The Real Face of Farming and How to Change the World

elsaWe fell in love with her instantly.  She was so small, adorably white, and cuddly.  I gave her a bottle full of milk which she took with relish and snuggled into my arms to sleep.  Her name was Elsa.

A friend of ours gave her to us out of sympathy.  Our first two goats were Katrina, who after giving birth would not have anything to do with us and we were not able to milk her, who went to live with someone new, and Loretta.  Loretta was a rotund black dwarf who came to us pregnant.  We did not know this at first.  She loved my husband.  She followed him incessantly, attempting to help him with chores.  She just adored him and we loved her too.

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We were excited, as new goat farmers, that she was pregnant.  We would make some money off of her babies and then milk her.  The buckling within her womb was too big for her and his foot punctured through her uterus.  She died a rather painful, screaming death.  Instead of deciding that perhaps animals shouldn’t be used for milk, we decided to get a gun in case we needed to put future animals out of their misery.  (We sold it a year later.)

Elsa was placed in our arms.  A three day old doe will melt anyone’s heart.  She loved to ride in our truck, windows down, music playing; she was like a puppy dog.  She went with us to speak at inner schools.  She introduced dozens of children to farming and the joy of goats.  She pranced about the living room.  She ate geraniums and loved farmer’s markets and attention.  We loved her.

Here’s the thing about farming-even sustainable, humane, compassionate farming-it’s not any of those things.  No one was more compassionate and affectionate as my husband and I, yet when you have a farm, your perceptions change.  Animals are expensive to keep, and there comes the mentality that animals have to earn their way.

IMG_0801We bred Elsa-because we had a small dairy- and she gave birth.  We whisked the baby away.  She cried and we told ourselves that animals don’t feel the same as humans, she won’t even miss the baby.  She got mastitis and huge scabs on her udders made it so that we could barely milk her.  I had to hurry because if she was in milk she was worth more than not.  I sold her for two hundred and fifty dollars to someone who drove out from New Mexico, loaded her into the minivan and was gone.

It wasn’t until later that I realized that I just sold and got rid of our beautiful Elsa.  It is not that we were heartless, we just fell into the perceptions of a small farm.  Our friends all had the same mentality, and it was just the way things were.

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The roosters were friendly.  All of our chickens were.  They had all been kissed and carried around by us or our children since they were two days old, freshly home from the feed store.  But they were not kind to the hens.  Their roughness trying to mate the chickens caused gashes in the hens’ necks and a lot of stress.  There is only one way to get rid of a rooster.  We placed them in dog kennels and took them to a nearby freelance butcher that would take care of them.  We joked and laughed and said they were heading to freezer camp.  We put up the filter, the barrier, the wall, the ignorance, that all farmers put up.  Two living beings were about to be killed.

My husband drove by and saw that they were still in their kennels two days later.  No water.  No food.  They were delivered to us in plastic bags.

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We thought chickens got their heads cut off and it would be quick and easy.  But that is not so.  Chickens are bled out.  Upside down they hang while their necks are slit.  The blood runs across their face, up their nostrils, into their eyes, until at last they succumb.

Laverne was a beautiful black hen, whose feathers shimmered green in the sunlight.  She loved to sit on my lawn chair next to me as I read.  All chickens have personalities.

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“The animals die quickly,” we told ourselves.  Hanging by one leg, having their necks slit, fearful, swinging from overhead, not understanding.  We could hear the cows lowing frantically a mile away at the slaughterhouse.  Not even the few that are dispatched by gunshot die quickly.

I had been vegetarian for twenty-seven years and vegan for two years.  I was fiercely passionate about animal rights.  We dreamed of living in the country and our friends around us all had small, sustainable, compassionate farms.  We started drinking goat’s milk.  We got our own goats.  We prayed for all girls.  Because there is no other use for male goats.  Most don’t even become dinner, they are killed and dumped in most operations.  “I don’t want to hear if the males are becoming meat!” If you knew how many times I have heard that from goat farmers.  Ignorance makes us lose our empathy.  It makes us lose ourselves.

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It is easy to put up walls so that one cannot see the personalities or the lives that are being taken in the name of country and farm living.  I told myself that it was hypocritical to be vegan because everything causes harm.  Our ancestors ate meat.  So and so is ninety and he’s fine!  Oh the reasons we come up with.  And there we were eating meat.  And in that time I watched our health flutter downwards in a spiral that could not be blamed on anything else.

