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The Pot at the End of Rainbow

January 3, 2011

Thanks Della, I am forever grateful for all you have given me 🙂  RIP my beautiful girl.

It’s funny that almost 3 years ago when I started this blog, my first post was about butter.  And here I am on my soap box again still.  Most of my rants never leave the farm, or my head and probably rightfully so.  With the new year and resolutions and admonishments about how to live, what to buy, what not to eat, etc, etc.  I’m going to add my two cents.

What got me going on this particular bent was butter at my doctor’s house.  I was there for an appointment, and since we are friends, we ended up in the kitchen.  Her husband came in and started to make his lunch, as he was pulling sandwich ingredients out of the fridge I casually glanced at what he was fixing to eat.  One of those ingredients was Kerrygold butter.  It’s not as if butter like this is any secret to me, it is widely available – for a price – in fact you can just order it from Amazon for the low, low price of $5.99 for an eight ounce package.  Or Costco, Trader Joe’s or most likely any high-end grocery store.

My friend doctor, is actually is not one of those people who preaches green, buy local, or any of that so I respect her position of being able to afford something I cannot.  It isn’t that I couldn’t afford it, if I pinched pennies somewhere else.  But I feel like saying to hell with the Irish farmers.  I know harsh words.  But, really can’t you guys just sell your butter to your own.  Surely there can’t be so much grass, and so many cattle in Ireland that you really can ship this product year after year to many countries.  You want to talk about peak oil, water and too much energy use, this and other imports are a huge part of the problem.  Own up to it.  When you buy like this I don’t think it is fair to preach being green, and self- reliant and import butter from another country.  We have lots of struggling farmers here in the US, dairy and otherwise.

By now, I am sure you’re saying, “yeah Matron what’s in your fridge that doesn’t belong there?”  I’m not saying I am perfect in my buying habits by any means, but we make an effort look at our purchases the same way we do look at the permaculture zones to determine usage.  Our zone 5 wild areas where we never tread or tread very lightly could represent spices for cooking from a faraway place, whereas beef or eggs we use in larger quantities would parallel our zone 1 on the farm.   Or even more simply, if we can grow it, or make it without going to extremes in energy usage we do, and if we can’t and we still think we need to make a purchase from somewhere else, we do.  Icelandic kelp sold by Thorvin comes to mind in my barn pantry.  How I justify the difference is that Icelandic kelp does not grow here in Oregon.  But good grass-fed butter does, and can.  It used to be widely available.  Now it is not, and that is sad.

I live near the very fertile Willamette Valley, the verdant destination that spawned the Oregon Trail, an exodus that wrought many hardships for those seeking the pot at the end of the rainbow.  The pioneers came and settled, dairy farms became plentiful, and until the ’60’s many cows were still on grass, and then things started to morph into the dairy industry as we now know it.  Many dairy farms are in crisis right now, as are many other types of farms.  But unless you have owned livestock, and really understand about the daily care and feeding you don’t really understand what it is like.  Most farmers would go without before they let their stock go hungry.  And once you’re in up to the hubs it’s hard to get out.

So what do hungry cows and downhearted farmers have to do with elitist foodies?  A lot I think.  I sit on the fence on issues like this because I am a consumer, food snob and a farmer.  Talk about the urban/rural divide.  I see both sides, because not only do we raise as much of our own food as we can, we sell to others and sold to high-end restaurants for many years.  As I illustrated in my Christmas Dinner post, it takes a year or years to get that butter or roast or egg to the table.  I am not advocating everyone get a milk cow for sure, because that answer is too simplistic.  What we need is a marriage of consumers and producers, a bonding that cuts out the Wal-mart and Costco middleman mentality.  This would have to, of course, be an arranged marriage, because marrying for love in this case would not be a good idea.  For instance, you as consumer may be in love with the idea of newly minted farmers with stars in their eyes, and a Joel Salatin type on their speed-dial, and it’s much more fun and hip to buy from a newbie because after all you’re a newbie at vetting farmers too.  You’re in this together.  Just like a roller-coaster ride at the amusement park.  Lots of high points and low points and not much even keel in between.  But, if I had a wish for the new year it would read a little differently for that arranged marriage.

I had forgotten about a book I had read a couple of years ago, Outliers, The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell.  And then Allan Nation mentioned it in a column awhile back, more specifically talking about the fact that if anyone spends 10,000 hours doing something, they will be very good at it.  What I am getting at is that while yes, it is wonderful to bolster the newbies because they are new and exciting, it may be in our best interest to use that initiative to help a farmer who already has his or her 10,000 hours in with dairy, but is locked in the vortex of commercial dairying in present day times.  Help them step away from that hopeless feeling.  How to do that?  I can envision a system like the Chefs Collaborative or The Hub, where people who want something connect with the people who can supply it.  But the outreach part is missing.  Activists take note, the people participating in ideas like the The Hub and Chef’s Collaborative don’t have the hopeless feeling, they opted out a long time ago.  It’s the other farmers and good farms that may be on the brink and need a lifeline.  Not many of us quit something that is working OK to chase a dream.  Sometimes we don’t even dare to dream – the fear of failure is too great.  We always call it “getting pulled back in the bucket by our fellow crabs.”  Meaning that for us to farm differently in this small town, we have to seek different counsel than our old cohorts who hang out every day at the aforementioned Creep Feeder.  You become ostracized and always questioned.  At first it’s hard, but as you keep trudging down the different fork in the road, you hear more positives (from satisfied customers) than negatives (from “friends”) and it becomes easier.  But, you have to be somewhat of a renegade to break out on your own.  To some it isn’t worth it.  Because in reality you have to make new friends, friends who aren’t toxic.  And really isn’t that an oxymoron, friends that are toxic?

Besides all that, farmers don’t’ automatically come with the knack to market themselves, many (me included) like the reclusive life.  Many a day passes here that I am content to keep company with only my dogs and cows.  I am a loner.  And I am not alone in that.  A chef we sold to was always trying to convince us to sell him a pig a week.  From his perspective he was trying to be helpful, promising to buy a market hog each week from us, and he would break it down, no cutting, wrapping etc.  It sounds good from his end, a guarantee to us that he would buy our product – but to us the idea was not even close to happening.  The idea of having a pig each week of the year that was close to market weight, was a husbandry nightmare in our setup.  Not counting the logistics of taking a pig to an inspected slaughterhouse each week and then picking it up and delivering it the next day.  First, he needed to be paired with the pig farmer we bought our weaner pigs from.  He had his 10,000 pig hours in many years ago, and was somewhat of an innovator, who tired of growing grain to sell to the elevator at their price, only to buy it back from the elevator at their price to feed his pigs.  He already was what the chef was looking for, a good pig farmer, who while not organic, ran a clean pig operation and didn’t feed garbage to his porcine friends.  The problem, the farmer did not want to leave his farm to sell to a fancy restaurant, it would be too uncomfortable for him to schmooze the chef and deal with downtown delivery.  He was doing OK direct marketing to others.  Why change, and why risk being made fun of by your peers.

I have to tell you as a producer, that the biggest hurdle of stepping outside the accepted stockyard sale barn type operation is that you have to produce a product and then sell it.  It’s hard to sell ahead of time when you haven’t even produced the first egg or steak.  Then if you don’t sell it, you’re stuck with it.  The sale barn or dairy co-op is a safe method of disposing of your production.  You aren’t sticking your neck out and getting burned.  You haul in the stock, and get a check within a day or two.  But unless you have 100’s of cattle having calves, you don’t make very much.  Same with milk.  As the feed prices climb, and milk check stays the same, you are forced to produce more milk just make ends meet.  And the kicker, if you are still hanging out with people who are doing the same, the peer pressure is great to keep complying and stay in the hopeless state of mind.  Misery does love company.

