For more than 20 years we’ve been trying to reach people about our farm, the goats, our soaps and the planet, but always kept things local. I know now that we can’t just work locally for everything. There is a lot of information that needs to get out there, and for the most part, no one wants to pay for it.
But we are paying, with every blast in the ocean, every pipeline through a lake, every recall from our food supply, every old house that is destroyed so a Mac-Mansion can be built. That cost may not be coming from your wallet, but it is coming from your future, your children’s future, and the very world we live in.
So, “Overalls Knowledge” is asking you to pay a little, as much as you’d like, through Ko-Fi, a crowd funding program that allows you to support blogs, podcasts and other programs that you believe in. It recommends $3/donation, for a cup of coffee, but we don’t drink coffee, your donation goes toward the feed bill, because this farm can eat! Please support us, so we can continue to do the important work of interpreting the planet for the people. Happy New Year
I will try not to derail in this blog, but this has been brewing for a long time. It’s why I started “Overalls Knowledge,” but in the last week or so I have been aghast at the lack of coverage of the floods in Nebraska, the tornadoes in Michigan, the super high snow fall throughout the winter. Now that the country seems to be covering Nebraska a bit more I am seeing in print, and hearing over the airwaves, that “it’s sad that these people lost all of this, but if they’d just move to the city, they wouldn’t have to deal with it.”
Television, radio and other media have exhibited a tremendous sense of superiority over the people who live in rural America. They cite “obsolete skill sets,” and a lack of interest in “technology.” I wonder if they aware that technology started with farmers. Technology that took a stick and drew a row for planting seeds, was a technological leap over broadcast seeding. When John Deere invented the metal moldboard plow, replacing a wooden blade with a metal one, was a huge technological advance. Those were both done in the name of raising food, which is still the goal of agriculture.
Everyone has to eat, and because
of the convenience of supermarkets and now the Internet people no longer have
to work to grow, tend, harvest and process their own food. Many have a hard time even preparing a meal if
it doesn’t involve a microwave, or have directions on the packaging. When the
public diminishes the activities and needs, and losses of farmers, they show
how little they have contact with their role in the environment. We are consumers in the biological sense, not
producers. We can produce food as long as we consume it from another source. We
don’t yet have chlorophyll in our cells, so we can’t make our own food internally.
When farmers talk about losing
their homes, they are talking about a house, but they are also thinking of their
barns, their sheds, their equipment and their livestock and fields. Those are
all part of a home to a farmer. Without
that barn the livestock has no shelter. No shed means no shelter for the
equipment. No equipment? No planting, cultivating or harvesting of the crop. No
soil? Nothing grows, whether it’s green or walking around. It’s not just losing
their house. It’s losing their livelihood, their future, their past, their
records, and their hope.
Even those who don’t farm in rural
America understand that caring for the water, soil and air are vital to the success
of a farm, and the communities around it.
Farmers cannot live without markets, or grain stores, or suppliers for
metal or wood, or even food that comes from another part of the world. These
needs bring rural communities together in the same way that corn, squash and
beans build a successful ecosystem in a garden. One provides shelter, one
provides structure, one provides food, and each provides shade to hold the
water in the soil.
Communities, large or small, are
symbiotic. They fall apart when one species takes over the ecosystem, as the
balance disappears. The same is true in a successful city, town, or
neighborhood. A huge house diminishes the value of the smaller ones. Agricultural
giants overshadow small farms and rural cooperatives.
Rather than pity, or console the
people who have suffered in the climate changes, each person needs to look at
how they can contribute to strengthening their own communities. We need to look at how our government
supports, or doesn’t support small farms and towns. Rather than focusing on
growth as progress, how about shifting to resiliency as the goal. Instead of worrying about “progress,” why not
aim for strength?
If our country is going to
survive, if our planet is going to continue to function in what we know as “normal,”
we need to recognize that there is strength in diversity, deep knowledge,
respect and curiosity. If you don’t know
why a farmer does something, or why something is good or bad, please ask me. If
I can’t explain it right now, I will within a matter of weeks. But to make proper decisions for the planet we
need to know why farmers do what they do, why, and how, they do those things. That’s what “Overalls Knowledge” is all
about, and I hope that I can continue to build respect for those who choose to
live without sidewalks, because they are necessary if the sidewalks are going to
have people walking on them. Without the farm there is no food, and then there
is no grocery store, or restaurant, or breakfast for all who live in the cities.
