the path less traveled” in the past decade—which is unconventional—lunatic:)—farming, I’ve come to appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in this country to a greater extent. I’ve also come to embrace more of a libertarian mindset due to the overreach I see the powers-that-be taking in our lives. More than that, I’ve come to a greater appreciation of the inherent tradeoff that comes with freedom, which is risk. And that “safety” can very quickly become an inhibitor of freedom, which is to say eliminating risk also diminishes freedom. Allow me to clarify using several examples. That a young person like me—having zero farming experience—could ignite a dream by reading several books, apply those ideas to a piece of land, and within a decade have a business that supports a family, that’s freedom. That, my friends, is an American phenomenon, and a privilege we too often take for granted. The freedom to take an entrepreneurial idea, apply blood, sweat, and tears, and see it succeed doesn’t even enter the imagination of many people around the world. It’s the American dream. However, it carries heavy risk. Like all innovative start-ups, the venture could fail. Even now, although we don’t worry about it, we could lose everything we invested, and then some, depending on factors in the greater world. It’s the risk entrepreneurs take, but also the freedom we savor.Our farm, as many of you know, grows food for the informed consumer. The ability to market the abundance of the earth to people like you who desire direct-from-a farm-I-know food is freedom. But the flip side is that it carries inherent risk and requires a deep trust factor. As eaters, you have the risk of us serving a product that’s no good, or not what we represent it to be. This risk is enhanced by the fact that we have no government oversight in the products we offer. As direct-to-eater producers, we stand the risk of litigious action or public slander against us when someone buys something they didn’t like or wasn’t what they expected. This is why we place such emphasis on relationships with our customer base. But overall, it’s the risk of private commerce and free markets.  Speaking of private commerce, when we faced governmental overreach on the County, State, and local level two years ago, our position was risky–even with excellent counsel. The powers-that-be could have strong-armed us into submission, although it would have been a gross usurpation of power and vastly unconstitutional, it was the risk we faced. What’s more, these agencies could return in the future to harass us again. We value the freedoms of private commerce and will do all we can to maintain them, but in order to do so we face risk.As you know, we’re a farm raising food animals using as-natural-as-possible models of production. The animals in our care experience freedoms that most food animals in this country do not. They enjoy a natural habitat outdoors. But one of the foremost challenges they face in doing so is the variables of weather and the whims of predators. We do all we can to mitigate these challenges and keep them comfortable and protected, but that’s not always enough. Foxes, eagles, and weasels love free chicken. Heavy rain, heat, or bitter cold does come, and sometimes the animals suffer through it, as do animals in the wild. Raising them indoors in artificial conditions could be seen as an option, but that’s not freedom, and is not what you and I are looking for in regenerative nourishment.Two hundred forty-seven years ago, when the assembled Continental Congress declared independence from the heavy hand of British rule, they took a huge risk, even facing the possibility of being beheaded by the British Crown. It’s hard for us to recognize how much of a risk of life or death it was for the early patriots and for those who were willing to join forces with them. Ultimately, it turned out to be a cause many gave their lives for. But that risk resulted in freedom for innumerable people from all over the world for multiple generations.Beyond the Revolution, developing a new nation on the statutes America is built on was quite risky and unproven. There was no guarantee of success. To be sure, in an effort to minimize risk the founders took a deep look at various forms of government, taking what they thought was the best characteristics of each of them and wove them together to form what is still the freest country in the world. This was a tremendous risk, but out of it was born a republic of free people that became a beacon to the world, not to mention an arbiter of innovation that has made the lives of men unimaginably easy.When God created man with free will, thus granting him abilities and freedoms not granted any other creature, he faced the risk of losing his most prized creation to the Devil. Yet he chose to take the risk in order to have a creature who serves him by choice, not by instinct. The only thing better suited to portray God’s love and affection for mankind is His backup plan to redeem man from the clutches of Satan, who He knew would lure man away from Him. Interestingly enough, the founders of this nation evidently observed man’s God-given freedom when drafting the Declaration of Independence; “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” While I believe we do well to adamantly further freedom and truth in this country, I believe we need to take into consideration that in and of ourselves we cannot be free or true. When I say furthering freedom, I’m not encouraging a chip-on-the-shoulder-do-as-I-wish-arrogant-sovereignty, rather a humble we-are-free-only-under-God-and-defend-God’s-statutes attitude that takes a relentless stand against the powers of darkness regardless of sacrifice. Not a one of us is free and sovereign by ourselves but are accountable to and with the people around us, whether it be family, community, or nation. No man is an island. I believe we are only free because of number seven in the list above, which is to say only because we are created by the Creator of freedom for mankind. On this foundation, and on it alone, can we advocate for freedom in this land and beyond. The freedoms we have enjoyed are under steady duress by forces much larger and darker than man could devise, and it is only via the Giver of Freedom that we’re able to go against these forces. Let’s join hands, stand firm, look to the Author of Liberty for strength, and pray for courage to face whatever the future may hold. And that’s The View from the Country. Quotes worth Re-Quoting – “Freedom is not the right to do as we please, but the liberty to do as we ought.” ~ unknown“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love. Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free.”― Leo Buscaglia“Freedom is not defined by safety. Freedom is defined by the ability of citizens to live without government interference. Government cannot create a world without risks, nor would we really wish to live in such a fictional place. Only a totalitarian society would even claim absolute safety as a worthy ideal, because it would require total state control over its citizens’ lives. Liberty has meaning only if we still believe in it when terrible things happen and a false government security blanket beckons.”― Ron Paul

