How to Occupy Our Food Supply…or in Other Words…How to be a Farmer

I am a farmer.

I am a farmer’s daughter.

I am a farmer’s wife.

I am a farm family’s mother.

I am a friend to many farmers.

I eat, sleep, breathe, and dream farming.

All day long, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

It is what I do.

It is what I love.

It is what I will be doing until the day I die.  And I hope, like William’s Great-Grandpa and my own Great-Grandma that I will be able to work hard until my body just wears out and they lay me in the ground that I have labored on.

I farm because I love the lifestyle, I love the animals, I love the land, I love the sounds, smells, sight, and feel of the farm.

And I love the food.

There is no way to describe the absolute sweetness of freshly picked fruits and vegetables.  The flavor is beyond good.  You consume the living food and suddenly you feel more alive, it’s as if you were eating health and well-being.   Anything canned, boxed, bagged, or processed tastes like perfume to me these days.  It smells good, but tastes like a chemical when it touches my tongue.

Yesterday a blog post from “Almost All the Truth”, which is written by one of our farm members, caught my eye and sent me scouring the internet for more information.    She mentioned the “Occupy Our Food Supply” events that are going to be taking place on February 27th.

It was the first I’d heard of it.  Here’s a link to the group that started it http://ran.org/occupy-our-food-supply

I’ll let you do your own research on it and make your own decisions.  As for myself, I think that they are working for something good.  I have no great affection for, and more than a little disgust for the new worldwide “superpowers” like Monsanto, Cargill, and ADM that claim to “feed the world” but leave a wake of human and environmental destruction behind them.  But in my reading I’ve come across some thoughts from the “Occupy” side that make me worried, make me leery of stepping into this movement full force politically, and has me checking my gear to make sure we’re not just tilting at windmills like Don Quixote.

One of the things I read, from another group that is supporting “Occupy Our Food Supply” was that they believe that “food is an inalienable right”.

As a farmer, one that is well acquainted with growing what I eat and eating what I grow, I cannot in good conscience concur with the statement that food is an inalienable right.  As a farmer I know that statement to be false because as far as the land and the resources are concerned…you have no rights, you have no promises, you have no guarantees.   To paraphrase a popular sentiment of my youth “Nature’s ornery and she only tolerates us.”

If that’s the truth that I’ve come to realize over the last 20 years of being intimately involved in working with the land, why oh why do so many people believe otherwise?  Why do we think food is a right rather than a privilege?

Well…here’s my 2 cents.

The reason we think that food is an “inalienable” right is because Cargill, Monsanto, and Archer Daniels Midland have made our food so easy to get.  It’s easy to get corn/wheat/rice/sugar/etc., because they’ve made genetically altered seeds that aren’t anything like nature made.  They don’t die when you spray them with chemicals, when bugs bite them the bugs die, they don’t rot, mold, or go bad.  That makes it easy to get a harvest.

Does anyone really understand anymore how difficult it is to raise ALL of your food supply?  We don’t use those “miracle” seeds that can’t be destroyed here on our farm.  We use the old-fashioned varieties that need to be tended and cared for by hand and it takes an amazing amount of time.  We spend a lot of time looking for and fighting bugs, weeds, molds, slugs, mice, gophers, and blight.  We work hard at it because it’s not just the way we make our living…it’s our food supply.

I watched, listened to, and read the news when all of the Occupy Portland events were going on and I heard the comments one of the “occupier’s” made.  I’ll have to paraphrase here because I’ve forgotten now which radio program I heard it on, but the gist of his statement was “We should have more comforts of life, we should have more food.  The earth is our mother, she provides us with food, we should be able to eat for free.”

And… that’s where the Occupy Wall Street movement totally lost me.

The earth provides our food?  For free?  Really?  And I thought, rather sarcastically (which I abhor so I apologize) “Yeah?  And when was the last time you grazed for your breakfast?”  If you’re religious then you’ll remember the last time food sprang forth freely without sweat and blood occurred some time ago.  Like before Adam and Eve went out for Friday date night.

