Tag Archives: Agriculture

Pickup Beds, Old Dogs, Children and a Ride to the Creek


August 30, 2015

Riding in the back of the pickup was normal in the sage canyons east of Saugus. Though not common, the seat of a 1956 Ford pickup holds only so many people, so when the family went to town in the pickup you’d find my younger brother, sister, and I arguing, singing, or yelling those all-important conversations back in the pickup bed. During baseball season, daddy would have half a dozen boys in the back heading home after a ballgame. Town being thirty to forty minutes from the house, meant a fair number of memories were made in the back of that pickup.

Then daddy and mamma bought a 1969 Ford three-quarter ton Camper Special—with seatbelts. There began a change in the way mamma and daddy thought about pickup bed traveling and other than the local gravel road, a pasture, or the stockyard in town, the seat belted three-quarter ton ended back of the truck forty-five mile-per-hour conversations.

Thirty years later Belinda and I were driving down Fort Road on the reservation. We were following a pickup full of kids, doing forty-five maybe fifty miles-per-hour. By then we were fairly sure of our good opinion thinking something along the lines of, “What are they thinking?” Thirty years of seatbelts had something to do with our thoughts, but also being from California had something to do with it as well.

Years earlier Californians passed a law keeping dogs from riding in the pickup bed. After it passed, you could not have a morning coffee at the local café in rural California, where working dogs in the bed were common, and not have a conversation about the dog law. Statements were often rural verses urban, along the lines, “Yep, isn’t it just like those folk who don’t live where men, women, and dogs work together would pass a law against dogs in the back of the truck…and never give any thought to a law keeping children out of the back of pickups first.” Well, enough years of such conversations made us pretty sure those kids in the back of the pickup shouldn’t be, and dogs should be cut more slack.

It so happens that while California has its who-cannot-ride-in-the-back-of-pickup law, Washington State code sees it a little different,

This section only applies to motor vehicles that meet the manual seat belt safety standards as set forth in federal motor vehicle safety standard 208 and to neighborhood electric vehicles and medium-speed electric vehicles. This section does not apply to a vehicle occupant for whom no safety belt is available when all designated seating positions as required by federal motor vehicle safety standard 208 are occupied. (RCW 46.61.688, Sec.2—as of 2008)

Continue reading

Removing Upton Sinclair’s Gag and Re-Learning Good Food Treatment


August 23, 2015

Last week federal Judge Lynn Winmill ruled the Idaho Ag Security Act law unconstitutional. The “ag gag” law made it a crime to make undercover recordings or gain employment at a farm under false pretenses. Idaho legislators developed the law after an activist filmed and posted a video online showing cow mistreatment at an Idaho dairy, which led to death threats toward the farmer.

In his ruling, Winmill considered Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle. Winmill noted, “Sinclair, in order to gather material for his novel, ‘The Jungle,’ misrepresented his identity so he could get a job at a meat-packing plant in Chicago.” While focusing on immigrant exploitation, the novel heavily dealt with the treatment and conditions of livestock found in early 20th century packinghouses. The Jungle so impacted American society it lead to the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. The kicker for Winmill is, “Today, however, Upton Sinclair’s conduct would expose him to criminal prosecution under” the Idaho law.

The Winmill decision does not enhance the existing lives of animals, humans, or plants within today’s agricultural industry as much as it maintains a modicum of animal wellbeing. Enhanced wellbeing may come, but not before people begin to learn their own wellbeing is tied to that of animals, plants, soil, and water. For that to occur, grandparents, parents, and children must begin to understand where their food comes from and how it gets to their table.

The public’s engagement in understanding food is critical because the Winmill decision can also have a down side. Today, the disengagement of people from their food is so great they cannot distinguish between good animal treatment and bad. Awful or horrendous is easy enough to differentiate, but because of the gulf between people and their food, too many folk experience good animal treatment as bad. Lack of knowledge on the public’s part can only lead to mistreatment of farmers and ranchers who are treating their animals well.

Thirty some years ago we had the county veterinarian come by our place. Someone had driven by and reported one of our horses as mistreated. We took the vet out to the horses and introduced him to Barney, a 27 year-old quarter horse. Barney was as skinny as an old horse gets, ribby and hippy. After a bit we all headed up to the house, sat down, and had a cup of coffee. The Vet observed horses are no longer a part of peoples live. Continue reading

Considering the Purple Cow Pill


August 09, 2015

Soon there may be a new solution for problematic burping. A Purple Pill, of sorts, except for cows rather than humans. Folk might have heard it said that cow farting contributes to high methane levels, which depletes ozone. However, the cow methane problem comes from cow belching rather than their farting.

