Today, I was excited to find an article in the Huffington Post that outlines several reasons why, and ways, to avoid factory farmed food products and why it is so important to break our reliance on grocery stores. You can find that article here.
I don’t necessarily want to repeat what the author has already written. But because this blog is centered around our journey to become more self-sustainable and more aware of our purchases and consumer choices, I felt compelled to share why it is important to us to know where our food comes from and why we support our local farms.
I’m not going to lie to you or try to pretend that we are something we are not. We have Pop Tarts in our house. We sometimes have to buy meat at a traditional grocery store. Drinking Pepsi is one of my biggest vices (though I am trying very hard to moderate my consumption of it, for health reasons). Sometimes I give my children boxed cereal because it is quick and easy. And every member of my family enjoys a good fast-food burger when the mood hits us. Even though I want to have backyard chickens someday, we don’t have a coop and a flock on our property. I have the blackest thumb of anyone I know–I couldn’t even keep potted herbs alive for longer than two months. We don’t grow a bit of our own food.
However, when you have children, and as you age and develop health issues, you start to pay more attention to ingredient labels. I notice a behavioral change in my children when they consume food with artificial food coloring and dyes. I am noticing that I have adverse reactions to traditional dairy products, when consumed in higher quantities (i.e. yogurt is okay, but drinking straight milk can have troublesome side effects). I’m realizing that I can’t handle fatty, overly sweet, or highly greasy foods anymore without, um, paying for it a few hours later. I’m troubled when I realize that there are ingredients on our labels that I cannot pronounce, let alone define. I’m frustrated that high fructose corn syrup is in seemingly everything I feed my little ones–and it’s not the corn syrup in and of itself that is a problem for me, but that, due to it being inexpensive, companies make things twice as sweet as they used to be because they can–hey, this stuff doesn’t cost much anyway, and the kids love sweet stuff, so throw twice as much in there because it will sell! One of the reasons we cut traditional cable is because we got so tired of commercials telling us we had to buy, buy, buy or we would somehow be lacking “the good life,” and commercials trying to get my children to eat neon colored fake foods are part of that. While we do enjoy meat and animal products in this house, it breaks my heart to know that animals are crammed into feces-laden, disease ridden feedlots, and that they are abused, tortured, neglected, sickened–all to sell eggs or a chub of ground beef to the grocery store. And what comes of these feedlots and slaughterhouses, not to mention factory farms where the crops are assaulted with pesticides and chemical fertilizers? Well, all of the sickness, and the chemicals, and the toxins go straight into the ground or the water supply–and of course they can enter your food. Think of all of the outbreaks and recalls with veggies and meats in recent years….
We shared a CSA with my in-laws last year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. Some farms offer a program where customers can purchase a “share” of what the farm produces at the beginning of the season. The payment in early spring helps fund the farmer’s endeavors. In return, you get a box or a bag chock full of the farm’s harvest every week throughout the growing season. You essentially own a share of the farm’s bounty. This is really something that I believe in because you are giving not only financial support to a local farm, but you are also showing faith in them and what they are doing–and what these small farms are doing is so important, both to our families and our food system in general (the animals, the environment, etc).
(One of our weekly bags from last year’s CSA share.)
I encourage you to visit one of your local, small farmers. There are few things more rewarding, and honestly, one of the most responsible things you can do for your family, is to talk to a farmer and ask him/her about the produce they grow–how it’s planted, tended, harvested. With a local farmer, you can go straight to the source to ask where your food is coming from, where it originates. You can actually see it growing in or roaming the fields. Go to a large company, like the corporations that govern feedlots, and chances are they will drive you away quicker than you can blink. They don’t allow cameras or questions, but a small farmer will (I can’t tell you the number of times that I have visited local farms JUST to take pictures). If you’re not interested in physically going to the farm, many communities have farmers’ markets where you can see what has been harvested (usually that morning, not weeks ago and then trucked across the country, like factory farms will do), and you can ask questions of the farmer or the workers.
(Besides…picking your own strawberries at a local farm reaps a huge savings, money-wise, and the berries are far more yummy.)
When I think of this subject, I tend to think of chickens. I have an inherent fascination with chickens. They are just fun to watch. One of the things that brightens my day is seeing the chickens roaming around in the mornings on a farm–they wander the property, usually not too far from the barn, picking at the ground for bugs, scratching, clucking to one another as they make their rounds. The resulting eggs are so tasty–far better than anything from the store–because they eat natural foods, and they are healthier creatures to start with because they can live how nature intended a chicken to live. The eggs are beautiful, unique, various colors, different sizes. They are the total opposite of uniform, colorless eggs from chickens that have been packed by the thousands into a building, where the only thing they have to peck and scratch are each other, where there is no room to roam or, simply put, to be a chicken.
I’m blessed to live in a rural area that has multiple farmers’ markets, several CSA opportunities, many more local farms, etc. I understand that it isn’t as easy to simply avoid factory farms. I get it. I mean, I live in the middle of an ideal community for it, and I still go to the standard grocery store when needed. But it is so easy to make one or two changes. Maybe your choice is to grow your own herbs in pots, or to buy eggs from the farm instead of the store, or to attend the market once a week or once a month, or to choose one fruit or vegetable to buy organically–the thing is, even that one small step matters. It’s voting with your wallet. If everyone committed to one small thing, think of what we could do?
What is your small baby step going to be?
(Taking your little ones to the farm and teaching them to enjoy it and to make a habit of it…that is one small step.)