I participated in the viral 30 Days of Thanks that people were doing on Facebook. I liked the inspiration of seeing what my friends were thankful for and the challenge to find something every single day in my own life to be thankful. Of course we are all thankful for our families and our health, but the 30 days let us get a little silly. “I’m thankful for owning a vineyard….for the obvious reasons,” one friend wrote. Or even my own “I’m thankful for pony noses” while I was spending some time in the barn. We also were serious: “I’m thankful for the power of prayer.” “I’m thankful for the right to vote.” “I’m thankful for all who serve.” It was when I wrote my own “I’m thankful for my husband who goes to work EARLY in the morning so we can have good health insurance,” that I realized we were maybe missing the boat a bit on the thankfulness. I realized, after I posted, that I hadn’t actually said those words to HIM. In fact, I should say it every day.
I’m hoping that our 30 Days of Thanks has put us in a habit of thinking about what we are thankful for every day, and now let’s go out and be ACTUALLY thankful instead of VIRTUALLY thankful. Tell people every day: your family, your friends, strangers. Do something nice to show your thanks. And that will put us all in the holiday spirit more than any shopping trip or holiday party ever could.
Yesterday, Californians voted no to getting more information about their food. The question on their ballot asked if citizens of California wanted food companies to label Genetically Modified Foods. And they voted no. Some people think GMO are good for the environment (they can reduce herbicides and pesticide usage) and good for our growing world (they can feed more people globally). I think they’re crazy. I’ve read about their studies and understand what they are trying to accomplish, but sometimes you just have to go with your gut. The bottom line is: I don’t want to feed my family or myself GMOs. Easy, right? Not so much. What foods are genetically modified, or have GMOs in them? If you turn the package of ketchup over (with 4 boys, we go through lots of this stuff), the label doesn’t read “Genetically Modified High Fructose Corn Syrup” as the second ingredient. But I know that about 45 percent of corn grown in the US is genetically modified (as well as about 85 percent of soy). So is it, or isn’t it? For now, we won’t know – even in California. Their reluctance for labeling should give us some clue they have something to hide, but instead of relying on (or legislating) food companies to come clean with this information, I have another solution. Don’t buy packages; buy ingredients. For now, there are no genetically modified fruits and vegetables and if you stick to animals that were raised on pasture, you can avoid meat that was fed GMOs. If we can stay away from corn, soy, and canola (we are also producing GMO cotton in this country but I don’t think anyone is eating it), we can avoid almost all GMOs. If we vote with our dollars to say NO to GMOs, food companies will respond by not using them. Then biotech companies will respond with not making them. It’s important for our own health, the health of the animals we eat and the land on which our food grows. So I'm disappointed, California, but I'll continue on with my own strategy to defeat GMOs myself.
I put a timer on the TV today. It has thrown my kids into a tailspin but they’ll get over it. Now that the weather is great, there’s just no excuse to be inside in front of the boob tube. So instead of watching TV or playing Xbox, the boys helped me with my afternoon chores: one pushed the baby stroller, one fed the bunny, one collected eggs. And they all watched me move and feed horses (an integral step in teaching THEM to do it some day). When they were finished with their jobs, they parked their baby brother on the lawn in front of the barn and wrestled in the grass. And climbed a tree. And played tag. And rode their bikes. And instead of spending my time rounding up boys from in front of the TV, I quickly got my work done.
Once they’re outside, they realize that they have fun. We all know that TV can be mesmerizing and time-sucking, I’m guilty of that too, but now is the time to GET OUTSIDE! Discover something! Take time to look around and notice nature and take an interest in it. Get dirty! My middle son, Atticus is the best at this (he’s also the hardest to pry from the TV). I love to watch him walk down the driveway after his school bus drops him off. It often takes him a while since he stops to inspect anything new or different along the way. A big rock, a piece of trash that has blown away, a small animal along the side of the driveway: these can all keep his attention for minutes at a time. It’s this kind of analysis and concentration that will help him later in life. I don’t think anyone looks back on their childhood and says, “I really wish I had watched more TV!” Another episode of Sponge Bob isn’t going to make any memories. But playing with your brothers, building something, rescuing someone, climbing trees, exploring our land…. That is what our boys are going to remember about their childhood.
Maybe in challenging them to play outside, I will challenge myself as well. Go for a run, spend more time in the garden, don’t get sucked back to my desk and computer, PLAY with those kids! The memory making process is on my shoulders as well. I don’t think I’m going to sit under the maple tree in front of the barn in my old age remembering all the time I sat at my desk. Memories will be about watching the kids play, things that I’ve built, animals I’ve cared for, beautiful weather I’ve enjoyed, and how lucky I was to work outside.
