What Do You Really Know About Organic Farming?
All you health conscious Mamas out there, are you like me? Do you use words like organic and whole foods only to find out the hard way that you have no idea what you are talking about? Well, as I continue my journey to a healthier me, I am learning how little I really know about what I put in my body. Take the word organic. I thought this just meant that the food had not been exposed to pesticides or hormones. Wrong! There is more to the organic name than meets a label.
Today I visited Choiniere Organic Farm in Highgate, VT. The owner, a man named Guy, gave us an amazing lesson in his philosophy of farming the land and animal husbandry. He began by telling us that his priority is the soil. The soil is the foundation on which all life on the farm is sustained. If the soil is rich and balanced in nutrients, then the grass and other plants the animals feed on provide the right kind of nutrients. Healthy soil = healthy animals = healthy food products.
His other mantra is that the animals need to experience as little stress as possible. From what I gathered, that means treating each animal with humanness from birth to death and their whole productive life in between. The cows and chickens all roam free as much as possible, and he rarely transports his animals for slaughter because that causes high stress, which in turns makes the meat taste bad.
Guy has about 100 cows, but about 75 are used for dairy farming. And, Guy knows and loves his cows. Apparently, grass-fed cows need to eat constantly, but they also have to have the right ratio of chewing to swallowing. If they eat the grass too fast or slow (grass cut up too small or long), then the right amount of saliva is not produced, which then throws off the whole PH and acid balance in the body. In turn, that changes the flavor of the milk the cows produce, and it can make them sick. Guy’s cows eat while they are in the barn through a trolley of fresh grass that passes by each cow. Then, he lets them roam free to eat on a different pasture every day to get the rich green grass and clover and dandelions that cover the hillsides.
I have been to other dairy farms in the past, but the cows on this farm seem happier than others. I don’t know how I know this other than kept they smiling at me as they swished their happy tails down the pasture trail. Okay, seriously, I am just assuming they are happy because they are not suck in a barn slot all day long just eating corn byproducts.
Farmer Guy told us that his milking cows do not receive any synthetic reproductive hormones. They also don’t receive any growth hormones, but he said most cows do not. Simply stating that the milk or cheese is made from cows with no growth hormones is misleading to the public because it does not mean the cows are hormone free.
In fact, research shows that the modern milk industry produces milk quite different from pre-industrial milk. (Harkison, 2014). Most modern dairy cows are either pregnant or lactating year-round, which means that naturally occurring sex hormones are produced in the milk. Furthermore, the later stage in the pregnancy, more sex hormone is present. One thing Guy does is dry up his cows milk in the later stages of pregnancy to give the cow a rest at lactating and to cut down on the pregnancy hormones released in the milk.
Guy is committed to recycling everything back to the earth. In one barn, we were standing on a giant mountain on manure covered in straw, and I had no idea. It had no smell because Guy mixes in carbon in the form of straw and other plant matter to balance out the nitrogen from the cow and bird manure. According to Guy, this makes a rich compost that goes right back into his fields. Guy even rounds up the annoying flies that gather around his cows and feeds them to his chickens. And, there really were no flies in the cow barn. I told you these cows were happy.
Even the chickens benefit from this organic farming technique. They eat the bugs from the soil, which is rich in minerals, thus producing eggs that have more minerals than most. Happy, healthy chickens produce better eggs. See how this works? From what I have learned so far, I am a big fan of organic farming.
Harkison, J. (2014). Turns out your “hormone-free” milk is full of sex hormones. Mother Jones. April 10.