Beating the Baby Food Crisis

With headlines screaming of a shortage in baby formula, I can’t resist weighing in. I know this is one of the highly politicized stories of the day, but I’ll try to stay out of the political “weeds” surrounding this topic. Stick with me to the end and I’ll share a few resources. As always, there’s a high probability of there being considerably more to this story than we’re told, which disposes me to want to know the back story that put us in this quandary, and then find a viable solution to the problem. For context, let’s start with the circulating narrative. The bulleted list goes something like this: Over 40% of top-selling formulas in the United States are currently out of stock or very hard to find.October 2021—a whistleblower came forward with information about less than desirable practices in an Abbott (Similac) plant, which is said to produce upwards of 40% of US formula.December 2021—FDA interviews the whistleblower.January 2022—after 2 babies die from bacterial infections, FDA shuts down the Abbott plant in Michigan due to a possible contamination link. Later this was disproven as the cause of death.Today—Abbott is compliant with FDA’s requirements for re-opening, but FDA is saying perhaps another 2-3 months.Babies who need special formula such as soy-free or lactose-free are hardest hit by this shortage because most special formula is out of stock.As of yesterday, several babies have been hospitalized because of the parents’ inability to get the special formulas they were dependent on. In the abstract, “the news” seems to cover any given subject objectively, but increasingly, subjects like the baby food crisis are highly politicized to the point where the discussion only touches the skin of the situation and actually conceals the bigger story, not to mention offers no real solution or alternatives. With that, let’s dive into some of the things that aren’t being discussed in the news: There’s a growing [private] conversation pointing to government being the primary cause of the current shortages due to baby formula being one of the most heavily regulated products in America.When the government intervenes in the marketplace some things are usually subsidized or restricted, which tends to shut down fair competition. In an over-regulated industry new business entry becomes very expensive—even bordering impossible—which creates a monopoly. This, in turn, makes the market easier to control overall. This shortage is a prime example of this. When one manufacturer (Abbott) supplies 40+% of the national market, shutting it down quickly results in a national shortage and crisis.Many people are now buying outlawed European formulas on the black market. European regulations allow for products like goat milk and unpasteurized milk—things that are actually healthier for your infant—that are illegal in the Unites States.Interestingly enough, most American made formula is illegal in Europe because of the unhealthy ingredients allowed by regulators in the states. In the ideal circumstance, every baby would be fully breastfed by its own mother. While I believe that to be possible in more situations than not, it’s not always the best option depending on mother’s health, etc. That said, commercial formula is an inherently poor option because of its unhealthy ingredients. The organic options are little different from the non-organic because of similar ingredients, including rancid vegetable oils and denatured proteins. Even breastmilk from a donor milk bank is pasteurized in most cases plus the diets of the donors are unknown. If the fallout of this shortage causes anything, I hope it’s a new awareness of the ease, affordability, and empowerment of homemade formula. Here’s a list of facts surrounding this subject: Homemade formula has been around for a long time. Most old cookbooks have recipes for homemade formula. According to the FDA, these recipes are unhealthy at best and risky at worst. Maybe it’s time the people recognize the FDA’s sorry track record in separating healthy from unhealthy.Raw milk formula is not only accepted, but encouraged, in many civilizations around the world. The United States is one of a few countries where raw milk in discouraged as a food.Many folks raise eyebrows at the suggestion of feeding raw milk to infants.  Raw milk from a reputable source is completely trustworthy and when made into a formula with other safe ingredients is likely healthier for your baby than commercial formula.One of the safest and well researched homemade formulas I know comes from the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF). The quality of the ingredients is excellent, causing the end product to be as nearly on par with breastmilk as anything we know of at this time.If price is of concern, rest assured. On average, organic brands of commercial formula is 50% more expensive per ounce than the homemade raw milk WAPF formula.Making formula in your kitchen allows you to make it every couple of days based on how fast you use it, which gives your child the advantage of freshly made formula all the time. One of the biggest concerns surrounding commercial formula is the preservatives used to extend shelf life. Like any processed foods, baby formula contains multiple ingredients that may react to one another over time. The challenge food processors face all the time is to neutralize these ingredients in order to maintain shelf life. Extended shelf stability always raises the question of “If it can sit in a truck or on a shelf for such a long time, unrefrigerated, just how much life is in it?”Although it’s very well researched and contains multiple highly nutritious ingredients, the WAPF homemade formula can mixed up in about 10 minutes once you’ve become familiar with it.If your baby was on commercial formula, you will very likely see marked improvement in your child’s performance after switching to the WAPF raw milk formula, physically and mentally. If you find a baby food shortage to be unsettling and even a bit worrying given the recent predictions of widespread food shortages in the future, you’re not alone. But like most challenging situations, if we’re willing to open our minds to possibilities we’ve perhaps never been exposed to before, we have options. Options that can actually be quite good if we can overcome our preconceived notions. Here’s my challenge to you. If you have a baby—or have friends who do—and are perturbed by the wave this shortage creates, go to this page on the WAPF website and watch the easy-to-follow twenty-minute video on how to make your own healthy baby food. The page also has links to multiple other resources involving baby food, including formula for lactose intolerant infants. Like all things worth doing, this requires a bit of effort to learn, but perhaps the rewards come according to the effort we invest. Let’s become less dependent and strive towards self-reliance. Together we can make a difference. And that’s The View from the Country. Quotes worth Re-Quoting – “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”― Audre Lorde “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”― Jane Goodall