So where to start? Bigger than the local guy flying under the radar with a raw milk share program with cull dairy cows,  and smaller than Tillamook Creamery.  You can’t just go out with a shopping list of “must haves” like, only organic, only pasture, only A2/A2, only doe-eyed Jersey cows, and milkmaids wearing wooden shoes and dutch bonnets.  That isn’t reality.  I can picture a buying club for nutrient dense food contacting a small town creamery with a plan to have a line of butter that is pastured only, in addition to the other products they offer.  The key is a small local facility.  And a premium paid for good pasture management.  The proof is in the color of the butter, if the cow is eating grass as a good portion of her diet her resulting milk and cream will show the enhanced yellow color synonymous with grass-fed cows.  There has to be a two-way street though, the toiling dairy worker has to be paid more for a premium seasonal product, and the consumer has to quit buying butter from across the globe and support the local farmer and his cows in a seasonal way.  You can’t have one without the other.

Vote with your dollars in your location, I can’t be convinced that butter shipped from Ireland is better than butter made right here in the Willamette Valley.  I buy Rose Valley Creamery Butter, it’s not Della’s but it is from Oregon.

98 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2011 10:10 pm

    great post. we do have a small local butter factory (makes cultured butter) that opened up near-by, but I do find it hard to bring myself to consider paying 2x the price of the slightly less local but still within 100km organic butter

    I know it’s a premium product so I’m not really comparing like for like ….. maybe it will just be special occasion butter 🙂

    • January 4, 2011 6:09 am

      Margo, you do what you can, at this point I think even buying butter from the same country would be an improvement for some folks.

    • January 4, 2011 7:49 am

      Hi Margo,
      What is the name of your local butter factory?

      • January 4, 2011 12:15 pm

        Hi Auburn Meadow Farm – it’s in Australia (North East Vic) so probably a bit far from your Pennsylvania farm 🙂

        YOur cows do look lovely though 🙂

        • January 5, 2011 12:34 pm

          I guess that would be even less local for me than Kerrygold, lol.
          Thanks for the kind words…

  2. January 3, 2011 10:24 pm

    dang, now I got to get rid of my wooden shoes and bonnet!

  3. January 3, 2011 10:25 pm

    I’m enjoying your blog; we seem to have much in common. Cracking up over the creep feeder….

    This post is rich with big ideas – I’ll have to re-read a few times. The cultural gap between farmers and their potential customers is an interesting dilemma and I find myself wondering about it quite a bit lately.

    And I am feeling a bit sheepish about the Kerrygold in my fridge especially since I actually am one of those begging (I hope I’m not preaching) others to support local. But that’s the farmer me – the food snob me has learned to be really picky about butter.

    Once you’re hooked on high fat cultured butter, there really is no going back. The only thing our local butter has going for it is the fact that it’s local. And cheap. And comes in impressively big rolls.

    The conundrum: Accept low quality just because it’s local? I know, I know. I’ll be sterilizing the butter churn and buying some local milk this week.

    • January 4, 2011 6:20 am

      Auburn, tell me about being hooked, I have been metering out my stash of Della’s butter since she died. I do not use it to cook with, it is such a feast for the eyes I want to be able to see it on my food. And actually my daughter gets most of it – she is still growing.

      Organic Valley has a pastured line, and if people are concerned they could buy any kind of butter in May, June & July and stock up – that is the best chance for any cow to be on pasture of some sort.

      I am counting the days until Jane freshens, and I have my own butter again!

  4. January 3, 2011 10:27 pm

    Yes, yes, yes, and yes. You’re on it, my dear.

    • January 4, 2011 6:21 am

      Risa, it’s sure sad to think our county doesn’t even have a dairy anymore. But it doesn’t have to be so.

      thank you…

  5. Sheila Z permalink
    January 3, 2011 11:07 pm

    If only I could buy milk from a local farm. In my case there are almost none left anymore. The few who are left are too terrified of Ag and Markets to dare and sell any raw milk.

    • January 4, 2011 6:24 am

      Sheila Z, I know not everyone has access to good milk, and I am not sure raw milk is the answer either – personally it is fine for my family but I would never sell it or want to anymore. It’s just not worth it, and to tell the truth I know very few people milking cows that I would want to drink milk from… 😦 unless it was pasteurized. 😦

      There is so much more to having fresh milk, than just getting a cow and pulling the spigots.

  6. January 3, 2011 11:19 pm

    More good thoughts and words. I appreciate (as best I can as a non-farmer) what you are saying, nd really enjoyed your post about where all the parts of the meal came from. When I have a bit extra in the budget, I buy Rose Valley butter. When I am struggling, I buy New Seasons Organic Village butter, which while not quite as local to the Willamette valley, is still produced local to the Cascadia region.

    • January 4, 2011 6:27 am

      Alison, have you tried Organic Valley’s cultured butter? Azure usually puts it on sale in Dec-Jan, it is pretty good. And usually comes from NW dairies. Larsen’s is good too.

      And Winco sells Rose Valley regular butter and it is better than Tillamook.

  7. Linda Zoldoske permalink
    January 4, 2011 12:04 am

    Right on!

  8. January 4, 2011 4:09 am

    Another excellent post! Some day, it will be common knowledge about how much time goes into raising food. And those doing it will receive proper compensation for their time, without (too much) bellyaching from consumers.

    This business of find the cheapest (name it) usually hurts everyone in the end. (I live on a fixed small income and was guilty of this.) Raising their own food is not for everyone. But everyone must eat. Eating the best you can find, taking the responsibility of knowing the farmer/farm your food comes from, and educating yourself are self empowering.

    And in doing this, you empower the growers. You also are doing something to protect the food system here in the US. As it stands now, with industrial food so very centralized, it will take very little to knock it down. By supporting local growers, it decentralizes the system.

    I am another one of those loners who seldom leaves the farm. I am also much happier among the animals. And I am a very poor salesman. I think it’s a knack, being able to sell things. I find dealing with the public pretty stressful, and I suspect that many other reclusive farmers are much the same.

    I think that if it were possible to get other farmers who are struggling connected to a source that did not have so many middlemen, they might not have to struggle so hard. But as you pointed out, there are several barriers to that, not the least of which is peer pressure.

    To leave what you’ve done for years, or decades, and then run the gauntlet of peer pressure is not something many farmers would be willing to do. Many are in so far that they just can’t see the way out, no matter how it’s presented.

    But in this apathetic culture where few vote in elections, understanding that you vote with every meal whether you want to or not, could be a turning point. It could be an empowering thing, that could do a lot of good. But it would require an informed choice, and for that one must educate themselves.


    • January 4, 2011 6:37 am

      Pam, it’s just too easy these days, “food” is available everywhere you look, and it is too cheap. The waste is phenomenal, the local grange has food program with overbake crap and outdated foodstuffs, you should see the people flock there for the free food, we know lots of people who are not in need who go there and fill their bags up for $5.00 – it’s embarrassing. Then they head to the Creep Feeder and get a $4.00 cup of coffee and yak the day away.

      I have to say for me being a recluse and raised by wolves, 4-H gave me an edge. Knit a sweater, model it in Style Revue at the fair is a confidence builder for sure. Cooking demo in front of judges and fairgoers – Whooee – that makes talking to a chef easy! Selling to chefs and at farmer’s markets is a rewarding experience if you’re passionate about your product. But I agree it isn’t for everybody – that’s why sometime you start at the middle with a place like a creamery to get what you want as a consumer. The dairyman can keep milking his cows and growing pasture and be rewarded – the creamery can do the promoting.

      The abbatoir we use is small, USDA inspected and certified organic, and they give you a choice, and they are comfortable with their business with no designs on getting huge. We need more small, places and businesses like that.

      I can dream can’t I….?

  9. January 4, 2011 4:49 am

    AMEN, Nita!

  10. January 4, 2011 4:51 am

    BTW, there is a kelp producer in the U.S. North American Kelp in Maine. I’m working to get away from Thorvin & back to them. A bit more local.

