Back when I did farmers markets all over the region, I would always have a sign out on one of my tables with the simple quote of “Know your farmer, know your food.”
Not that I am anti-grocery store or anything like that, I still do eat some items out of season and currently I am on an all out avocado kick which requires going to the store, because let’s face it — growing avocados is most likely not going to happen for me. At least at the number of avocados that I go through in a week.
But I have always felt that people that have a closer connection to their food are able to enjoy it better and have a deeper respect in general for their food. True it is tricky to respect a tomato, but I do thing we should respect our food when it comes to animal involved products such as milk, cheese, eggs and meat. Respect can be as simple as treating an animal properly and humanely. As a consumer it can be taking the time to research and talk about the farms where your chosen item is being produced.
If you go to just about any farmer’s market you should be able to talk directly with the farmer and ask any questions that you would like. Farmers are there to market their items, so they of course would love to answer any questions you may have. Due to biosecurity you may encounter farmers that do not allow tours at their farms, but that most likely is to keep any new pathogens from being introduced to their farms. And if that is the case, most farmers will kindly explain that to you.
I keep my farm transparent. People stop by time to time and that is fine with me, however I do worry about people even with good intentions stopping over when I am not there. Not because we have anything to hide, but that I worry that my livestock could react differently or that someone may try to feed them a treat that they can not have. The last thing I would want is for someone to get injured or have an animal sick, when it could have been prevented just by people visiting when I was there instead.
Larger farms, as there is a large dairy farm currently in the news, are entirely different operations that require multiple levels of management. My farm is small enough that I am still responsible for all animal care as well as making and maintaining my planting and harvesting schedules. But given a farm much larger and I can see where things could fall through the cracks, and that is when problems begin to develop.
The reality is not all people love animals, just because someone eats meat does not equate out to them loving cows as what they are instead of just the type of meat that they produce. I’m not sure why someone that doesn’t like animals would ever opt to work on a livestock farm, but more and more that seems to happen.
I had a friend that has a business artificially inseminating cows, and therefore travels to many farms. In his experience he has seen many farms where the owners are nowhere to be found and employees treat the livestock more harshly than he would ever imagine so, in fact that I recall him telling me once about a brawl he was in because he called out a guy for hitting a cow with a board because it wouldn’t move quick enough. This wasn’t like a tap to the backside to urge the cow forward, it was a smack over the head with a 2x4 that set him over the edge.
Those things should not be happening. Every animal deserves to be treated with care and, as I said before, respect. You do not mistreat an animal just because you know it will end up on your plate. That is not what farming ever was, or how it ever should be. Get to know your local farmers, and in turn you truly will know all about your food, as well as being able to remind the farmer how important it is that they continue to care for all of their animals.
Sacha Burns is an organic gardener and owner of Sunkissed Organics in Pinola. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.