Concerning Food Shortages

At this point you’ve probably been exposed to the circulating speculation regarding food shortages. This is concerning, especially given it could come on something of a global scale. But as always, I’m inclined to take a rational view of potential crises (I’ve been accused of being lackadaisical in my responses to intense situations). First and foremost, the driver of a potential food shortage is said to be directly linked to both the availability and the skyrocketing cost of chemical fertilizers. This is allegedly linked to the Russia/Ukraine war because a large portion of the world’s fertilizer is manufactured there. With most of the western world’s agriculture dependent on synthetic fertilizer, taking major contributors like Russia and Ukraine out of the equation affects agriculture nearly the world over. The war is also blamed for food shortages because of Ukraine’s position as the breadbasket of Europe, and a key grain supplier of much of Asia. With grain being the number one storable food and feed commodity on the planet, this plays into animal agriculture on a vast scale. That said, this article is not about war—although my heart goes out to the refugees and circumstantial victims in Ukraine. Whether or not we’ll see food scarcity to the degree hypothesized we don’t know. We do know the media—along with other powerful entities—tend to focus on the negative, and appear to thrive on the generation and perpetuation of crises. We also know rumor of widespread food shortages are sure to instigate fear and panic among the masses. Concerning fertilizer, how did we come to such widespread dependence on synthetic energy to produce food? More, how did man figure out a way to become so helplessly fossil energy reliant that we depend on fossil energy to not only grow food, but transport it an average of 1500 miles before it reaches the plate? You might say, “We need it to feed the world.” While that’s a commonly held belief, it’s completely false. Yields on organic farms—who are barred from using fossil derived fertilizers—are on par with conventional, and the better organic farmers are surpassing conventional. Beyond simple yield measures, many regenerative farms now blow conventional operations out of the water with enterprise stacking, such as grassfed beef and pastured chickens on the same acreage. There simply is no excuse anymore for the soil prostitution taking place under traditional till-and-poison crop farming. That said, my concern—if the projected food crisis escalates quickly—is that we reach a point where innovation and change to more sustainable systems cannot come fast enough. Like all change, shifting from the old to the new first requires a paradigm shift in people’s thoughts. Farmers, as a demographic, are slow to adjust the way they do things. Especially if it means moving from the [old] mechanistic view of the chemical/tillage method to the biological method in which organic and regenerative agriculture functions. Removing fossil-based fertilizers from agriculture is not unlike taking away from society welfare, unemployment, and social security. If suddenly these social programs were removed, it would have calamitous consequences to a dependent society. To be sure, people would perhaps figure out how to earn a living and save for old age (I don’t say this in a demeaning way), but it would take time. By the same measure, for agriculture to learn to do without chemical fertilizer will take time. As glad as I would be to see American Agriculture cured of its chemical addiction and repent from its soil rape, the threat of it happening suddenly without replacing it with necessary education is troubling. Speaking of Ukraine’s position as a major grain center, I ask, “Why so much grain?” The simple answer is, “To feed livestock.” In the US alone, 70% of all grain grown goes to herbivores. This is completely unnecessary and accounts for the majority of all pesticide, herbicide, fertilizer, and agricultural petroleum use. Having four stomachs (essentially a giant fermentation vat capable of breaking down the complex carbohydrates in grass), herbivores aren’t designed to eat large amounts of grain. Grain-fed beef, for example, evolved under an agenda to grow it bigger, fatter, faster, and cheaper. All while making the end product less healthy as human food. The subject of soil sustainability or regeneration is not new. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson wrote extensively of the need to regenerate soils. The work of Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947) made prominent strides in composting and other efforts toward sustainability as early as the 1920’s and ’30’s. But at the end of WWII when munitions factories were redirected to the manufacture of chemical fertilizers, it quickly gained a significant head start on the organic/biological method. However, today our side is head-to-head with the conventional in terms of innovation as well as efficiency, not to mention leagues ahead in effectiveness. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but a little-known fact is that the US grain economy would not be possible without subsidiary programs from the federal government. Simply put, the government—by way of the USDA—takes tax dollars from consumers to subsidize farmers to grow grain in order to create cheap food for consumers. The greatest beneficiaries in this system are food manufacturers, who, by the way, lobby for crop subsidies. And of course, the federal government, who gains power and control. But I didn’t start this article with the intent of ranting about what’s wrong in the world. Rather to find solutions. Envision a world where we grew 70% less grain. Imagine how much agricultural land would be freed to grow perennial polycultures (which are soil positive under good management). With all this grassland we could do away with factory chicken houses and confinement hogs, all of which can easily be scaled in a pastured model. Earth friendly, animal friendly, and health friendly. What more could we want? (Maybe cheap food made possible via taxation. ha) What to do about the threat of a food shortage? I know this will sound self-serving, but it’s the way I see it. Form a relationship with a local farm. If push comes to shove farms like us may be forced to serve only our existing customer base. We have relationships with these people and can’t let them down in a crisis.Grow as much of your own food as possible. I know this may be intimidating but start a backyard chicken flock or grow a garden. (BTW, there will be a topic on backyard chickens at next week’s WAPF meeting here at Pasture to Fork)Build an in-home larder. Having a freezer full of food, or a shelf full of canned goods goes a long way toward stilling fear and panic.Buy extra every time you grocery shop. This is closely tied to #3. Buying a few packages extra of the things you use most is an easy way to lay away for that “rainy day.”Learn food prep skills. History shows us that in famines of the past the most available foods were the basics like potatoes and other items that required preparation.Trust God. The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers: let him not leave us, nor forsake us… 1Kings 8:57 I hope you understand that I’m not trying to scare anyone. Much more to inform. The practical side of me would like to believe that this would not or could not happen here. But at the same time, the vulnerability in our food system has grown exponentially in the past several years. Quite frankly, it looks like too much power/control in too few hands, which makes any system precarious. Admittedly, we don’t know if these hypothetical shortages will come. Maybe it’s just another ploy to vindicate Russia, or some other politically driven conspiracy. It could well be that in a year from now we’ll look back on this article and question my sanity for even writing it. Nevertheless, we must prepare to some degree for what may be on the horizon, whether we know it to be real or not. The future, at best, is uncertain. For context, I will end with this, For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7. And that’s The View from the Country. Edit

