Monday, April 6, 2009

To catch up with what we have been learning from The Omnivore's Dilemma, click on these links: Introduction; Corn & Cow; Complex Foods, Consumers & Chicken Nuggets; Industrial Organic.

After leaving the "Big Organic" farms, Pollan next lives and works five days on a family-run, fully-sustainable farm in Virginia called Polyface Farm. If you read no other part of this book, I think you would gain much from reading about this farm. It appealed to a deep part of me as a natural and beautiful way that man is supposed to subdue and rule the earth without destroying it in the process. You can check out Polyface Farms at their website, or for those of my family who are lucky enough to live close to them - you can even show up at the farm just to look around and see how things are done. They firmly believe that integrity of product relies on being fully transparent to their customers.

Monday - Grass

Joel Salatin neither calls himself an animal farmer nor a vegetable farmer. He is a grass farmer, recognizing that animals and vegetables come and go, but their quality is only as strong as the quality of the land they graze upon. His practice is described as Management Intensive Grazing (MiG). It requires an intimate knowledge of grasses and their life cycles and a willingness to move animals daily to maintain the health of the fields. If the grass if grazed too soon, it will die off; if it is grazed too late, the grass will be woody and unappealing to animals. There is so much fascinating information given about farming, but what is taking place on his farm is a balance of grazing, fertilizing and rest that allows for optimum nourishment for the animals and the land. They are improving, not harming the soil. Adding to the world, not diminishing it.

Tuesday - Animals

Once again there is a wealth of knowledge packed in to this section and another example of the interrelationship of nature, animals and man. The cows are rotated throughout the fields based on the cycle of the grass, then following the cows come chickens. These chickens sanitize the fields by picking all the larvae and parasites out of the cows' manure at the same time, adding their own nitrogen-rich wastes to the fields. The chickens will help remove potential diseases and reduce flies while themselves turning into high-protein meat. What is also amazing about this system is its efficiency. On 100 acres of grass (with 450 acres of trees), Salatin produces 30,000 dozen eggs, 10,000 broilers, 800 stewing hens, 25,000 pounds each of beef and pork, 1,000 turkeys and 500 rabbits (not to mention corn, hay, vegetables and fruit). He refuses to accelerate or expand production because he said the land could not handle it and the quality would decrease.

Wednesday - Slaughter

While Salatin is not allowed to process his own beef and pork by government regulations, he is allowed to kill his own chickens. He complains that just as we are allowed the freedom of liberty and speech, we should also be allowed the "Freedom of Food" - to get it where and how we want it and not merely what is dictated by a government. The USDA has set regulations on what slaughterhouses or "processing facilities" should be like - the type of walls, screened windows, etc... They don't know what to make of Salatin and his open-air processing house which only has a roof. However, this gives it a level of cleanliness that other places don't have. Ironically and frighteningly, the USDA is NOT authorized to set the levels of pathogens (salmonella, listeria, etc...) allowed in foods, though Salatin challenges them to test his chickens and compare how much healthier they are to those raised in feedlots.

On this day, Pollan works alongside the farm hands and a few neighbors to take the broilers from living creatures to plucked, gutted and ready for cooking. The process is quick, sanitary and humane. Even as they are finishing up, people are arriving to pick up their fresh, pre-ordered chickens.

Thursday - Market

Most of Polyface Farms' clientele live within a 1/2 day's drive as it is Salatin's policy to only sell locally. He works by "relationship marketing", predominately relying on word of mouth and his good reputation. His primary means of selling his products are through the farm's store, Farmers' Markets, Metropolitan Buying Clubs, and to local restaurants. The buying clubs were interesting to me because some of them are as far as my hometown in Virginia Beach. These are groups of people who will put together an order, sharing the cost of shipping and divvying it up once it arrives. The Internet has helped tremendously the cause of small farms. Salatin explains that supermarket food systems depends on our not knowing where our food comes from. If we could see into a corporate slaughterhouse the way we can observe his operation, we perhaps would choose to never eat meat again. Strangely, we are willing to pay extra for high-quality products, but when it comes to what we put into our bodies, we seem to be ambivalent or unwilling to pay a greater cost. Another sacrifice that we need to be willing to make for the sake of healthier eating is to return to eating seasonally - especially regarding pastured animals.

Friday - The Meal

Pollan leaves the farm with two chickens, a dozen eggs and freshly picked corn. He also picks up some locally grown rocket for his salad and some Virginia-produced wine. In attempt to keep the spirit of eating locally, he decides to make a meal for friends of his in Charlottesville. He takes some time to explain how he grills the chicken and corn and the beauty and ease of the eggs in making a chocolate soufflé. The meal is raved over. He tries to explain it by saying that the chicken tastes like chicken should taste - likewise the corn and other ingredients. We've come so far away from naturally produced foods that we eat with a memory of what they were. We've lost the pleasure and satisfaction of eating the "real thing".

Pollan also takes some time to explain the role of Omega-6 and Omega-3 in our diets. I might devote a post just to this topic because it was very eye-opening for me. It makes complete sense that we are physically affected by not only what we eat, but what our food eats as well. This corn-fed industry that we live in is throwing off the important balance of omegas in our bodies, possibly contributing to obesity, diabetes, depression, autism, mental disorders... all our modern health problems that were so rare in ancient societies. More and more research is coming out on this topic and will hopefully affect what we chose to put into our bodies.

If I am able to renew the book at the library tomorrow, then hopefully we can find out what Pollan learns in his attempt to forage and grow his own food.

Comments (3)

On April 8, 2009 at 2:51 PM , Anna said...

Were you able to renew it? I hope so! I'm loving your review.

On April 9, 2009 at 5:48 PM , Palmer Surf Crew said...

Hey! I order all my meats, eggs, and other products from Polyface Farm! I'm luck to live where I do! :) Love Pollan's book, too!

On August 22, 2010 at 1:11 PM , Anonymous said...

This is a really good, in depth review.