Salmonella, e. coli, listeria, are all in the news these
days. Right after they discuss the recall they start talking about where the
food came from. When the Internet was just starting I was participating in a newsgroup
conversation about agricultural education. A woman from Great Britain actually
posted “I wish you farmers would just accept that you are antiquated. We have grocery stores now, we don’t need you.”
This woman was met with many responses, but most of them boiled down to “where do
you think the food comes from?” The problem is, nearly 30 years later people
still don’t know where their food comes from. I hope this woman in the UK
learned her lessons, but today’s children, their parents and their grandparents
still haven’t figured that out. They still
look to grocery stores to teach them which food to eat, when the grocery store
is really engaged in getting them to buy something.
One of the things I really love about farmers markets is
having the discussion which almost always happens: “I can buy soap a lot cheaper than that at
the grocery store.”
“Yes, but it won’t be real soap. It won’t
be as good for your skin as this is.”
“But I can’t afford to spend that much on a bar of soap.”
“What do you spend on a lotion? I bet it’s a lot more than this, and with this,
you probably won’t even need a lotion.”
Then, when they do buy I try to add “Thank you, the goats
get to eat next week.” This usually brings a smile to their faces and they
leave with that thought in their heads – their purchase directly from me made a
difference for my animals. Does Colgate give
you that idea?
Several years ago one of my co-workers showed me her Senior project
on the connection between people and their food. She had taken a class of teenagers
into a garden for lunch. When they got there they expected to be served. “Find it yourself. It’s all right here,” and
she leaned over to yank a carrot from the Earth. The students were shocked that she would pull
food from the dirt, but it opened their eyes and they discovered the lettuce,
the radishes, the tomatoes, and many more salad ingredients. Together they
washed the food, cleaned and peeled it and prepared their lunch, and discovered
what fresh food really tastes like. That
direct connection between the source and the meal probably still sits in the memories
of those students, nearly twenty years later.
The truth of the matter is, for the most part, the closer the
food is to you, the less the farmer got for his work. Commercial agriculture in America is linked from
the farm, to the processor, to the wholesaler, to the grocery store, to
you. How long does that take? A lot
longer than you might think. Market farmers
can’t grow the best types of food, like heirloom tomatoes because they won’t
ripen in transport. Those tender crops won’t stand the rigors of interstate
transport, and even if they are still edible when they get to the store, no one
will buy them if they are bruised or blemished.
Want the best food? Find a farmer, or a farmer’s market, and buy from the farmer.
Each one of those steps needs to get paid, and there’s only so much that a
consumer will pay. So if buy tomatoes for 2.49 for a tiny box, the farmer might
get .25. His payment is based on a pound
or a bushel, not by the box, unless you buy it directly from him.
When the news looks into food contamination,
they may look beyond the farm, but no one wants to see a packing house, or a slaughter
facility, so those don’t get the attention. But it is in those places that most
problems happen. Especially in cases
like the salad greens that had been chopped and bagged, that did not happen in
an open field. That processing is done
in another facility, where everything is washed, cut and bagged within walls.
People blamed the farm hands, but it was most likely the processing hands, but
that’s not easy to explain.
So where your food comes from is really important. To you because you want the
best value for your money, and to the farmer because if you purchase directly from
the farmer he or she gets the highest level of profit. That means he or she can
work the soil and raise the food to their highest standard, not simply the
Organic is a name that is valued, but the wrong reasons in many cases. Organic
originally referred to the small farm where the farmer and the land’s
inhabitants experienced the same highs and lows. The ecological health directly
affected the farmer and their family.
But today organic is strictly a label controlled practically by Big
Ag. Organic is now grown on a large
scale, overseas even, and the farmers don’t live on the land that they harvest
from. Their farms are too big to be able to live everywhere. But if you want
that ecological connection, that healthiest food, buy from a small,
regenerative farm. You, the farmer, their family and the planet will all
benefit from your purchase, and that pretty feels pretty
“How old is a cow when she starts giving milk?” This was a question asked by a visitor to one of my workplaces. The woman asking it was quite pregnant with at least her third pregnancy. She was very smart, and very curious, and quite taken aback when I replied “How old were you?”
