The Small Farm Crisis in America.

My mom texted me a few months ago.  “Dave’s selling his cattle.  He’s going beef now – can’t make money anymore in dairy.”  That hit me hard on two levels.  First of all, I always grew up with dairy.  Grandma had the beef farm.  Seeing brown cows every day at the property line instead of spotted ones and Oreos (who are sometimes also for beef) was regular at home and I could tell already it would feel strange to me.  No milking stalls.  No “Got Milk?” sign.  Just cows awaiting slaughter, staring blankly towards my house all day then going home to be fed.

But that’s not all that hit me hard.  The second part – and by far the worst – is hearing someone say they “can’t make money anymore in dairy”.

We live in Pennsylvania, for God’s sake!  Milk is our STATE DRINK!  We are rolling hills and mountains lined with crooked, topographically-tilled cattle corn fields and littered with silos and milking barns.  Sun-up, to sun-down, to late night, with electrical bulb-lit barns, farmers are out there growing the crop, tending to the herd, then milking them away.  How can we be losing money like this?

I don’t think there is a simple answer, but I’ll spell out what I see: 1. Government regulations, 2. Consumer persuasion, and 3. Industrialization of the farm.

1. GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS
Not long ago, one of my neighbors sold his farm.  He was older, it was too costly, and no one would inherit it.  It was sold and developed and I now can see houses on a hillside across the valley from us.  What a shame.  My mom around the same time explained to me how someone had come in and drained the reservoir behind Dave’s because they want to drive a superhighway through our valley.  In response to this, and with concern that no grandson wanted to inherit his farm, Dave signed into the Pennsylvania farmland protection program so as to preserve his land from development.  Soon after, his partner left him and he was forced to downsize.  I think everyone thought he was crazy for keeping the farm running at such profit levels and in his advanced years.  That’s when EPA rolled in and threatened him for violating standards with watershed pollution.  He was forced to make changes in his practices and to plant trees and lay fence through the creeks to keep cows out of direct contact with the water.

Ain’t nobody got the money to do that.  I respect the EPA and it is part of my job to make sure projects are up to spec with the regulations, but how can you expect people with 200-year-old farms and old buildings to suddenly change their ways?  When they already have no profit?  When they’re in fact being environmentally-friendly to an extent by maintaining old materials instead of tearing things down and building new ones. Of this exact vein, a clipping my mom mailed to me in Ohio that she found in the Tribune-Review addresses these small farmer concerns, saying they’re “weary of new regulations” in Pennsylvania.  It talks about just what I have pointed out, how farmers use old barns, old methods, old wooden tools that may face tough laws soon that restrict how they handle their produce, meat, and dairy.  They cry, What can we do?  If we want local, organic, small family farms to operate, we cannot be so god-awfully stringent like this.

I understand the need to monitor health of food, but at what cost?  Everything we eat is to be controlled?  Our foods supplemented like our water without our consent because someone decided it’s better for us?  When we are constantly learning we were wrong about our previous health-related insights?  We say we need to support America, but aren’t we tearing it down from the inside out and encouraging imports and cheap labor and poverty?  Why are we letting the American Dream die?  Sometimes I feel like government regulations will soon leave us feeling like we’re living in (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT FROM THE HUNGER GAMES SERIES IF YOU HAVE NOT READ MOCKINGJAY) District 13 of the Hunger Games, where food is regulated down to the last calorie and you can’t take more than your share or act outside of your daily schedule.

(SPOILER OVER)

2. CONSUMER PERSUASION
So why do we buy the things we buy?  How is Dave going out of business with dairy?  What is causing this?  I think back to his “Got Milk?” billboard and realize how silly these nutritional notions Americans have are.  The lead of a “Save Your Bones” program discusses how milk actually depletes calcium and argues that countries that drink more milk have higher levels of osteoporosis.  Not only that, but modern milk is a processed food.  Think of Asians who, like me due to my Indian blood, cannot drink lactose.  Their cultures didn’t have milk outside of infancy/young childhood because they didn’t raise crops and drink the milk of other animals yet look at their health ratings, some of the best if not the best in the world.  Finally, like so much of our food, milk is almost always fortified.  You are better off telling your children to eat more dark greens!  No cholesterol, cheap, fresh, unprocessed, low fat, natural…

Then why does the government do these things?  I couldn’t tell you.  There must be some kind of profit in it for them.  Meanwhile, the other problem is that these small farms are selling their milk to large collectors who mix the milks regionally and mass-produce cartons.  These small farms are selling at minimum prices because everywhere you go in Pennsylvania you see signs like “Milk sold at state minimum!”  Who benefits from that?  The collector and the cheap customer is who, leaving people like Dave to break their backs for far-too-less money with inflation, regulation, and every other crisis knocking on their doors – not to mention global warming causing late frosts and draughts and wreaking all kinds of havoc on crops.

