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Do Your Own Vetting, and Quit Throwing Out the Baby With the Bathwater

April 29, 2012
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Warning!  Rant ahead!  My friend said I should write this post after a conversation we had, and after spending the afternoon with my cows, I talked myself out of it, until I read a comment about me growing a Monsanto tomato.  So remember, this is just my opinion and a post about how I make my personal decisions on what to eat, grow, and imbibe among other things.  You need to make your own choices, and if they are bad, you need to deal with it.  “Bad” things I have been accused of lately, and they are all true.  Drinking milk from the store, feeding my A1 cow grain, eating at a fast food restaurant, drinking too much coffee, raising Cornish Cross, feeding commodity feed to my chickens, eating white bread, driving too big of vehicle, using sheep to mow my lawn, washing my salad greens, baking pie, eating a cheap candy bar, burning wood, drying my clothes on a rack, building a greenhouse…the list could go on forever, but my point is that you can’t please everyone and you should please yourself first.  And do your homework, don’t expect anyone else to do it for you, or to keep you safe.  If I die from eating white bread or drinking raw milk, so be it, it’s not anyone’s fault but mine, I assess the risks and make a decision.

After another article about raw milk appeared in the O yesterday, my phone was abuzz with calls.  “Did you see that, she uses a machine to keep her milk clean!”  Of course, I had to go out and get the paper then.  Front page, hmmm.  I knew this article was coming out, and that people were being interviewed and people had declined interviews, or had just plain laid low wanting the whole E. coli mess to blow over.  First thing I saw was the manure on the cow, and when I looked at the photo shoot accompanying the article I saw the manure was still on the cow’s hock during milking.  I know the whole glass house thing too, at paddock shift for Jane yesterday, I wanted to take her monthly pre-calving photos, and sure enough, a nice, big ‘ol “grass” stain on her side.  As I have said before, $hit happens.  Especially with cows.  An animal that poops and pees out 50 pounds a day is sure to get some manure on them from time to time.  In the barn, in the pasture or just because.  Most of the time it is because they don’t have a choice; too small of quarters, in the stable or in the pasture or lot, not enough bedding, and sometimes they don’t feel good and don’t care.  Unfortunately many milk cows don’t feel good, a sub-clinical infection can be the blame, or sometimes it just may be the cow isn’t getting enough groceries to replace the ample amounts of milk she is giving.  Take for instance the current grass-fed milk movement.  I’m writing a post on that, so stay tuned.

Anyway, in a conversation with that friend yesterday, we both wondered (being former 4-H kids),  why in the heck if a reporter was coming to your farm, the cows weren’t spiffed up.  Maybe not bathed, but curried for sure.  We both decided we would have brushed our cow before a photo shoot.  And then we pondered the idea of putting your best foot forward, or just “keeping it real” as Pioneer Woman says.  We decided we would both go with the putting our best foot forward and brush the dang cow.  My friend’s cow is newly freshened and she wants to possibly sell some milk, so we have been poring over our milking procedures, ad infinitum for some time.  I’m careful with my milking procedures, but there are days when the cow is DIRTY!  On those days I don’t keep the milk.  If I was selling my milk, I would be tempted to salvage that milk, and you see everyone doing the math.  “Okay, the cow gives 4 gallons a day, 7 days a week; that’s 28 gallons I can sell.  I don’t want to short my customers…and to try to educate them, I need the money.”  Okay, the money is great, as long as everything goes perfect, but it’s like counting your eggs before the pullet ever lays the first one.