I’m not known for my tact, but I do try to turn things into something you can smile at. She thought for a moment, looked back at me quizzically and replied “When my first child was born.” I smiled at her and said “Exactly, it’s the same way with cows. We are both mammals, and it’s all in the biology.”
The look that she gave me at that point was a bit embarrassed
and a giant “aha.” We went on to explain
that the gestation is about the same with both humans and cows, but that
because cows are kept for their milk, they calve nearly every year. I think at
that point she gained a respect for the life of a dairy cow, and a new appreciation
for how important milking time is for a dairy farmer.
I was brought to my supervisor at another employment site because a teacher took offense to an answer that I gave to a parent when they asked where the animals were taken for harvest. “They go to Blood Farm,” was the answer, and while my boss knew that she wanted me to explain to the teacher. The instructor’s answer was “You don’t eat them do you?“ We explained that she could buy the lamb, eggs, pork and other products at the entry window. She ruffled her shoulders like an flustered hen and said “If I had known that, we would have gone to the zoo.” There is a shortage of slaughterhouses in Massachusetts, but one of the remaining houses is owned by Barney Blood, a seventh generation family operation. The Blood family was instrumental in settling the towns outside of Boston, especially in the area of Middlesex County. Many of us honored that this family still operates this essential service.
I met a young man from Lowell when he was visiting a dairy farm where I worked. His first reaction when he saw the Holstein heifers was “What did you do, nuke ‘em?” I asked him how tall he thought they should be, since these were still growing babies. He just muttered, “they’re not that big on TV.” That was the only exposure he’d ever had to livestock. I explained that these were “teenage” cows, as they hadn’t had any calves yet, and weren’t officially cows yet.
Stories like these happen all over the nation. Until World War II even urban people still
attended farmer’s markets, or had neighborhood chickens, or knew the farmers
who served their area. With supermarkets, long distance trucking, refrigeration
and the concentration of human into cities has built an invisible wall between
the urban experience and the rural one. That in itself is sad, but without
those connections people are now eating food that would never have been developed
without mass production. Chickens are raised
in such numbers that there is no way they can grow naturally, and in many cases
they grow so fast they literally can’t walk to their food or water. Turkeys can
no longer mate naturally. Cows die of “old age,” at six years of age when they could
naturally live to be nearly twenty.
It’s critical that people understand what is needed for healthy food, for their
families and for the planet. I’ll try to explain this is the next series of
blogs. If we want to shrink our carbon footprint, we need to understand what we’re
walking on, and in.
I have read many people writing about the Green New Deal as
the end of the world, or the ultimate guidepost to the future of our
world. We even have a candidate who is
now running on Climate Change, but I haven’t seen him talk about anything except
energy change. That is too simplistic. His website says “We are the first generation
to feel the sting of climate change.”
That is not true. It’s been going on for a while, and for those of us who
have been involved in environmental care and conservation, we’ve been stinging
for a while now.
The Green New Deal sounds wonderful, except there are no “how-to’s,” for how to
implement it. I have heard spokespeople say that “the time for individual
action is past, it’s time for Industry to step up.” This makes me want to scream. People get frustrated with millennials but
this is not limited to being less than 35 years old, or 50 years old. It goes
back to people who were born after the Depression. As a Baby Boomer I know that I was taught
that the world would be better for me; that our parents made that a
surety. But they didn’t. What it did was make people complacent and
expect that people will do things for them.
My parents didn’t believe that Climate Change was real, because
in their lives they hadn’t seen the impact that people were having on the Planet.
I tried to explain to them, but I think they came to the point where they felt their
success was diminished by our concerns. I failed. But as one of their children,
I may have been at a disadvantage. It’s
no use blaming people for what has been done in the pass. We have identified the
damage, now it’s time to repair it. It’s time to learn from our ancestor’s mistakes,
because for the most part they were mistakes due to ignorance, not choice.
Blame is useless in looking back, other than to identify those who have the ability
to make things better.
Climate Change is more than a political issue, or a national one. It is Survival.
It is more than just our homes being endangered. It’s about our food, our
water, and neighbor species, all disappearing.
People paid a bit of attention to the honeybees when they started
disappearing, but it wasn’t altruistic. It was because they were worried about
their cherries, their vegetables, their food supply. The immigration issue that
is being so strongly pushed is actually about Climate Change too.
If food can’t grow, then gangs can control the food there is. When people get
hungry, they panic, and get fearful, and become defensive and dangerous in
protecting what they already have. If they can’t get to the food, like any
other animal, they will go where they can find the food and water or shelter. There will be fights, wars and violence in the
name of sheer survival. People aren’t
risking their children’s lives because they want freedom. They want life.
If we’re going to adapt to Climate Change, and in time, slow
or even reverse it, each of us has to what to do what we can. We need to help
others do what they can. We need to demand
that corporations do what they can, and we make sure our government knows what
it needs to do. This is not limited to carbon tax, or solar/wind/tidal
energy. It’s about changing the way we
get our food so that land is managed for health, not just for profit. It means
fishing the oceans in such a way that there is a long-term strategy, not a
short-term gain. We also need to look at how much damage each of us does with
every step we take and find ways to lessen that damage and repair what we do
Nature is incredibly resilient. I can’t quote any science, but I truly believe
that if we start to treat the Earth like she is a part of our family; that our
neighbors are our family, and that we consider our actions and choices and make
wiser ones – she’ll rebound. But if we
damage the oceans, the forests, the farm lands, she won’t be able to. Those are
our “antibodies,” not just our energy policies.
If we’re going to have a future on this planet, we need to consider James
Lovelock Gaia Theory. The Earth is a holistic entity and we each play a role.
We can choose to be a cancer, or we can choose to be healers.
We don’t have time for another Senate Committee. That work
has been done and presented to the Congress already. Those who doubt it are listening
to their purses, not their hearts. The
Climate Report needs to be implemented, with the guidance of the scientists and
the educators. We need to stop listening
to those who delegate to someone else and empower those who have the skills and
knowledge to make things better. There will always be disagreements, and each
of us has to deal with that within in our own lives. We don’t have to stew or
simmer. It’s time to move forward, NOW.
There is a saying “God doesn’t make Trash,” and I believe that. But I also know
that God knows humans do make trash and wants to us to be more mindful of how
we generate it. Humans are not the reason
for the planet. Whether you believe in Evolution or in Creationism, humans came
after the gardens, the oceans, the forests and the animals were created. He
didn’t make Trash when he made microbes, or seagulls either. They are not
disposable, and we need to realize that if we’re going to make the Changes for
the World that we need to make. It’s not just about politics, it’s about Survival.
When I started working as a naturalist I was introduced to a
world I didn’t know – the city. I taught
at a very special school where the students came from New York City and visited
the school farm every year, three times a year.
For me, it seemed like a dream job. It was a dream that I didn’t even
know I’d had.
My first meal with the students was my job interview. Some
of the kids were returning for the first time for the new school year. They
were having hamburgers for lunch when one of the students asked “Is this
Butterscotch?” I chuckled to myself, “these kids really do need to get to a
farm.” Then I listened to their conversations and
Butterscotch was the name of a milk cow that had been in the barn the last time
they came to the farm. They had been to the farm and realized that she wasn’t
there anymore. They were eating
Butterscotch-burgers, and they were fine with them. I asked my potential employer how many
students had become vegetarians in the 26 years the farm had been in existence.
The answer – 2, and only one had remained so.
After I was hired I took some of the older students up to an
overlook. Standing behind us was a tree
with shredded bark, the remnants of a bear that had come through to stretch its
front legs. To me, it was fascinating. The students felt otherwise. They
couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
When I tried to explain that the bear wouldn’t come back with us sitting
there, they didn’t believe me. Over time the conversations shifted from the
bear, to fear, and that they were very frightened by being in a place without
walls to protect them from a bear. A
bear they hadn’t seen, heard or even thought existed until they saw the claw
marks. But their imaginations had them
wanting to run for the safety of walls.
I took that opportunity to try and get them to understand how I feel when I go
to a city. Though I grew up in the suburbs, open space and agriculture were
always a part of my family’s heritage. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t
everyone’s experience. The students were aghast that I would fear the city,
feel apprehensive among all the people yet perfectly at ease in a forest. This
point was brought to sharper focus when I took the students down into the small
town near the farm. They acted like creatures with no manners, running on
porches, checking out people’s backyards and puzzling as to why I was so
embarrassed at how they acted. It wasn’t
until I was able to get them back to the farm that I was able to have a serious
The students were being asked to conduct a role-playing
activity with a mock Town Hall about whether there should be regulations in the
town, to protect the open space or to allow development that would bring more
employment to the citizens. At first, they were completely in favor of
development because for them a small patch of grass was sufficient to feel that
they were “in the wild.” But when I
showed the acreage across the street, 200 acres that could be developed into
400 houses, or even 100. Then they cried, “You can’t do that. That’s OUR view,
not just anyone’s.” When I explained
NIMBY as a concept they finally understood Not in My BackYard through their own
eyes. It wasn’t relevant to them until they saw it from how it affected them.
It is this very separation and focus on each of our
individual needs that is driving the divide between city and country. Because people are content with parks and
gardens, they have a difficult time understanding the needs of people who
require more to do their jobs, to maintain their mental health. It is vital that we connect urban dwellers
with farms and open space and get them attached to our way of life, so that it
can continue. If we can connect people
to how their food is raised, why we do what we do, and why that is important to
their health, we have a chance. But for this to happen we need to open our farm
gates, invite people to experience our lives, and build that connection between
themselves and the rest of the planet – not as an onlooker, but as a
participant; a Member of the Earth Community.
Sometimes I think I live in a world of “it doesn’t matter.” But it matters to me. It matters that this is a picture of ram sheep attacking a woman, not an angry goat.
It matters that this
is an angry donkey, not an angry goat. and this is is a horse.
If we don’t know what animals we share the earth with, how can we know its wealth. If we don’t know have a common, shared vocabulary, how can we discuss things? If we think that the world revolves around us,
It matters that this is a pony:
and this is a horse:
If we don’t know what animals we share the earth with, how can we know its wealth. If we don’t know have a common, shared vocabulary, how can we discuss things? If we think that the world revolves around us,
How do we get the proper perspective on the problem?
My little farm is just one of millions of little farms put things back into perspective. While the media may try to focus everyone’s attention on urban areas, if we’re going to save our world, both our communities and our planet, we need to remember that human beings have the same needs that every other species on the planet needs – food, air, water and safety. For some, safety is community among people. For others it’s community with nature. Even those who seek solitude, often find the peace of silence and the sounds of the wild.
If we are going to make the changes that the Green New Deal are trying to make we need to put our needs on par with those of the rest of the planet’s need. When I hear people talk about the Green New Deal it’s with such skepticism – how can that big a goal be accomplished? Humankind did it for thousands of years. The changes that were made in our atmosphere, our oceans, our soils, have primarily happened over the last one hundred and fifty years. Before industrialization the rate of change was something the planet could adjust to. But now “technology” moves so fast that the Earth doesn’t have a chance to catch up.
Young people are concerned about “adulting,” and how much information they don’t have at their fingertips. The Internet can provide knowledge, but not experiences. Reliance on media, through the ‘Net, television and now “Virtual Reality,” has made many people so human centric that they no longer consider anything other than themselves. My earlier comment about the sheep vs. goat is because a search on “angry goat,” brings up that image. The television has an advertisement that includes a bawling goat that is labeled as such, but is actually a sheep. The donkey picture is because the Beekman Boys commented on a fashion show that featured an image of a donkey that one of the “Boys” highlighted as an image of a goat making it to the fashion runway. If a person who makes his living off of goats can’t recognize a goat from a donkey, how can they understand the true value of the animal they work with?
The pony vs horse images are because I once had an supervisor correct me when I pointed out the difference between a pony and horse to a little girl. I was told that the little girl would figure it out on her own, but her parents had brought her to an educational farm so she could learn something new. Letting this little girl “Figure out,” that a pony is not the same as a horse, and that pony doesn’t grow up into a horse, does her a disservice, and diminishes the very value of the animals that were there to teach with. If she were to grow up to be a “horsey girl,” like me, she’d be dismissed by others “horsey girls,” if she used the wrong terminology.
Dismissing correct terms, ignoring facts, shifting attention toward flashy objects and services won’t make our planet more livable. It won’t make our food safer. It won’t even make conversation easier. It matters that we listen to each other, learn from our differences instead of dismissing them, and celebrate our place among a magical world of wild things, tame and feral.
