Reflections on another year of food and farming
I like to take time to reflect on the general state of things as one year ends and another begins. Other than a few minor details I like where I am. I get to think about food and farming as a practical application at home as Andy and I cared for 800 Freedom Rangers on pasture for the summer season; 65 head of sheep at their peak after lambing and 100 layers that reliably deliver the gift of an egg every 36 hours or so (except for this time of the year!) These animals give us remarkable gifts as mothers and as producers of animal protein. They are pretty awesome companions on any given day, too.
When a problem arises, as they often do, this is where we are taught the lessons of nature. Owls can silently steal a young broiler from pasture at night that no electric fence will keep out. A fox can jump out of the prairie and snatch a layer in the blink of an eye as the Great Pyrenees is asleep under the pines. A watchful eye is always cast during the rainy, hot season when parasite pressure is at its peak for the sheep. Lambs are most vulnerable.
Our primary function as shepherd and chicken farmer is pretty straight forward. We provide fresh water, a bit of a ration, and clean grass to move to. We also provide adequate protection from predators, including parasites. The nuances of our charge changes from season to season and we have become accustom to a life that mirrors this. I think this is why farming is so satisfying for those who choose the vocation: it is constantly evolving and no two days are the same as new challenges present themselves reliably!
Since 2010 we have built relationships with people in Kentuckiana around food that go beyond just talking about it. We are now producers. Yes, I get to teach food related subjects for the Anthropology Department at the University of Louisville; but we also have a customer base that values local, pasture raised lamb, chicken and eggs. People have very different reasons for sourcing food from local farms. Some do it for their health, some for culinary reasons, and others to keep their food dollars as close to home as possible. Plus, everyone agrees that you can find community at your neighborhood Farmers’ Market along with some simple, great tasting food.
Food and Water Watch asked me to comment on a few questions for their Ecocentric blog in November and one of them was “what do you want your students to understand most about our food system?” My answer was short: that it is so complicated and it should be so simple. As you think about the year ahead think of ways you can simplify things. Grow food, eat real food, don’t waste (or generate waste with pre-packaged foods). Our dismissive attitudes about food have turned us into trash producers. Throw the fast food bag on the ground or out the car window; shovel the leftovers on your plate into the garbage; buy another plastic bottle filled with tap water. Really?
Waste is not the only thing to consider, of course. Consider the lives involved in producing what you do not produce yourself; whether that is animal, vegetable, farm worker, rural community or wait staff. Value clean drinking water because not everyone has it. Consider the true cost of things not just the cheap price we put on a gallon of milk or buy 3 and get one free (of which we do not need but one to begin with!) truly consider your local food economy by becoming a part of it: grow, preserve, conserve and value the simple things in life like eating real food with loved ones as much as you can in 2016 and understanding the implications. Happy New Year!