Why do we get so riled up about big chains like Wal-Mart who take over small businesses, but we let the same things happen to our farmers?  Why do we allow ourselves to be brain-washed by lower prices?  Higher prices don’t always mean the better choice, but a little research can tell you you’re making a lot of poor choices in the grocer’s.  Why do we fill our buggies with these “fillers” and products that undermine small-farming to keep your budget comfortable?  And, honestly, you can’t blame these big guys.  I mean, they’re just doing their job.  The only ones we can blame are ourselves for submitting to this monopolizing behavior and supporting it through purchases.  Think about what you’re doing.  The consumer has all of the power.  The producers just provide what will fit the demand in the most profitable way possible.

3. INDUSTRIALIZATION OF THE FARM
That is my lead-in into the final point I’m making: High demand of cheap, lower-quality goods is causing farms to become industrialized, thus defeating the whole concept of small, local, and healthy.  Instead, America wants fast, cheap, and easy.  Since animal farms might be hard to imagine as well, picture the huge agricultural farms in the Plains states.  Endless rows of soybeans and corn stalks.  Huge combines and plows combing and tearing up the land.  We are in a topsoil crisis, yet we continue to destroy the ground with machinery, chemicals, and high-yielding but genetically washed-out crops.  Why are we doing this?

Farmers just cannot compete on a small farm using traditional equipment.  We’ve already upgraded to tractors from horse-drawn plows, but it keeps getting worse.  Without an incredibly expensive combine and other contraption, famers cannot possibly meet the demand to yield enough produce for a solid profit.  They have to get big-scale and possibly hire some hands to get them there.  It’s not longer a family business but an industry.  And do you have any clue how environmentally-bad single-crop farming is?  How it destroys the land?  An intriguing prairie study I read in Biomimicry addresses that along with many other concerns.  (I wrote about that here, on my Cleveland blog.)

What’s worse is we are corrupting the God-given (literally or for emphasis) genetics that were evolved to be on this planet.  There are reasons things are here, whether godly or naturally.  Natural Selection.  There are ecosystems in existence.  We, as humans, were borne out of its byproducts, in the same environment, eating its literal fruits.  And now we have big-scale company monopolizing the system and destroying the beauty that was here, companies like DuPont Pioneer (to whom my company sadly caters in projects).  DuPont Pioneer is developing genetically-modified seeds and playing god, encouraging farmers to coerce, and dominating fields with single, unnatural crop types.  Sure, some benefits seem obvious (outside of profit, of course), but is that really helping the farmer?  Is it really helping us?  The planet?  How is making a crop withstand one disease going to prevent it from the next?  Similarly, I don’t support getting flu shots.  Let nature take its course.  That’s what it’s meant to do.  A resistance will build.  We will be better for it.  Nature will find its way to destroy what it wants to destroy regardless of a stupid, genetically-messed up seed.

Phew.

And so my rant concludes – for now.

But, in sum, I say support your local, organic, small farms, don’t support industry, low prices, or genetically-modified food, and keep in mind that the government has reasons for regulations, but some of the things it does are not necessarily worthy of worship.

The Little Things.

I “get through” my day after day after day i.e. life by looking forward to something. It’s so easy to be distracted by only the big things, but really it’s those little somethings that make up the journey in life. What is a trail anyway? It’s a line, and a line is endless infinitesimally small points along the way.

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Yesterday, my big thing was a little something full of lots of simple smiles. I got to spend an evening cooking with someone dear to me. Jeff and I of course have fun skiing or playing volleyball like we sometimes do, but it takes a special kind of person to still go outside to build snowmen and to spend a few hours preparing a meal from scratch – and have fun doing it.

From walking to Heinen’s, to slam-dunking food into the buggy, Jeff making fun of me standing on my toes to look over shelves, wandering aisles because he’s too stubborn to ask for help, walking home in the rain, stirring frogs eggs pudding, cutting up Jeff’s first star fruit, sipping wine while making our own broth, fixing up pretty plates of roasted asparagus and improvised homemade hollandaise sauce…we had a blast. We sat down the watch The Bachelor, but we didn’t need a TV show to keep us entertained. I think we could make scrubbing dishes fun.

