We always get the message to buy local. Keep your carbon footprint to a minimum. I, without realizing, have always took this to mean small farms, farmers markets, and often, organic. I’m not sure how I got there, lumping all of these into the same category of “local.” That’s my happy place I guess.
To help facilitate conversations between the public and local farmers, a group called Common Ground was formed. Answering questions and creating a better understanding of agriculture (by which I mean all our food growers, agriculture, ranching, dairy, farming, etc). After a short meeting I came away with another view of farming and here’s few facts that you may know, but just never occurred to me:
- Local doesn’t mean small. We have many medium and large farms and ranches in Colorado that keep their products local. Many of these are still considered family farms and have been in the family for multiple generations. Still run by the family. Hiring Coloradoans, using Colorado products to run their business, using local resources. They can be big. But big gives them opportunities to treat the land better (allowing land to lie fallow), hire more people, protect more land from development.
- Our oldest environmentalists. It seems like we’ve been hit with drought conditions for a couple years now. And due to our local farmers and their knowledge of farming we do not have another dust bowl. Thanks to our local universities (like CSU) we have an immense amount of knowledge of how to care for our land and water resources so farmers can continue to provide for us for many future generations. Granted it is tough to compare human use of land to allowing the land go completely natural. Wouldn’t that be lovely? But not in our world, with our population growth.
- Organic is awesome. I’ve always thought of these guys as super heroes with super morals. And some probably are. Yay for them! But many are doing it because simply there is a market demand for organic. Like me. Until my kids start to grow that third eye though, I’ll find a financial balance of organic vs conventionally grown food.
- But how bad is conventionally grown food anyway? Apparently studies show there’s no nutritional difference. This never occurred to me and was never my concern. Should it have been? I was always more worried about what came with the nutrients in the form of chemicals.
- And how much chemicals are applied? I heard from a local wheat grower that they use GMO products because they don’t have to use as many extra chemicals throughout the growing season. The main chemical they apply is Round Up at the beginning of the growing season to kill weeds, which compete for water and nutrients in the soil. This, of course, cuts back then the amount of time and money weeding huge fields by hand. Those cost savings are then handed down to the consumer. This is one chemical example. I’m sure others are used for various reasons. GMO is another discussion. A curious one for sure.
- Water rights are a constant fight. Throughout all of history, water has often been the key to survival. In Colorado we’re lucky to have a great source of water coming right out of our beautiful mountains. But we don’t have an immediate claim on that water. Other states and countries need that water for public consumption and agriculture. We are struggling to find a balance: pretty green lawns vs clean drinking water vs farming and agricultural needs.
- Organic: it comes down to those “other” costs. Paper work, certifications, inspectors… lots involved to make farming organic. Not to mention the intensive manual labor to make it all happen sans chemicals. With so many people in the world to feed, the cost effectiveness of feeding everyone organic doesn’t add up. Some organic farms will even take a break from organic, go conventional for a year so they can spray the weeds taking over. Then go back to organic once their land is under control.
- Chemicals in the critters. Animals used for food, whether for immediate slaughter or for dairy, are regulated pretty tightly for hormones and antibiotics. Conventional dairy farmers only use hormones for low milk producing cows. But the number of dairy cows that actually get these hormones is low apparently. Almost all conventional meat cattle are given hormones when they are young to help boost their growth of muscle and potentially making it leaner. By FDA regulations only cattle and sheep can receive hormones. Chickens and pigs are not allowed to receive hormones. Those massively large chicken breasts in the store are not due to hormones or breast implants. It’s specific breeding. Kinda like Hooters and Las Vegas. Oh, wait. Those might be implants.
- Antibiotics are also strictly regulated. Sick or injured cows are essentially quarantined while being treated. And then there is a wait time before that cow’s milk (or meat) can be used AND it must be tested numerous times (at least the milk is) to show that it is clear of antibiotics before the milk can be used.
- Animal welfare and treatment is a harder concept for me. Chickens are still kept in small pens. BUT they are allowed to stand up and turn around now. And this was a major change for the chicken farmers. Theory states that small pens means they are healthier for humans. Better controls. This is so strange for me. Most cows used for meat are kept out to pasture for a couple years until the last 4-5 months of their life when they are brought into packed feedlots with lovely fresh air, and socialization opportunities. Ever seen a feed lot? Some states are beginning to regulate the treatment of baby cows used for veal. It’s still a sucky life, but at least there are changes. They can be outside, small pens or tied up. No exercise though. Might toughen up those 5 month old calves. The treatment of animals is why I was vegetarian for so long.
- Where does all this food go? Much of it stays local. Daisy Lane Dairy in Cope, CO sends much of their milk to a local plant that makes cheese, which is sold to our local Dominos stores. Local products in a big chain. That’s good. Much of the wheat from local farms goes to local restaurants to be made into baked goods.
- HFCS. Apparently there is nothing wrong with High Fructose Corn Syrup. I thought there was some cancer or super obesity connection due to it’s higher caloric content. But calorie for calorie compared with regular sugar it’s about the same. And no cancer connection (that I could find on the internet). But it IS a highly processed product. Highly processed to make it easier to be used in products. And whatever your opinion is on highly processed foods should be taken into account here. Back when high fructose corn syrup was introduced in the late 70s and early 80s, this was when the obesity epidemic began to take it’s very curvy shape. No direct connection has been established though. Just people eating junk food. I wonder when computer game usage in the home really took off? Atari? Nintendo? Sitting, playing video games, eating highly processed junk food? Not sure HFCS is to blame here.
Common Ground is a great resource in the area to answer many of your questions and hopefully debunk many of the myths we’ve (I’ve) created in my mind. You still have decisions to make, but we are lucky to have the choice and plenty of options that our local farmers are giving us. If I don’t have to dip into the kids’ college funds to buy organic, I try to go that route. But I don’t do it for everything, because I feel the risks are minimal. Animal treatment is still a concern for me. I do look for more humanely treated animal products when I can.
Check out Common Ground’s website when you get a chance.
I’d love your thoughts on this. This is an ongoing discussion in my head and I love to discuss with other adults instead of just my own head and the babies’ intelligent ramblings on food.
Adrienne Yoshihara is a SAHM, wife, teacher on a break, and loves her amazing, medically challenged dog. She is always looking for activities to do with (and without) her fantastic toddlers.
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