Being a ruminate, cows have a four stomach digestive system (actually a four compartment stomach). Ideally suited to grazers (cows) and browsers (goats), the rumen (the first stomach) allows cows to eat a lot of grass at once, not chew it, and store it. Later, when they are relaxing, they cough/burp up a cud (a mouthful of that non-chewed stomach stuff) and properly chew it. Thus, a cow does a lot of cud chewing and burping.

Figuring the United States alone has roughly 40 million cows, about 30 million beef cattle and 10 million dairy cows; there is a whole lot of burping going on. Like humans, cows digestive system have a complex community of microbes in their stomach helping break down food. One of those beneficial microbes creates methane in the process. To counter this methane development, some folk are proposing an additive to cattle feed to reduce the microbe’s ability to produce methane.

Hmm, it isn’t enough that pharmaceutical companies have convinced us humans to take a pill so we can ignore our bodies normal warning sign of when to lay off some foods. Now we are going to give cattle a little purple pill as well.

Contrary the popular stance, the methane burping problem is not a cattle digestive problem, but a human digestive problem. Consider the 30 million beef cattle. The 30 MILLION CATTLE who exist on American soil exist because the U.S. population is having a problem eating meat sensibly. All it takes to eliminate the methane problem is for U.S. folk to eat less beef. An easy solution if it were not centered on changing people’s gastronomic normal.

Life is much easier for humans if they place blame on creation other than themselves. Cattle, after all, are doing no more than being cattle. Humans, though, have to go a long way to justify eating double and triple decker hamburgers rather than single patty burgers or eating16-ounce steaks rather than 4-ounce steaks. The production of 30 million cattle is not a cattle problem, but one of human over consumption. Continue reading

Generational Food Justice


 August 02, 2015
[Post By Selys Rivera: Yakama Christian Mission Intern 2015]

This is supposed to be humane? I thought to myself when David Bell took me to the cattle auction for the first time. He wanted to take me the first week I arrived so I could handle it better once we brought workgroups. I’m glad he did so too because I was on the point of tears.

Cows, bulls, steers, heifers, all corralled into small spaces, running into each other, stumbling over one another. The cowboys and girls on their horses chased after them with paddles, flags, and whips to move the animals along. One cowboy even yelled, “Hey! You son of a bitch. Hey!” over the desperate mooing as he tried to force an extremely frightened steer into a corral.

One beautiful, brown steer with a white face met my gaze with tired eyes as he struggled to maintain his footing against the many other, larger cattle around him. He didn’t fight back or try to escape. He had clearly been there all day and gotten used to the circumstances. Perhaps he had even been there before. His calmness told me it was indeed humane.

The paddles, whips, or flags weren’t hitting them; instead, they were only surprised by the sound made by the instruments. They had some space to move. They were fed and kept healthy until they were sold. The animals freaking out the most were the ones who probably hadn’t had a day of stress in their lives, who were raised on pastures with their families. Plus, it’s understandable for the cowboys and girls to get frustrated every once in a while, but most of them were patient with the animals. The place really could have been a lot worse. In fact, many of cattle would later go to worse places, to factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where they would spend the rest of their lives standing in a pile of their own shit. They would get even less exercise, they would get fatter, and they would sell for more.

Suddenly, I cried the tears I had been fighting, feeling helpless. As a vegetarian, I know I don’t support the CAFOs or factory farms, but people who do surround me. Plus it’s more than just cows, or even pigs and chickens. It’s all food. Continue reading

GMO And Cardboard Food


May 24, 2015

Folks in Jackson County, Oregon are having a fit. The people of Jackson County voted last fall to ban GMO (genetically modified organism) crops. Alfalfa growers are ticked off. Lawsuits are filed. Having planted “Roundup Ready” alfalfa, a perennial plant that is productive for years, GMO farmers claim a potential devastating income loss.

Roundup Ready crops like alfalfa allow farmers to spray their entire field with Roundup (imagine a crop-duster plane), killing the weeds while leaving the resistant crop alone. Some folk argue there are problems with the GMO plant itself and they don’t want it fed to the livestock of they eat or provide their milk. Others question what widespread, non-specific spraying (of any type really) is doing to the soil, water, and air. Interesting enough though, is in time the arguments may mean little because weeds are developing an immunity to Roundup. Which might mean that about the time GMO alfalfa is normalized, Roundup will not be effective, and chemical companies will have developed a new herbicide.