Many people will decide that gluten is actually their health downfall.  Perhaps it is chronic disease, inflammation, hereditary.  I have found as a Clinical Herbalist that there is not an ailment out there that cannot be benefited by adopting a plant based diet.  In fact there is not an ailment out there that is not caused or worsened by eating meat.

But the idealic countryside of cows grazing in the hazy dawn of a country morning would not exist.  Farm animals have many good days and one bad day!  It’s the circle of life.  It’s healthier.  I never really believed the last statement as my lymph nodes grew larger and larger but one does tell themselves many things in order to justify what is not right.  I have been on both sides of the spectrum.  I can see the romanticized farming lifestyle.  But I can see and feel the karmic and physical and emotional and spiritual disaster that inevitably follows by consuming animal products.

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You see, the mothers do cry for their young.  The cows do wander out of the fields and down the street looking for their babies.  We get upset that kittens are boiled alive in China for food but not when a lobster does.  Society gets upset over a dog being eaten, but doesn’t bat an eye at lamb.  When the word cow becomes beef and sheep becomes mutton and we begin to make them less than sentient beings in our minds, we begin to fool ourselves.  We might be outraged that dogs are experimented on for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals but then feel hopeless and be a consumer anyway.  We may not wish to harm any animal but then feel overwhelmed and purchase the packaged, bleeding, unnamed meat in the grocery store.  Or maybe we buy from a sustainable, humane, compassionate farm.  Well, now you know how that turns out.

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It took me four years to realize what I was doing and what I had done.  The word “vegan” has a negative connotation to it and I thought I’d rather be ignorant than angry.  But it is not anger, you see, it is compassion.  It’s realizing what is actually going on.  It is realizing that our health and our spirit and our life will be more peaceful, and more beautiful, and healthier, and more vibrant once we let those illusions leave and let the wall down.  But I will warn you, you will begin to see things with new eyes.  You may be horrified, angry, empathetic, passionate, saddened, but we as humans were never meant to murder.  Imagine telling a small child to kill a rabbit.  It does not come naturally to us.  It is time to let the old myths go and the excuses and step into a more enlightened way of living.  Just wait and see how it changes you.

Beef Bourguignon (homestead style)

Even though we are homesteaders (and make a bit over twenty grand a year) we love really good food.  It’s not just for the rich.  We eat fresh vegetables from the garden, home canned vegetables in the winter, humanely raised and organically and grass fed animals raised by friends or nearby farmers.  We love good, strong coffee (fair trade), and delicious teas.  We love good olive oil and spices.  When you don’t spend money on processed food, you have enough left over to buy (or grow) great food.

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I was anxious to make the Julia Child classic Beef Bourguignon.  After years and years of making the recipe with veggie meat, I was ready to make the real deal with sirloin I had purchased from my friends, Margaret and Krista.  Krista actually goes and visits with her cows every day.  They are well loved and well fed animals.  I looked over the recipe from Julia Child and one from Ina Garten.  I did not have all the ingredients.  The nearest store is thirty minutes away and budget is tight right now (we need to get wood!) so I streamlined the recipe to what I had and it turned out mouthwateringly good.  You don’t have to follow recipes exactly.  You can add or subtract what you like and don’t like.  Add more of something.  Be creative.  I didn’t have any bacon, but I bet that would be great in the stew.  I didn’t want to put in all that onion.  I had dried mushrooms.  It all worked out.  And I had a happy, well fed homesteading hubby.  A glass of rich, red wine goes beautifully with this dish.  Also add a loaf of homemade bread.

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Homesteader’s Beef Bourguignon

2 Tb of olive oil

1 lb. of sirloin cut into inch cubes.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and dredge in flour.  Sear on all sides then transfer to a crock pot or a Dutch oven to set on the wood cook stove.

In same pan, scrape off bits of meat and add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil

Over medium heat sauté a diced onion and a sliced carrot along with 2 cloves of diced garlic for about ten minutes until fragrant and onion is translucent and just browning.  Add to meat.

To meat mixture add 2 cups of marinara sauce, 2 cups of red wine (good wine, no cooking wine), and 1 1/2 cups of broth.  Throw in a bay leaf and 2 Tablespoons of fresh thyme (or 1 1/2 teaspoons of dried), plus 1 cup of sliced mushrooms.

Cook in crock pot on low or on wood cook stove for 6 hours.

Combine 3 heaping tablespoons of flour to doubled the water and whisk.  Stir into stew and cook (on high if using crock pot, no heat change on wood stove) for 30 minutes until a little thicker.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bon Appetite!

