American Farming Practices and Our Food Supply
I just returned from a group showing of the great film Fresh, a 72 minute, 2009 independent documentary about our food system in America. The meeting was held in Georgetown, Texas, north of Austin at Moksha Yoga on the town Square. The showing was brought to the Williamson County Women About Town MeetUp group and other viewers by The Monument Café. I love the Monument and take clients, family and friends there often. The Monument began in 1995 at its old further southward location on Austin Avenue between Leander Road (2243) and Highway 29 (University). For years, the owners of The Monument Café grew vegetables using organic methods on 7 acres behind their Georgetown home on the San Gabriel riverbanks. After 2 floods that destroyed their gardens, the second of which was the 18 inches of rain brought by a tropical depression September 19, 2010, they gave up the home garden. Now, they grow vegetables and herbs at the new restaurant garden at 500 S. Austin Avenue, just north of the town square. The 1995 building had become too small and so the new, bigger restaurant building was built just a few years ago. Both the old and the new buildings were designed to look like an old diner. The Monument tries to use locally grown and organic ingredients whenever possible and is opening its own Farmer’s Market in March 2011. Below are my notes and thoughts on both the film and modern food production.
Similar to the recent film Food Inc., which I also recommend, the film Fresh, a Ripple Effect production is designed just for that. To teach people about our current American food supply in hopes that the film will have a ripple effect on the American populace, therefore creating a larger and larger food production educated body that will tell others, buy local and organic themselves as well as telling lawmakers about the needed changes. The Industrial Food System is unsustainable. Medium sized organic farms can feed the world, and is sustainable. Organic grocers like David Ball and his Hen House Market can compete With Wal-Mart and other big chains by buying only fresh and local food.
Monoculture is where food producers grow too much of the same thing all in one space. There is currently monoculture, or concentration of singly raised, huge amounts of chickens, pigs, cattle, corn, cotton, wheat and rye as well as other food crops. Modern, Conventional, big factory farming is not good for the economy or local systems. These big factory forms produce horrible odors and toxic waste. Have you ever driven by a cattle feedlot? The poor cattle are standing in manure and urine while eating an unnatural food- grain. A correspondingly horrible stench fills the air. Ditto for pig farms, all you smell is ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. The lagoons surrounding these factory farms are full of manure, urine but also pharmaceuticals like antibiotics and growth hormones. It kind of reminds one of the Love Canal environmental disaster in 978. Modern maladies like Mad Cow Disease (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE), e coli, Salmonella outbreaks and others arise from bad farming practices and are nature’s way of saying “enough!!” Feeding grain to cattle that should only eat grass (they are herbivores), feeding dead cows, dead chickens in the form of MBM (or meat and bone meal); as well animal manure to cattle and chickens is just wrong and causes disease. Conversely, when livestock are raised in a humane way, out on the pasture, not overcrowded they have a symbiotic relationship with both the land and other animals. The livestock provide manure and urine as a natural fertilizer, the chickens pick the goodies out of the manure, the grasses grow greener and healthier, the land becomes more fertile and the chicken’s eggs and meat are tastier and more nutritious.
Mr. and Mrs. Fox in Rison, Arkansas are a couple featured in the film that are caught up in the vicious cycle of raising poultry for big producers. Their chickens are raised in extremely crowded conditions on a white Poultry Litter that is an eye irritant – poor chickens. The chickens they raise are genetically bred to grow fast and get antibiotics in their feed all the time as a precautionary measure, not because chickens need it, not if they are raised humanely anyway. They find themselves totally dependant on the big ag company, having had to sign a 7 year contract just to get more birds. The Foxes say that processing their broilers does not look or smell good and that the big ag company cannot keep laborers at the processing plant, therefore being forced to use prison labor.