And that’s when I thought, how many people do that? How many people can enjoy cooking a time-consuming dinner? How many people in their late 20s would build a snowman with me in snow that won’t even compact? How many people take the time to read a silly, three-paged letter with joking references to the Hunger Games trilogy? How many people can still appreciate the little things?

Maybe we are weird, but I like it. And I’m really glad I have someone like Jeff to make being weird less lonely.

Our menu from last night included: white wine, champagne, roasted asparagus, homemade hollandaise sauce with lime, basmati rice, chicken/seitan in white wine broth with sun-dried tomatoes and seasoned artichoke hearts, arugula-basil salad with fresh mozzarella and balsamic-basil vinaigrette, frogs eggs (tapioca pudding), and a sliced star fruit.

Words of Wisdom: Perseverance

quoteQuote for today: “Forget all the reasons why it won’t work and believe the one reason why it will.”  I saw this quote regarding perseverance and liked its simplicity as well as how it has applied to the things I have done against popular belief and how I continue to do those things.  It’s easy to let people tell you why you can’t succeed.  Sometimes they say this out of statistical evidence, personal opinion, or even jealousy towards your visions.  I’ve always been one who thrives from doing things I’m told can’t be done.  I find being told it can’t happen makes me absolutely determined to do it.  Maybe this is why my athlete director sat me down once and said, “Kid, I really like you.  You’ve got… spunk.  And a lot of it.”  It was that spunk that pulled me through creating a hockey club at my school so that I could finally play the sport I wanted to play for an official team.  We lost all but one game the first season, then went to the championship the next year for the state medal.  My perseverance and persistence to raise $3000 in two days and train enough players to make a team landed me with an enormous scholarship from Case Western Reserve University.

The same time of perseverance is what got me a summer traveling abroad this year, to pursue a double major that the faculty thought was impossible to achieve.  Against all odds, I have completed enough credits for a major in Environmental/Civil Engineering and French while also being an active member in a co-ed service fraternity, archery club, collegiate and extracurricular roller and ice hockey, NCAA XC, NCAA T&F, Premiere Scottish Highland Dance, and several instrument groups.  I’ve managed to travel to a couple dozen countries in the last year to compete in research and pursue my dream of traveling and understanding cultures.  I obtained three internships during the course of a year when I was told none exist.  This lead me to compete in research with AISES in Alaska, a trip which was completely free thanks to funding I managed to find last minute from my school and the ASCE group in Cleveland.  But determination doesn’t have to be so elaborate.  It’s also the reason why I eat healthy food and work out regularly .  It’s why I pushed myself to bike around the Finger Lakes in 2009, hike the Calanques of Cassis and Marseille on my own this summer, and finish a 130km journey by CityBike from Arles to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and back (the latter two are described on my blog, kfdevault.wordpress.com).

Let’s not be mistaken; this isn’t an entry about the things I’ve managed to do.  This is an entry about the things I’ve tried to do against popular belief as an inspiration of why you can do any of the simplest – or most complex – things you wish to do without hesitation.  If you want it, just get it.  I’m a firm believer in “If there’s a will, there’s a way”.  Maybe I’ve just been lucky enough for my life to follow suit as such, or maybe there really was something in my perseverance that landed me with a great job after years of struggle against the current of likelihood.  All I can say is, whether it’s a new job, new hobby, or new diet, you just have to convince yourself it’s what you want and you’d be surprised how thrilling the journey to success will actually be.

Happy Monday!

 

I like local, but local sometimes local is the wrong answer.

Yup.  That’s pretty much all there is to it.  For all of you “go local!” buffs, the ones totally obsessed with this new trend, first of all, WOAH.  Going “local” is NOT some new trend, people!  Local is the way we evolved!!  Do you think cavemen imported food?  How about frontiersmen?  Yeah, local is a way of life, so get over yourselves…

But local isn’t always good.  In fact, sometimes it’s bad for the environment.  Ever thought of that?  It’s a pretty simple concept.  The first step in realizing the fault in locavore lifestyle is acknowledging the unrealistic demands today’s food industry.  Back when we were a naturally locavore society and didn’t have the option of importing goods, we ate what was available when it was available.  That means eating melons in the summer, roots in the winter, and there’s nothing wrong with that…we still do that.  The problem is, now, we also expect other crops to be there.  Crops that aren’t supposed to be there.  But now that we have the technological ability to grow them, we will.  And we’ll do it locally.  So it’s locavore food…or is it??

