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Slowing Down and Eating Well October 23, 2006

Posted by Laura in Family, Farm.
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The norm in this country has become one of packing as many events into one day as possible. Speed is the goal rather than thoroughness or craftsmanship. Many hours are spent driving hurriedly to work, school, ballgames, music/dance lessons, and so on. The main criteria for the food we consume in this country are convenient, cheap, and fast. Wow, things have changed!

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Not too many decades ago, family meals at home were the norm. And the food on the table was likely grown mostly in the backyard garden or produced locally. And it tasted good! Nowadays, we settle for fruit picked before it was ripe (so it can survive shipment across country), prepackaged foods with plenty of preservatives, and bland taste all around. And we usually consume it so fast (often in the car) that we hardly notice anyway. Too bad!

We’ve developed an odd dichotomy with regards to purchasing our food, too. Most folks don’t think twice about paying over a dollar for a non-nutritive bottled soft drink that will last half an hour, (or $3 for a cup of gourmet coffee) but balk at paying even $1.50 for a week’s worth of eggs. Strange, huh?

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in really good food. Organizations like Slow Food have prompted people to start thinking about the repercussions of continuing to eat this way. Health ramifications aside (that would be worthy of a discussion of in its own right), the assembly line type, high efficiency, low variety way the commercial food market prizes is jeopardizing the mere existence of many kinds of foods.

Each region of the country used to produce foods unique to its locality- fruits and veggies that thrived there, diverse breeds of animals well-suited to the climate and terrain, and seasonings and flavors that reflected the heritage of the people who lived there. As food began to be shipped greater distances and the cost of production took precedence over flavor, the variety of foods began to dwindle.

As the population grew and expanded out into what had been farmland for many generations, the number of farmers producing food for the growing market fell. One result of these changes was the onset of dense confinement operations for livestock. Instead of a herd of cows out on pasture, contentedly eating grass (the food their 4-chambered stomachs were designed to eat), hundreds of cows were packed into feedlots and fed grain until slaughter. Backyard flocks of chickens began to disappear in favor of huge houses that held thousands of animals from one carefully developed inbred hybrid line. The birds either produced a fleshy carcass in record time or laid record-breaking numbers of eggs per year on minimum feed. Uniformity and consistency became more important than nutrition and taste.

Another result was the whittling away of diversity in produce. Rather than planting a variety of beautiful vegetables that were not very space efficient, farmers began focusing solely on the single crop they could get the most yield out of in the smallest space. As farmers adapted to what the markets demanded, they gradually stopped maintaining flocks and herds of some traditional species. Some breeds began to disappear. Many stopped saving heirloom seeds their ancestors had passed down in favor of planting the new hybrid, chemically influenced, patented seed promised to make them more money so they didn’t lose their farms.

The American family farm, as it used to be, has been steadily disappearing in the last hundred years. Fortunately, there is a growing group of folks who realize the value of this vanishing lifestyle and are embracing it for their own families. They are moving back to these farms, returning to the nearly lost wisdom of bygone days, and choosing to live outside of what is now the norm in our culture. We are part of this group.

Though we will probably never farm “for a living,” (who could afford health insurance?), we enjoy our garden and animals and are working toward an ever more self-sufficient lifestyle. It gives us great satisfaction to count the items on the dinner table that we raised and to fill a cupboard with food we canned from our own produce. We think the old ideals of investing in projects as a family, letting our children work alongside us and learn handyman skills, and nurturing a respect for the creatures for which we’ve been entrusted to care are ideals worth preserving.bhammerfence8-31-06.JPG

Besides those of us who feel a personal calling to live a farming lifestyle, there is a growing interest among the general population to know that the food they are eating is raised in a healthy and humane manner. These people want to know the farmers who produce the food they eat and buy it directly to support his operation and make sure they continue to have healthy choices available.

The good news is that the more the local public supports the areas farmers, the more healthy, tasty food choices will become available. Many farm families are trying to bring breeds of heritage animals back from the brink of extinction. And once you have tasted the difference between mass-produced commercial fare and food the way it is supposed to be made, you’ll want access to it all the time.

Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSAs) are popping up on the outskirts of cities. Customers contract to buy a share of a farmer’s (or collective group of farmers’) produce and sometimes meat. On prescribed days, they meet at an agreed upon location to pick up their fresh locally-grown food. Farmer’s markets are also making a comeback.

If you are interested in supporting small farmers in your area, you might try one of the links below, do an online search, or call your agriculture extension agency to find them.

http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

http://www.eatwellguide.org/

http://www.biodynamics.com/csa.html

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Comments»

1. Grams - October 26, 2006

I am already missing the summer fruits and veg’s that were grown locally.
Now, all we have to look fwd to for the winter are tasteless tomatoes and melons, picked green, and shipped in.


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