Grass-fed Meat Feeds You Optimally

In keeping with our promise last week, this post will delve into the nutrition side of grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef. First, I’ll go into the common science-based points such as omega fatty acids and CLA, and then we’ll visit the less known aspects. Here goes: Omega Fatty Acids- Although it’s now almost common knowledge among educated consumers that grass-fed meat has a more balanced ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids when compared to grain-fed, most people do not know that grass-fed beef contains up to 5 times more Omega 3’s than grain-fed. If you’re like me, science jargon such as this tends to go in one ear and out the other, but let’s get into it a bit. Omega 3 fats, when consumed, become anti-inflammatory compounds in the human body while Omega 6’s become inflammatory compounds. While the body needs both, they need to be balanced.  When we consume an excess of Omega 6 fats – which are found in grains, processed vegetable oils, and grain-fed meat (foods Americans eat a lot of) – we tip the scales toward overall inflammation in the body (which is the core of most disease). Omega 3’s, however, which are proportionally high in green vegetables, fish, and in grass-fed meat and milk, make up a relatively small portion of the American diet. The imbalance of Omega’s in the American diet is merely one factor contributing to myriad disease epidemics the western world deals with today.   As most of you know, chronic inflammation is a big deal in today’s world, and we need all the anti-inflammatory compounds we can get. GRASS-fed: Omega 3 to 6, about 7 threes to 1 six GRAIN-fed: Omega 3 to 6, about 1 three to 15 sixes                                                                                            Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA’s) – Not so well known as the omega 3/6 point above, CLA is a healthy fat discovered in 1978 at the University of Wisconsin. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a naturally occurring fatty acid found mostly in full-fat meat and dairy products derived from pasture raised ruminant animals (cows, sheep, goats, etc.). An interesting side note is the mention of full-fat when fat is largely vilified in mainstream food science (i.e., perhaps fat is not all created equal; not all fats are bad). CLA is found in the fat of grass-fed meat, and is greatly diminished—or non-existent—if the animal is finished (fattened) on grain. Please note, unless your beef was clearly marketed as “grass-finished” (different than merely “grass-fed”) it is not grass-finished, and was finished on grain. For the complete low-down, watch this two-minute clip.   CLA is widely touted as useful for weight loss because it strengthens the body’s metabolism. It is also well researched as an excellent antioxidant, as well as containing anticarcinogenic and antidiabetic properties.    GRASS-fed: if grass-finished, optimal CLA’s are present    GRAIN-fed:  CLA’s greatly diminished or nonexistent     GMO’s –    Perhaps the discussion of GMO’s is slightly out of place in this discussion, because an animal can be grain-fed without using of GMO feedstuffs. That said, with 92% of all corn and 94% of all soybeans grown in the US being GMO, finding non-GMO meat that is grain-fed is certainly a rarity. Foremost is the largely hidden tolerance differential in glyphosate residues from human food to animal feed. The USDA allows up to 20 times more glyphosate in animal feed than is tolerated in human food. To explain, glyphosate is the active ingredient in the widely used herbicide Roundup, as well as in generic brand broad spectrum herbicides. With glyphosate becoming an increasingly known health threat since the WHO announced is as a “probable carcinogen” in 2015, such high tolerance of the chemical fed to food animals is certainly questionable. Equally important, glyphosate has been proven to be cumulative in not only the human body, but in animals as well. If a beef animal is fed GMO corn and soybeans in a feedlot for approximately five months or 150 days, how much glyphosate is accumulated in the meat and fat of that animal? The truth is, we don’t know. Glyphosate also messes with bacterial flora. The reason for this can be best explained via its active role as an herbicide. Widely used to kill weeds in commercial crop production—as well as lawn care etc., glyphosate is a chelator that binds essential minerals and enzymes needed for plant production. It works similarly in the gut of an animal or human, thereby interfering with the role of bacterial flora needed for optimal digestion and limiting uptake of vitamins & minerals.    GRASS-fed:    zero GMO’s    GRAIN-fed:    most likely contains GMO’s/glyphosate, certainly if sourced from supermarkets    Complex vs. Simplistic Nutrition – Perhaps the least discussed fact of grass-fed grass-finished meat is the conversation of complex micro-nutrients. Ruminants, when given the opportunity/environment, will self-select plants based on their immediate nutritional needs. In essence, self-medicate based on today’s condition. One day a cow may need the micro-nutrients found in clover, the next day—or maybe the next hour—she may need the nutrients found in chicory, plantain, or ragweed. For this exact reason, at Pasture to Fork we are very careful how or when we demonize what most farms consider weeds. Only if the cows refuse to eat the plant in all stages of growth do we consider it a nuisance plant. For example, cows love ragweed when its young and leafy, only to refuse it when it gets older and woody. So, we let ragweed grow in the spring and early summer, but mow it down in the fall when the cows no longer eat it. Most so-called invasive plants are opportunistic in nature, meaning they will germinate when the soil/moisture/oxygen conditions are right. Even after a decade in this vocation, I’m still amazed that a plant seed can lie in the soil for many years, yet when the opportunity presents itself, it will germinate and grow. For this very reason we don’t merely raise grass-fed beef, which we think is too confining. We call it