George Naylor, an Iowa Corn Belt conventional farmer is another featured grower in the film. His soybeans are being eaten up by bugs after growing the same crop year after year. In the GOOD old days crops were rotated, green manure was grown and plowed in, etc. but in this monoculture the soil gets sick and becomes devoid of nutrients and micronutrients as well as microbials so therefore the crops get sick after years and years of the same plants and the same chemicals. Corn and soybeans are the two main crops grown in Iowa, and what is sad is that nearly all this damaging monoculture is done for Industrial use for corn syrup, etc, NOT for food. Naylor says we need policies in America that support family farms because farmers have huge expenses and need the government subsidies. I know firsthand that is true having been married to a farmer and lived in a farming community.
Russ Kremer of Frankenstein, Missouri, the Ozark Mountain Cooperative and Heritage Acres meat products in Mountain View, Missouri, said in the film that college students of agriculture are taught to push production and get as many pounds as they can. Kremer said he has been a family farmer since he was 5 years old. In the monoculture raising of his pigs, he found himself having to inject the swine with mediations since in these unhealthy living conditions squashed in a barn like sardines, disease becomes rampant unless these poor animals are fed antibiotics daily in their feed. After having an accident on the farm, being cut on the leg by goring, and the farm bacteria that got in his system, his leg swelled up twice its normal size. He sought medical care and received many different types of traditional antibiotics. None of them worked due to this being a mutated monster strain of Strep infection, produced right at his farm due to overuse of antibiotics to ward off disease and promote growth in his hogs. This farmer had to exterminate his herd. Now, his sows in his farrowing pens are free to roam in uncrowded conditions. The pigs tails no longer need docking as they did when so closely packed together. With no antibiotics and no sick hogs, he has saved over $14,000. his first year and now has over 300 happy and naturally healthy hogs.
Author Michael Pollan was also featured in the film Fresh. He says that cattle should never eat grain, nor beef, this is unnatural for them since they are grass eaters by nature. Organic and Local do cost slightly more but this is because they are more nutritional. Pollan says that cheap food is simply an illusion, because of its lack of nutritional value and feels that there needs to be subsidies to support the growing of healthy food just as there are currently subsidies to American farmers for growing unhealthy foods and Monoculture crops. Pollan says there a very small number of companies control the American Food Industry. These 3 main food producers in the United States are Cargill, ADM and 1 other. ADM sells farmers seed, fertilizer and pesticide.
Joel Salatin of Swoope, Virginia was also featured in the film. Just Google him and you can learn much more than I will put here. Joel’s father bought mistreated land and consulted with both private and governmental experts to get advice on healing his land. Joel uses mobile chicken coops or “eggmobiles” to move his chickens around to different areas of different pastures for coop free, free range grazing. His cattle free range graze too, being rotated from pasture to pasture- no dead cow containing feed for them. In this way the cattle are kept away from their own excrement (manure) which helps them remain parasite free. The chicken coops are brought in after the cattle leave a pasture to scratch through the manure getting the goodie out of it (not the same as eating the manure). Joel says he makes over $3,000. per acre per year.
Ray Hawley of Iola, Kansas is a beekeeper who found it hard to stay in business when US companies imported honey from China and otherwise bought honey cheaper than he could produce using no chemicals the old fashioned way. Now he and his family are part of the Good Natured Family Farms, a local alliance of 75 family farms that we can all feel good about. David Ball, owner of Hen House Markets sells the Good Natured Family Farms in his store.
