Farming and Food Choices

{Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. Thanks to Janele & Ashley for reading this over and being a sounding board!}

Farmers care about their animals. The sheep even become part of the family...hanging out watching T.V. and all!

Farmers care about their animals. The sheep even become part of the family…hanging out watching T.V. and all! Circa 1995 :) {Disclaimer:, my sheep’s name was Gizmo and yes, he later got sold to market because it is part of life on the farm.}

When something bothers me because I don’t think it is true, I usually investigate it. I try to find out more before jumping to conclusions. I try to gather all the facts and make an informed decision. My decisions are influenced by many things such as my upbringing, society, personal beliefs and more.

One thing that bothers me is the large debate centered around organic versus non-organic food right now. I dislike it because it affects my livelihood every single day. What bothers me more, are the misconceptions about both organic and non-organic farming and the fact that as an agriculture industry, we can’t all just band together and realize that BOTH options work and we need BOTH to be sustainable. One is not worse than the other. One is not “evil” while the other “good”. They are both needed to create the diverse food industry we have in the United States. It isn’t us versus them, it is agriculture as a whole.

Lately I’ve been asked how I purchase my groceries. (We grow both GMO and non-GMO crops, have raised organic sweet corn, raise free-range chickens, and have raised conventional cattle and hogs) I tell everyone the same thing: It is a personal choice. I am lucky enough to grow a lot of my own vegetables in my backyard. I also shop at farmer’s markets, my local butcher, my local Hy-Vee grocery store, and raise my own meat. I try to buy as much food as I can without a label, but I buy the box of Golden Graham’s and Little Debbie’s too. (Shout out to Zebra Cakes! Feel free to send me a box out of generosity at any time!) That is the beauty of our food industry, is we have a wide range of choices when it comes to what we serve on our table. And WE get to make that choice. The government doesn’t do it for us. We can educate ourselves and make our own decisions on how we want to feed our families. Sometimes it is our budget that week that influences our food choices, other times it is personal taste and sometimes it is our beliefs.

However, I don’t believe in buying purely organic NOR do I believe in buying purely conventional or what I like to call “normal” food. I know I make the best choices when it comes to feeding my family because I am confident with the food I purchase, hunt, raise and grow.

I do want to touch on a few recurring myth’s that I hear often surrounding the food industry.

#1 Free-Range chicken eggs are better for you.

Yes and no. As I said, I raise free-range chicken eggs. To be honest, my free-range chickens encounter a lot more danger, health issues and incidents than chickens at a normal housed, farming operation do. We’ve had chickens taken by hawks, eagles and raccoons. No matter how hard you try to keep predators out, they still find a way in. Warmth during the winter months is always an issue as well. I don’t give my chickens antibiotics which has caused us to lose a few because we have made a choice not to use antibiotics. If we did, we would be able to give that chicken antibiotics, much like you would your child when they are sick with strep throat. It isn’t easy losing part of your flock, and I will admit that there have been times I felt helpless when a chicken was sick. But this is what my consumers of my eggs and meat want, free-range, antibiotic free eggs and meat. Free-range or organic chicken eggs often contain higher traces of bacteria than the eggs you purchase in a grocery store. However, there are  great benefits to them too. We have awesome fertilizer for our garden now. Our eggs are often higher in omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin A. Frankly, I think they just taste better, but that is a matter of personal opinion.

These are how big the baby chicks are when they get moved out to their coop.

These are how big the baby chicks are when they get moved out to their coop.

#2 Our food industry isn’t safe.

I can’t stress enough that we have one of the safest food industries in the world. Do you remember the horse meat scandal a few months ago in England? The chances of that ever happening in the U.S. are slim to none because horse meat isn’t allowed to enter the human food consumption chain in U.S. However, shows like Dr. Oz play on our fears and hype to make us think that it can. We have inspectors for a reason–to make sure our food is safe. They are trained, with degrees and licenses to do their job. I trust them because they are good at what they do. A lot of other countries don’t have any type of inspection at all. Our foods go through rigorous testing and procedures every single day. We have boards full of scientists, business personnel, marketers, etc. that test, market and research food products to ensure their safety. Private companies do a lot of testing on their own too, before it even reaches store shelves. They do it because they can’t afford not to.

Part of the issue here is our own fault. It is in our own cooking practices. And let’s face it, we are all guilty of “cross-contamination” with our food at one point or another, be it from a cutting board, knife or kitchen counter. Cooking your food thoroughly and to the correct temperature is extremely important. Cooking your food to the right temperature is the most effective way to kill food-borne bacteria. You can find out more about that by visiting Choose My Plate. We all need to remember to wash our hands before preparing food. We need to make sure we give our veggies and fruits a quick rinse before cutting them. It is important that we wipe down our counters after raw meats or uncooked eggs have touched them. All of these steps can help prevent you from becoming one of the close to 1,000,000 people that get sick with salmonella every year in the U.S.

