Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Winter Farm Activities

Winter was supposed to slow down. So far we are still very busy! Here are some pictures of the latest activities on the farm.

Here the pigs are huddled in their deep straw beds while sleeping in on a snowy morning.

Marlin our neighbor is always willing to come over with his tractor since we pay him in pork!  Here we are loading a 2,200 lb bag of grain from the makeshift hoop shelter to the back of the truck.  In the front you can see our new pasture is coming up nicely.  It is dormant and will hopefully take off in the spring.

Here I am filling the feeders.  No augers on this farm, just good old fashioned muscle power.  When coworkers ask if I want to go to the gym with them, I explain that I work out at home. 

Here we are leaving Gary's Meat in Payson with the pork from 20 pigs.  You can see how our 1 ton truck is sagging in the back.  I think it may be time for a refrigerated trailer.

Here we are with a line of customers waiting for their pork.  We had 44 customers to deliver to and somehow every one of their orders seemed to be in the bottom of the stack of boxes! : )  We sure appreciate everybodys' patience while we ran around like chickens with our heads cut off. 

Our kids were so patient on Saturday.  We woke them up while it was still dark and loaded them into the truck at 6:30 am.  We then drove to the butcher and loaded the pork.  We drove around with our deliveries which went very smoothly thanks to efforts put forth by our customers to meet us.  Afterwards, we ran our weekly errands.  The kids never complained the entire day.  We arrived home exhausted around 9pm.  Hans and Dane helped me unload the remaining pork and get it into our freezers.  They were concerned and repeatedly told me that the pork needed to get in the freezers so that it would stay fresh for our customers.  Hans informed me that we only get one chance to impress our customers with the quality of our pork which is why he was helping me.  That way he explained our farm could keep growing.  He has no doubt overheard Hollie and I talking.  Not bad for a 5 year old.  This truly is a family farm.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Food Inc and Thoughts on Organic