I vote, NO.  Just because a food is grown locally, that doesn’t mean it’s locavore.  Although “locavore” is supposed to include locally grown foods, I think classifying it as such misses the point.  LOCAVORE means LOCAL because LOCAL is SUSTAINABLE.  So locavore is really sustainable.  Nothing else.  Locality is just a vehicle of this sustainability.  So what’s my point?  Well, do you really think growing a non-winter crop in a greenhouse during the winter is sustainable?  Maybe it’s being grown on a local farm, but does that mean its energy expenditure is valid??   No way!

Here’s an example:  A study has shown that “it can be more sustainable (at least in energy efficiency terms) to import tomatoes from Spain than to produce them in heated greenhouses in the UK outside the summer months”, according to a food mile study.  I think this sums up my point well.  Truly eating sustainably means getting rid of fresh fruits in the winter, and in fact ditching a lot of the crops that we eat out of season.  Thinking about this, I realize how unsustainable a lot of Farmer’s Markets crops are if they’re not actually produced in fields and are instead closely monitored in greenhouses and watered frequently.  I now realize that scrutinizing a company for importing goods is not necessarily worse.  Maybe those pineapples came from Hawai’i, but just imagine the energy expenditures had we grown them here?

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What’s my point?  Just this: If you want to eat sustainably, don’t focus so much on “local” as being a matter of “distance”.  Realize that “local” really means being locally available.  Eat seasonally.  That’s what makes the real difference.  Think about that the next time you make a grocery list, and consider growing your own food.  Cheers.

Shopping with a Conscience.

Do you ever feel guilty buying certain things at the store?  There are three things that really get me:

1. Out-of-season foods.
It’s hard to eat healthy and local at the same time without boring your tastebuds to death.  I just spent the last 5 weeks in Africa where I witnessed this isn’t a problem: people have the freshest, sweetest fruits I’ve ever tasted growing at their fingertips year round.  In Cleveland, however, healthy and local aren’t commonplace during the long winter months.  Unless you want to eat cabbage and broccoli all winter, you can plan on buying imported fruits.  I first came to this realization when one day I thought, I don’t eat enough fruit; I should buy some apples.  But apples don’t naturally grow here in the winter.  Was eating an apple really worth supporting the industry of shipping exotic foods from afar all year round just to satisfy my palate?  No.  How could I get around this?  Better planning.  Next year, I should take advantage of abundant apples and other fruits growing locally and then learn to can them with spices!  Mmmmm.  Or even make pies and freeze them.  Too bad others don’t feel this way.  We only encourage such out-of-season deliveries by buying and creating a demand for more.

2. Chemicals.
After several classes about environmentalism and policies, Silent Spring attaches itself to every thought I have of store-bought chemicals.  Although I personally refuse to buy and use chemical herbicides, insecticides, and most household cleaning products, I am aware that I still buy and use things that are not very environmentally-friendly.  For example, my drains got extremely clogged last year and my mom bought me a bottle of Drain-O which I reluctantly applied.  Or how about something as simple as acetone to take off nail polish?  Or even nail polish itself?  Air fresheners in aeresol cans?  Even buying plastic zip-lock bags falls into this category for me – an evil necessity that, quite frankly, isn’t necessary at all but we convince ourselves that it is.

3. Plastic amenities.
My chemical fears continue in this category.  I don’t just mean plastic bags, but plastic utensils and kitchen items.  I buy glass mason jars and use them for everything as much as I can.  My friends make fun of me for traveling with mason jars instead of snack bags, but I feel like a much better person for using them.  But where plastic really irks me is in the kitchen itself.  I love to cook, and the thought of flipping on an oven instead of lighting a fireplace bothers me enough already.  I do everything within my power to avoid plastic spatulas, plastic cups, plastic bowls, plastic anything!  This theme continues into my housework where I strive to buy metal brooms instead of plastic sweepers.   I work overtime to avoid electricity use.  I even do a lot of my laundry by hand in my bath water after I’ve taken a bath.  My friends think this is crazy, but I argue it’s much simpler than going to the Laundromat.  And I dread the day that I have my own house and contemplate my need for washing units of my own.  What wastes!  But when it comes to appliances, I always put in the extra money for that metal toaster or metal blender with the hopes that it will last longer, will degrade better, and was better for the environment to be produced.  Besides, metal appliances are so much classier!

Maybe it’s just me – and maybe it shouldn’t be just me – but buying certain things in the store send me reeling on a guilt trip.  Are there any things in particular that bother you?  I mean, most of us break down and buy a car at some point, which is bad enough, but what about the little nagging things?  Like imported goods and plastic, plastic, plastic?

Maybe, one day, we won’t have to make environmentally-conscience decisions every time we shop.  Maybe they’ll be the only option!