There is nothing remotely “free” about raising food.  The Big-Ag, GMO, super-ultra-mega-subsidized crops come nearer to “free” than anything that we’ve ever raised in our garden.  They are bug-free, disease-free, and weed-free, which makes it easy to raise it with very little labor cost and a great deal of government paychecks which equals a nice profit margin.

But if you are committed to truly responsible farm husbandry practices you come to realize, after years of labor, that nothing is free.

And why isn’t it?  Because you have added human life value to it.  You have worked for it, with it, and on it.  You have spent your time, tears, and blood to make it beautiful and productive…how could that have no value associated with it?  We love and value what we labor for.

The things that we get for nothing are worth nothing.

Why?  Simply because they haven’t changed us or shaped us.  We haven’t sacrificed for them, cared enough for them to work with them, or to express gratitude through our labors.

We value all life here on the farm.  We treasure it and work for it.  The farm is absolutely pure joy for us.  All the labor, loveliness, work, stress, discouragement and bounty of it are joy, but let me tell you: joy has a price that it demands for its services and it’s called work.

Hard work.

It is a testament to the success of “Modern” agribusiness that we have the luxury of debating whether or not food in an inalienable right.  Why?  Because there aren’t many people in this country who have experienced true starvation.  And thank God for it.  If we were experiencing true hunger we wouldn’t be arguing over “how” the food was raised, or the kind of seeds it was raised from, we’d just be glad to have something to put in our belly.  It is also a testament against large agribusiness that we have to resort to crusade tactics to effect change because they have been so irresponsible in their pursuit of global trade domination that they have shown no consideration for the health, well-being, or happiness of the people and land they work with.

Please do not misunderstand me or my intentions here, I know that there are thousands upon thousands of families and individuals in America today that are homeless, hungry, poverty stricken, and hurting.  I know that there are children that go to bed hungry at night; it makes me sad, it spurs me on to work harder, and I do everything I can in my small part of the world to help alleviate that suffering.  I myself have been in the difficult position of having to choose a healthy salad for two meals, or hot dogs for the whole week.  I’ve been stuck in Green River, Wyoming with $2.00 to my name and uncertain of what I would eat the next day.  But even with those experiences I, just like most American’s, have never experienced true hunger.  Hunger that persists day after day, year after year, so that it stunts the body, robs the mind, and weakens the soul.

My brother, a family doctor back in Minnesota, goes on medical missions to South America about twice a year.  After the last one to Guatemala he came to visit my husband and me here in Oregon and when he saw what we are doing with C’est Naturelle Farms he said “Man, I hope you can take this to those people someday.  It would really help them.  They are so busy just surviving from day to day that they are too tired at the end of that day to contemplate how to make it any better.  Some people in our rescue group went down about 20 years ago and helped them build a fence and a roof over their community water supply.  Something really simple, right?  Well, the fence kept the animals out of it, so the animal waste wasn’t going into the water that they used for drinking, they built a small wash area where families could wash their laundry so poopy diapers and filth from their clothes weren’t going in the water, and now, 2 decades later, the life expectancy in that village alone has increased by 10 years.  Just from one roof, over one water supply.  Think what you could do if you took your method of small-scale but full-production farming to them.  Just the simple act of creating separate pastures to rotate the animals into would break the parasite cycle that makes so many people sick.”

What he described to us was “survival” which is not a picture of success, prosperity, or liberty.  Survival says “how will I feed my children today?” and can’t see anything past that.  Prosperity says “How will I make the world a better place today?” and has the time to contemplate and act.

It is an amazing position of power to be in.  As participants in the greatest experiment in liberty, prosperity, and happiness ever embarked on (I like to call it “America”) we have had that position of power handed to us by previous generations and I think that the invitation to do something good with it is a noble one.

So what will we do with it?

I believe, as I ponder this “Occupy Our Food Supply” idea, that if we are careful of our direction, resolved in our commitment, and dedicated to our decisions then we really can make a difference.

