Monday, December 26, 2011

Why is the FDA going after small time raw milk sellers? Corporate greed?

In the past a farmer would buy a cow or two, have milk for his family, and sell any excess to neighbors.  This tradition is under attack from the FDA because of raw milk scares and the supposed urgency to pasteurize everything.

There are a couple risks here.  First, many people see many health benefits from raw milk.  When treated and handled correctly raw milk is safe.  But the FDA knows better, don't they?  And surely they can point to lists of poisonings which occurred from drinking raw milk.  I don't know enough to know how much real concern there is to keep us from having access to raw milk.  Second issue is rather bigger, and has to do with food security especially in the coming years if the expected financial collapse goes the way that's expected.  If our society really does go to a major deep financial collapse it'll be necessary for food security to have local farmers growing food they sell locally, such as harvesting milk for local distribution. 

Dan Brown of Gravelwood Farm :- The State of Maine filed a lawsuit against him for "unlicensed distribution and sale of milk and food products."  Dan Brown is a small-time farmer, owns one cow, produced raw milk for his family and sold excess milk to neighbors.  Brown said in a speech to supporters, "I'm not a milk distributor. I'm a farmer. That's all I've ever wanted to be, it's all I've ever done."

A neighbor of Dan Brown is quoted saying: 
"Much of what the Department does is regulate and oversee specialized operations, whether dairy, poultry, or value-added. By comparison, our model, which has existed in rural communities for a long time, is that of small diversified farms, with some chickens, some pigs and some crops. They didn't understand how our farms worked and what we were doing on ecological principles, promoting animal health so that we could assure safe food."
Commissioner Whitcomb, Maine's Agriculture Commissioner, his grandfather had sold milk in exactly this manner to his neighbors.

The towns in Dan Browns neck of the woods have passed Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinances.  These ordinances permit the sort of sales Brown had been doing.

It's not just Farmer Brown and Maine, there are similar stories around the country.

Maybe it's "progress" to force all milk producers to pasteurize their milk and play along with the big agriculture game.  Or maybe it's unnecessary meddling and unnecessary food processing to force all milk to be pasteurized.  As I said earlier I don't know enough about food safety to know whether pasteurization is the only way to have safe milk.  I have heard raw milk advocates say raw milk, handled correctly, is safe, and is healthier.

What I do know is that food security strongly suggests we must do all we can to support local small-scale farmers as much as possible.

Why Is a Farmer Who Sells Extra Milk From His One Cow to Neighbors Being Sued By the State of Maine?

Regulators Crack Down on Micro-Dairies, But Small Farmers Fight Back With Local Food Sovereignty Ordinances

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Do we really want soul-sucking essence-demeaning career choices?

Self respect

The Dilbert comic strip does such an excellent job of capturing the essential despair of working in modern corporations.

The modern corporation is built in a top-down hierarchy, boss-men at the top (usually the boss-men are actually men) working through layers of captains and lieutenants, whose job titles are "Director" or "Manager", to dictate what the company does.  This leaves the people at the bottom of the structure having no opportunity for their own essence to live and breath.

There are Wally's all over the country, living a zombie-like existence, shuffling from meeting to meeting, doing tasks that probably have zero association with their divine spark of self expression.

Over time the self-survival tendency in some will do as Wally has done, adopt the practice of Despair, of knowing that they will never express true self through their work, and resigned to the slow crushing death of stifling their essence.

Is this the sort of society we want to live in?

Is this the best/highest form of gathering a group of people to operate a business making useful products?  That is - a Corporation is a grouping of people, most often for the purpose of running a business.  Corporations were developed out of era's where near-dictatorial top-down rule was the normal way.   But is this the best most healthy way for groupings of people to collaborate on running a business?

What do you think?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Put your backyard to work with the books: The Backyard Homestead and The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals

Do you eat food?  Do you eat food every day?  I'm sure you probably do, or you wouldn't be reading these words.  Perhaps you're aware that the quality of your food is important to your health.  After all your body is built out of the nutrients in the food you eat.  What you may not know is the corporatized globalized homogenized pasteurized agriculture system that gives us the food in the mainstream grocery stores, well, that "food" lacks in nutritional goodness.

There's growing interest in local fresh food eaten when the food is freshly harvested.  There's a huge difference between the normal not-quite-food shipped from a zillion miles away, and fresh local food.  This doesn't have to be just a matter of shopping hoity-toity high end organic grocery stores, and doesn't have to mean bustling with the crowds at farmers markets.  You can instead spend months and months of drudgery in your back yard growing your own fresh food.