I know people want to feel a sense of control in their lives. It’s part of feeling secure. But it is ultimately unsafe to ignore the sources of our food, the conditions in which that food is raised in, from an industrial farm to organic homestead. Staying in the dark about how food is raised, how the planet runs, puts consumers at the risk of manipulation, which Big Ag has succeeded in doing, and our politicians have been chugging the Koolaid.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you’ll share it with others who might find it instructive. I will keep trying to make our farm and your food relevant to the world at large. If you think it’s worthwhile, please pass it on. Regardless, please enjoy the company that surrounds you, and ask questions about where your food and clothes come from. Knowledge will help save the planet, and you. Thanks,
People ask me why fresh eggs are better than older eggs, and
they wonder why my eggs are more expensive than those at the grocery
store. The difference is in the
price. When you buy from a grocery store
you don’t know where the eggs come from, or how long they’ve been sitting in a
When you buy directly from the small farms that raise chickens, you get eggs
that were laid that day, or very recently.
In grocery stores those eggs come from giant egg farms, where they are
shipped wholesale to a handling center. It is more economical to have a
centralized distribution center and ship things out once or twice a day to a
particular store. Those eggs may have been waiting for weeks in the
distribution center before getting to the grocery store, and then how long do
they stay at that market?
On my farm eggs are collected daily, and I can usually fill
a carton every three days. If a dozen eggs sits in my refrigerator for more
than two weeks, it is labelled for family use only, not for sale. A fresh egg yields
a lighter flavor, a poofier quiche, a taller meringue. One advantage to those
older eggs is that they are easier to peel for hard-boiled eggs, but for me
that’s not a tradeoff I’m willing to make.
Home raised chickens that run free range, like mine, get to build their own
nutritious meal, especially in the warmer weather. If left to their own devices they’ll eat a
little bug here, a seed there, some leaves over there and grab some fresh water
where they can find it. They are free to
use the oyster shells that I provide them to build their eggs, or they can
drink some milk that I’ve left out for the cats, or stones from the driveway,
or just scratch in the dirt to sharpen their beaks.
In a commercial chicken operation often beaks are trimmed so the hens don’t
hurt each other. This makes it harder for them to eat, so even if they were
left to run free, they wouldn’t be able to grab things the way they would with
a full beak. It’s only natural for chickens to fight if too crowded, or if they
aren’t given outlets for their energy, so farmers take these extreme actions.
Even in no cage houses, those birds have access to each other more than they
have access to space and fresh air.
One of my favorite things about keeping chickens is watching
them dust bathe. It’s amazing to me that
they know that dust will kill the mites that bother them. They know that fluffing those feathers feels
good, yet in a poultry house they usually don’t have access to that
luxury. It’s not really a luxury because
it does do them so much good, but it’s hard to keep that dusty area clean if
hundreds of birds are running through it.
If eggs are going to have their utmost nutrition, then the hen must have her best nutrition. This means giving access to stones or grit for their crops, so that they can digest things. The crop is a little bag in the base of a chicken’s throat that holds stones that the bird picks up during their travels are the farm. In a confinement situation grit is left in feeders around the hen house, but those stones have to be brought in by the farmer. Without teeth, birds swallow their food basically whole. It enters the crop and then the gizzard where the grit grinds up like a millstone. Without sufficient grit, chickens wind up malnourished.
Crack open a fresh egg that’s been raised on a local farm, and compare it to an opened egg bought at a chain store. How high is yolk? What color is? Does the egg white (albumen) stay close to the yolk, or does it run all over the plate? A flat yolk or a runny albumen are all signs of older eggs. What is more appealing to you?
So given that a fresh egg is purchased from the farmer that
feeds the hen, it’s worth that extra money. The eggs will last longer. They’ll
taste better, and since there’s no “middle man,” the farmer gets a bigger share
of the price. Commercial growers have
huge operations because their price/egg is not able to meet the cost of the
work. By having thousands of birds, the
scale offsets the losses, but it doesn’t offset the benefits to the birds who
live on small farms.
You can’t put a dollar sign on every benefit for a small
flock, but all you have to do is to eat a frittata made with fresh eggs for you
to taste the benefit for you. Is that worth it for you? Each person has to
decide for themselves.