    • January 4, 2011 2:54 pm

      Kristin, I would like to try some of that, we went though the taste test, rather the cows did, on Acadian, Tidal and Thorvin, and they preferred the Thorvin to the Acadian and Tidal. I have been finding as my pastures improve that my kelp usage is going down. Which will be nice.

  11. Peggy permalink
    January 4, 2011 6:11 am

    This is a tough issue. Yes, local is vital for so many reasons. But there are some foods one can’t purchase locally. My sea salt comes from afar, so does my cod liver oil. Kerrygold is one of the very few commercially available butters from grassfed cattle. If I did not have local access to pasture butter, I would buy Kerrygold for as long as the budget held out. Perhaps your doctor/friend knows the value of pasture butter but not where to access it?

    • January 4, 2011 3:01 pm

      Peggy, I know it is tough but many people I read and listen to preach only OP seeds, solar, wind, hybrid cars etc., and then to buy something that can be produced well here in the US seems hypocritical to me.

      My friend knows all about good butter, but a it’s somewhat of a status symbol for them. I gift her butter when I have extra. Her husband bet her once we dyed our butter, she said not, and she won. The prize: He had to do dishes for a month 😉 And for the record they do not preach about anything green. But seeing it was just one more nail in the coffin for me, it’s more blogs and books and articles I have seen lately advocating buying Kerrygold. I am sure it is delicious.

      • January 4, 2011 5:45 pm

        Nita – it’s nothing special – I’m sure it’s nowhere near as delicious as your butter. For many it’s a price point issue. KerryGold is the cheapest grassfed butter I know of inside Seattle. The cheapest local butter I can buy is $8/8 ounces (not even organic) and Rose Valley and OV here are $6 or more per pound. For some reason butter is one of the most expensive things we eat.

        • January 4, 2011 7:09 pm

          Azure has Organic Valley pastured butter for $3.65 per 8 ounces. And a case of 12 is $39.95. I think part of the problem Annette, is that people want the convenience of having the grassfed butter available year round at stores, instead of stocking up during the summer when it is at it’s best.

          I asked Sally Fallon how to rate butter, and her answer was of course, grassfed is best (plug for Jo Robinson there 😉 ), organic, next butter, any butter you can afford is better than other substitutes.

          I guess my point was if people are willing to pay $12 – $16 per pound for butter, it might be good to get some farmers on board and send some money and enthusiasm their way to help them. I am sure most would jump at the chance to get $8.00 for their butter.

          Butter is expensive because it takes a 1/2 gallon of cream to get 1 pound of butter!

          I’m working on a post about why seasonal is important for a family cow among other things…

        • January 4, 2011 7:51 pm

          Not to totally belabor this but Azure won’t deliver in the city limits. The closest drop to me is Lynnwood which is 30 minutes from here, one way.

          We have actually talked to local farmers about getting cream or butter and the problem in Washington is liability. I am sitting here watching dairies close up one by one, or be chased down by the FDA. Another one just stopped selling milk today so that they could focus on their $16/# butter that sells at farmer’s markets. In the meantime the buying club is getting illegal raw butter from an Amish farmer in PA for $20/# because if you are going to spend that kind of money for local butter why not go all out and get beyond organic, grass fed? The $16/# butter is not organic OR grass fed. It’s just that ridiculous here. Me, I’m getting 2 dairy goats this spring and to hell with the FDA. Wish I could have a cow in the city. ;p Well, a dairy cow that is. I already have Bart Simpson kind of cows here all the time.

        • January 4, 2011 11:03 pm

          Answer below, these nested comments are too annoying!

  12. MarkM permalink
    January 4, 2011 6:42 am

    Nice educational rant. At age 53 I am finally listening to the little voices in my head that I have increasingly ignored in my adult life. Our “modern” way of existing is not as utopian as we have been conditioned to believe.

    It is people like you that have led me (a city boy with some weird, very strong connection to the land) to purchase an overgrazed overworked cow place and begin healing the land. It is easier for me because I have no preconceived ideas about “how we have always done it”. I hope to be able to inspire others to consider more sustainable methods not discussed at the Creep Feeder.

    Your words are educational and motivational. Thanks for sharing.

    • January 4, 2011 3:04 pm

      MarkM, it’s not so bad being 53 😉 I just didn’t think it would happen so soon! You’re lucky, the preconceived notion has bitten me in the butt more than I care to think about. Besides the creep feeder I have to overcome all my own bad habits.

      Good luck on your new venture!

  13. January 4, 2011 7:35 am

    My thought is( as you said in one of your comments) better to be pissed off, than pissed on or people will get glad in the same pants they got mad in.

    This is a subject very near and dear to our hearts. We buy local first( from small farmers and small businesses struggling to make it), then we got to a bit larger market, if we can’t find what we need locally and by larger I’m not saying Walmart or Costco, we term them as Big Box Stores and we boycott them all.

    Sometimes there are hard choices to make, such as we are looking for something specific and when we look at labels all are made overseas in places such as China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc…. Well we, personally, have chosen not to support those markets if we can find the same product locally first and secondly in a larger market and if we have no success, we weigh how much we truly NEED the product. Your example of the Thorin Kelp is exactly what I’m talking about.
    If we as a consumer don’t start( and quick) making better choices we’re soon going to be very sorry.
    Great article and if you did piss some people off, maybe they think about it and change their minds( or so we can hope)

    • January 4, 2011 3:08 pm

      Kelle, thanks, it is a constant battle. I get the maddest at planned obsolescence, I have a plain old electric mixer which I rarely use, and when it came time to make cake for DH’s work Xmas potluck, I just about burnt the thing up trying out the new recipe. I have probably used the darn thing about 15 times! Irritating, to say the least.

      I think you understand me completely, I’m not advocating everyone grow their own vanilla beans, but geez butter, it is hardly an exotic, European food.

  14. susan permalink
    January 4, 2011 8:04 am

    You hit the nail on the head on the subject of “peer pressure”. I have a friend and neighbor who slaves away, never breaking even, on his small dairy farm. I have talked to him about making some quality-added changes and he practically jumps out of his skin. He is doing what his father did, and his grandfather before him did. Of course, farming in New York State is a double-whammy, but small, organic dairy (grassfed) co-ops are starting to pop up here and there. If we, as consumers, would step up to the plate and support them, I feel that more small farmers would take the chance. I enjoy your posts immensely – they make me think!

    • January 4, 2011 3:19 pm

      Susan, I know what you mean, I have friends the same way, who chastise me for keeping my manure and hay, and calving “out of season” meanwhile they sell their manure, hay and are having calves right now. That’s why there “ain’t no money in farming!”

      You are so right too about the consumer support, especially with a dairy, the cows need to be milked twice a day, and the milk needs to go out the door without fail to insure quality. My AI guy’s brother put in a bottling plant so he could sell some of his Jersey milk at market. Pasteurized, cream top milk flies out of the booth. He stuck his neck out a little and got great support. I am glad someone is breaking trail.

      For me, I will settle for my own cow, it’s too far to drive to find good milk, and I can produce it so I am lucky. Plus I love my cows. 🙂

  15. January 4, 2011 8:07 am

    It’s possible that the whole “long-distance food” silliness will be naturally resolved at some point by rising price of energy. Other than that … I like your post a lot but I don’t believe anymore that humans (in sufficient numbers and for long enough periods of time) will do anything unless a strong and clear economic incentive is involved 😦

    And yeah – unfortunately 90% of “old school” farmers I know probably doing more bad than good to the food system, ecosystem and themselves and the only way to change that is a lobotomy, which is hardly a practical solution and may have some ethical problems associated with that as well, so it’s official – there is no hope 🙂

    • January 4, 2011 3:23 pm

      Alfarm, I agree totally, and as one of the old school cattle farmers, it took the sale barn leaving to force me into direct marketing. So I guess progress gave me the lobotomy 😉

      But it’s hard – dealing with multiple customers is much more taxing than any farm job I have ever done – and that includes setting chokers in the woods – not technically a farm job, but the hardest thing I have ever done.