What I hope is that it becomes so much more than just another gripe-fest.  I don’t want to see it turn into another “My life is pitiful!  It’s has to be somebody’s fault, somebody save me!” romance novel dialogue on one of the most serious problems facing the world today: politically driven famine.

There is enough food produced in the world today to feed everyone on this earth, and feed them well.  It isn’t drought, crop failure, or flooding that is causing the suffering of millions of people; most of them children.  It is the politics of greed, power, and control.

What I really hope is that we choose to “Be” somebody who takes a stand and makes a difference instead of “Blaming” somebody for what we don’t like.   Because I don’t personally believe that big government can save us anymore than big-agriculture can.  The problem with anything that “BIG” is that it has no mind of its own and no heart to feel.  How can anything good come from something that is brainless and heartless?

I’m grateful that Brenna wrote her Almost All the Truth blog yesterday and again this morning to bring attention to one of the largest problems we face.  I love that she is so committed to sharing the information she has discovered about keeping our world healthy, beautiful, and vibrant for the sake of our children.  I love knowing that Brenna isn’t a finger-pointer, a complainer, or a whiner.  She’s one of the “doer’s” who not only sees a problem and points it out, but commits herself on a personal level to live her life based on principles, not just persuasion.  I really admire that.  She has offered some great suggestions for what you can do today to make a difference.   Check out her website here: www.almostallthetruth.com

Here is my hope for the “Occupy Our Food Supply” movement.

  • That people will commit to buy from a farmer for more than one day.  I hope that they will commit to it every day.  If you plan to eat it, plan to know who grew it.
  • That our society will see work as a privilege, not drudgery or a punishment. The ability to labor is a gift…we need to start unwrapping and using it.
  • That everyone who believes that good food is important will “occupy” their own space and plant a garden.  Whether it’s in one little terra cotta pot in the kitchen window, a plot in a local empty lot, or in your own or a friends backyard, plant some seeds, get your hands dirty, and add some human life value to your land.  You’ll reap a harvest greater than good food.  The ancient Greeks believed that the real harvest of the soil is the human soul.
  • That everyone who is opposed to the strong-arm, bullying tactics practiced by some of the Big-Ag corporations will stop buying their products.  Just stop.  If we refuse to buy it, maybe they’ll stop trying to shove it down our throats.

One day of Occupying Our Food Supply is a great start, but it won’t change our current system.  If we don’t want our efforts to be wasted we have to commit to a principle, and to a way of purchasing and eating that is less convenient but better for our environment and our society.

Find a farmer, buy his food.

Plant a garden, tend it, and eat your food.

Join a community garden, work together with your friends, and eat your food together.

Have fun, eat well, and increase your life value.

Occupy your own life, take control of your choices, and reach out to help others.

That’s the farm fresh recipe for occupying your space here on Mother Earth.

And if you’d like, come to the farm today, February 27, 2012, and Occupy Your Food Supply at C’est Naturelle Farms.  Monday is our busiest day of the week; it’s when we get everything organized for the work we plan to accomplish in the next 6 days.  But we’ll take the time to walk you around the farm, you can see where we grow your food, where your animals are raised, how they are cared for and how you can support local, environmentally responsible farming.  We’ll show you how we intend to labor to support you and your family in your goal of having the freshest food you can eat brought right to your door.  We’ll make the time to show you because we believe in your worth, we believe it’s our job to support you in accomplishing whatever great thing it’s your goal to do.

You” are why we farm to feed 100 families.

Tilling Fields of Stone

One of my earliest memories as a child is of working in the field behind our house at Hillcrest Orchards.

We were moving stones.

Each year when my father would work the ground for the garden more stones would appear, almost as if they floated upwards through the earth just to get to the sunshine at the top.  My tiny hands could only carry the smallest rocks, but I carried what I could.  We made a tower of them at the side of the field and I recall thinking that they looked like potatoes.