There are alternatives though and I hope folk begin to recognize them. I’m not wholly against herbicides, however I am against wholesale use with little regard for tomorrows folk who must use this same land. Farmers could decide to quit large-scale herbicide use and accept a few more weeds and a little more work, and the consumer could pay a little more for their food. However, this would call farmers and consumers alike to change their practices. Alfalfa wise, farmers would have to learn old practices of allowing weeds to go as far as developing a seed head and then cutting their crop before the seed ripens. Done well, the plant (often) thinks it has reproduced and does not therefore put another seed head on. Continue reading

A Landscape of Dented Buckets and Grain Sacks


May 03, 2015

We were driving through the Nova Scotia countryside in November taking in farms and farming practices. The practices and work we saw was much like the work of small farmers back home. Most farms were multi-crop in addition to dairy, beef, goats, or sheep.

The workers of the land told a story of animal health and land balance. Dairy and beef farms did not hold thousands of animals, but like crop acreage, were in the tens and hundreds. The farms we drove by were much more like the farm of my mother’s youth than industrial feedlots and mono-cropland found across the US. Rather than miles of feed bunkers with animals living in mud and manure, Nova Scotia animals were on pastures.

We traveled a two-lane road without a centerline. Rolling hills transitioned into wooded land and the landscape steepened. Soil held fast with grass pastures in cleared homesteads. Harvested corn stalk covered a few acres on most every farm. The fenceline opened upon a two-story, 1920’s or 30’s home. White, with a small porch sporting styles, rails, and posts, the home spoke a carpenter who did not hurry his work. Fifty feet or so away, a white barn rose out of the ground. The wife and husband walked in rubber mud boots, topping out just below the knee, toward the barn in. A dented galvanized bucket swung in her left hand and his right arm wrapped was around a sack of feed.

We stopped. The feel was a familiar. When someone we do not know shows up at the farm, Belinda and I wonder what is going on. The same feeling was in the air as we approached the farm couple. Like anyone showing up at the farm back home, the first question that must arise is, “are they lost?” Yet, it is Nova Scotia and not central Washington, so it may be just as normal to ask, “Tourists?”—I’m not sure, do folk visit Nova Scotia to spend days driving the countryside? I hope so. Continue reading

Meating Reverence At the Intersection of Life and Death


April 26, 2015

Most calves arrive on the farm arrive in the fall. Many of our neighbor’s spring calves sell at that time, so fall is a good time to buy. Fall, a year later, is butchering time.

During the year I walk the pastures and slowly develop a relationship with the steers. Each walk gives me a chance to see if anyone is off their feed, has a runny eye, or a dry nose—better to find a problem at the start than after it has settled in. These walks lead to a comfortableness between us. Comfortableness matters on butcher day.

Our goal at the farm is that none of our calves’ dies of natural causes. (At least not natural from a steer’s point of view.) Growing up, I never gave much thought to steers raised on the family place, but my folks did. They did not name steers, though they didn’t stop us kids. It was their way of having some distance in the human /steer relationship. They knew the steers were not going to die of natural causes and a no-name steer is easier to kill on butcher day. Good idea, but none of that ever worked out. It seems that if you live with an animal for eighteen months, more or less, relationships develop, whether you like it or not.

Daddy never liked butcher day, mostly because of the relationship gained whether you like it or not. Daddy never killed a steer. Instead our neighbor, Mr. Riggins, dropped by early morning to handle the killing. Once done, daddy, Mr. Riggins, and us boys would skin and quarter the beef.

Today I understand Mr. Riggins and daddy’s butchering relationship was based in the human/animal relationship. Mr. Riggins didn’t have the relationship daddy had with the steers. This separation made killing much easier for Mr. Riggins than daddy. Many folk raising animals for meat need a Mr. Riggins and mine is Johan. Continue reading

An Old Word to Honor and A Modern Word “That’s For the Birds”


February 8, 2015

“That’s for the birds,” has an interesting undertones these days. The avian influenza, a highly contagious and deadly virus is ramping up across the countryside. Who knew that when the flu rolled out this year, we’d be talking bird flu rather than should we have gotten our flu shot or not. For a chicken though, getting the flu and getting shot is a bit different than for us. Today, the government is dispatching birds right and left.

Bird flu fear is so great, China, the European Union, and many more countries have banned US poultry and eggs. Other nations, like Canada, have placed trade restrictions on exports from Washington and Oregon. These actions have folk wondering the economic impact of the flu. Fear has also led chicken folk, industrial, and small farm alike, to take precautions like requiring farm visitors to walk through bleach tubs before entering the farm. This is what the government, the agricultural industry, and media has termed as best biosecurity practices.