Herein the rub lies.  The consumers have the farmer over a barrel.  The hypocrisy drives me crazy.  But as a consumer myself, I see where we really have been trained to expect everything from the store on any day of the week.  Having a party?  Want some strawberries in January?  Go to the store.  Now people are demanding seasonal products all year round.  Never mind that milk, eggs, fruit, and vegetables are seasonal products.  Add in local, organic, natural, cage-free,  and free-range and you’ve got a problem.  And if you don’t supply it, you’ve got a tantrum on your hands or a threat that the consumer (chef, foodie, immune impaired…) will go elsewhere and get their “seasonal,” local, organic, pink slime-free, grass-fed whatever, somewhere else.  So the farmer is badgered into providing just that.  Milk in January, well why not?  Some cow is producing milk somewhere, or it wouldn’t be in the store, right?  Well, duh, I get that.  But let’s back up a bit here; aren’t we trying to sell raw milk that is healthy?  It’s real hard on a cow to calve late in the year and then go into heavy production on dry feed.   Cows are hard workers, they are for most of their lives, pregnant and giving milk at the same time.  That is normal for them, but once you start hacking chipping away at them with all your demands -  milk every month of the year, dry feed, less-than-quality feed, calves taken away, mud lots, quasi-rotational grazing, ramped-up production, to name a few – the cow house of cards starts to crumble.  Metabolic disorders, sub-clinical infections, low production, skinny cows, reproduction problems, and pretty soon your “healthy” milk isn’t so different from the commodity store stuff that is supposed to be so bad.  So, as the small farmer you now are in the same boat as the big farmer who milks year round and brings in feed to do so.  Couple that with a lack of husbandry experience, you may be in big trouble.   I know the big mega-dairies get all the press, but I suspect that most of the milk is produced by small family dairies just like the cow/calf beef growers, and they are doing a good job.  And, you know what is great about these small to medium-sized dairies?  Most are family run with a knowledgeable staff that they have raised themselves.  Meaning their kids have been steeped in cow knowledge, and can see an “off” cow a mile away.  Longtime farmers are good trouble shooters and they have fledgling trouble-shooters at their hip most days.  They didn’t read the book, they lived it.  It’s not so simple as reading a book, buying land and purchasing a milking machine to go with your new milk cow.

How do I vet my life?  I read everything I can get my hands on and I try not to throw the baby out with the bath water.  That means I read conventional farm journals, as well as organic and sustainable publications and papers.  There are good as well as bad ideas and methods in both, and lots of overlap.  For too long food as been relegated to the back burner in people’s minds.  We want someone else to grow it, pack it, and cook it for us.  Just like fast food, throw money in one window and grab food out of the next window, scarf it down and you’re off to the next item on your busy schedule.  Who has time to cook?  Let alone worry about going to see how your food is produced.  The other mindset almost as troubling are the simplistic views like, if the milk is raw it automatically means that it is better, if the cow is A2 that it is better, or the cow only eats grass  so the milk will be better.  It’s simply not true.  You can have raw milk from a grass-fed A2 cow and it may or may not be good milk, or you can have raw milk from an a grass-fed A1 cow that may or may not be good.  There are many factors involved in producing all food and there is no one simple answer or method.

As I said in an earlier post about milk, I don’t think we need to make everything illegal, but the other side of the coin is that we do have to make informed choices and it’s up to us to inform ourselves.  I personally don’t care if pink slime is still made, but it should be labeled as what it is, a product or filler made of by-products, not called a fancy name like lean finely textured beef.  A local (now national) talk show host was saying that pink slime was the same as stretching your meatloaf with celery and crackers and I heartily disagree; both celery and crackers are foods that would stand alone.  I also don’t think we need to be warned to death about things like cigarettes, booze, drugs, sugar, bad boys, and a myriad of other things that we are constantly being scolded about.  Me and my husband both devoured candy cigarettes as kids and neither of us smoke; likewise, I loved candy necklaces and I haven’t felt the need to go to Jared, ever.

That being said, find out about the food you’re eating and how it is grown or made, if you want, but if you don’t, then be prepared to deal with the consequences, and don’t expect someone to bail you out.

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41 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda Zoldoske permalink
    April 29, 2012 2:45 pm

    Super post! Thanks!

  2. April 29, 2012 2:51 pm

    Very nice! I totally agree with everything you said. Everything!