pasture raised beef or salad bar beef because it’s literally produced on a salad-bar of plants so that the cows have access to as wide a variety of plants as possible. According to research, original prairie lands had more than forty species of plants per acre. In fact, the late Allan Nation (editor of the Stockman GrassFarmer) would say that after plowing, it takes a hundred years for habitat to recover back to its original pre-plowing plant diversity. We’re just 12 years into it on some of our land, and we’re seeing increased diversity every year already. Plenty of room for additional healing and recuperation, for sure. In today’s modernized culture, we have far too narrow a variety in our diets, thereby missing out on the variety of vitamins and minerals our more widely fed forefathers enjoyed. You might ask if we can taste the difference if the beef had the advantage of wide plant diversity. The answer is no, our sense of taste is not that sophisticated, but our gut bacteria are [that sophisticated] and will benefit from more species diversity in our diets. Perhaps we need the nuance of plantain—digested through a cow—to round out our gut and immune system. On the flip side, grain-fed beef is raised on an extremely narrow variation of feeds. Basically corn, soybeans, and just enough hay to keep the rumen functioning. What’s more, high octane feed such as grain—because the cow is not designed to eat large amounts of it—short-circuits the long, slow fermentation process in the four stomachs (called the rumen), causing it to become too acidic. This in turn creates opportunity for the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria such as e. coli (which may find its way into the meat during slaughter), affects the overall health of the animal, and robs the eater of a host of micro-nutrients, vitamins, and minerals found in a more natural product.      GRASS-fed: highly complex nutrition full of micro-nutrients      GRAIN-fed: highly simplistic nutrition prone to bacterial contamination And that, is The View from the Country. Quotes worth Re-Quoting – “You are what what you eat eats.”― Michael Pollan “Per ounce, organic grass-finished beef is cheaper than many common foods like potato chips, red wine, name-brand cookies, popular coffee drinks, fancy donuts, and even fresh strawberries. And if we were to compare price per gram of protein, or per micronutrient, we’d see an even better value.” ― Diana Rodgers

The Grassfed Difference

While we believe in–and constantly talk about–the health benefits and environmental value of pastured animal proteins, it becomes necessary and beneficial to revisit the “WHY” from time to time. Today we’re offering some detail on the “WHY” of grass-fed (and of course, grass-finished) beef. Here goes….GRASS-fed: Provides every cow over 100,000 sq. ft. of fresh pasture via daily moves to fresh pasture.     GRAIN-fed: Raised in concrete/dirt feedlots with as little as 60 sq. ft. per animal (6’ x 10’ area) GRASS-fed: Requires sunlight, water, fresh air, and management.      GRAIN-fed: Requires fossil fuels, soil tillage, chemicals, and tax-dollar subsidy. GRASS-fed: Regenerates the soil and sequesters carbon through perennial plants and migratory cattle management.     GRAIN-fed: Degrades the environment and emits carbon due to annual agriculture, soil     tillage, and transportation. GRASS-fed: Calves left with their mothers for up to 10 months—for optimal early development, naturally.     GRAIN-fed: Calves separated from their mothers at 5-6 months—supported with sun-      therapeutic antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones. GRASS-fed: Long lifespans due to natural forage diets, exercise, fresh air, and sunshine.     GRAIN-fed: Short lifespans due to high grain diets and hormone implants  GRASS-fed: Produces meat higher in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats      GRAIN-fed: Produces meat higher in inflammatory omega-6 fats. GRASS-fed: Grass diet = cows with a balanced PH and healthy gut function     GRAIN-fed: Grain diet = Highly acidic rumen (stomachs), which causes it to be susceptible to             acidosis and e-coli-infestation that is not separable from the meat or milk they produce (cattle         aren’t designed to eat grain) GRASS-fed: Daily salad bar of diverse perennial medicinal forages.     GRAIN-fed: Consume GMO grains produced with chemical fertilizer, herbicides, and     pesticides. GRASS-fed: Our cattle are harvested at small-scale family-owned abattoirs open to the public who process a few animals per day.    GRAIN-fed: Harvested at industrial-scale slaughterhouses closed to the public who process         thousands of animals per day.  GRASS-fed: Cows self-harvest the grass below their feet, and naturally fertilize the fields as they graze.    GRAIN-fed: Feed must be grown and hauled from afar, and due to the concentration of     animals, the manure they generate becomes a logistical nightmare. GRASS-fed: Accounts for 3% of U.S. retail beef sales, with much of it happening locally where the consumer knows the farm and the farmer.   GRAIN-fed: Accounts for 97% of U.S. retail beef sales, with national distribution, the     consumer is disconnected from the production. (conveniently?) GRASS-fed: An industry made up of thousands of family farms—who operate both independently and collaboratively.   GRAIN-fed: An industry controlled by four main corporations—who by the way, now have    considerable clout in both state and national legislative decision making. GRASS-fed: Herbivores (cattle) and the grass ecology have thrived in this choreography for millennia   GRAIN-fed: Made possible within the last 80 years by industrialized agriculture which in turn is only viable via government price fixing and subsidy. GRASS-fed: Slower, better-tasting, happier, healthier.    GRAIN-fed: Fatter, faster – bigger, cheaper. We share these stark differences to highlight the important impact you are making by supporting regenerative farms like Pasture to Fork. Together we can change the world for the better. And that’s the View from the Country. P.S. To read the sequel article to this one where we delve into the nutrition of grass-fed beef, click here. Quotes worth Re-quoting ~“The shorter the chain between raw food and fork, the fresher it is and the more transparent the system is.”― Joel Salatin “The ninety-nine cent price of a fast-food hamburger simply doesn’t take account of that meal’s true cost–to soil, oil, public health, the public purse, etc., costs which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of subsidies), the health care system (in the form of food-borne illnesses and obesity), and the environment (in the form of pollution), not to mention the welfare of the workers in the feedlot and the slaughterhouse and the welfare of the animals themselves.”― Michael Pollan

Pollution vs. True Free Markets

