"A community that can feed itself is free. A community that cannot feed itself is not. It's that simple." ~ Joel Salatin
What we choose to eat is our most fundamental right. At least, it should be.
What deeper connection do we have to our natural world than with the food that becomes part of our own flesh and bone?
Farming, then, should be seen as one of the most valued and respected trades. Yet, government efforts to control our food supply is threatening food security and our freedom as a community.
I recently attended a conference about the future of farming, led by speakers Maxime Laplante, from Union Paysanne; Jean-Martin Fortier, author of The Market Gardener; and from Polyface Farms, The Lunatic Farmer himself, Joel Salatin.
It was a moving performance by all three speakers.
Before Maxime's talk, I had no idea why it's so difficult to find pasture raised meat.
He explained how government quotas are making it nearly impossible for small-scale farmers to raise animals, especially in Quebec. The amount a farmer is allowed to produce is controlled by the purchase of these expensive quotas, making it extremely difficult for small farms to produce anything other than fruits and vegetables.
To demonstrate how restrictive these regulations really are, it costs around $280 per quota to produce a single hen. With a small group of 1000 hens, it would cost $280,000 just for the right to produce!
Compared to the low cost of setting up the chicken production, a new farmer is no longer able to enter the market. The farmer has no choice but to keep below the quota exemption limit of 99 chickens, no where near enough to make a living.
This is the harsh reality that's being imposed on our food growers, and it's allowing industrial food corporations to monopolize the market. As you'll see in Joel Salatin's discussion, the consequences of this monopoly is a food production system that puts profit above and beyond all other values.
Maxime was followed by Jean-Martin Fortier, who shared his motivating story about how he made small-scale organic farming work by turning the focus away from growing bigger, and towards better, more efficient farming.
His message was that by replacing mass production with production by the masses, we can overcome many of the challenges that we're facing in the industry.
Then came Joel Salatin, who opened with the idea that "The earth is a lover who needs our caress, and will respond with abundance." If only we would all think like that, how many problems it would solve!
Joel discussed the basic laws of nature that are being violated by big agribusinesses:
1. In nature, animals move.
Can you believe that? Yes, animals like to move, and when food corporations deprive them of behaving such a way, they're disrespecting the "piginess" of the pig, as Joel put it.
Animals are biological beings, not machines. Having them cramped in feedlots deprives them of expressing their true nature, and this is one of the major reasons industrialized animals are so unhealthy.
2. There is no ecosystem that has no animals.
An ecosystem is defined as "the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit." When we remove animals from the ecosystem, we lose critical beings who move nutrients around and create the disturbances needed for new growth.
They keep the system in balance. When these animals are pulled out of their natural habitat, not only do they suffer, but the rest of the ecosystem suffers as well. No animals means no manure, and no manure means we must turn to chemical fertilizers to feed the soil, a highly inefficient and polluting process.
3. Nature involves complex relationships.
There are all kinds of creatures in an ecosystem that are equally important; big and small. The cows, the pigs, the chickens, even the earthworms, all need to work together for a happy and healthy ecosystem.
For example, birds in nature follow and clean up after herbivores. They pick grubs and larvae out of the manure, helping to spread it and eliminate parasites.
Removing any one of these beings from the loop is a recipe for disaster. An isolated species is one that will be exposed to weaknesses and inefficiencies that make the whole system completely unsustainable.
The rates of losses and disease in crops and animals are a clear sign of nature begging for relief from being treated like a mechanical system.
No matter how hard we try, humans cannot outsmart Mother Nature. She is naturally perfect as She is, and if not, it's because of our lack of respect.
She will always find a way to set things straight.
Government intervention in agriculture has led us scrambling down a spiral of chemicals on crops, drugs in animals, and ultimately, a food system that is making our people and environment sick.
How can we right the ship? We can point fingers at the bureaucrats, but that would put us in a powerless position. A much stronger approach would be to do what we can and take responsibility for our own health.
"You, as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit," says Joel.
The best way to do this is to quit buying from industrial food suppliers. As long as they receive public support, our food system will deteriorate and we will continue to lose freedom in our food choices.
Vote for a healthier future with your food dollars by supporting your local farmers, growing your own food, and spreading the message!
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