Years later I once again moved stones with my husband William.  He hitched our draft horses, Jim and John the huge Belgian geldings, to our “rock boat” which was a piece of steel bent up on all sides, supported by rebar, and used to “float” the heavy rocks out of the field.  He had used it a lot growing up in the red rock country of Hurricane, UT.  His family’s farm fields were filled with stones, but they were determined to grow in them every year.  We used the rock boat on our family farm in Missouri to remove stones from the area where we planted 1,000 fruit trees.

My children have had the pleasure of moving stones from the fields we’ve worked, building their own potato looking stacks, spiriting them away to serve as foundations for play forts or Anasazi cliff dwelling replicas.

Moving stones is as much a part of farming as planting seeds or hoeing weeds.   We are accustomed to hard work, well acquainted with the weight and weariness of it, and have felt the absolute pleasure of falling into bed at night exhausted but satisfied with a good day’s effort.

But recently I’ve run up against hard places where I’ve never been before and I’ve labored in fields that baffle, confuse, and sometimes pain me.  I try to make sense of the rocks in my chosen professional “field” and I confess that I cannot make sense of them at all.

Two of our fellow farmers and friends were recently raided on their farm in Overton, Nevada.  Their “crime”?  They were planning to serve fresh food from their garden, free range beef and lamb, prepared by a certified chef in a certified kitchen to their friends and farm members.

Does it confuse you too?  I’m baffled.

In fact I’m beyond baffled, I’m appalled.   I confess that in the past when I’ve seen some of the “food raid” videos I have thought to myself “they must have done something they shouldn’t have, they must have crossed a line somewhere.  A government agency wouldn’t do that…would they?”  But I happen to personally know Monte and Laura Bledsoe, the Nevada farmers who were raided, and what I know of them speaks so loudly of integrity, commitment, and dedication to principles of kindness and service that I can’t believe that they didn’t do everything in their power to comply with any regulations given to them by the health department.  I’ve been to Quail Hollow Farm multiple times, and the Bledsoe’s were just here at our farm in Oregon City two weeks ago.   I’ve seen the amount of effort they put into serving the people in their community, the efforts that they go to bring not only food, but comfort and compassion to their farm members.  I’ve watched Laura travel to Africa to bring the hope of education and freedom to countries that are looking for both.  I’ve heard her, a quietly diligent woman, stand and teach youth and adults alike to work hard, study harder, and to stand up for what they believe in.

Here’s Monte…he really looks like a nefarious character doesn’t he?

And here’s Laura with the Las Vegas chapter president of Slow Foods.  Yup…really suspicious.

Then I watched the videos of the raid, the responses of the Quail Hollow farm members and I ask myself:  if this is what food safety means where have our American freedoms gone?  You can watch the video yourself and read Laura’s words in this article: http://shanonbrooks.com/2011/10/people-live-dirt-roads-monte-laura-bledsoe-quail-hollow-farm-csa/

When friends are not allowed to eat a meal together to celebrate the bounty of the year, when a government official tells a state certified farmer that her food is only fit for a landfill, not even good enough for pigs, when people who have hired a farmer to raise their produce for them are not permitted to eat that food, when that same official tells a concerned citizen “that’s all the information you need to know” …I would say that it is well past time to speak up and say something.

This past year I testified in Salem before a committee that was considering the Oregon Agricultural Reclamation Act sponsored by Friends of Family Farmers.  I asked them to defend my right to produce the food that consumers want.  I was one among a good crowd of farmers asking for the same right, and lobbyists for big ag who were opposed to it.  Several of our farm members made it down to that meeting to show their support, not as farmers but as EATERS, for the freedom to obtain more easily the food they wish to consume.

But it’s not enough.  We MUST keep talking.  We must be diligent in defending our right to consume healthy food…because as this video demonstrates there are people in positions of power who do not believe you have that right.  And we need more voices.