So Xbox and television have their place; but for the next several months, at least, I’ve got Mother Nature’s back and we WILL win.
I’m not sure our kids know they are growing up on a farm. Ever since they can remember there have been animals, lots of space, and plenty of dirt. This is just what home is. My husband and I lived in New York City for years before they were born. He grew up in Granby, but struck out to the big city to escape the small town. I always had dreams of city life and loved every minute of the 14 years I lived there. We talk about our life there often, so the kids do know about cities. They have fun when we visit. But forget the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. It’s escalators, revolving doors, the subway and (gasp!) TV in the taxis that amaze my country mice when we go to New York. For now, I’m happy these things amaze them. That they don’t understand how you wouldn’t have the space to compost, or that you can’t grow much of your own food. They don’t understand the oasis and treasure that is Central Park because they have 50 acres of their own to explore every day. Farm life is giving our children lots of great life lessons and building character. Have you ever dug a 4-foot deep hole when you were 9? Talk about perseverance! Have you watched piglets or goat being born when you are 5? Compassion! Have you and your brothers been allowed in the back woods to explore by yourself (not knowing that mom can see through the still-bare spring foliage)? Common Sense! Earned money cleaning stalls by the time you were 7? Industrious! I suppose there are other ways to learn these character traits, but I’m happy our boys are learning these things now, before they need them for real when they’re on their own. Best case scenario: they grow up, move to the city for a while, appreciate the beauty of where they spent their childhood and move right back to start the cycle right over again.
SAVE A SAD COW
There are dog rescues, and cat rescues, horse rescues and bird rescues. Here in Granby, CT there’s even a rescue for chipmunks and squirrels. So why aren’t we rescuing livestock from their sad, filthy, feed-lot life? Are we so disconnected with our food that we don’t take the time to care? Or even worse, deliberately try to avoid thinking about it? Doesn’t the fact that we raise these animals for our own use (be it companions or dinner) mean we owe it to them to care about their quality of life?
Big agriculture livestock live a shockingly dissimilar life than the pictures on their packaging lead us to believe. Cows and sheep don’t graze on grass, they get pumped full of grain as they mingle with their neighbors as if standing on a subway car at rush hour. Chickens (even “cage free” or “free range” ones) don’t get to stand in the sunshine looking for bugs. They get their beaks cut off so they won’t peck their neighbor to death out of boredom or aggravation. They live their lives in an ammonia filled warehouse. Industrially raised pigs don’t get to wallow in the mud and root up the ground the way nature intended. They get their tails cut off so that in their stress and anxiety they won’t bite each other’s off.
Even if you’ve seen the movies (ala Food, Inc; and Fast Food Nation) and read the books (“Omnivore’s Dilemma”; “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”; “Animal Vegetable, Miracle”), many of us still can’t seem to quit our factory farm addiction. It is convenient, seemingly lower in cost, and (one even as a farmer of pastured animals I have a hard time getting around) – pervasive! The good news is we can vote for a better quality of life for these animals with our food dollars. By choosing what we buy, we vote for ill-treatment of animals, or we can vote for a life of low stress, fresh air and fresh food that nature intended them to eat. By taking our food dollars out of the industrial farming model and handing them over to farmers (even better – neighbors) that are sustainable and create caring environments for their animals, we essentially cast our votes. We don’t need politicians to do this for us.
Raising and eating herbivores (plant eating animals like cows, sheep and goats) harnesses energy from the sun and converts it into lean animal protein that is great for our environment and our health. Keeping animals on perennial grasses helps build soil rather than continuously stealing nutrients from it. Even omnivores like chickens and pigs can help convert some of the 30 million tons of food we waste in the US every year into delicious, sustainable meat.
But eating meat sustainably is going to mean eating LESS of it. The American diet of meat and potatoes at every meal is doing no good for our bodies, our environment or the animals we share it with. So if you’ve ever thought of rescuing a horse, or adopting a puppy from a shelter or if you’ve ever given a bit of food to a stray cat; consider “rescuing” an industrially raised cow, chicken, pig, or lamb from the sad life they lead in feed lots around this country. And don’t do it by giving up on meat! By raising livestock for meat we are giving them life (I have met very few “pet” cows and pigs). Do it by seeking out local farms raising animals the old-fashioned way: outside, in the fresh air and sunshine.
A blog about farming and food. Kate Bogli owns and operates Maple View Farm, raising livestock and growing veggies, with her husband Jason. The farm has been in his family for 65 years.