  16. January 4, 2011 8:26 am

    Great post. I dream of someday either having our own family cow (and the time to milk – need to kick the full-time-job-off-farm habit) or being able to afford our local small dairy’s yummy products. I have a husband who super-consumes dairy, especially raw, and I can’t afford to keep our home in raw milk as a result!

    I’m curious about your permaculture comment. Have you used permaculture zoning near your house to arrange your chicken coop, gardens, etc.? Can you share a little about that (or point me to a previous post)?


    • January 4, 2011 7:51 pm

      Amy, I hear your pain, when I worked full-time off farm, it was a juggling act for sure. And I was milking two cows at the time – arrggh, trying to get pregnant, sell at market and stay sane. Too crazy!!

      I would have to say our zoning is basically what has been in place for years, after we got interested in Permaculture, we realized that a lot of that is how homesteaders often times sited their farmsteads, because they did so much by hand. We are bound by geography here, so close flat land gets used first, and the steep ground stays wild. Our water supply is gravity too, so we take that into consideration also. The other thing we consider when siting a new building (hopefully no more unless I win the mega millions tomorrow, ha ha) is ease of getting to the building with whatever we want to put in it at whatever time of year we will be putting stuff in it. If it is animals, do we haul them, carry them, lead them ??? Think of those types of questions. We have re-purposed some buildings and would definitely do things differently if building new. Always a work in progess, for sure.

  17. Debra permalink
    January 4, 2011 8:32 am

    Thanks for the insightful post. I grew up on a dairy farm in Washington, but now live in Los Angeles and have been buying Organic Valley Pastured Butter — stocking my freezer with it. Alternatively, I can pay $15/lb. for local raw grass fed butter. Grass is a rare commodity in Southern Cal.

    • January 4, 2011 7:55 pm

      Debra, that butter is good. I will buy that when I am out of my own. For other stuff, I have been happy with Rose Valley Organic.

    • Debra permalink
      January 5, 2011 3:44 pm

      Organic Valley Pastured butter is selling at $6.00 per pound here in Los Angeles, at Whole Foods, less than Azure charges (unless you have to drive to LA from out of state 😉 )

  18. thetinfoilhatsociety permalink
    January 4, 2011 9:02 am

    Whew, I’m glad you’re not advocating for everyone to have a dairy cow…my little 1/4 acre would never handle the strain 🙂

    It’s hard to toe that line, to be conscious and responsible and support local farmers, and yet be fiscally conservative as well. We also do the permaculture zone thing although I’ve never called it that; most of our meat comes from our friend’s farm or from the local natural foods store (where it comes from a valley about 50 miles away). I’m trying to move us more toward eating the way we did when the kids were small — mostly vegetables and beans and eggs, with some meats thrown in every now and then as a garnish. DH has to work his head around the idea that meat isn’t necessary at every meal, especially since he doesn’t work out or have a strenuous job any more. Lucky for me and him, I’m a very good cook so he at least gets very tasty meals even if they don’t meet his definition of having enough protein.

    • January 4, 2011 7:58 pm

      TTFHS, hey you could get one of those weird little mini cows…just kidding. It is hard to toe the line for sure, and gee, food is getting expensive. You’re so right the cooking makes all the difference. Our meat is a condiment, with vegetables being the most plentiful in most of our meals.

  19. January 4, 2011 9:16 am

    Great post Nita! When we bought our dairy goats, I never dreamed of how much investment it would be just to get good milk and butter. A lot of time and money go into healthy products like those. Sadly we had to sell them…but it did give me a greater appreciation for the farmers that do it. Hoping we can find someone local that sells their products soon!

    • January 4, 2011 8:00 pm

      Kristen, it’s amazing isn’t how much work it is. It sounds so good when you read about it and then reality sets in. My reality was putting a halter on Jane the other night for the first time in a month or so – she’s not so little when she is trying to stand on me! Back to school for Jane!!

      Hope you find a good farmer!

  20. January 4, 2011 10:15 am

    Hello I really enjoyed your soapbox spew. I am a beef, cow-calf farmer in Canada and you are dead on. I am quite contented to stay on the farm with my cows but I know I have to promote my own product or we would not have survived. It is a tough life but well worth the effort. I will be dropping back again. B

    • January 5, 2011 6:10 am

      Buttons, personally we have not found it that hard to market our products, I do like my down time, but am fairly gregarious so it’s not that hard to make those cold calls. And once you get started – word o f mouth works wonders. But I realize for some folks it may give them heart palpitations to put themselves out there and risk rejection 😦

      Stay warm!

  21. January 4, 2011 10:35 am

    Amen, Nita! Our buying club works buys cases of Larsen’s butter. Their organic butter comes from grassfed cows in California, but their high butterfat Cremerie Classique comes from pastured PNW cows.

    I believe that buying clubs are an excellent way to bridge the gap between producers (farmers, fisherfolk, small processors) and consumers. I like working with you loner farmer types and helping my club members understand some of the complexities of farming and food processing. Most people have had their expectation shaped by supermarket shopping and if they decide to start sourcing more locally, are surprised with restrictions that the seasons, animal life cycles, weather, etc., place on their access to food they’re accustomed to buying 365 days a year. And people are taken in by marketing and are not naturally inclined to ask questions.

    • January 5, 2011 6:15 am

      Chris, so true – I see the buying clubs and people like you being the go-between because as hard as marketing is for some, it is also a time suck. I need to be here doing my work, in order to be able to build that fence and tote that bale of hay. We only delivered eggs once a week in Portland, and it took all day to make all the stops. The hardest part of marketing is getting that first sale, once you do – the positive feedback you get is quite a rejuvenating feeling. Thank you for doing your part 🙂

      I really Cremerie Classique BTW.

  22. Teri Pittman permalink
    January 4, 2011 11:31 am

    If you can get good milk, it’s so simple to make your own butter. The last stuff I made was from heavy cream that had been in the fridge a bit too long. I put it in the bowl for the Kitchen -Aid, whipped it until it separated and then drained out the whey. It took less than 10 minutes.

    I feel it’s far more important to buy locally than to buy organic. There are good farmers who use organic methods but don’t want to go through the paperwork to be certified. My hope this year is to find a source for good quality pork. I’ve raised my own before, but am not set up to do that now.

    And one last thing, I think that the chef shows a bit of the problems ahead for the sustainable movement. Farms should not be factories. You can’t churn out product on a schedule. Animals have their own cycle of life. It’s very difficult to change them to produce at a given time. If we can change that mentality and get people to accept that there will be times of abundance and times of unavailability, we’ll be on the right track.

    • January 5, 2011 6:21 am

      Teri, yes getting the chefs on board is difficult, and in fact for that reason we quit selling eggs, we got so good at having eggs year round it was draining mentally and physically. Much like the dairy treadmill. Everything needs a break. It’s hard to get off the treadmill though, and I am sure there are many budding farmers in my area that are making plans right now to service those very restaurants with “seasonal pastured eggs” year round. It can be done, but at a great cost to farmers and livestock.

      As a side note, I have been to certified organic dairies that are a mess, and conventional dairies that are very nice. It depends on the operator and their mindset.

  23. January 4, 2011 12:50 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree. I stopped shopping at the farmers markets over a year ago because they have a market already. Since then I’ve been seeking out permaculture farmers with no time or desire to market, who are doing everything right. I promise at the beginning of the season to buy their entire crops and then I sell them to city folks at cost. It sucks up a lot of my time but I see each year these farmers expanding their “gardens” and I know the farmers at the farmers markets are still doing just fine. Mathematically, we end up with more beyond organic farmland in the state and fewer consumers buying from the store.

    My next project is community owned agriculture – communal farmland for city folks. Some of these farmers are helping us get set up with animals and permaculture gardens on leased land outside the city. We will still do the bulk buys but plant the staples and raise our own meat and pastured dairy, signing up for shifts as a group.

    It’s things like this that will make the difference in the end, and bring consumers and farmers together.

