Sefi and Mark, super duo from Lawrence restaurant, being interested in sustainable and healthy farming practices, had the great idea of going to Kinderhook farm on our way to NY. The 1000 acre farm, which lies in the Hudson valley, is an admirable alternative to what large corporate farming has come to look like today.
Instead of a large feedlot where animals are raised on food they are genetically not supposed to eat; which leads to animals putting on weight at unbelievable speed, mostly made of unhealthy saturated fats; which herds animals in filthy fields of their own shit and debris; which requires veterinarians to pump the animals full of growth hormones and antibiotics to regulate a farming system that is unbelievably harmful to the environment; and which harms the animals and us in the process by facilitating the spread of dangerous bacteria like E. coli, Kinderhook farm is a model in safe farming practices that respect both the animals and the natural ecosystems that support the various herds that depend on them for sustenance.
***Read The Omnivore’s dilemma for more about where our meat and food comes from.***
Raising cattle, sheep, some lambs, chickens for their eggs, and soon pigs, Kinderhook is a farm where the animals feed themselves on the grass of rich pasture that is freely available to them in the meadows and fields that make up the farm. Carefully organized, this allows for an ethically friendlier way of raising animals for food; both in terms of the meat they produce, but also in relationship to the environmental impact that is reduced using these farming methods. Additionally, the meat actually ends up being better for us; increasing the levels of Omega 3s found in their fat and more.
Well raised, a pasture fed animal will taste better as well; directly related to the variety of plants that he eats and the “terroir” those plants grow in. The uniform flavor of most of our meat today stems from uniform farming practices that have commodified the production of meat, and which creates industrial farms where animals suffer similar living environments and eat the same foods.
Small scale alternatives, such as Kinderhook, also encourages the farming of heritage and traditional animal breeds with distinct qualities. These small farms promote the diversity of the food we eat.
Our visit at Kinderhook was inspiring to say the least. I’ve posted recently that Carolina and I have mostly switched to only buying hormone and antibiotic free meats. Unfortunately, while this is a positive step, it is far from the switch to only eating meat from farms like Kinderhook. Informing ourselves about local farms that produce meat in ethical ways is important, and promoting their existence by buying their produce is essential. What’s unfortunate is the rarity of finding such meats in our local grocery stores; especially the large corporate ones, that need to be able to buy enough meat from a producer to supply all their stores. This is understandable from a fast and easy business perspective but sad when one thinks of the devastating impacts that result from this.
Admittedly, living in an urban environment where I have alternatives to these large companies, it is easy for me to make a push to sustainable eating but not necessarily for those who don’t have access to alternatives. The terrible state of our eating habits is a cultural phenomenon before a personal one, and criticizing the individual is missing the point in my mind. For many, the healthy options simply aren’t available.
Now, I expect some people who have read this blog post to disagree with me on certain things. The most obvious point of criticism of this kind of farming practice is the issue of supply and demand. I myself have argued this point before. It’s true. If we are to feed the world with the amount of meat we so dearly crave, and if that population as it is currently doing keeps growing, then we will have to produce meat in the hell holes that are the corporate feedlots. It’s a fair argument, which some might be able to contradict but not me(I’m not well enough informed). The fact is though, that the corporate feedlot model is unsustainable for many of the reasons I’ve already stated. It’s bad for the environment, for our health and for our ecosystems. Meat is and should be a luxury. It’s become so prevalent in our society today that we’ve forgotten this. Reducing our meat intake is both a personally healthy choice, but also a socially and environmentally friendly one. Eating meat 3 times a day, let alone once a day, is not a practice that one should engage in, no matter how hard it is to stop doing so. Our reliance on meat for most of our calories should be considered like an addiction and handled accordingly. Restaurants should take this into account as well. Where I work, their meat comes from great sources, many of which follow the same principals of Kinderhook, but in my mind, their menu is too focused on meat and fish, with a single main course being vegetarian. If we are to change our cravings, exciting options need to be made available and promoted.
Despite my deep rooted belief in what I’ve written about today, the fact is that I’m not one to force feed my thoughts on others. I prefer people to come to their own conclusions. Do some research, visit some of your local farms, speak to farmers who don’t have a financial stake in maintaining the homogeneous nature of corporate farming, and make a choice on how you’ll live your life.
*** Did I mention they were also having some fun farming bees?!