 

The Problem With Blanket Statements (making our own way)

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“The meat industry is the largest contributor to global warming and pollution.”  I knew it! said my vegan self years ago when I heard this statement.  That was before I moved to the country.  What the statements and news articles should have said was that the factory farms and huge dairy and meat operations were the cause of so much mass pollution and run off.  John’s fifty head of cattle or Deb’s humanely raised and killed beef are not really huge contributors to the world’s pollution problem.  In fact, by raising healthy, grass fed, humanely raised and processed meat they are actually saving the planet by providing local food.  Smaller footprint.

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“Milk is bad for you.”  Many articles are promoting this right now.  On the flip side the posters put out by the USDA in schools tout that “Milk is good for you!”  What?  My vegan self saw the first one and said, “I knew it.”  I know that conventional milk causes excess mucous, brain fog, and contributes to osteoporosis. (Pasteurized milk leaches calcium from the bones.  America has the highest population of dairy consumers and the highest rate of osteoporosis in the world.)  I was smug.

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A few years ago a student of mine, Liz, who works on a dairy farm in Fort Collins, sent me an email so not to cause an argument in class.  She said that I was wrong about my blanket statement.  There was a big difference between raw milk from a small dairy, humanely raised cows and goats, and the large conventional dairies and pasteurized milk.  I don’t know about that.  She went on to tell me how her allergies had been decreased and she felt better after drinking raw milk.

Liz was friends with Nancy.  Nancy shortly after brought me a pint of raw goat’s milk.  “You don’t have to drink it,” she said.  We were gluttons, looking for more milk.  One taste and something in our bodies begged for more.  Chocolate milk became our vice and we felt great.  So, we started eating other dairy too, conventional dairy.  The same problems we experienced before we went vegan (stomach problems, weight gain) happened again.  Raw goat cheese and raw milk do not have that effect on us.  Goat’s milk used to be used as formula replacement if a mommy couldn’t nurse.  It is packed with nutrients and vitamins and is so easy to digest.  It is very similar to human breast milk.

Now that we have our own goats, we are even closer to the source and can control daily kisses and hugs, what they eat, and provide a local source of milk and cheese.  Smaller footprint.

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“All gluten is bad for you.”  I know a lot of people that will repeat this.  But, it is a blanket statement.  A diagnosis that a doctor will give if they do not know what is wrong.  Yes, processed flour products and non-organic flour are pretty bad.  They have a lot of additives and non-organic flour was hybridized to increase gluten content to extend shelf life so it is harder to digest.  It is also a highly sprayed crop.  Fertilizers and pesticides do affect how we feel.  Processed gluten-free alternatives are probably not much better.  Organic grains, especially whole grains, provide needed energy, nutrients, and anti-oxidants.  They contain anti-cancer properties as well.  Bring on the homemade wheat baguette!

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“All vegetables are created the same.”  Please be aware that if it isn’t organic in the store than it probably has been sprayed with pesticides and may be a genetically modified crop.  If you don’t know about GMO’s yet, please research them!  Stay far, far away from non-organic soy, canola, and corn.  If you see a few and far between article on their safety, see who is benefitting from the “research”.  Monsanto?  They are the attempted killer of the farmer that you know and love.  Also remember that just because the store has a clever marketing slogan (Sprout’s Farmer’s Market) or if it is at a real farmer’s market, that doesn’t mean that it is organic.

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Then there are the blanket statements that change, yet we listen all the same.  One glass of wine is good for the heart, two causes breast cancer.  You must only have this much salt (sodium in processed foods is not the same as the use of sea salt in your own home)…oh wait, now you can have more sodium.  This is the perfect number for blood pressure.  That number was recently changed.  Brown eggs are better.  Wait, brown eggs are the same as white eggs, people.  Eggs are bad.  Eggs are good!  We are constantly at the mercy of USDA food pyramids, the medical community, and research put out by whoever will benefit.  Our government and large companies are paid ridiculously large sums in order to keep us a consumer, keep us in fear of not being healthy, fear of this ailment or that. (They will have a medicine for you though.) Enough relying on everyone else telling us what to do.  No wonder Americans are so stressed about everything!

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Does that food make you feel good?  Was it locally produced?  Did you produce it?  We can trust ourselves to see what is causing harm to our environment, what foods are healthy for us, what our bodies should feel like and function like.  We can grow our own food, we can milk our own goats, we can make our own medicine.  We can have a second glass of wine!

We can make our own statements.