    I’m also attending this year’s chef collaborative on behalf of my buying club. There are so many more mouths out there than a restaurant can bring to a farmer!

    Excellent post, Nita. Heart you!

    • January 5, 2011 6:27 am

      Annette, great ideas! When we sold our hens, we sold some of them to a collective from one of our CSA customers.
      As far as I know they are still going strong, (the group, not the original hens.)

      You should be commended for your efforts! 🙂

  24. January 4, 2011 4:22 pm

    What’s your advice for a ‘newbie’ like me? I have so much to learn and am definitely not ready for livestock but someday soon hopefully. I have read a million books but really I am a hands on person and also need interface with someone experienced… which is why I love your blog! 🙂

    • January 5, 2011 7:37 am

      Ben, don’t start with anything that is going to give birth. Maybe chickens at first to get the feel for daily care and what type of housing works for animal, and for you as the caretaker.

      After you see if you really want to be tied down to livestock care then move onto something a little bigger.

      Any type of livestock will enhance your market garden, so the possibilities are endless, just get something you want and will like.

  25. Eliza J permalink
    January 4, 2011 4:47 pm

    Ah yes, I see someone beat me to it ~ AMEN!

  26. jeannette permalink
    January 4, 2011 8:51 pm


  27. January 4, 2011 11:13 pm

    Annette, it figures 😦 My Azure drop is 15 miles away, and I have my choice of 3 different drops within that mileage, but all are in little towns outside Portland city limits. However, I know of one more a little further and it is within city limits in a neigborhood. Anymore, I don’t really order that much from them, since you never know when you will actually get what you ordered.

    It’s comments like yours that make me glad I have spent so much time milking cows. 🙂 I don’t know if butter would be worth 16 – 20 dollars a pound but look at how expensive coconut oil is. Good fat is an important nutrient dense food – and the reason people used to make money selling butter 100 years ago from only several cows.

    • January 5, 2011 9:28 am

      There is also quite a move afoot to boycott Organic Pastures. Apparently they have outlawed their producers from selling raw milk. Anyway, although I like OP pasture butter, and find it much tastier than Kerrygold, I like my local farmers’ butter better. I’ve had Kerrygold and don’t find it to be anything worth shipping across the world.

  28. Andreas permalink
    January 5, 2011 6:20 am

    “But I feel like saying to hell with the Irish farmers” … this is quite a statement from a farmer in the US that floods the world with cheap , over-subsidized grain , meat ,etc. and thereby destroys the livelyhood of millions of small-scale subsistance farmer …
    When the average US farmers changed to factory farming , GMO soy/corn feeding their cattle and generally producing only mass and not quality in their never-ending greed , the Irish farmers stuck to grass-fed and have all the right to market their top-quality product all over the world incl. the US ! Your own consumers in the US are now telling you with their dollars what they really want.
    Being a long-time follower of your blog I’m quite surprised and upset about your statement …
    Nevertheless thanks a lot for a generally very enjoyable blog and wish you all the best for 2011 !
    Andreas from Vienna / Austria / Europe

    • January 5, 2011 7:48 am

      Andreas, I was pretty sure I would upset many, and most who are probably upset wouldn’t have taken the time to comment as you have.

      If you have been reading my blog for some time I would think is would be apparent that I am not a US farmer flooding the market with my cheap grain and subsidized meat. I only sell locally, I suppose my mother could be accused of that though (RIP) since she did sell grassfed calves to the sale barn each year, and some of those calves could have ended up in a feedlot and then onto McDonald’s or some business like that. So I guess the generalization I used for the Irish farmers can be used here in perusing the history of our farm.

      And I agree, that they have a right to sell to anyone who will pay the price. It’s time for US consumers and farmers to change. Will that happen, I doubt it, or at least not fast enough to make a difference.

      Personally, I wouldn’t really want to buy a perishable food that has traveled so far and been in so many hands before it got me. That’s just my phobia though. Many others think it is prestigious to have imported food on their table rather than help the struggling guy next door.

  29. January 5, 2011 6:59 am

    Well said. The whole local thing has been a struggle for us too. Finding a market for what we grow, finding someone growing what we need but don’t grow. Both have been challenging. We use Local Harvest to help with our direct marketing and to help us find other local producers. It’s not perfect, but the more producers and customers who use such sites the better they become. We encourage everyone we talk with to use the site for that reason. (It’s also free, which is a plus for people starting out in direct marketing.)

    Beyond that we are making an active effort to change our food habits. What we buy, where we buy it, what we think we need, are all habits. Farmers won’t change until there is a critical mass of customers. Customers wont change until there is a competitive product. Catch 22. I see it every day, so rather than preaching (at least as much…) I changing how my family gets their food. The other fights, regulations, funding, consumer mind-set, government support, etc. are too big for me. In the end I’ll win because my comunity and I will still be here after peak oil, etc. But only if I change what I do.

    • January 5, 2011 7:53 am

      Alan, I am in total agreement with you on that, I can only change what I do, and maybe others will follow suit. If not, I am too busy trying to grow our food, grow clean meat for others and source locally if possible what I can’t. I am not a fixer or a world saver, I am a doer.

      It’s funny people wonder why we have so many pictures, and how we have the time. Well, it’s because we take the camera with us, we are outside working most of the time. The photos are proof of that. Otherwise it is just words…

  30. January 5, 2011 9:30 am

    I heard someone say a while ago, in relation to his farming practice, that he was dissapointed that he was selling meat at $20/lb. Not that the price was bad, but that the customer base were people who could pay ANY price for the meat.

    So when I read you folks talking about $16 or $20 butter, that’s where I part company with you in my farming practice. I’d rather sell a good product at a price that means that average wage consumers can access it than hold out for the last dollar. Good food isn’t meant for the top 1% of earners, in my opinion, and unfortunately, that’s the easiest market to reach. If you’re preaching change in the market, that 1% at the top isn’t really where the change will come.

    I’m not in this to get rich; I’m interested in giving people access to the food that I’d buy, too.

    • January 5, 2011 10:21 am

      Hey Bruce,

      I’m the one who was complaining that it’s $20/# for butter. I agree we need to make real food accessible for all – that is why I spend the hours doing what I do, without compensation. We should not be in a position where the only decent butter to be had costs $20/#.

      You know I’m a huge fan of yours because you are doing all that you can to bring the price of pastured pork down while still maintaining a decent product and well-respected pigs. I plug you everywhere I can, I just don’t make all those plus text links for lack of time. Keep on doing what you are doing and expand that every year and the world will be a better place. – Annette

  31. January 5, 2011 9:30 am

    Even worse then butter is the transport of water in plastic bottles. When I was in Fiji, we were told not to drink the water. Now this water costs about $3 per quart, that’s $12 per gallon for something you can get for almost nothing right out of your tap— Crazy! Maybe farmers should start selling their “farm fresh water,” they could certainly make a lot more money for less work.

  32. January 5, 2011 8:28 pm


    I have to think that the average Irish farmer has little to do with marketing and exporting butter in Oklahoma or Washington state. I imagine that most of them are happy just having a market for their dairy products, and leave the details between then and retail sale to the guys with money in their pockets, and that Irish dairy produce in their trucks.

    It is funny, though, that you pick on Irish butter as the export item of ill repute.

    I recall a story that in past times, dairy around Europe was a very big story, diplomatically. The Danes had really good land for dairying, and got very good. So good, that their products were very well received around The Continent. That got the local dairies agitated, and protectionist laws prohibiting the import of Danish dairy, including butter, the easiest then to preserve.

    So the Danes got into the butter cookie business. They found a good market for their butter as it was incorporated into good tasting cookies, and the tins were a favored market advantage. The traditional Danish cookies sold well over Christmas, at my local Oklahoma Wal-Mart.

    Another dairy-incorporated product comes again from Ireland – Bailey’s Irish Cream. Again, sold world wide, providing another stable income from a well-received dairy product.

    Had you considered “Matron’s Washington Creamtm” as a side product?

    I like that point about 10,000 hours to master a skill. That 4-5 years – or 10 years – rears it’s ugly head in American agriculture. If reports that the average farmer is over 55 years old, that means that for the most part, we are missing a couple-three generations in preparing to feed ourselves in the next couple of decades. It may well be that taking on farming apprentices at any level may be the single most enduring legacy today’s lover of the farm can offer. Even if they have to emigrate from Ireland. Or Oklahoma!

  33. January 6, 2011 10:26 am

    Reading this I started out nodding – one of the first things I learned here is how frightened some farmers are of change, and how reassuring it is to them to be surrounded by friends, everyone doing the same thing whether it works or not. (And in a business as risky as farming, if you’re doing what your neighbors do it’s not your fault when you fail. You can blame it on the weather or the Chinese.)

    Eventually I realized that your doctor friend is doing exactly the same thing. She’s buying the butter approved by her friends as the “right” butter to buy, rather than using her brain and her tongue to make the decision.

    We need change from both stubborn sides in order to find a middle ground, or we need to embrace $20.00 butter to raise the status of local that way.

    (And you’re not missing anything, Kerrygold doesn’t have a particularly special flavor – as quality butter goes. Probably it’s better in Ireland. But it seems to me that with butter freshness matters a LOT, and Kerrygold can’t win that one.)

    • January 6, 2011 1:23 pm

      Hayden, exactly – but meeting in the middle ground isn’t easy. I recently read a blog post where the writer was lamenting how cheaply the winter squash she bought was priced. She pleaded with the woman to take more, and the farmer said, no, that’s OK…so she decided to make some homemade something or other as a gift to fill in the gap, because she appreciated the nominal price. The gist of her post was that if these farmers don’t make a living wage, they will give up and the land will be lost to development, yada, yada. All true. What shocked me was the response in the comments. A few brave souls agreed, but the rest dogpiled on with statements to the effect that food is expensive enough, the farmers knows what they’re doing, don’t ruin a good deal… I bit my tongue and did not comment. But we are addicted to “a deal” and cheap food. And it is a house of cards, and will collapse.

      Another thing farmers do too, is price too low, they get the Wal-mart customer and then when they realize they are really working for .10 an hour, they have to start over with new customers. By then they are exhausted. But getting them to go to a seminar on marketing – it’s like pulling teeth, as if they think the customers will magically appear. They don’t. I could find Craigslist ads right now, with beef priced the same as what they would get at the sale barn. For all the bother, you may as well haul the steer to the salebarn, get your check in two days and be done with it. From my standpoint, the easiest thing to sell is chicken, or eggs, fast turn around, but hard to raise consistently. The hardest sell, is beef, trying to overcome the red meat stigma, and ironically beef is the easiest to raise. I spend hours on the phone educating potential customers about grassfed beef and you know what turns off most people – we don’t raise Angus! And while I am on my soapbox, all you newbie meat sellers and not so newbie -QUIT SAYING GRASSFED BEEF IS LEAN, IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE, go read some up on real food, Weston Price, and Jo’s site eatwild. Properly raised grassfed beef will have good for you fat.

      Geez, what a flood that was, I better go flip the cow’s hay…sorry for the rant Hayden, give Jake a hug for me 🙂

      • January 6, 2011 1:54 pm

        Good points all. This post could live forever there are so many issues here.

        Regarding selling beef – I’ve been a salesperson for the past 20 years. To make a sale, I have to identify a need and fill it. I have to be willing to spend time really learning my product and as many different ways to use it as I can find. Educating my buyer doesn’t mean that I do all the talking. Understanding why they believe certain things to be true is critical to addressing the disconnect.

        So many farmers have a negative attitude towards their potential buyers and make no effort to understand their own products better. They themselves are harsh in their criticism of other farmers and those asking (and getting) real prices. I just don’t understand it at all. As a farmer, I would never shop at Walmart for produce, but our local farmers are all about the lowest price and don’t seem to see the ironic connection between the fact that they support Walmart’s buying practices and they can’t make enough profit on their products.

        Buyers are quick to latch onto easy terms such as Organic and Angus to decide quickly if something is good or bad. Sadly, the government, chain groceries and the internet are willing learn how buyers think so they can give consumers supposedly useful information that serves to promote the industrial model as superior.

        Grassfed is the new buzzword I suppose, and I think plenty of farmers are abusing it by raising their cows the same way just without feeding grain.

        When enough buyers have disappointing experiences with tough, expensive cuts of beef, I fear grassfed will become another passing trend. It is up to true grass fed practitioners to step up and demonstrate the difference – if we don’t, we can’t really complain if the effort fails.

        Sadly, it looks like we’re all on the same team – we need to come up with a game-plan to reach people who haven’t a clue about food and farming. Oh, well, tomorrow’s another day – tonight I have mouths to feed.

        • January 6, 2011 6:44 pm

          yep. I agree with both responses. And that’s the problem.

          most city folks who can afford Kerrygold have serious trouble affording the time it takes to learn a whole new way of thinking about food. and that’s made doubly hard by eating lunch and often dinner out with their friends, who read the news and believe all of the latest studies on the scientific way to eat. My girlfriend had a huge struggle inside her family because her relatives were all too happy to tell her that organic was all a big fraud, and gave her articles *supporting* that contention. Irradiated food is GOOD, because all of the germs are DEAD. and it lasts a long time in the fridge – which is good, right? Germ phobic, every one. And eventually – she stopped buying organic. Had doubts probably, but I’m willing to bet it was mostly about social pressure. She wasn’t confident enough of herself to resist. These were all college folks with good jobs…. most of them with advanced degrees.

          sometimes I meet my farmer BIL at his lunch spot – he goes to the same rancid (literally) restaurant every single day, eats the same thing, at the same time, at the same table with a group of friends. they talk about their farms (conventional) and their neighbors and what’s going on here. But mostly about their farms and their work that day. They’re either related or went to school together, are now in their 50’s and 60’s, and aren’t comfortable meeting people they don’t already know. I see the same patterns in my nephew and his friends, so that seems to not be generation-specific.

          As my BIL says about my *fantasy* of organic apples “if it worked, everyone would be doing it.”

          It’s a big divide, and it’s going to take a lot of work on both sides to cross it.

        • January 6, 2011 9:20 pm

          Hayden, my reply is at the end of the comments…

  34. January 6, 2011 12:32 pm

    I think it’s really the texture with Kerrygold. It’s a skill to remove all the water and achieve that rich, dense texture. For a real treat, if you stumble upon it, try Double Devon. It’s perfection. It’s from England…

    Since we are planning to start a dairy with the goal of making butter & cheese, we sample every butter we come across – I swear it’s market research, lol.

    Kate’s from Maine is nice US butter too – isn’t Strauss easily available near you?

    • January 6, 2011 12:59 pm

      Larsen’s Cremerie Classique is very good, and actually the Organic Valley is the closest, even though their headquarters are in the Wisconsin, there are local dairies here in Oregon and Washington that are part of that co-op. I am so used to my butter that it’s hard for me to compare commercial butter of any type to what I can produce here on my pastures with my own Guernsey.

      My taste test is if I can eat it straight – otherwise I don’t buy it again.

      • January 6, 2011 1:09 pm

        I haven’t seen Larsen’s, I’ll have to look for it. I liked the Organic Valley Pasture butter very much and bought it whenever it was available. I haven’t seen it around here for a while.

        Guernseys are really nice cows – they’re actually cousins to our cows (Devons) from what I’m told. Perfect butter cows…..