Let’s get real for a moment: If your hamburger is leaving blood on the plate because you asked for it to be cooked rare, you are putting yourself at risk. You are taking that risk. And yes, the same bacteria are present in both organic and non-organic food. It all has bacteria. Don’t blame the farmer for when you get sick because you asked for an under-cooked hamburger.

#3 It can only be organic or it can only be modern, conventional farming.

I don’t believe it is one  way or the other, and truly, we can’t have the mentality of its “my way or the highway.” It isn’t good for agriculture, it isn’t good for the food industry, it isn’t good for the country and it isn’t good for our families.

In order to sustain the world’s growing population there is a place for both organic and modern farming practices. One is not better than the other. Treating an animal like a human, doesn’t mean we are treating it humanely. (Is letting my chicken die from being sick because they are being raised organically treating it like a human? No, I would have had the vet give him medicine just like I have my doctor do for me.) However, there is a sense that if you aren’t doing it organically you are doing it wrong. This just isn’t true. Organic farming is just another way of farming. It works for some and it doesn’t for others. Just like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, same industry, just two different versions, some prefer Coca-Cola, some prefer Pepsi.

All farmers care about their animals and their land. They all want to do what they believe is right. But because someone believes that raising pigs out in the mud versus inside a barn is better, does that make them right over the other person? Does that make their practice how we should ALL do it? No. I think  this is what defines our freedom in the United States. The power of CHOICE. Let those who are the experts, be it in organic or non-organic farming practices, make the choices they need to perform their best practices. There are laws and guidelines written for both sides of the industry, by experts, for a reason. They have examined what works in both scenarios. One isn’t better than the other, they are simply that, two different scenarios. There is a need for organic, yes, but on a large scale, we cannot meet demand simply with organic-we can’t produce enough and that’s just a fact of the matter. Think about how many hamburgers you might consume in a year, then multiply that by a billion for just a fraction of the people in the world. Yes, we need both to satisfy consumers. It cannot be simply just organic or just conventional.

He look's pretty happy and comfy right?!

He look’s pretty happy and comfy right?!

However, the name calling, belittling and degrading needs to stop. Government trying to make laws for what we can consume or how its labeled, needs to stop. We need to stand up and say we have a CHOICE. Today, I decide to shop in the organic section and tomorrow I decide to buy the apple from Chile, because I want to support their farmers and industry too. Today, I decide to buy hamburger from the store because it fits into my budget, but this summer I will visit a local butcher instead. Today, I might try planting some herbs in my kitchen window, but tomorrow I’ll get my veggies from my grocery store (oh and don’t forget a box of Zebra cakes!)

Seriously, my favorite food besides a good cheeseburger.

Seriously, my favorite food besides a good cheeseburger.

I guess the biggest point I want to get across is that just because one person decided to do it one way versus the other person makes neither of them a monster.

In fact, they are probably both experts in the field trying to reach the same goal- being a sustainable operation. At the end of the day, there is a place for both and we have the privilege of being able to make a choice for the food on our table.

-Sara

Sources:

http://www.livestrong.com/article/247532-the-benefits-of-organic-free-range-chicken/

http://greenliving.nationalgeographic.com/benefits-freerange-chicken-3109.html

http://www.fb.org

http://www.usda.gov

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7 thoughts on “Farming and Food Choices

  1. Well put. We have a small farm in northern WI, and so many times are asked if we are organic. My reply is no, we are not. We do not use many antibiotics, rotationally graze in the summer months, try to do things the best we can for our cattle. They are like part of our family, and if they become sick, we treat them just like they were one of our kids. We choose to not buy milk, drink our own, and like you eat mostly what we grow and raise. We still buy from the store items we do not raise (and I love Zebra cakes too). There is a niche for all of us, whatever path we choose. We choose to not push our cows but to take a more natural approach, and many of our cows show that by their ages (oldest is 14, and a lot of 8 and 9 year olds going strong.) Love reading you and Dairy Carries posts!

    • I grew up raising cattle and hogs and the hardest thing is to watch one go down for various reasons. We all try to do what’s best for our animals! It sounds like your cows are happy and loving life in northern WI :)

  2. Thanks so much for doing the leg work for me. Now I will just share this with my daughter who has been away from the farm to long. :-)

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