The bird flu is clearing muddy agricultural industry waters and three problematic areas come into focus: dispatching birds, economic impact, and biosecurity. While not spending much time on the first two, I will say, using the word dispatching other than “kill” is a tell of an industry who fears public knowledge that animals are killed at unimaginable numbers today, healthy or not. When it comes to an economic impact because of export restrictions, one has to wonder why chickens, chicken meat, and eggs are exported in the first place? Chickens and eggs are so easy to raise, very few communities need US farm poultry and eggs. What has my goat though is the idea of biosecurity. Continue reading

Sacred Cows


March 31, 2014

As March closes out, I am thinking about the days leading into March. We’d had a fair amount of snow. It was nothing like the snow of our neighbors across the American landscape, but for the farm, plenty enough.

Low temperatures and snow come hand in hand and like the snow, it has been plenty cold enough. Cold weather though calls for more feed, which of course, means more work. More work, however, isn’t all that bad. Each winter we fence the hay fields, turn the cattle out, and let them forage open range. The hay fields provide plenty of feed all winter long. So, when the bottom drops out of the thermometer, and we begin feeding hay cut from last summer’s hay fields, life is just fine. And after all, we figure a little extra food enhances the physical and spiritual wellbeing of cattle.

Though we’re a long way from the ideal, society is slowly beginning to grasp the physical wellbeing of their food animal matters. However, when it comes to thinking about a food animal’s spiritual wellbeing, society remains out on the back forty. Our current blindness around animal spirituality has not always been the case. Christians at one time, e.g., Thomas Aquinas and Francis Assisi, believed the Creator imbued plants and animals with soul. That is crazy talk though today. Sure, we might allow for an animal soul possibility when we have Annabelle the cat or Hank the dog put-to-sleep—due to our deep sense of loss, but the idea of our food having soul? Well, you’re hard pressed to find that on anyone’s Top Ten List.

There are a number of reasons why animals have lost their soul. The industrialization of society, the exile of rural people to urban centers, and the mechanization of food have all led to separating people from their food animals. And unlike plants where most anyone can have a little garden, it’s a bit difficult to raise a meat cow in the suburban back yard. Yet, there are two big reasons for animal soullessness: enhanced business profits and low consumer meat cost. The latter is the ring-in-the-human community nose. Attaining absurdly low meat prices at the local market has become so important; folk would rather not question the possibility of their pound of burger or bag of chicken breasts ever having a soul if it means paying a single dime more. Continue reading

A Glass of Green Pepper-Strawberry Gene Splice Juice


August 25, 2013

Last spring a farmer in Oregon sprayed his field with Roundup, a glyphosate weedkiller.  The weeds died but tufts of wheat in the field did not.  After getting in with a weed scientist from Oregon State University all hell broke loose.  In the beginning, no one really thought this wheat could be genetically modified, but they also knew a few years ago Monsanto had been carrying out field trials in the area.

Well, sure enough, it turned out the wheat was genetically modified (GMO).  This didn’t make a whole lot of folk happy.  The USDA launched an investigation.  Monsanto launched their own investigation—their representative speculated anti-biotech activists may have stolen Monsanto GMO wheat and purposely planted it in the farmer’s field (few folk gave that argument much credibility).  The USDA contact all the seed suppliers the farmer bought seed from.  Two heavy weight rice buyers, Japan and South Korea, shut down all their purchases of U.S. wheat.  And of course, due to no fault of his or her own, the farmer was right smack in the middle of it all.

No one ever figured out how the wheat got into the farmers field.  Since no other GMO wheat was found in Oregon, South Korea started buying U.S. western white and soft white wheat again in early July.  Japan followed suit a few weeks ago.  What seems apparent, and I think surprises few farmers, is if a plant out of doors it just might figure out a way to reproduce itself—whether humans like it or not.  What is also apparent, biotech companies like Monsanto are not going to let a little hiccup stop their work of genetically modifying the food we eat.

I’ve never been a proponent of GMO food.  There are quite a few other folk who also don’t idea of marrying a salmon gene to say a corn gene to get something better.  Seems to me, corn is pretty good as corn and salmon are just fine as they are.  Yet I also realize I have had trouble with a number of the ways science has come up with to reproduce people.  I kind of like the idea of reproduction through sexual intercourse—seems enjoyable for most of the worlds animals and it works for the most part.  However, today I have a lot of non-intercourse produced brothers and sisters and I think I am better off with their smiles, humor, and insights.

I read Gene Logsdon’s essay Organic GMOs? the other day and it got me to wondering if it is possible folk will accept GMO food one day because their benefits seem to outweigh their detriments.  Logsdon talks about the “greening disease” that infects orange trees and can eventually kill them.  There is no cure for the disease and there are no trees in the world that have natural immunity.  Continue reading