September News: Pictures, meat ducks for sale (almost), the Raw Milk Debate

We are only 4 away weeks from finishing our CSA, the cold is setting in, and things are starting to change on the farm.  Rain has been falling and, we hope, replenishing the aquifers beneath us.  Potatoes are dug, squash and sweet potatoes are curing, onions are bagged up.  Though the garden is still full of life, it is also full of the slow decay of things past.  Our fingers are crossed for more peas, spinach, broccoli, cabbages, and other fall treats before this month is out.  See below for a few pictures of the garden and our harvests!

In October we will have meat ducks for sale, so if you are interested please let us know so we can keep you in the loop.  We are just working on tallying up our final feed costs to do our pricing for them so we’ll send you that and more information on “why eat our ducks” soon!  We wish we could offer them for thanksgiving, but unfortunately the slaughterhouse will not process ducks until after thanksgiving since they are so busy with turkeys- another reason we need more small abattoirs!

This week in the news or on the internet you may have read/heard of a new long-term study done on rats eating GMO Corn  (Genetically Modified Organisms).  A long-term study conducted on rats in France, had some results that I feel every consumer should have awareness of.  (If you are not aware of GMOs please visit our farm blog and scroll back to the winter where I’ve posted a summary and some information on them.)  GMO foods are a very hard thing to discuss or think about because they are so deeply connected to politics, corporations, farmers, and have invaded the entire food system.  But I think it is our right to keep asking questions and to demand answers.    This video sums up the study done on rats: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IWobUWh_Hk.  Another video that is available for a short time for free online about GMOs is called Genetic Roulette.  It is a bit of an over-the-top movie in my opinion, but I heard Jeffrey Smith speak at the U of G in the winter and I think he sums up well the case for why Genetically Modified Organisms should not be consumed by animals or humans.  Seb and I both agree and feel that GMOs are one of the main reasons we are involved in growing food.  You can watch the video online free just this week at http://geneticroulettemovie.com/.

Finally I’d like to share with you a little article that Seb wrote for this past week’s newsletter on Raw Milk

New Farmer Lesson: The Raw Milk Debate

This week we had the opportunity to participate in a small rally to support a small farm near us that is operating a cow-share program.  I will talk more about what happened and what a “cow-share” is, but first, I’d like to give a bit of a background to the story.

A very hot topic in agricultural circles these days is the debate on raw milk. Currently in Ontario it is illegal to advertise, sell and purchase any dairy product that hasn’t been pasteurized. (There are some exceptions for aged cheeses being imported to the province but they cannot be produced here.) The issue can be looked at from many angles- consumer health and safety, supply management, freedom of choice and, animal well being, and more.  As we have likely mentioned before, Dairy (cow dairy) is a supply managed commodity. This basically means that a farmer can only sell cow dairy, if they purchase, or inherit “quota”. Quota is very expensive to buy and is seen as a huge barrier to new entrants getting into dairy farming.  Once they have “Quota” every drop of the milk that is consumed off their farm must adhere to a set of standards which include a law of pasteurization.

Most small dairy farmers drink their own cow’s milk raw, and those who grew up in rural communities often reminisce about the flavour and quality of how milk “used to be”. Milk for a long time was sold unpasteurized, until people began getting sick. It was then legislated that milk would only be sold if it was pasteurized. A huge part of the debate has to do directly with this issue… many studies show that raw milk (if produced properly) is more healthy for the consumer, and that it is more digestible.  Some folks with dairy intolerance drink raw milk and have no problem. It is said that raw milk still contains pro-biotic organisms as well as enzymes that assist in digestion of the milk itself.  Those enzymes are destroyed by the process of pasteurization and therefore make it harder on our digestive systems.

It seems to me that the issue of pasteurization is grounded in realistic concerns, however it follows the pattern of industrial agriculture. Once the industry grows and becomes centralized, it tends to become anonymous and therefore “untraceable”, therefore requiring a centralized set of standards and rules.  Two dairy farms side by side will send their milk to the same destination, and therefore they are required to follow the same set of standards.  Unfortunately the standards allow for the feeding of grain to animals that should be grass-fed, antibiotics, and more.  Since all of the milk is consolidated it would be nearly impossible to know where the source of contamination occurred if there were one, so to compensate for potential bad practices, the milk is all sterilized through pasteurization.  This “protects” the public.  However, many people are now learning that they are actually NOT being protected by such standards, and refuse to drink unhealthy milk from unhealthy animals.  And many people are aware that this process can remove the pro-biotic aspect of milk and many other positive health properties.