We just bought the movie Food Inc and finally watched it over the weekend.  Another movie called Fresh, which I posted about here was better.  It had less finger pointing and focused more on solutions to our food problems.  While I highly recommend Food Inc, I would like to point out that my main gripe with Food Inc is that it presented some of the problems in our food industry and then offered a few solutions which in my opinion are weak.  One solution offered was writing your congressman.  I may be young and naïve, but the 5 or 6 times I have taken the time and effort to write a congressman about a concern, I didn’t even get a response!  Not once!  Our lawmakers are the very people who have allowed their morals and ethics to be tainted by large ag and biotech companies to the point that our food industry is what it is today. 
The film also encouraged consumers to buy organic labeled products almost with the assumption that buying organic labeled foods was the solution.  In other words, trust in a label that was created and is regulated by the very organization (USDA) that the movie is criticizing.  The movie clearly highlighted that the USDA has some major issues that make it difficult for consumers to trust the USDA.  These same issues trickle down and have a profound impact on the organic label.  Primarily the USDA cannot be trusted because it is controlled by politicians and lobbyists.  The National Organic Program (NOP) is the division within the USDA in charge of regulating the USDA Certified Organic products, labeling, enforcement etc…  They consist of a very small staff when one considers the amount of organic food out there.  The NOP actually relies on Accredited Certifying Agencies (ACAs) to do the inspections and certifications on farms.  For imported organic foods, foreign ACAs are subcontracted to inspect the foreign farms.  There are certainly not enough staff members to ensure that all foods labeled organic have been appropriately labeled. 
Even if a product has been appropriately labeled, most consumers still don’t fully understand what they are buying.  For example, most consumers don’t know that there are actually three levels of “Certified Organic”.  The first level is for products that are 100% Organic.  The second level is for products that are 95% Organic. The third is for products that are at least 70% organic.  The first and second levels are allowed to carry the famous “USDA Certified Organic” label that we are accustomed to.  The third level can describe it’s product as “organic” or “made from organic ingredients” on its packaging.
Next, foods (especially produce) labeled “USDA Certified Organic” are often imported from other countries.  This is especially true when fruits are out of season in the US but still available in the store.  A country like China who is becoming a larger supplier of our produce every year does not allow foreigners to inspect their farms.  How convenient.  Instead of the NOP not allowing Chinese food to be labeled organic, Chinese companies have popped up who will certify on behalf of American operated ACAs.  Last year when the NOP audited 30 ACAs in our country, 15 of them were placed on probation and given 12 months to improve of lose their accreditation.  That’s 50% in our own country!  Imagine what the subcontracted foreign ACAs are like when they are managed by the American ACAs of whom half aren’t compliant themselves!  If a farmer in China isn’t organic compliant and the subcontracted Chinese ACA decides to look the other way, who is there to ensure the integrity of the label and the safety of our food? 
This really bothers me as there are many, small, well intending farmers in our country who work very hard and pay a fair amount of money to use the USDA certified organic label on their products.  Now they have to compete against foreign countries who don’t play fair and deal with incompetent ACAs.   I have posted on this blog before; organic is not always everything we hope it is.  Nor does it ensure the welfare of animals.  Teaching a consumer to trust in a label will leave many consumers mislead about the food they are eating.  I believe consumers feel so good about buying food that is labeled organic that they become complacent.  They don’t bother to see how many thousands of miles the food traveled.  They don’t bother to see how the animal was treated.  What is organic about 100,000 chickens having their beaks cut off so they can’t peck each other and then raised in a dark building that is so unsanitary that workers have to wear respirators? Oh yeah, the food they ate was certified organic. 
Showing a consumer where their food comes from and how it was grown is in my opinion the only way to truly know what it is you are eating.  Buying local is the easiest way to see where your food comes from.  It gives the opportunity for the consumer to communicate with the farmer/grower and have a say in their food.  (This is more effective than writing your congressman.)  Buying local generally offers the freshest and most nutritious foods.  It benefits the local economy and therefore the consumers themselves.  It is usually less processed because fresh food tastes good and is in demand.  Old food does not taste good and must undergo processing to make it taste better.  
In no way do I mean to trash organic foods or scare anybody out of eating them.  Nor am I saying we need more inspectors and more government regulation.  What I am saying is that consumers need to learn more about where their food comes from.  I think organic food is wonderful!  The best is when it is grown locally.  I would rather buy a Utah grown non organic pear that was tree ripened and fresh and therefore nutrient dense and know that I will need to wash the pear extra good to help clean it of any residual chemical, than buy a pear that was picked green and has been in transport for 6 weeks on the slow boat from China under who knows what conditions or who or what has touched it that may or may not be organic even though I am paying twice the price of the Utah pear because a Chinese subcontracted ACA decided it met organic requirements.  I think most would agree in principle.  But is this principle reflected in our purchases?
I would have liked to see the movie focus more on learning where your food comes from and getting to know and support your local farmer.  That being said, the movie does raise awareness and we have certainly had an increase in business as a result of the movie.  There is a tremendous amount of good information that will help people begin to see what is unfortunately the tip of the iceberg.  The story about Wal-Mart buying hormone free milk as a result of consumer demand is a promising step in the right direction.  Even though Wal-Mart did this for money rather than a moral obligation the net result is good.  Hopefully people don't see this film and think that everything is okay with the dairy industry.  There is a still lot of work to be done with animal welfare/treatment, as well as making raw milk easier to obtain. 
I recently read, "The Appeal" by John Grisham where a large corporation is able to "buy" a state Supreme Court justice.  Although it is fictional, the story clearly outlines how easy it is for big business to buy their way out of (or into) any situation.  Seeing how the big ag guys had maneuvered their way into political offices was certainly eye opening.
Okay, enough ranting for a while, I will get back to posting more about the farm.  I have a lot that I have been thinking about that I wanted to get out there.

At Christiansen’s Hog Heaven we are committed to providing our customers with the freshest, healthiest, nutrient dense pork and beef (and hopefully soon poultry) possible.  We do this through pampering our animals.  We handle them gently and provide nutritious feeds they are designed to handle.  We never use antibiotics, hormones, or growth promoters.  If you want to see where your food comes from, come out and see.  It travels a very short distance from our farm to the butcher shop and then to your home.  Our feeds are all grown in Utah which support other farmers.  Our animals live a happy life which is reflected in the undisputed quality of our meat.  It is clean, local, and healthy.  It is beyond organic even though we are not certified.  It is everything you want in your food.  No labels are used here, our food speaks for itself!