Sunday, August 2, 2009

Review of Fresh

I really enjoyed my visit to Antiquity Oaks on Friday. I don't have any pictures to share (I decided not to be burdened with the camera). They don't just raise Nigerian goats; they also have heirloom chickens for eggs and meat, Shetland sheep, llamas--I was particularly taken by the tale Katherine spun of how their "guard llamas" keep coyotes away through intimidation!-- and cows, and probably other animals I have already forgotten about! I got to pet a baby Nigerian who was only about a week old. They have 32 acres, much of it forest. It is an absolutely beautiful farm, and I was delighted to tour it.

After the tour, we viewed a screening of the movie Fresh in the family's barn. The movie started at a chicken farm, and I was greatly disturbed by the way each crate of fluffy young chicks was dashed--and I mean dashed, not just set gently, shaken out, or even lightly dumped--to the ground. Deborah and another woman later talked about how disturbing that scene was to them, too. Both raise chickens, and they treat the chicks very gently, placing their beaks in water so the chicks know where the water is and treating them as if they are very fragile...which they are!

But the movie wasn't just about chickens. The overriding theme of the movie was how industrialized farming really doesn't add anything to the environment; rather, it takes and destroys, versus organic farming, which uses natural cycles to keep the environment healthy and productive. For example, the film talked about how industrialized farming takes nutrients from the soil and only replaces only a couple, and cow manure sits in bit manure lagoons because large cow operations don't have any way of dealing with the massive cow waste. The animals are crammed in tight quarters and not allowed to engage in their normal social activities--grazing and pecking, for instance. Because they can't engage in these natural activities, chickens peck one another and pigs bite other pigs' tails. Industrialized farming's answer? Mutilate the animals--cut off their beaks and tails. Cut to an organic farm with a diverse culture of creatures, not just a monoculture of cows. Cows eat the grass, and their manure fertilizes the soil. The chickens follow the cows, eating bugs and grubs left behind in the soil and manure. Everybody's happy, the soil is healthy.

Another major theme discussed was the problem with animal feed. Industrialized farms feed cows corn silage, animal wastes, poultry litter, you name it. Many of the problems we experience with our food today--BSE (Mad Cow disease), salmonella, E coli, and more--originate in the feed lot, where animals are eating parts and wastes of other animals. Cows and chickens are herbivores, meaning they eat vegetation, not carnivores. When we feed animals a diet of a meat instead of their natural diet (cows naturally eat grass, not grains; chickens are grain feeders), they are much healthier, requiring little to no use of antibiotics. Additionally, the meat from these animals is much more nutritious.

The movie doesn't just point out some of the ways industrialized farming is going wrong; it actually points to ways that people are farming naturally. I was moved by the farmer who industrialized his pig farming operation, only to find that they needed to use massive doses of antibiotics to keep the pigs healthy. Ultimately, he felt that his farming methods were misguided; he exterminated his herd and started over, raising his pigs in a natural way. He is much happier now. Another man has an organic farm in the middle of a city. He raises fish, and uses the dirty pond water to water and fertilize his crops.

While I don't have the land or time or ability to create my own organic farm, these people give me hope that industrialized farming isn't the only way to go. Without making the point explicitly, the movie definitely leaves the consumer realizing that every time we go to the grocery store, we vote for our farming methods with our dollars. If we spend our money on organic food, which is healthier for consumers, for the animals, for the farm workers, and for the land, we can send a clear message to industrialized farm operations that what they're doing isn't what we want.

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