This is the first installment in my mini series of blogs that I decided I wanted to write regarding a whole mess of thoughts and ideas that have been running through my head recently.
Originally, I was just going to write one blog about the “whys” and, more importantly, the “hows” of doing what I do. However, my plunge into my audio books further spurred this idea into deeper and more interesting thoughts, so I decided to split these thoughts up into a small series of blog posts.
What are you thinking?
Generally, this is a question I’m asked a lot. I’ve not yet decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The consensus is that I’m usually thinking at least 10 different things at any one time. This particular question, in the context that I’m referring to in particular, is in regards to my farming and chosen lifestyle. I hear it from any number of people, “What are you thinking?” often coupled with “How can you do that?” and “Why?!” Most of these questions are asked in a somewhat frenzied or anxious manner. Let’s begin by addressing the first question:
What are you thinking?
The short answer: a lot. The long answer? I am thinking about my health. I am thinking about the earth. I am thinking about sustainability, and climate change. I am thinking about where my food comes from, and about food itself. I am thinking about my animals, about my family, about my job, about my life. Every single one of these thoughts is a component and a reason why I choose to live the way I do. I want to attempt to give myself and my family a sustainable, healthy, environmentally friendly lifestyle. Additionally, I am thinking about others. I want to educate and assist anyone else who may be interested in leading a similar lifestyle.
I also think a lot about our current, failing food system. What will happen when the fossil fuels run out? Industrial agriculture is a far cry from years ago when oxen or draft horses were used to plow the land and harvest crops. The amount of fossil fuels used not only for plowing and planting and harvesting, but also for transport of crops and animals to their final destinations currently exceeds the output of food being produced (in terms of calories).
What happens when the next super bug is accidentally introduced into the market? Feeding animals to other animals, who were not made to consume meat; feeding grain to cows who have evolved to consume grass; housing animals in cramped and crowded conditions and then spraying their manure on crop fields; none of these things are healthy OR sustainable.
What are we going to do when the sea level has risen and climate change won’t permit industrial agriculture any longer? There are only a VERY few places on earth where rainfall, temperature, and land quality all measure up to be able to sustain large volumes of agriculture. Fun fact, the American mid-west is NOT one of these places (too little rainfall). With climate changing at its current rate, coupled with rising seas, these zones for truly sustainable and attainable ag will soon vanish completely.
How can you do that?
Well, if we are being technical, it’s a LOT of work. There has to be someone at the house daily to accomplish all of the chores and make sure all animals are well. The sheer amount of care provided to our plants and animals alone shows that we are not the “careless monsters” some claim us to be.
But this isn’t what people are actually asking when they ask this question. No, they want to know how I can raise an animal, primarily from infancy, up to butcher weight and then slaughter it. For me, this has never been an issue. I’ve been hunting since I was 12, and have consumed wild fish and game for as long as I can remember. I’ve helped scale and filet fish, and pluck geese and ducks since I was very young. I’ve been exposed to death, and it does not disgust me. I realize that no life is possible without death.
Let us examine the food chain. In a traditional sense, it starts with a producer (plants), moving up to primary then secondary consumers, and finally ending with tertiary consumers (including humans). However, the cycle does not stop here. When the tertiary consumers die, they feed decomposers (insects, bacteria, fungi), and in turn, the decomposers feed producers and the cycle begins again. It is a never ending circle of life and death. Without any single component the chain would crumble. Within this chain, producers and consumers have very specific and specialized relationships that allow for healthy coexistence and a thriving ecosystem. In death comes life: a mouse will eat a plant, a snake will eat the mouse, and a hawk will eat the snake. When the hawk dies, decomposers break it down and end up feeding the producers. I choose not to view death as futile, because it is absolutely necessary.
I believe that factory farming is a HUGE, unsustainable problem. The conditions the animals are kept in are cruel and unnatural. However, I do not believe that vegetarianism or veganism is the answer. I believe using animals for meat is ethical, as long as it is done respectfully. If you give an animal a good, healthful, decent life as close to what would be afforded in nature, and give them a respectful death, allowing them to nourish you is just. I choose not to support factory farmed meats whenever possible, instead raising my own meat in a humane fashion. Certainly I build relationships with my animals, I care for them, I love them. Yes, I love them, I really do. But I also realize that they have a purpose, and I allow my animals to fulfill their purpose. By boycotting factory meat, but not giving up meat altogether, I am soliciting a reaction from others. I want people to stop and think about where their food comes from.
I actually touched on this a bit above in the ‘how’ section, however I will continue here. I do not do this because I want to feed the world. I realize that small farms will NEVER truly be able to sustain the world’s people, however I am trying to induce an interest in the ‘old way’ of doing things. If “big ag” realizes that there is money to be made doing things a certain way, you can bet that eventually they will fill that niche. If people take an interest in what I’m doing, maybe they will change their habits, or at the very least, ask questions. I find so many people today are ignorant about what they’re eating. This goes beyond soda and industrial, processed foods, even further, down to the packaged, faceless meats in the grocery store. At the very least, I just want people to actually know what they’re putting into their bodies so that they can make conscious decisions about what they’re eating.
I feel like everything I’ve just written is simply a touch into the “What are you thinking?” question. I’ve decided to use this as the title for my little mini-series of blogs, because it is a question that encompasses almost everything I’m going to talk about. I’ll work on the next installment shortly. Thanks for reading.