As you know, capitalism has taken a bad rap in recent years. Much of this is due to the examples we see all around of industrial rape of the earth and environment, highlighted by powerful environmentalist groups who point to capitalism as the culprit. That may be true, in part, at least. However, I say it’s not true capitalism when an industry is supported by anything other than by its own profits and doesn’t foot the bill for all of its costs of production. True capitalism, I believe, allows businesses to serve society a product that adds value to its existence while at the same time internalizing its costs the same way profits are internalized. I became familiar with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. when I was assigned to vet him as a speaker for the local Family Days on the Farm event last summer. In the vetting process I came across a several speeches that resonated with my passion for making the world we live in a better and more beautiful place via responsible eating and farming. RFK Jr. (famed for his work in Children’s Health Defense), is less known for his work in environmentalism around the world, but he is a passionate advocate for holding corporate polluters accountable and for free market capitalism, and makes an interesting connection between environmental pollution and free markets. Agriculture and food production has largely gone astray, in my view, since the advent of chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fossil-derived fertilizers. This straying has been vastly harmful to soil quality around the world, more, has resulted in food and feed that is sadly lacking in vital nutrients. Even the Amish farming community in rural Lancaster and Chester Counties has been drawn along on the conventional chemical hamster wheel called agricultural science. While our culture still primarily farms with horsepower, it hasn’t barred the broad-scale adoption of modern agri-scientific methods that turns out to be little more than lousy stewardship (if not outright rape) of the resources entrusted to us. Having been raised in this setting, I must say, environmental activism or concern, traditionally, was pooh-poohed, and still is for the most part. So, when RFK Jr. said, “We don’t even consider ourselves as environmentalists anymore, we consider ourselves like free marketeers because we’re going out into the marketplace to catch the cheaters …”  I perked up not because I knew he would talk about pollution and corporate corner-cutting, but due to my wish to see small-scale responsible farming liberated from erroneous regulation that suppresses it. In other word, the "cheater" Big Food corporations who cozy up to regulators in order to amalgamate market access without jumping through the hurdles smaller producers face.But he had more to say, such as; A true free market promotes efficiency. And efficiency means the elimination of waste, and pollution is waste. A true free market would require us to properly value our natural resources, and it’s the undervaluation of those resources that causes us to use them wastefully. As I continued to listen, I realized that this is exactly where we are in food and farming. Food production, like many other business sectors overtaken by corporate interests, is atrociously wasteful of its resources—perhaps more wasteful than any other single industry. Here’s how; 1) In conventional agriculture, the soil is regarded as little more than an inert substance to support the plant, resulting in most of the soils of the world—and the foods they produce—being severely mineral deficient compared to a few decades ago. 2) Because of the undervaluation of the soil and the constant diminishing thereof, the plant is artificially “fed” with fossil derived fertilizers and “protected” via fossil derived herbicides and pesticides, all delivered via fossil dependent machines (conventional agriculture is the number one consumer of fossil fuels). This is simply not necessary to produce food, not to mention food produced outside the industrial model is bay and large more nutrient dense. 3) as the food industry amalgamates to fewer players, it becomes increasingly dependent on transportation (think cross-country and trans-continental transport using fossil fuels for conveyance as well as refrigeration, not to mention wear and tear on taxpayer funded infrastructure). Again, and abject waste of precious resources not used in more local food economies. 4) last but not least, as food companies get bigger and fewer, reliance on massive warehousing and longer-term storage results in an atrocious amount of perishable food wasted. Food that never even reached to retailer or consumer. Large purveyors are far less nimble and cannot respond to market demands quickly, resulting in massive lots of food passing the sell by date and ending up wasted in landfills. In Kennedy’s speech at UC Berkeley in 2016, he made this profound statement; “You show me a polluter, I’ll show you a subsidy. I’ll show you a fat cat using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market and force the public to pay his production cost. That’s what all pollution is. In a true free market, actors of the marketplace ought to pay the cost—the full cost—of bringing their product to market. Which includes the cost of cleaning up after yourself, which is a lesson we were all supposed to have learned in kindergarten. What polluters do is manipulate the political system, so that they don’t have to obey the rules of the market, and they can pass those costs on to the rest of us through pollution—by privatizing the commons.” While I couldn’t say it any better, allow me to expand on this—especially concerning food and farming. I find it interesting how he connects pollution and subsidies, because conventional farming is heavily subsidized. From direct payments per acre for six leading crops (corn, soy, cotton, canola, rice, and wheat) to crop insurance to the Conservation Reserve Program to Dairy Price Supports, and on and on. Interestingly enough, in this scenario the fat cats and the polluters are not necessarily the same people. Industrial farming is a major polluter of our soil, water and air, due to erosion and the runoff of agricultural chemicals into aquifers and streams. The now New Jersey sized dead zone in the Gulf of Mississippi is directly connected to synthetic nitrogen runoff from farmland in the Mississippi River watershed—which is the second-largest drainage area in North America. Measurable glyphosate in rainwater around the world is undoubtedly linked to the leading agricultural herbicide Roundup getting into the water cycle. Yet, commodity farms are essentially serfs in the agricultural system, and are paid dismal prices for their crops. Which is hardly the image we concoct of fat cats. However, the corporate buyers of these commodity crops reap the benefits of subsidies in the form of cheap commodities for processed foods and animal feeds, and lobby in Washington every five years to ensure that the maximum number of our tax dollars are allocated to the new Farm Bill. These are multi-national corporations like Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Tyson, and others, who cut corners via the political system in order to garner larger profits for themselves. How was it worded, again? “…manipulate the political system, so that they don’t have to obey the rules of the market, and they can pass those costs on to the rest of us through pollution…” This is not only true of publicly funded