What can you do to make a difference?  Let me give you a couple of suggestions:

  1. Join and support Friends of Family Farmers.  I have been working with them for a while now and I am nothing but impressed with their commitment to preserving your food freedom and the right to farm.  They need more committed members to keep their vision going.  Visit their website at http://www.friendsoffamilyfarmers.org
  2. Join and support The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.  I am currently a member and have found their advice to be a great help.  By helping them defend farmers on a national level you are defending the right to eat the food of your choice. You can see the mission and work of the fund at http://www.ftcldf.org
  3. Last but not least…whenever possible buy your food directly from a farmer.  We are so blessed in this area to be surrounded by farms that are willing to sell direct to consumers.  Find them, buy your food from them, and let your purchasing habits send a loud and clear message that you want to be free to eat good food.  You have no idea how powerful your choice to buy farm fresh and local is to food freedom.  It’s what keeps the farmers growing, it’s what keeps the food available for next year, it’s what help drives the desire to farm sustainably, using natural methods that protect the soil, the water, and the animals and plants that take their living from them.

If we work together we can maintain our right to eat healthy food, raised in a way that builds healthy families and healthy communities.  Is it something you believe in?  Is it something you can defend?  One of my favorite quotes is from the pilot and author of “The Little Prince” Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

“Only he can understand what a farm is, what a country is, who shall have sacrificed part of himself to his farm or country, fought to save it, struggled to make it beautiful. Only then will the love of farm or country fill his heart.”

I learned while I was a young girl picking rocks out of a field on my parents farm what sacrifice for the farm meant.  I learned at their side as we traveled the country on back roads and scenic byways, visiting memorials and historic markers along the way about the lives of men and women who sacrificed to give me this land that I farm.  I have felt an obligation to them and to myself to preserve and defend what they lived and died for.  William and I have spent our married life defending it together.  We have labored with the land even when it hasn’t been popular, when our neighbors have accused us of being crazy, evil, or stupid for trying to raise our crops in a regenerative way.  We recently had a neighbor tell us in a very confrontational tone that we were doomed to fail, he didn’t want cows and chickens near his property and that we were fooling ourselves if we thought we’d grow anything but rocks in our fields because this land won’t produce anything else.

It may very well be that we harvest a few rocks from our farm…but then we’ve done it before and we are willing to do it again.  Because those who come after us will have fewer rocks to contend with if we care for our fields well today.  And in the meantime our fields of stone are yielding some pretty delicious “weeds” like these…

And these…

And these…

Thank you so much for supporting C’est Naturelle Farms.  Thank you for speaking up for food freedom with your grocery money.  We know that with the difficult economic times we are in every dollar counts and we don’t take them for granted.  Your commitment gives us the ability to keep going and we don’t take the sacrifice you make lightly.

Together we can till fields of stone and build the foundation of a healthy, free society.  It’s a battle, but if Napoleon was right and “an army travels on its stomach” then at least we’ll go to war well fed.

Afton Field Farm

Yesterday was fantastic! We drove down to Corvallis and visited Afton Field Farm. What a delightful farm, and what a great family! Tyler and Alicia are amazing, both of them work the farm using their respective strengths to make it thrive, with friends and extended family pitching in. Alicia’s blog sold us on wanting to visit their farm for the monthly guided tour, it’s great to get online and be able to share a little bit of their farm experience with them and it got us salivating to see it in person. If you have the chance to visit you really should.

The combination of the tree lined driveway, the historic house, and sustainable farm make for a memorable and inspiring afternoon. Tyler shared with us the in’s and out’s of his farm model. He interned with Joel Salatin (if you are not familiar with this name you need to do an internet search, buy his books, listen to what the man is saying, and get inspired about local agriculture) at Polyface Farms for a year and is implementing his methods here in Oregon. The food they are raising is wonderful (we were able to get some pasture-raised pork to bring home for dinner – yum!) and just as inspiring is their dedication to helping small-farming make a comeback. They are sharing their knowledge, their inspiration, and their dedication with whomever will listen. I have great hopes for their farm; I think with such great young farmers at the helm it will stand for another 100 years, serving their community with excellent food; raised for flavor, efficiency, and responsibility to the future.

What an asset they are to their community and others who are wanting to really make small family farming successful. They offer guided tours once a month, with question and answer time with them, but you are welcome to go by anytime and say “hi”.