  3. April 29, 2012 4:17 pm

    Great post, Matron.

  4. April 29, 2012 4:24 pm

    re: your following statement: “That being said, find out about the food you’re eating and how it is grown or made, if you want, but if you don’t, then be prepared to deal with the consequences, and don’t expect someone to bail you out.”

    I wish our government took this view.

  5. April 29, 2012 4:29 pm

    A fellow libertarian, perhaps? Yes, I totally agree with you. Let’s not get more regulation, lets actually get involved and be informed. You want to be ignorant? Fine, deal with the consequences and don’t blame me (or anyone else).

    Preach it, I’m listening.

  6. matremfamilias permalink
    April 29, 2012 4:36 pm

    What Linda and Becky said.

  7. April 29, 2012 4:38 pm

    Well said! Thank you!

  8. juli permalink
    April 29, 2012 4:54 pm

    Amen to that. It is so easy to listen to all the critics and lose judgment about what your goal was for in the first place. We need healthy food. And the newest fad needs to be weighed carefully. We have a small farm and for the first year I ran around trying to supply my family with everything we needed. In the end I was killing myself and angry with my family and animals. Now I don’t feel guilty going to the store for something that I am too tired to harvest or plant because I know that the bulk of the things that I am doing are right.

  9. April 29, 2012 4:57 pm

    great post! I’m so sick of people saying “but the govt allows them to put that in the food so it must be ok”. I agree, you’re responsible for your own research and deciding what to eat. And I would have brushed my cow too! We always have milking cloths and bucket of warm water, so she gets a thorough clean prior to milking, so it wouldn’t have been unrealistic.

  10. Darlene permalink
    April 29, 2012 5:03 pm

    Well said!!

  11. Vicki permalink
    April 29, 2012 5:07 pm

    AMEN!!!! Well Said :)!

  12. April 29, 2012 5:43 pm

    Very interesting post. A lot of good points and you had me laughing out loud there at the end about not going to Jared!

    Lana

  13. Mom24boys permalink
    April 29, 2012 6:00 pm

    I find a good guideline is the old Judeo/Christian proverb of ALL THINGS IN MODERATION

    Most people view this to mean just a little bit of all things. However, I feel more accurately, it means to not be *extreme* in your *views, use, or consumption*.

    Even ‘good’ things taken to their extreme can be bad for each of us and our environment.

    I think if more of us would share what we know (as you do Matron) instead of trying to convert everyone to our own views, there would be more listeners.

    As one who, at one time in my youth, was too passionate about my views, I appologize for those who have castigated you for your choices. You are a wise woman who has done your homework and has spent vast amounts of time sharing your experiences with us… your efforts are greatly appreciated by me and many others.

  14. April 29, 2012 7:01 pm

    “I think if more of us would share what we know (as you do Matron) instead of trying to convert everyone to our own views, there would be more listeners.” Absolutely right.

    I really enjoyed your post and think you said a ton of things that need to be heard in a whole lot more places. You are the first person I have ever read who dares to say that just because someone has “raw milk” does NOT mean it is automatically better than what you could get in the store. I think so many people jump on whatever the new food “thing” is but don’t research anything. Or don’t look past what people “want” to what that really means to the farmer…or the animal. Is it realistic? And at what point are you no different than what is in the store? What…you mean we’re NOT just supposed to have tons and tons and tons of milk…all the time…from grass fed cows…who give us everything we need and more? You’re not serious, right? ;)

    Very good post. I will be sharing this with some people in my family.

