Nothing like an injury to make you slow down and catch up. Thursday afternoon I was carrying two buckets of water and tripped outside the barn. I went splat on the ground, and the two buckets flew into the air. Everything hurt, and I was crying. But part of me wanted to laugh when I thought about how ridiculous I must have looked laying flat on my face, soaking wet, and covered with manure and straw from head to foot.
Being stuck in bed with ice on my knee, I remembered that I've been wanting to participate in Fight Back Friday ever since I discovered it a couple weeks ago. Now I finally have time! Fight Back Fridays are sponsored by blogger Food Renegade. But I know a lot of my readers are food renegades too. Who are you? Food renegades are "the people who opt out of the industrialized food system, distrust standard nutritional advice, and embrace Real Food. They’re the people who are fighting back against the dominate food culture — one forkful of food at a time."
For my first Fight Back Friday post, I decided to review the documentary, Fresh, which we screened on our farm a couple weeks ago. If you haven't seen it, find a screening near you. Better yet, buy the DVD and watch it -- several times!
For me, the most eerily depressing part of the film was the interview with modern poultry farmers (a husband and wife) as they talked about the "improvements" in raising chickens over the last 10 years -- as we see day-old chicks dumped onto the ground of the poultry house. A few facts plainly discussed by the couple: There are 27,600 to 29,000 chickens per house. Antibiotics are in the feed for the chicken's health and well-being. The chickens wouldn't grow so fast if they weren't healthy and happy. The couple doesn't exactly look happy; they look resigned as they talk about how they have to work with this one poultry company, because they have millions of dollars invested in buildings, which would be empty if they didn't sign a seven-year contract with the corporation.
Several experts are interviewed during the film, including Michael Pollan, who says modern agriculture is unsustainable because it can't go on. It can't sustain itself. The only reason modern ag can grow large numbers of animals in close confinement is because they're using antibiotics to keep them from getting sick and dieing. "Nature doesn't like monocultures, and sooner or later, she will destroy them." I love this line -- sounds like something from Jurassic Park, and it's true. Monocultures don't exist in nature.
George Naylor, a conventional corn farmer from Jefferson, Iowa, says farmers did not have to spray for bugs on soybeans many years ago. He lifts a soybean leaf full of holes and says, "They never used to look like that." But planting only two crops in an area year after year, it means that the bugs become more numerous, so farmers spray more, and the bugs develop resistance to the pesticides, and the vicious cycle continues. Naylor says, it's not necessarily good for the environment or the farmers or the consumers, but they have to do it. How did this happen?
Corporations industrialized livestock production, which took them off the farm and broke the natural cycle of nature. Farmers used to use livestock manure to increase crop fertility. Pollan said that today's manure from pig farms can't be used for farming because it's too concentrated and full of drugs. Plants and animals historically worked together in a symbiotic relationship on th farm -- like they do here on our farm. The goats poop in the pasture, which makes more grass grow! But in a factory farm "manure becomes a problem instead of a blessing." And with no animals making manure on the farm, farmers now need chemical fertilizers.
Sobering sound bites from Pollan are sprinkled throughout the film -- like -- the nutrition level of vegetables grown today is 40% less than it was in the 1950s. And then processed food has basically no nutrients, because it's been so over-processed. Pollan said, "Cheap food is an illusion. . . . You get what you pay for with food as with anything else." We pay through the environment, our health, and farm subsidies of corn and soybeans.
Just as I was starting to get depressed, Prof. John Ikerd, an ag professor says it's time to shift to a different paradigm, a different world view. Yes! Now we're taken to Joel Salatin's farm, Polyface, in Virginia. If you've read "Omnivore's Dilemma," you're probably quite familiar with Polyface. Now we get to see Salatin, wearing his "Grassfed" T-shirt, moving his eggmobiles to a new pasture and letting the hens out to forage. Salatin is not trying to replicate what his grandfather did. He's trying to replicate what animals do naturally. In nature, herbivores don't eat meat, but Big Ag feeds meat to cows, which is where mad cow disease came from. All the diseases in modern agriculture are nature's way of screaming at the industrialized system, Salatin says, and we need to look at nature and try to mimic that.
One of the most compelling stories came from pig farmer, Russ Kremer, from Frankenstein, Missouri, who went to college to study agriculture, and convinced his father to modernize their hog farm. "I got hung up on that, and you know what, it didn't work," Kremer said. Diseases increased among the pigs, and the use of antibiotics became a daily ritual. "It wasn't a very pleasant lifestyle." Then 15 years ago, a boar hog stabbed him in the leg with his tusk. Two weeks later, he had an antibiotic-resistant strep infection. He nearly died and realized that he had created a monster. "I realized I'm propagating this. My conscious really kicked in, and I said I can't do this anymore." He killed all of his pigs and started over with a free-range sustainable system. He hasn't used any antibiotics in 14 years, because he hasn't had any sick hogs.
Another inspiring story comes from Will Allen of Growing Power in Milwaukee, which is a three acre urban farm that grows 150 varieties of salad greens and 4,000 tilapia whose waste feeds the plants. They compost about 6 millions pounds of food waste from the city each year. Allen said that food wholesalers throw away thousands of pounds of food every week, and "we're just scratching the surface."
This is where the documentary could have introduced the elephant in the room -- GM foods, a subject that is completely ignored in the film. Scientists claim that GM foods are necessary to feed the world. But if you've read much on this topic, you've read that we already grow enough food to feed everyone -- we just don't do a very good job of distributing it. When I attended the vermicomposting seminar in February, I heard the same thing from a speaker about how much food is wasted. He said he was once given an entire load of apples because they weren't shiny -- the produce manager of the grocery store said his customers wouldn't buy apples if they weren't shiny. At only 70 minutes, it would not have made the film overly long to add 15 or 20 minutes on GM foods, which we are all eating if we buy food from the supermarket.
I can't fault the film for anything that it included though. The farmers, scientists and other experts interviewed provided valuable information for us as consumers, and they really did their homework, making sure that everything was accurate. I especially like the fact that they sat down face-to-face with modern chicken farmers and asked them to explain their operation. It confirmed my suspicion that they have no idea that they're doing anything that is less than optimal. That is terribly sad. I hope they saw the film though and maybe realized that there is another way of doing things. I hope a lot of people see this film and realize that there is another way of doing things -- whether you're a farmer or a consumer.