The “cow-share” model is an attempt to connect consumers directly with producers of quality dairy products, and to follow much higher standards of herd-health and feeding for the animals.  Farmers do not advertise their “cow-share” but rather, start with a few friends, who recommend it to their friends, etc.  Cow-share operators tend to keep smaller herds, and manage them under the standards set forth by “Cow-Share Canada”.  In order to access the milk a consumer must become a  part owner of a cow in order to consume the product. They can then access unpasteurized milk products, on a weekly basis, similar to a CSA. By becoming a part owner of a cow, they can make the legal case that they are not directly buying raw milk, but rather boarding their cow at a farm. The owners of the cows then get their cows milk in exchange for a fee to help the farm operate.  This is all done privately.

On a visit to a cow-share operation recently, the farmer told me: “milk is an inherently safe product, it’s actually the only food that has its own immune system.  “But…”, he said, “healthy milk can only come from healthy cows.” Cows that are raised on pasture and not fed grain in their diets have much fewer health problems, and produce much healthier milk. This farmer started his cow-share operation after becoming frustrated with conventional dairy operations (his own included) and saw that it could be done in a way that was better for the health of his cows, his customers, and his family. He now keeps fewer cows, on better quality pasture and distributes the milk directly to his members.

There are many farmers that sell organic milk that would actually prefer to sell their milk raw, directly to their customers.  However, for a farmer to decide to do a cow-share it takes guts.  Neighbours, or community members that do not approve will report them to the public health unit and this can mean many hours of stress, being hassled, sometimes being interrogated or searched, and for some it means spending time in court.  Most operators of cow-share programs therefore keep their operations as quiet and private as they can.

I believe this discussion is gaining interest as people are wanting to really reconnect with their food system and know where their food is coming from. People are becoming less and less confident in anonymous food and are being creative in finding alternatives. This leads me back to the “rally” I mentioned earlier.

I was informed by various people I know that a farm near us where some of our friends participate in a cow-share program was contacted by the health unit and requested a “meeting”. There have been raids at other farms nearby by officials trying to shut down their cow share operations. To be sure this wouldn’t happen here, the farm called out to its members to come on that day to help support the farm, and to show that they are committed to supporting the relationship they have. They also wanted people to be present to document the interaction so that the health unit did not do anything illegal.  At the farm there were about 30 people who gathered to support the farm.  Some people filmed the interaction with the 2 health unit officials. The health unit basically said that they had heard that the farmers were running a cow-share operation and wanted to gather more information.  The health unit did not say how they heard of the operation or what they would do with the information they gain. The farmers confirmed that, yes they were in fact running a cow-share, but avoided answering any more questions. It was a fairly tense encounter, though the inspectors were not pushy or intrusive. There was a very unusual feeling that came with our outnumbering of the “authority” and I couldn’t help but think about all of the small farms that I’ve read about who have been intimidated by corporations, or outnumbered

What most inspired me during the rally was seeing that there is indeed a strong support from eaters, an undeniable force of people that have made conscious decisions about their food and are standing up for farmers, their own health, and their food system.

Just as a note- in the European Union all raw milk products are “legal” and considered “safe for human consumption”, and can be sold without any price, variety or quantity restrictions. However, the European countries are free to add certain requirements, usually special sanitary regulations and frequent quality tests (at least once per month) are mandatory. In France
raw milk and especially raw milk cheeses are considered the standard for high quality dairy products. Many French cuisine traditionalists consider pasteurized cheeses almost a sacrilege. Many traditional French cheeses have solely been made from raw milk for hundreds of years. In New Zealand and the UK raw milk and raw milk products can be sold if they meet regulations. Twenty-eight U S. states do not prohibit sales of raw milk.  Canada, Australia, and parts of the US do not allow it.
Seb

And here’s a few pictures of our last month’s activities!

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