  15. Greg O permalink
    April 29, 2012 9:07 pm

    Nita, you are the one blogger I follow whose blogs I save every single time. Your wisdom is wonderful. That said, I have to take issue with the libertarian approach. great ideal, not so great in practice. It doesn’t work that way. Let us discuss pink slime. I don’t worry about pink slime, I eat it when i eat a burger that I buy from someplace other than the homestead. But the fact that it exists, and the fact that it only recently has come to light as existing, even though it has existed for a long time, means that, if you rely on the food industry to supply your food, it is an impossibility for you, as an individual, to “take responsibility for yourself” by educating yourself. It simply isn’t possible because the industry has a vested interest in preventing you from doing that. It is, further, impossible not to rely on the food industry to some degree, at least in any first-world country. And THAT having been said, I absolutely agree with the attitude that says, You know, life is too short to worry about all that crap. My friends in the City wonder why we have moved to the country, and after a while I finally have to tell them, Man, it’s the dirt. It’s all about dirt. They wrinkle their noses. Dirt ain’t clean.

  16. April 30, 2012 2:09 am

    “That being said, find out about the food you’re eating and how it is grown or made, if you want, but if you don’t, then be prepared to deal with the consequences, and don’t expect someone to bail you out.”

    It’s about responsibility. We each are responsible for our choices. That means it’s our responsibility to know what goes into our food. And if we choose to eat that other stuff, then it’s our responsibility to deal with what it causes.

    I’ve also found that most people really don’t want “the work”: the work of finding out about their food, the work of growing their food, the work of cooking their food. The thing I hear most lately about what we do here is about “how much work it is!” Seldom do I hear about how good the food we grow is, just “the work”.

  17. April 30, 2012 2:57 am

    Amen. Let them try it for a while and see how easy it is.

  18. Tammy permalink
    April 30, 2012 3:26 am

    Thanks – good rant. But I don’t know what A1 & A2 cows are!

    • Head Farm Steward permalink
      April 30, 2012 6:18 pm

      Well, this link should give you the idea. In short, all mammalian milk should be A2. Some freak cows from Europe started a trend a few hundred years ago and digestive problems abound. It really is worth looking into.

  19. Brooke permalink
    April 30, 2012 3:54 am

    Excellent post!

  20. Debbie permalink
    April 30, 2012 4:11 am

    I don’t usually comment as I’m a lurker, but thought I’d support you in your rant. Well said!!! I’m sure it made you feel better to get all of that off your chest. :) Be informed or don’t and deal with the consequences. I like it!!!! Never could understand how a robber could sue a home owner after he broke his leg crawling through a basement window. Boggles the mind.

  21. akaangrywhiteman permalink
    April 30, 2012 4:29 am

    Wouldn’t the world run much smoother if people just minded their own damned business, and left the driving to the one behind the wheel?

    • April 30, 2012 5:22 am

      Ooo! I have to steal this (borrow it!) for my Facebook status… seems there are a lot of backseat drivers in my life lately.

  22. April 30, 2012 5:21 am

    Applause, applause, applause! I don’t have to say anything more… just rousing applause!

  23. treatlisa permalink
    April 30, 2012 6:29 am

    Hahaha!! Doesn’t a rant every now and then feel GREAT!! Good for you. Love the perspective… maybe because it feels familiar. Only, better articulated than I could pull off!

  24. Britta permalink
    April 30, 2012 6:47 am

    Fantastic! You’re a great writer on top of everything else. Humor in a rant is a must. LOVED the Jared line.

  25. Chris permalink
    April 30, 2012 7:23 am

    ahhh, what’s wrong with washing your salad greens or using sheep to mow the grass?? :) and musings…is that just a bra you’re wearing? arn’t you cold? sorry, couldn’t help it! :)
    Great rant..I mean post!!

  26. Bev in CA permalink
    April 30, 2012 8:54 am

    You said it all! Being knowledgable and taking charge of your life is so true. We got so much flak about our raising our CornishX. It seems that it is forgotton that most breeds on this earth came from searching for the best. Animal or vegetable. LOL, everyone sure enjoyed eating from our freezer this winter. Our animals are well cared for and our food source is the best!

  27. A.A. permalink
    April 30, 2012 10:26 am

    People often seem much more interested in creating problems than solving them. I wish people calmed down and stopped acting so difficult and complicating things. Living well and getting along is challenging enough without all the contrived issues. Thank you for this post.