cleanup costs of waterways, etc., but also in the form of adulterated and less-than-nutritious food which is a direct contributor to what is now the sickest wealthy nation in the history of the world, the nation known as the United States of America. He went on to say; “Wherever you see large scale environmental injury, you will see the subversion of democracy, you’ll see the corruption of public officials, you’ll see the capture of the agencies that are supposed to be protecting us from pollution—they become sock puppets for the industries they’re supposed to regulate. You’ll see the erosion of the press—the compromise of the press. The disappearance of local control—of zoning laws or planning laws—and these kinds of local sovereignty is eliminated. And you’ll see the end of transparency. Because pollution is always illegal, and it violates the rules of democracy. It allows these powerful entities to steal and capture our public resources, because they have to be sneaky when they do it.” How very familiar we are with that! As I’ve said many times now, the county and state regulators who dog small businesses like us typically answer to the [publicly funded] federal agencies like USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), who, secretly, answer to Big Corporate Food. Big Corporate Food, by the way, is regulated—in theory—by the FDA and USDA. The same could be said about EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the corporate chemical giants such as Monsanto, Bayer, and the like.  What Kennedy so eloquently exposes is the fact that certain players in an industry are able to curry favor from politicians and bureaucrats via subsidies, which skews the marketplace unfairly in their favor. And, allows them an unfair advantage in the marketplace while society picks up the tab via tax dollars. Unfortunately, the curse of involuntary taxation is that we inadvertently support activities and industries we dislike but cannot keep our rightfully earned monies from being shifted to them via tax revenue. Some tend to view clean food as too expensive to buy. But I say it’s actually the most affordable. How so? All the costs are factored in, with none being hidden. Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illness, of crop subsidies, of foreign oil, of all the hidden costs to the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap. Small farms, by and large, are not eligible for government subsidy–nor do we want it. Therefore, we bear the true cost of bring our product to market. So, the choice is simple: You can buy honestly priced food that supports local, regenerative, sustainable farming. Or you can buy irresponsibly priced food wrecks the resources of the world and pads the pockets of multi-national giants. The beauty of true free market capitalism is that we are not forced to buy the product of anyone (if we are it’s not a free market). Maybe the best way to cripple polluters is to boycott their products. Perhaps society shares the blame more than we’re willing to admit. After all, who made McDonalds the fast-food king of the planet if it wasn’t eaters of fast-food? And that’s the View from the Country.    Quotes Worth Re-Quoting – “Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots. While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest.”― Michael Pollan “We’re a nation with an eating disorder, and we know it. The multiple maladies caused by bad eating are taking a dire toll on our health–most tragically for our kids, who are predicted to be this country’s first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. That alone is a stunning enough fact to give us pause. So is a government policy that advises us to eat more fruits and vegetables, while doling out subsidies not to fruit and vegetable farmers, but to commodity crops destined to become soda pop and cheap burgers. The Farm Bill, as of this writing, could aptly be called the Farm Kill, both for its effects on small farmers and for what it does to us, the consumers who are financing it.”― Barbara Kingsolver “The ninety-nine cent price of a fast-food hamburger simply doesn’t take account of that meal’s true cost–to soil, oil, public health, the public purse, etc., costs which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of subsidies), the health care system (in the form of food-borne illnesses and obesity), and the environment (in the form of pollution), not to mention the welfare of the workers in the feedlot and the slaughterhouse and the welfare of the animals themselves.”― Michael Pollan

Healing

Where do we find a word that connotates more hope than “healing”? My dictionary defines it as; “the act or process of making or becoming whole, sound, or well”. Definitely encouraging. On the flip side, antonyms for healing include detrimental, harmful, damaging, deleterious, noxious, adverse, nocuous, disadvantageous and ill. All of which are words we use to describe things we do not hope for. Sometimes I dream about what could happen if the world—or even a majority thereof—were to embrace a concept. Today let’s do so with the notion of healing. In keeping with my belief that all things worth pursuing need a foundation, or must be grounded on something of substance, I’ll follow the path we’ve claimed to be on for years at Pasture to Fork. It’s been something of a mantra for us; healing the land, healing the people, healing the community, healing the culture. Hang on, because I might say things that could be deemed “controversial” in this day of sensitive speech tolerance. Healing the Land – How much of today’s food production aspires to heal the land? I can’t answer the question statistically, but it’s a tiny percentage. To be honest, I don’t think the bulk of food producers even recognize that we’re dealing with a vastly degraded resource that is our soil. Like wealth, soil is a resource that must be built slowly. Very few people “get rich quick”. Rather, the vast majority of wealth is built up slowly by consistently practicing good stewardship of the resources at hand. The same with soil. Similar to wealth, soil can also be eroded away very quickly under poor stewardship. Soil naturally desires to be covered 365 days of the year, and makes an effort to cover itself with what man calls weeds wherever it is bare. Annual plants, by nature, put their energy into creating seed (think wheat, corn, soybeans, etc.), in order to preserve the species through the next generation. In order to do so, the annual plant draws from the soil. Perennial plant, on the other hand, focuses its energy in developing roots to preserve itself for the future, and draws carbon from the air to build soil quality in order to strengthen its root system for regrowth the following year. Annual plants also require some form of tilling or disrupting the soil, which furthers erosion from wind and rain. Yet, here in America we have had food policy built around annual plants for over sixty years. Even the FDA, via its food pyramid, encourages America to make grains the basis of its diet. Perennial crops—especially when choregraphed with managed grazing animals—build soil. The soils that the early settlers in the midwestern American prairies