  35. January 6, 2011 9:34 pm

    Hayden, I see the same thing here – I had to go to PDX the other day and “the group” was at the Creep Feeder for coffee, at 9:00 am, by the time I had my errands done and came back through our town which is really two towns, the same group had moved to the Creep Feeder Annex in the second town, it was 1:00 pm. I know these people and their habits and their stock. We had already done our chores, got cleaned up enough to go to town, and they hadn’t even done their chores yet, and probably got them done in between restaurant meals. And I am not talking cooked from scratch meals, like these places served 40 years ago, the menu now consists of whatever Sysco Foods delivers and can be re-heated in the Thermal Rejuvenation Unit…these are farmers raising cattle. They are there for the companionship and to one up their buddies. They say the same thing as your BIL,” if rotational grazing worked we would be doing it too…” I guess if I spent 3 + hours a day at the local cafe, rotational grazing wouldn’t work! I wouldn’t have enough time.

    I suppose farming will keep on going how it is, some will change and maybe see some profit and positive feedback, and others will just go so far in debt and despair they will quit. The life preservers are there in the form of info about different marketing, grazing etc., but if you don’t put it on you just might drown…

    • January 8, 2011 8:41 am

      “I suppose farming will keep on going how it is”

      I think that it has to. I don’t think we dare trifle with the quantity of food produced until we can provide local, sustainable alternatives of sufficient quantity to make the improved quality an actual benefit. Better quality of food, but not enough to go around, won’t make the world safer or better fed.

      “Change” always means the clearing away of the old way, to make room for the new. That “little death” often consists of a burnt bridge – there may be no way back, scary for those not yet resigned to the need.

      • January 9, 2011 3:59 pm

        Brad, it looks to me like we don’t have a lack of food in this country – just a distribution problem. Change doesn’t have to mean quantity diminishes, either. Change is a process, couldn’t flip a switch on this if we wanted to.

  36. January 10, 2011 7:38 am

    One thing Brad points out is that the average age of farmers in 55 or so. And one thing I see in farmer friends my age (53) that have went the “feed the world” route or “get bigger or get out” path is that sometimes they may have children that want to continue to farm but not necessarily the way mom and dad do, and if you think it is hard to buck peer pressure, try innovating with parents who have a different mindset. It’s a problem in all types of family business not just farming. What worked in the 70’s or 80’s when these children were born, may not be working now, but admitting failure and bringing about change can be hard for some. Many times too, the child that really wants to save the family farm is pushed out due to ingrained inheritance issues etc. Family dynamics are hard to deal with. Thank heavens Joel Salatin’s parents supported his endeavors and thank heavens Joel persevered.

    And sometimes if banks are involved – the loan officer will not go out on a limb for something deemed different. We know some berry farmers sitting gold-mine with just a few marketing techniques they could be raking in the dough. They thought so too, unfortunately, the bank controls what they do – raise berries and sell to the cannery. Or go out on your own and find financing to make some changes. The bank deflated them so “good” that they are just counting the days until they can retire and subdivide. And there goes another 40 acres put into houses, and once that open land is paved over it is gone.

    This issue is about more than just butter.

  37. January 10, 2011 10:29 am

    I think it’s really hard to underestimate the social conditioning that older farmers were subjected to from the time of WW1 on. Pushing your land to the max was the only patriotic thing a farmer could do, and following WW2, the United States was the only country of the Allies whose agricultural system remained intact. So, at that time, we really did have the burden of helping to feed the world.

    Expecting our older generations to admit “failure” is really disrespectful of all that they did accomplish. It’s easy for us in hindsight to judge. Initially, the new technologies created remarkable boosts in yield at a time when labor was scarce and so many men were away at war. I can’t say in all honesty that I wouldn’t make the exact same decisions. Remember, there were no publicly known negative consequences yet.

    In addition, farmers were made to feel like lower class citizens until recently when all of a sudden, it’s hip to be a quirky, funky, niche market farmer. Farmers felt pressed to emulate as closely as possible the standard of living their childrens’ suburban schoolmates seemed to be enjoying and to not seem unsophisticated with hay on their coat and mud on their shoes. I think it’s unfair to expect these farmers to switch gears so fast – we lost their trust a long time ago and it will take actions not words to gain it back.

    Our country has never felt so polarized in every way than it does today. Respecting our elders for all they have contributed is very important. They do not appreciate our modern attention deficit, self serving, overconfident, cynical, judging and flippant media culture of constant commentating. It is the exact opposite of American values post WW2 and is further driving a wedge between the generations.

    I choose to farm in a more sustainable way, but I am still eager to learn from the traditional farmers as well. In return, they have been very kind and helpful (maybe while laughing behind my back) and I have benefited greatly.

    We’ll never fix this problem standing on opposite sides pointing fingers…..

    The other issue is that we all agree with this stuff in theory, until it means you have to pass on the opportunity to make money and get out. It is a rare individual who will pass on today’s gain to invest in tomorrow’s uncertain future. I live in an area divided by gas drilling and commercial development. Land is going up in price, yet is devalued at the same time. People who want the land for preservation and enjoyment are looking elsewhere – who wants to volunteer to be part of such contriversity and pay too much for the privilege?

    Every farmer who sells out for the cash laments the situation, yet it is a rare landowner who doesn’t succumb. If not for the money, to get away from the hostility in the divided community.

    I think the work of Slow Money is an encouraging attempt to address the financing issue. I have removed every dime of money I had invested in the stock market (what wasn’t already lost that is) and feel that by investing in farming, I am investing in a way that truly builds the future rather than support the shareholder system which has destroyed all that is good and true in our economy. I know that is unusual, and time may prove me the fool, but it is completely non-hypocritical and honest – I am not willing to bury my head in the sand any longer.

    Oh yeah and rant, rant, rant, rant,… sorry to go on so; I couldn’t help myself!

  38. January 10, 2011 1:12 pm

    AMF, it’s probably not too clear in my writing, since I have a hard time articulating myself, and no one ever reveals everything on a blog, for sure, since mostly I write about the here and now in relation to the farm and what we are doing right now. But I certainly understand the pressure WWI and WWII put on people since I am the last child of parents born in 1898 and 1911, and I am only 53 (I know that sounds old to my young readers, I feel young, most of the time) and have the luck to be farming the land that they both grew up on. I have never not farmed, and until my parents passed away, it was done their way. I know all about respect and treading lightly, if I didn’t I wouldn’t be the recipient of treasured seeds, and other farming type items from people in our community who have now passed on, some preferred leaving their items in my care instead of their own children.

    But forgetting all that, how can my friends lose money every year on their cattle by selling to the auction, and still go in debt buying bigger tractors and more equipment,(and this is no secret because they complain mightily about the prices.) I always wonder why they don’t try something different at least on a trial basis. We did it, and it is a struggle, but what isn’t?

    And your point about learning from traditional (as we know it) farmers is a good one, that is why I blog, to get the info. out there. You can always learn something new from farmers, no matter what type of farming they do. I can spot a cow that doesn’t feel good from a 1/2 mile, just from looking at her stance, but if I was going to plant a field to a row crop you can be sure I would be picking the brains of crop farmers I know. One problem I see is the notion that since something was done before it is easy to learn the skill now. There is a plethora of books and blogs being written by people who don’t have their 10,000 hours in, and while that’s all Kumbaya and all, it doesn’t cut it for me. If I have a question about how to do something I don’t want to learn from someone who has just started, I will pick the brain of someone who has done more than just read about it. My MIL is very proud of her Master Gardener certificate, but while she can do a bang-up job telling you how to achieve the Home Depot look in your landscaping, she cannot grow enough food to last a year. However, I do not have that certificate, and I can grow enough food for us, and then some and save acclimated seeds to boot. Current wisdom would tell you to ask her if you have any questions about gardening, not me. People have to want something to change in their lives, in order to make change happen. I don’t hold out anytime soon for my friends to change, and out of respect for our friendship I will quietly listen to their stories of “spring calving” in December and January, and I will shake my head when I get home. If they ask for advice I will give it, but I won’t tell them what to do, it’s their business, sink or swim.