  28. bunkie permalink
    April 30, 2012 5:13 pm

    EXCELLENT POST!

  29. herbatious permalink
    April 30, 2012 5:41 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever called myself a farmer, even though we have a little land and do a few things for ourselves. Even if we vamped things up and increased production, I still don’t think I would call myself a farmer. Selling produce off our land – still not a farmer. Self-supporter, that’s what we do. People would only be purchasing our excess from the effort we put into our own needs.

    I think farmers have a bit to answer for in this regard. It’s not like someone else made them exceed production, beyond what they believed was healthy. The attraction of money is tempting – and don’t we all know it? ;)

    I ask if it’s reasonable to say, farmers are being held over a barrell, if they are armed with full knowledge of what is best husbandry, but choose to put the immediate profit above the long-term welfare of their own enterprise?

    Blaming the consumer for acting like the ill-informed patrons they are, is like blaming the kid in training when the farmer left at the critical moment something went wrong. It’s the farmers job to educate the market and run their own course, because ultimately it’s their loss in the end – not the markets. But if they choose short-term profit over the long-term viability of their land to produce, they have to live with the consequences too. No-matter what the market demands, if they do contary to what they know in their own experience is right, they are cutting off their own hands to feed themselves (and their families) in the end.

    What I’ve seen of your outfit, you come from a long standing farming background, yet it seems most of your production is for your family – not the market. You sell your excess, with the aim of healthy livestock, not just livestock with a pulse when it comes to selling your product. The kind of “supply” we’re talking about that makes consumers become lazy with their choices (the kind you are rightly upset about) comes from a bunch of farmers, big and small, exceeding what is naturally good for long-term production on the land. It’s global now, not just local. They all want their livelihoods too.

    If the farmers aim was for only selling their excess, there wouldn’t be such an oversupply of unreasonable product. Can the farmer make that choice? I think Joel Salatin gives a pretty good example of how to make a sustainable operation. Not every outfit can become a Salatin make-over, I’d like to think there could be a range of organic to mainstream. But I think what you propose as the solution is something an ill-informed consumer cannot solve. After all, new consumers are entering the market every day. They all can’t possibly lose the “fat” which has become our regular supply chains.

    For me as an outsider, without any real experience in much, it’s an easy target to criticise consumers. It’s a much harder task to get the farming community to discuss how they can take their honest livelihoods back. That’s a discussion they really need to have, because what they do is what most of us couldn’t. I certainly don’t blame you for having a rant. I used to work in the retail industry, and some of the requests people made was mind boggling, LOL.

  30. Janet permalink
    May 1, 2012 5:46 am

    Amen! Preach it sister!! Agree.

  31. May 1, 2012 12:31 pm

    I buy milk from the farmer mentioned in the “O”. I have been out to see her operation and feel really good about her and her product, and I have a lot of doubts and questions about raw milk (as well as letting poultry in the vegetable garden, and lots of other things organic and sustainable farmers and gardeners-including myself- do). She irrigates, so is able to keep her cows on fresh grass most months of the year (though certainly not all) and she has 5 cows but only two in milk at a time, so they do get a rest period. It is important to know your producer, especially for a higher risk product like raw milk, and we are lucky to live in a place where we have that option. I think the other piece of this puzzle is new farmers or homesteaders buy cows from commercial dairies and don’t account for those ‘super cows’ special feed needs. As a result the animals when switched to grass degrade slowly over time as they use up their reserves of calcium and magnesium and all the other things a cow needs to produce milk at that level, and thus become unthrifty and susceptible to all manner of illnesses. The e. coli outbreak is sad on all kinds of levels, but I for one was glad to also see coverage of a small raw milk dairy that takes risk management very seriously. I also think there are a lot of folks out there keeping animals who don’t know anything about animal husbandry, and the animals suffer for it. Judging from our health statistics, we don’t know much about feeding and taking care of ourselves either, so perhaps it is no surprise. But I would counter herbatious’s argument, I think the consumer does need to take responsibility for what they eat, and be willing to pay for it. Otherwise the sustainable farmer won’t survive. I think the farmer has a responsibility to educate too, and to be a responsible producer. Not everyone will be receptive to the teachings though, some care more about getting a good deal than a good meal, or eating whatever they want whenever they feel like it. Buyer beware, seller beware. Or better yet, get to know thy neighbor, and if you trust their agricultural practices, buy from them.

