Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wisdom from An Organic Farmer

We recently spent some lovely time with an area organic farmer.  His farm was not flashy and upon our first hand shake, we knew we would get along. 

Originally I thought we were just going there to check things out, buy some produce and would try it over the week.  We ended up staying for an extended visit.  He was very generous with his time. 

Here are some of the things we learned:
  • "The chickens are like humans.  They come in all different sizes".  Wow, what a simple phrase that symbolizes so much.  Factory chickens are bred to uniform sizes.  Having since tasted the meat, I would have to say it is much denser and flavourful.  De-boning a chicken is normally relatively easy for me but I had a struggle with the organic one until I realized it was because the ligaments and tendons and muscles were so much stronger.  Probably from all the roaming around they do.  And the stock the carcass produced was much darker than what we are used to -- Dense bones perhaps?
  • Laying hens have been modified to pump out one egg a day.  While free range hens will lay once every 3 days or so.  They are also about double the size of caged laying hens which are a shocking half a football size.  He named the different breeds of livestock he has raised over the years and which lines were ending etc.  We aren't familiar with any of them so the info went way over our heads.
  • When we asked if he had any pork in stock.  His answer was "I do have some pigs, but they are small right now."  The number of animals he raises is completely dependent upon the amount of feed he can grow.  So the timing of when products are available is cyclical...Another Wow moment.  Aren't we so used to being able to buy bacon anytime? 
  • The beef we bought was so tender!  We also found that we didn't need to eat as much to feel full for longer.  Also, the omega 3:6 ratio is great when beef cattle are fed hay.  When they are fed corn, the omega 3 pretty much disappears.
  • His farm switched to organic in the early 70's because of the amount of chemicals that were being used and from his own physical reaction from being exposed to them.  His gut told him he didn't want to do things that way anymore. 
  • An "aha" moment occurred at the bank while asking ("hat in hand") for a bridge loan to pay for feed because the money from a produce sale had not yet come in.  The bank wouldn't approve it and instead authorized a loan based on acquiring more equity from the farm.  He immediately went home and told his Wife that they were selling their pigs until all their debt (including mortgage) has been paid off and if there were any pigs left, then they'll continue.  If not, they will do something else.  They haven't owed a bank money since the early 80's. 
  • Organic farming was rare back then.  There wasn't any support outside of a few other farmers.  They learned as they went.  It has been consumer demand that has brought the biggest shifts. 
  • The numbers of weekend farmers' markets have impacted his farm shop sales.  There are fewer people making the drive out nowadays.  He believes it is still important to meet the farmer and see the farms but can understand times are changing. 
  • It costs a lot of money to run a large operation as quotas have to be bought.  He opted not to go that route because it would mean owing money for pretty much the rest of his life.  He farms at a volume that he can sustain which means saving seeds each year.  Freedom is more important.  He worries about the current generation of young adults who are strapping themselves to large mortgages and having to have 2 incomes to "keep up" with everyone else. 
  • It has been about 30 years since he had to use a vet for a sick animal.  His farm goal is to improve the soil and natural habitat, provide healthy well balance food for people while maintaining a livelihood for his family.
  • He acknowledged how overwhelming it can be to want to do "everything right" as he too gets fired up over many issues but advised us to pick our battles and go from there.  Every change to a better direction is a good one.  We can't wait to see him again.


  1. Great post! That is the kind of place I would love to buy my food from! I know they always have to struggle to stay on top, but I think things might be changing for them. The fact that he's been organic for so long proves that it can be done.

  2. If you are going to eat meat, organic is the way to go. But even better, skip the meat completely!

  3. @ Kathy;

    I'm thrilled to have found him and a couple others who I trust to be doing the right thing. It emanates from them. By the way, thanks for your earlier comment about the veggie boxes being a great way to get creative with new vegetables. We got our first one and it wasn't as scary as I anticipated. In fact, we are going to have to order a larger box for next time.

    @ Executioner;

    I was walking down that path a couple of years ago before my food allergy stuff came to light, requiring me to get rid of soy, wheat, dairy, peanut, almond, sugar. Then I read Lierre Keith's book (link in today's post -- Highly Recommended) and I'm eating "Paleo" now. Didn't know what I was doing had a name until I read the book recently.

  4. My wife is full vegan (no meat/eggs/dairy), no soy (allergy), no sugar (allergy). She's thriving.

  5. @ Executioner;

    I didn't list some of my food allergies to say going without was not possible. Rather I mentioned them because those items now triggers knowledge of harmful long term consumption effects (excluding almonds). So finding out I am reactive to them has been a blessing in a lot of ways. It made me face current facts.

    One reason why Keith wrote her book was because she became quite ill eating the way she did. I think she went around 20 yr before returning to meat.

    The only person I know who was vegan is a colleague of mine who went meatless since 12 yr old and was my biggest influence to move that way. She is in her late 30s.

    Hadn't been feeling vital the last 6 yr but decided to go through her first pregnancy vegan and didn't recover well. This is a woman who I consider "fit" ie runs 10 km everyday, climbs, hikes, rows, plays tennis competitively, works full time and is knowledgeable. No process foods, no high glycemic foods, no alcohol, no coffee, no sugar. She cooks everything from scratch.

    She now will eat seafood and venison -- courtesy of her husband who is a hunter. As this jives well with your other comment, I'm going to continue this line of thought over there. Her second pregnancy recovery went way better and they have since bought land to create a small hobby farm.