Tuesday, October 12

Farmers are my friends

Well, at least the ones I have met thus far in my life! Today, there was a farmer's market on campus, with several of the farmers, who supply a portion of our on-campus dining foods. This is wonderful, because in order to achieve a sustainable food system, it seems critical to engage in conversation with the very farmers that are supplying our foods. On campus, I would assert that sometimes this conversation is limited. Perhaps this is because as students we are removed from our food in the context of its source; that is, we eat as we are served and rarely have the opportunity to prepare our own meals (at least while we are in the dormitories...). Obviously living off campus, we are subject to different food sources, but at least at my school on-campus living is required for at least the first two years.

Though there are many places in which our on-campus food system could be improved (i.e. reducing food waste, providing healthier meal options, using more local sources for foods, etc.), I am happy to say that there are also good things happening. This was made clear by the conversations that I engaged in today, with two farmers in particular.
The first farmer that I met was Paula from Red Barn Family Farms (Appleton, WI). She was a member of the Red Barn cooperative that is now supplying a portion of our milk and cheese on campus. We had a lengthy conversation, in which we talked about the importance of the family farm, and small scale agriculture. Just about everything she said to me, registered with me completely, and reassured my confidence that there are good farmers out there who are seeking a sustainable and just agricultural system. Her philosophy behind Red Barn was that through a cooperative business model, small family farms would have more competitive access to the market. Furthermore, she continuously emphasized the importance of small scale agriculture (which I could not agree with more). Through small family dairy farms, she stated that the animals have the potential to live a more humane and healthy life. The farmers are responsible for the milking of the cows, versus a machine, and thus build a relationship with the animals. The cows even have names! Through this relationship, the farmers are better able to address health problems that may occur with the cows, which is better for the farmer, the cow and the consumer. For instance, if a cow is sick but the farmer has not been monitoring the daily life of the cow (say, because the cow is raised on a large scale farm), it may seem most appropriate to use medicines or antibiotics to treat the cow. However, this may not be the best decision for the cow. Furthermore, these antibiotics are transferred to the milk (and thus the consumer). Though this may not seem to be a problem, such antibiotics may cause antibiotic resistance in the human consumer (I could elaborate, but for now, I will spare you the details... but my biology teacher might be proud to know that I am blogging about this!). In contrast, if the farmer has a relationship with his or her cows, there is a good chance that the farmer will notice any problems sooner than later, and might also know the source of the problem. In this case, the farmer can better address the issue in a manner that doesn't necessitate antibiotics. Not only is the cow better off, but again, the farmer and consumer are too. Let me just emphasize that I am reassured that there are good farmers out there with important values which they are applying to the system!
my grandpa's farm

The second, Rink from Shooting Star farms (Mineral Point, WI), was an enthusiast for organic produce. He was eager to share his produce with everyone, offering each passer-by with a sample of something, be it a beet or some lettuce, an apple or a carrot. Though our conversation was brief, I appreciated his enthusiasm, and his passionate approach to sharing his produce. He left me with one lasting idea: "I can put a price on these vegetables, but I cannot put a price or a value on the importance of education." That is, the education that comes from conversation with our farmers is priceless (I realize this sounds completely corny, but it couldn't me any more true!). By continuing to support these farmers, I can only hope that one day all farmers will see the value in these farmer's assertions: conversation, education and relationships.

It seems to me, that I am continuously encountering the importance of these three values in every aspect of my life; be it through conversations with perfect strangers or friends new and old, the education and relationships that comes from these conversations give richness to my life. I feel continuously blessed to be able to engage in these conversations. I can only encourage you to seek out such relationships and conversations in every aspect of your life, as I can only imagine that it too, will bring light to your life!

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