    • herbatious permalink
      May 2, 2012 6:56 am

      The only mention of consumer responsibility I made, is that it’s easy to blame them. More or less responsibility taken is irrelevant, if it’s *still* easier to blame them. ;)

      I believe Joel Salatin’s farm standard of “quality”, is defined by who he doesn’t supply, rather than who he does. He has a certain kilometre radius he will sell, beyond that, he directs people to a more local supplier. So as rare as hen’s teeth are, there *is* a working model of quality farm product not determined by consumer demand. Availablity is determined instead, by the season and a supply boundary, not just someone who arrived with money

      I’m sure none of us in this discussion truly disagrees with what people are saying, we’re all just expressing a different viewpoint. I can certainly accept consumers should feel a sense of responsibility in understanding where their food comes from, as I’m sure you can accept the farmer ultimately decides how much stock they put on their land and how many people they choose to supply. :)

      • May 2, 2012 7:49 am

        Herbatious, what I was saying or trying to, is that I too am a consumer and I do my own vetting. Inquisitive by nature, I check into things and try to learn the why, how and what about things being marketed to me. Yes, I believe the farmer has a responsibility to inform people, but in the current model of farming the farmer is too busy farming and selling to the sale barn, co-op, … . Then you have direct marketing and all the glossy terms that go with that. It is dizzying, the terminology of each and every method of farming is astounding. I use what my knowledge base is and expand from there (if I want to) say for instance, buying organic or not, take a crop like onions or garlic, as a lifelong gardener I know these crops do not offer much in the way of leaf canopy to shade out weeds, so there is the conundrum for the farmer, does he weed by hand, which is labor intensive or does he use herbicide? Knowing that garlic covers two growing seasons and weeds really can become a problem, when I see a garlic field that is weed free, I delve into it. It doesn’t help either that shows like Martha Stewart visit huge garlic farms and when people see perfect weed free fields and Martha is there glowing and waxing poetic, they ASSUME everything is OK. So at that point you have to make a decision, sometimes the pocketbook won’t support buying organic, and sometimes organic isn’t the best. It’s an ongoing journey fraught with many obstacles. I don’t know how to fix the problem, but it all stems from people being several generations away from seeing anyone in their family grow food, whether is is farming or even a city Victory garden during WWII. Growing your own food is hard work, as you know. My rewards are in putting good food on the table, and selling extra.

        Thanks for the lively discussion! All the comments are an excellent read!!

        • herbatious permalink
          May 2, 2012 8:14 am

          Agreed :) I have heartily enjoyed reading everyone’s comments as well as your own. It made me stop and think what I really believe in. I’m sure everyone else did the same too. It was an important topic to raise and I’m glad you did.

  32. May 1, 2012 12:31 pm

    Youself, your animal husbandry and your delight in being where you are and doing what you do so well is a joy.
    I also delight in my livestock and blue merle working collies.
    Thank you for your generosity in sharing your days and thoughts.
    Carol.

    • Greg O permalink
      May 1, 2012 1:39 pm

      Carol, WHERE do you find your blue merle working collies? We are having a heckuva time integrating our blue merle (non-working, city-bred) princess with an English shepherd & would loooooove to revert to Collieland!

  33. Bunny permalink
    May 1, 2012 9:41 pm

    Right on! Never before in history have we spent so little time thinking about, caring for, harvesting and preparing our food. I think we have “skated” long enough and we are finally paying our “dues.” Hopefully we will all become more involved in our food!

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