had never seen the likes of, were built by herbivores (primarily bison) and the predators (wolves, coyotes, etc.) who herded them and moved them around. At Pasture to Fork, that’s what we aim to mimic (absent the predators, of course). Our goal? To heal the land in our care. “That ought to be our stewardship mandate, to create Edens wherever we go. That’s why humans are here. Our responsibility is to extend forgiveness into the landscape.” ~ Joel Salatin Healing the People – The most basic human desire is for food that feeds us, keeps us healthy, and tastes good. We’re also wired to select that which tastes better than, let’s say, the other. Sweet, for example, was an indication of nutrition when we were hunters and gatherers. Fat in our food animals (which is flavor), and sweetness in fruits and nuts. We still carry that within us, and Big Food beckons to that instinct using flavor enhancers and artificial sweeteners. Truth be known, the eater cannot be healthier than the food it eats. Also, not only are we what we eat, but what our food animals eat. Much can be learned by looking at history. And it’s surprising how few years we need to go back until we find that beef animals were raised on grass, chickens free ranged, pigs were raised outdoors, and the distance between the farm and the eater was much shorter. And, people were healthier. Go back fifty years, and many well-known diseases of today were unknown or little known. While we’re a tiny farm in today’s terms, our goal is to provide healing foods to the people who desire them in our little corner of the world. While we do not comply with the local food police’s bidding for food “safety”, we stand for integrity in food production, truth in labeling, and full transparency overall. And that, we believe, is the test healing foods must pass. Healing the Community – Most of us know that the regional community—neighbors socializing with neighbors—has largely fragmented in recent decades. While other factors played their part, I suggest this is due in part to the food culture falling apart. When the food available in our locality comes from the same nameless faceless corporation as anywhere else in the country, the glue holding community together is gone. Joel Salatin once said “The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.” While this quote speaks of a time when many—if not most—folks raised at least a portion of their own food, it also suggests that the food was locally grown. And it was. There was the local baker, local dairy, and the local butcher. Not anymore. Actually, this came as a one-two punch to small-town America. One, thanks to corporate distributors who now mass dispense neatly packaged and artificially preserved food all over the USA, many of these mom-and-pop outlets are gone. Two, the family farms who supplied the local artisans with raw farm commodities lost their market and were either pushed into demise or had to turn to the corporate buyers who set their own price and conditions under which the farm must submit or die. As it now stands, the farms who remain grow commodity crops for Cargill (which by the way, is the largest privately owned corporation in the world), dairy for DFA (Dairy Farmers of America), or meat for Tyson, Purdue, or JBS. Meanwhile, most of the food is retailed by the likes of Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Giant. Healing foods cannot be mass produced. Because of the care that goes into creating them, they primarily come from various small farms all over the nation and world. While there are farms doing what we do who are much larger than we are, there are no corporate conglomerates offering truly healing foods. Even the organic sector is amalgamating to fewer and fewer players, which I suggest is the primary driver behind erosion of integrity in mainstream organic foods. I submit that if we returned to more of a local and regional food culture, we would regain a stronger community structure as well. Neighbors patronizing neighbors has yet always woven the fabric of community and is far more sustainable than dependence on Amazon or ButcherBox. When any given locality has no more than a three-day food supply available before another truck needs to roll in, and each household has, at best, a week’s supply on hand, what happens when that truck, for any reason, cannot come?  “Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.” ― Joel Salatin Healing the Culture – Many of us are somewhat vexed over the moral and cultural fall-out of today’s society. While there are many things influencing this, perhaps western society has become too secular in its lifestyle, too disconnected from its ecological umbilical. While it’s easy to say our piece about the state of society—especially post-Covid, it’s always harder align our actions with our words. One of my favorite quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson is “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” This can come in ways we don’t think about. Such as this line from Joel Salatin; “Erosion steals from my neighbor and my community. It impoverishes everyone. A food and farm system that encourages erosion is a direct assault on our neighbors and a direct assault on God’s equity. Christians routinely lament an erosion of morality, but then patronize food that erodes the earth. How can we possibly steward morality if we can’t even steward our dinner plate? We Christians extol the virtue of charity toward those less fortunate, but often help them with food that exemplifies greed and avarice.” That, my friends, should shock us out of our comfort zone. We all have a responsibility. Every action has a direct and adverse reaction. Interestingly, no consumer item has the ability to become part of us like food does. It literally becomes flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. And, the food culture we’re surrounded with seeps into our brains and thought pattern in subtle ways that are then expressed in other areas of life. For example, since adopting a “do no harm” mentality in our vocation as farmers, I know I carry that mentality into other areas of my life as well. At the risk of wearying you of him, I’ll give you another Joel Salatin quote that speaks to this; “Intuitively we all know that nothing operates most efficiently at full throttle. Is it any wonder that a food system predicated on faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper would create an ignorant, duplicitous, harried, obese citizenry? A culture’s people carry in their heads and physiques the manifestation of the food system’s objectives.” The Healer – As I mentioned, at Pasture to Fork, we press for healing; the land, the people, the community, the culture. However, this primarily addresses the physical and the obvious. But most of us also desire emotional and spiritual healing from time to time. For that I can only recommend the one Healer who, when life presses heavy around us and we feel like a child who desires a mother’s warm embrace, His words still ring down through the ages and invite us to Him for healing; Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. KJB Matthew 11:28-30  And that’s the View from the Country.