    • January 11, 2011 10:26 am

      Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. But as a newbie without my 10,000 in, it’s really hard to even find someone who isn’t following the highway, but is beating a different path. I listen to anything the conventional farmers are willing to tell me, except that I’m a fool and it won’t work. That goes in one ear and out the other. Seems the only thing I can do is ask questions and get blank stares. My neighbor, who harvested my hay for me last year before I got a mower, is classic. Since he wanted the hay for his cows, I asked if he could could identify a couple of pasture plants for me. He just laughed, said “I’m a grain farmer. They’re all weeds to me.” I can listen, but I can’t learn much from that. Nor from the extension agent, who loudly and happily tells me “it” won’t work. They’re so locked in to telling me it can’t be done that I can’t get them out of the clouds to tell me where they’ve seen it break down when it was tried. I’m beginning to suspect that they don’t even know why.

      • January 11, 2011 1:46 pm

        Hayden, I know…I was thinking that this morning as we were doing the deep bedding thing, and I thought to myself, how does anyone get the 10,000 hours in without starting – which has always been the age-old question. So of course the literal question that follows is, Start where? Age is a problem for you, I started doing things differently at a younger age and at least I didn’t really change professions, I just refined what I was doing. I had my 10,000 hours in on cows and gardening and many other homesteading skills, and to tell the truth there was no one to ask locally, because the answers would have been the same as you’re getting right now. We subscribed to different farming periodicals than I grew up with, read books, and started doing something. We made mistakes every step of the way, and once in a while we attended a farming conference if we could afford it. (I have to say going to a local farmer or the creep feeder for farming advice is similar to looking for a mate in the local tavern, the choice is limited and the patrons don’t quite meet the criteria… 😉 We got the farm certified, met other organic farmers of all types, and started hanging out with a different bunch of people. It’s just networking, and sharing, and we have met some incredible farmers, and made more connections, by way of vetting each other. I can’t put any one thing to the forefront of why we got better, other than we wanted to do things differently so badly, that our hearts pushed us forward. And we still read, read, read, and do, do, do and are constantly tweaking. I think one thing too is that sometimes it is hard for people to say they don’t know something, so instead they say things like it can’t be done. A “friend” of ours told me a couple of weeks ago, I was abusing my cows because I was not feeding hay yet, since he had been since September…he has no grass, is buying in grain and selling hay and manure from his farm. I know why he has no grass, but telling him something like that is like talking to a stonewall. He always has a reason why his garden fails, his calves are born in November, and his cows die from mysterious things. And so it goes. I loaned him a couple of Joel’s books and sent him a sub to Stockman Grassfarmer, in one ear and out the other, his gramma had chickens and he hated them and farm fresh eggs give his wife the creeps, so he can continue stocking up on food at Costco and let his 400 acres languish. I knew he was a goner when he went to a round bale feeder, so he could feed once a week, which is becoming the new norm. (insert head shaking on my part) I know people who would give their eye teeth for the inside feeding setup he has and refuses to use. “What put bedding in there? “Then you gotta haul it all out!” “And thennnn, waddaya gonna do with it all?”

  39. January 10, 2011 8:41 pm

    What’s the old saying, “He who knows least knows it loudest”?

    That negativity and resistance to change is human nature. It exists in all areas of human endeavor. Like crabs in a bucket, if one starts to climb out, they’ll all pull it back into the bucket. I’ll never understand it.

    See how fortunate you are to have positive company in the blogoshpere?

  40. January 12, 2011 6:20 am

    LOL – love the comment abt finding a mate in a tavern! Friend returned from 7 yrs in Alaska shaking her head and saying “The odds are good, but the Goods are Odd.”

    Yep, doing as you say: and trusting that my insatiable curiosity and voracious reading will help. Just yesterday discovered a farm 5 miles away with a young couple that know LOTS more than I do and are trying to do it the new/old way – little by little, I’ll connect. I didn’t plan on an apple orchard, but it got put in my lap and I’m not one to turn away from the challenge.

    Yesterday also got an invite and signed up for a webinar on organic apples – specifically stating that Michigan State is one of the heavy weights on this drive. Humm. Wonder why my extension agent doesn’t seem to know that? Good stuff though.

    Auburn Meadow Farm: I’m laughing, nodding/shaking my head. Love the crab image.

  41. January 12, 2011 8:51 am

    Hayden, Matron,

    I think there is a point here. You use the term ‘farmer’ like there is a simple definition, something like ‘lives on a farm’, ‘raises crops’ or something.

    The agribusiness approach of Monsanta, the USDA, and Con-Agra is a distinct set of skill and priorities, of goals and practices. This is one kind of farming.

    Another kind is what the sustainable, alternative, small farm approach. Turning cows onto a new section of pasture every day works great for one cow, maybe 20. But if you are running 2,000 acres, that doesn’t work so well. Obviously it can be done, and done well, and likely with increased profits, lower costs, and improved condition and nutrition of the cows and pasture both.

    But there is almost no path to get there from here.

    If you ask one of today’s big farmers a question about managing to meet what Wallaces Farmer and the USDA expect, using the crop plans from the extension service and Monsanto, they can help you identify the equipment, chemicals, and process to tidy up that task appropriately.

    Talking about pasture rotation, though, is like asking one of the local high school girls about taking in a big sister’s dress for the prom. The question isn’t just inappropriate for who your talking to, it comes across as accusatory and rude. (My apologies to everyone that does know how to make and tailor clothes; the local school and community do not.)

    Back at the turn of the 20th century, the USDA had a big idea. County fairs. The widespread establishment of county fairs was intended to discover what crops and practices worked best in each region, and expose those successes to generally improve agriculture and food production across the nation. It worked. At the local fair, much has been subverted by 4H and FFA clubs that apprentice kids to the agribusiness definitions of good and success, and big equipment demonstrations. But there is still room for the organic, and alternative practice approaches, too. Most fair boards are willing to consider adding exhibits whenever they get enough interest. That would be one way to introduce heritage and seed saving, pasture rotation and deep bedding practices to the great masses and fellow farmers.

    You don’t have to convince the farmer. Put a bug in his wife’s ear, or a child’s ear, though, and that could bear fruit down the road.

    Blessed be!

    • January 13, 2011 2:21 pm

      All good points. I would NEVER try to convince a farmer anyway – it seems disrespectful for me, coming from nowhere, to tell them their business.

      What I will do, is respond to questions and explain myself and my goals. And ask lots of questions. And I might ask them if they’ve tried something I’m interested in, what their results were, and/or why/why not.

      And while it looks like Nita is getting a home run with her neighbor, my goal has always been to intrigue the children. I think you’re right about that. And I’m learning – accidentally – that you may be right about the wives, too. They often seem interested – even fascinated – with what I’m doing.

  42. January 13, 2011 7:59 am

    Hayden and everybody, He$# has frozen over, my friend who has cows and the perfect setup for feeding inside, called last night and wanted to borrow some books about grazing!!!!

    We gladly obliged and slipped him a Sweet Meat squash to sweeten the pot. 🙂

    • January 13, 2011 2:06 pm

      O M G! Is THAT what that snowstorm here is about?!

      I’m in shock – and absolutely delighted to hear! You being available w/o pushing finally paid off! Congrats!!

  43. January 14, 2011 7:24 pm

    Brad, mob stocking actually works much better with more cattle, Salatin is now grazing about a 100o head on 1000 acres and Greg Judy in MO comes to mind, and any Holistic Resource Management Practitioner most often has large herds moved every day. However, these type of people don’t seek information from the land grant colleges, they have opted out of the ag system as most know it. Unfortunately the heavily subsidized and romanticized type of ranching ala pioneer woman, where the government mustangs are fed, and the cattle receive cottonseed cake, and lots of injections is what most people strive for. A poor 4-H kid who wanted to raise a batch of pastured pork would not be able to compete with the Purina plan for “correct” market weight in so many days. I know lots of disappointed kids that couldn’t make weight with their steers or hogs and it’s sad, because for the most part, they have learned to take care of their animal, they just can’t keep up with the industry standards as far a target weight in the allotted time. That’s not what we should be teaching our children if we want to go in a different direction with farming.

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