Will Allen is an urban farmer and activist who’s father was a sharecropper. Allen created Growing Power, Inc. in an inner city setting to provide access to healthy food for everybody and education on how to grow healthy food including plants, meat and fish. He uses no chemicals only beneficial bacteria, compost, compost tea. Located at 5500 W. Silver Spring Dr., Milwaukee, WI, 53218 GrowingPower.org
A Multi Generational Texas Farming Family
My late husband, was a modern American farmer and was raised in a family who farmed in San Patricio County Texas for many generations including, in later years even my family farm in Seguin, Guadalupe County TX. I know firsthand so much of this material because I saw it and lived it. My husband grew cotton, corn and feedgrain (sorghum) in San Patricio County Texas. I remember reading in his national farming magazines where they recommended feeding ground waste plastic to cattle for roughage, as well as leftover candy waste, etc. He also shared with me about the introduction of DDT and how it made so much of the previous wildlife non-existent. I remember seeing travelers stopping by the cotton fields by the highway to grab an open cotton boll, so pretty, fluffy and white, totally unaware that it was treated with arsenic acid (poison) to get it crisp and intensive crop. Although he succumbed to modern farming practices in later years, my late husband did know about organic methods like crop rotation, nitrogen fixating legumes like Dixie Cow Peas from the earlier farming practices of his father and earlier farming forefathers. At one time all farming was made up of small family farms growing food the organic way. His family was one of those organic small family farms, producing butter and milk in Gregory, Texas that was then taken by horse or mule drawn wagons over the Nueces Bay oyster beds at low tide to small grocery stores in downtown Corpus Christi, Texas way before there was the Nueces Bay Causeway going that way. I think it is hard for today’s farmers to switch from modern production monoculture farming methods to sustainable practices partly and perhaps mainly because the government subsidies support that type of farming. We do need to help get the farmers help to switch over to a healthier, better way. We can all vote for the family farms who are using organic methods with our dollars as well as our election votes. This is a social justice movement, food is a basic human right. We CAN transform our whole food system!!
About Betty Saenz
I am a Native Texan going back to the Republic of Texas. My family settled in the Austin area in 1871. I am an Austin, Texas Area REALTOR® who is active in all things GREEN and Ecological. I’d love to help you learn more about what you can do personally to live a greener live, reduce your carbon footprint. My yard is a NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat, I garden organically, even in my front yard and I try to help other people learn how just simple things can have a huge impact.
I’d also love to help you sell or buy a home, farm or ranch. I especially love GREEN homes, farm and ranch, historic homes and aging in place or handicapped accessible home. I love getting continually educated about better practices for humankind. I plan to take some classes at the Bamberger Ranch near Johnson City, Texas soon to help my land buyers manage their land in an ecological, sustainable way. Call me, Betty Saenz at (512) 785-5050 or contact Betty Saenz by e-mail.
Austin TX Sustainable Ag and Local Food Resources
A great Austin area organization is Slow Food, also the magazine Edible Austin or online at edibleaustin.com Almost every small town around Austin, TX has its own Farmer’s Market (or more than one) these days including Georgetown, Leander, Cedar Park, Hutto, Sunset Valley, Dripping Springs and more.
- TOFGA Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association TOFGA.org
- FARFA Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance non-profit to help independent farmers and citizens who want local foods. FarmAndRanchFreedom.org
- Betsy Ross’s Grassfed Beef, (512) 636-3711 Granger, TX RossFarm.com
- Homestead Land and Cattle All natural, grass fed, no antibiotics, no growth hormones beef with delivery in Austin TX, HomesteadLandAndCattle.com (254) 754-9606 Waco, TX
- Coyote Creek Farm Organic chicken feed, grass fed beef, organic eggs, (512) 285-2556 13817 Klaus Lane, Elgin, TX CoyoteCreekFarm.org
- Local Harvest – find CSA’s, local foods, farms and products – LocalHarvest.org
- Old Thyme Gardens – Organic Nursery, 950 County Road 365, Taylor, TX (512) 352-3147
- Georgetown Pecan Company – Organically grown pecans on 25 acres. In shell and shelled pecans, gift pecan bags Georgetown, TX (512) 864-3828
- Moksha Yoga, 824 South Austin Avenue Georgetown, TX 78626-5820
(512) 868-6600 (Austin TX Sustainable Ag SUPPORTER)
- Monument Café, 500 S. Austin Avenue, Georgetown, TX 78627 (512) 930-9586 (Austin TX Sustainable Ag SUPPORTER)
- A-Z Rental, 507 River Bend Dr., Georgetown, TX. (512) 869-7940
Tables, chairs, linens, décor and more for weddings and events
(Austin TX Sustainable Ag SUPPORTER)