"From zoning to labor to food safety to insurance, local food systems daily face a phalanx of regulatory hurdles designed and implemented to police industrial food models but which prejudicially wipe out the antidote: appropriate scaled local food systems. "
- Joel Salatin
We spend a lot of time thinking about systems here on the farm. Plant systems, animal systems, soil systems, and how all of these pieces fit together to form the whole farm system. Looking out farther, how does this farm fit into our community, our state, our region, our country, our planet? How does our food production fit into local food systems? What is working, and what is not working?
The pandemic has exposed some of the glaring problems of our current food systems. Most of the meat currently for sale in grocery stores is processed through a few large agribusinesses, and closing of a few meat processing facilities in the mid-west threatened nationwide shortages of meat. This has now seemed to stabilize, but the effects are being felt in other ways, even here on the east coast among small producers like our farm. A recent article in Lancaster Farming tells how the butcher we use, Smucker's Meats in Mount Joy, has been affected by COVID-19 and the closing of the Midwest facilities.They are working overtime, trying to meet the increased demand as many people are turning to smaller, local farms for their meat purchases. This has benefited us in the short term, as we sold out of all of our CSA shares immediately, and have folks on waiting lists. But in the long term, there are not enough USDA certified butchers to be able to handle the demand, so we will have less access and flexibility when sending animals for processing, and this will affect all small farms in the area.
In New York State, the situation has forced some farms to change their entire business model, or they face going out of business. Shannon Hayes, who has Sap Bush Hollow Farm in West Fulton, New York, has sold lamb, beef, pork and chicken by the individual cuts from the farm and at markets. An influx of Midwest livestock into the slaughterhouses in her area have taken away all of the processing slots for small farm producers. Selling by the individual cut requires that the animal is processed at a facility with a USDA inspector on site at all times, and if there are no slots available, then the only option available to her is a custom butcher, normally used by hunters and homesteaders. It is not legal to sell individual cuts if they are processed by a custom butcher - it is required that the animal be sold "on the hoof", and then the buyer is legally allowed to process it how and where they see fit. Most people are not able to buy and store a whole animal, so Hayes is working on a new business model that will allow people to buy shares of an animal, and pick it up in smaller amounts. This is a whole new business plan that she is trying to create, to stay afloat. She was interviewed, along with other farmers, by the Albany Times Union on June 30, 2020.Read the full article here
There is currently a bill in committee in the US House of Representatives that partially addresses this issue, but it has not come for a vote since being introduced several years ago. Shannon Hayes addresses the Prime Act in thisblog post. And if you really want to go down the internet rabbit hole of farm legislation, here is alink to the bill on the congressional website. Another article from South Carolina on the legislation tells how this is affecting farmers in the South.
We do our best to raise our animals in a way that mimics natural systems and honors the essence of who they are. In our version of a better world, our animals would be slaughtered on site, in a very low-stress way, and then transported to a local butcher for processing. We don't have any way of doing this legally right now, but one silver lining of this pandemic is that the flaws in the food systems we have now are being exposed. Maybe this is the time for positive changes in how we think about and produce food - as individuals, farms, communities, states and nations.
Many of our locust trees have grown tall enough to allow the cows to graze underneath them, enjoy the shade, and munch on the tasty leaves!
It has been hot and dry here, really hot and dry here. Many of the early June and July thunderstorms seemed to have a knack for scooting right around our farm, sometimes with rain clouds on all sides but not here. So we are trying to assess how the farm is doing with drought resilience and adapt as the frequency of these stresses might increase.
So which plants are resilient in the face of such climate extremes and weather? Looking around it is obvious that the rich, deep greens of trees and shrubs are most able to deal with the heat in our climate, particularly when there are a number of trees all together (no drought in a forest). Trees with their deep root systems are able to pull up the moisture that is still abundant in the subsoil of our local ecology. So, the woods next to our pasture is lush despite weeks of extreme heat and little rain. Our pasture is holding its own as a fairly resilient perennial system, but it is no match for the multi-layered plant wonderland that is a hardwood forest. So, how can we mimic these systems on farm? I guess a simple answer: plant more trees in our pastures, orchards, gardens even, around houses, and in the woods.
But until we have a nice dappled shade over our whole pasture, beautiful shade trees near our house, a full-canopy orchard, and all of the woody plant diversity we can muster on our farm, we need to value and utilize our forest edge as a reserve for lean times. We are learning and experimenting with many of the tree leaves, shrubs, and understory plants as edible forage we can cut and provide to our animals over the fence. So far Norway Maple, Oak, Multiflora Rose, Poplar, Mulberry, Willow, Black Locust, Ash, Silver Maple, are all desirable for our grazing ruminants, even a bit of Black Walnut too. It seems that most trees have some forage value and we only need to selectively prune the lower limbs versus harm the whole tree by cutting it down. And, if the heat and drought persist, we can even graze a small section of our woods directly until the rains return (as a side note, we are also using the pigs to clear out invasive multi-flora rose in our pasture so we can diversify the understory and plant more trees this fall to increase the richness and diversity of the forest too - see them resting in the picture below). As always, we are blessed by the beauty, function, and vitality of trees here in Pennsylvania and on our farm and we will continue to learn and interact with them.
Demanding Racial Equality during Times of Pandemic.
Since quarantine has shut down life as we knew it, a lot of us have been laid-off from our jobs and forced to stay home. Others of us were considered "essential workers" and continued to work in potentially unsafe conditions in order to ensure food and health systems continued to operate. The quarantine has given us all a moment of pause though, and a lot of before unseen underlying oppression is now laid bare. Essential workers have been hit the hardest by COVID-19, and thereby hitting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People Of Color) communities the hardest as they make up a large percentage of that work force, culturally living in multi-generational living conditions, and facing racism within the health care system. Due to this plus the ongoing racial profiling and murders of unarmed Black people by police, rise in vigilantes, and the impending eviction crisis is why we may be seeing the largest social movement in history.
It's troubling to be witness to, especially those who may be exposed to it for the first time or thought that racism ended with Dr. Martin Luther King. I ask you dear reader to please use these hard times to listen to those who are raising their voices. Actually listen and be present. Maybe attend the next protest in your town and listen to the speakers, or talk with your black and brown neighbors or potential family members.
I wanted to write about racial inequalities within agriculture. I wanted to write about historical racism that Black farmers have dealt with, how the food system still favors whiteness, and what we can do to make reparations. But I felt it necessary to address the current uprising and the root problems within our country in a couple short paragraphs. Please take the time to read these following articles as their words are better than mine.