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The drudgery part is one of those stereotypes about gardening that doesn't have to be true.  And the book being reviewed now, The Backyard Homestead, is here to make you feel like it would be extremely simple to plant a quarter acre of ground with gardens and/or orchards and/or livestock and harvest 1400 eggs a year, for example.

The book comes from Storey Publishing and says it was Edited by Carleen Madigan.  It's chock full of pencil drawings of typical garden layouts, advice on growing different plants, combinations of plants that are successful, typical growing areas and growing seasons, plus an extensive section on livestock that makes it seem impossibly realistic you could have a flock of chickens in your backyard keeping you well stocked in eggs and chicken soup.

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The book weighs in at 360ish pages and is chock full of information, drawings, written advice, reference material, and so on.

Sections cover

  • The Home Vegetable Garden
  • Backyard Fruits and Nuts (grow your own orchard!)
  • Easy Fragrant Herbs
  • Home Grown Grains
  • Poultry for Meat and Eggs
  • Meat and Dairy (other livestock)
  • Food from the Wild (honey, mushrooms, etc)

To go along with the Poultry section, the indices contain a list of backyard chicken laws from around the U.S.  In some areas it's subversive and even illegal to raise your own chickens in your backyard.  My friend who does raise chickens has a bumper sticker reading "My Pet Gives Me Eggs" .. think about it

An important section up front covers planning out your garden not only for the available space, but to minimize the work you do.  For example raised bed gardening is described as a big win because the plants are closer to you (you don't have to bend over as far) and the growing conditions can be better.  This section is also important to avoid the drudgery stereotype I mentioned above.

Speaking of which - every page in this book oozes with confidence that this is simple and easy stuff to do.  I sure got excited all over again about the thought of starting a garden or even having some chickens.

There's also a companion book, The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals: Choose the Best Breeds for Small-Space Farming, Produce Your Own Grass-Fed Meat, Gather Fresh ... Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, Pigs, Cattle, & Bees, which I haven't read but clearly starts with the poultry and livestock section of this book and expands on it in a huge way.  That book is also 360 pages and even includes a full color pull-out chart of something or other.

Together these books should help you "Put Your Back Yard To Work" so that you could not only feed yourself and your family, but perhaps earn a secondary income growing food to sell to others.  In these uncertain economic times this could be some personal resilience that could make the difference between life or death depending on how bad things become.  On the other hand earning an income is not quite so simple nowadays thanks to food safety laws that are being used to crack down on organic farming.  Check your local laws before committing to a business plan and buying equipment.

The books are highly recommended and totally excellent.  Backyards across the country could be a backyard local food agriculture resource.  There have been times in our history where this was a matter of national importance (Victory Gardens), and there may well be a time soon when this is again highly important.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Putting the cart before the horse, Businesses Pledge 'Healthier Choices' for Customers

NPR ran a nice story this morning about the obesity epidemic and a movement to ask Businesses to provide us with different, healthier, food choices.  To an extent the obesity epidemic is about food choices, supposedly, maybe, and just as supposedly different healthier food choices will decrease obesity.  Of course the modern food system is rife with ridiculous food-like substances and we as a culture have lost track of real food.  So I agree with the thrust of what they're talking about here - real food, good quality food, actual real enjoyment from real food, wonderful.

But I felt uncomfortable and eventually it clicked in my mind.  They are talking about this issue backwards.  The format is for Business to Change what it Does so that we have better choices available.  And, yes, Business plays a role because the choices made by Business do limit the choices we can make.

But this strikes me as a top-down approach to introducing Change.  The wave of Change in this case is bubbling down from on high, in this case First Lady Michelle Obama is the honorary Director of the Partnership for a Healthier America who organized the summit talked about in the piece below.  The PHA is a public/private/non-profit partnership (that is, Government, Business and Non-Profit) whose mission is to "broker meaningful commitments and develop strategies to end child obesity."

Uh.. sounds to me like an effort to build an organization that doesn't do anything meaningful, but to just create strategies and publish opinion papers or something.

What will make an actual difference is to change the habits of we the people.  Not just the food we eat, but the living patterns.  When they focus on food choices regarding obesity they're ignoring the sedentary lifestyle and its effect on obesity.  Obesity can be combated simply by getting off our butts and moving around more.  Instead of driving to work (sedentary) ride a bicycle instead, for example.  Or take a walk through your neighborhood every day.

Britta Riley: A garden in my apartment - open source distributed DIY solutions to gardening even in apartment buildings

Britta Riley wanted to grow her own food (in her tiny apartment). So she and her friends developed a system for growing plants in discarded plastic bottles -- researching, testing and tweaking the system using social media, trying many variations at once and quickly arriving at the optimal system. Call it distributed DIY. And the results? Delicious.

To find out more about the project: