Innisfree Farm: Some thoughts on bureaucrats, school lunches, and the lies we tell ourselves

Bureaucrats tend to obfuscate the truth with words, and far too often, people fall for the resulting lie. Take school lunches as an example. As recently evidenced by the whole debacle over the NeverSeconds weblog, bureaucrats will continue to insist that they are doing something even when it is clear they are not. In this […]

Bureaucrats tend to obfuscate the truth with words, and far too often, people fall for the resulting lie. Take school lunches as an example. As recently evidenced by the whole debacle over the NeverSeconds weblog, bureaucrats will continue to insist that they are doing something even when it is clear they are not.

In this case, they insist that they are feeding the children forced into their care for part of the day healthy, balanced meals that provide the best nutritional value for children of that age. At the same time, they blame rampant obesity, at least partly the result of malnutrition, on the parents despite the fact that the schools control the kids for as much as 10 hours a day.

Yet, if one looks at the bureaucrats, one has to wonder how they are remotely qualified to make such assessments. Two things immediately come to mind: they are rarely specimens of healthy lifestyles themselves, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bureaucrat eating the food they force on the children unless themselves forced to do so.

And so we all agree to the lie. The bureaucrats believe their own lie that they’re feeding the children well. The parents believe the lie that the bureaucrats are doing the right thing. The kids get fatter. The food gets worse.

There’s a way to put this all to the test: challenge your bureaucrats with something simple: eat lunch everyday in the school cafeteria. If the food’s that good, it shouldn’t be a problem, should it?

Then, watch the ways they squirm out of doing it. That should be proof enough, shouldn’t it?

And if it’s proof, then we have a problem: we’re malnourishing our kids on the orders of our government.

It seems to me we should be doing something about that.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: An update on the NeverSeconds weblog debacle

In a predictably rapid capitulation, the Argyll and Bute Council reversed their decision to censor Martha Payne of the NeverSeconds weblog. In addition, her fundraising effort raised £19,000 in about 24 hours in support of the charity Mary’s Meals. This is an incredible example of what can happen when people care and act, but we can’t content ourselves […] Continue reading

In a predictably rapid capitulation, the Argyll and Bute Council reversed their decision to censor Martha Payne of the NeverSeconds weblog. In addition, her fundraising effort raised £19,000 in about 24 hours in support of the charity Mary’s Meals.

This is an incredible example of what can happen when people care and act, but we can’t content ourselves with just this. We have to keep caring and keep acting.

If you live in the US and want to help improve the lives and health of public school students, consider supporting  and organization like Farm to School. Let’s keep up the momentum. We can win.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: An update on the NeverSeconds weblog debacle

In a predictably rapid capitulation, the Argyll and Bute Council reversed their decision to censor Martha Payne of the NeverSeconds weblog. In addition, her fundraising effort raised £19,000 in about 24 hours in support of the charity Mary’s Meals. This is an incredible example of what can happen when people care and act, but we can’t content ourselves […]

In a predictably rapid capitulation, the Argyll and Bute Council reversed their decision to censor Martha Payne of the NeverSeconds weblog. In addition, her fundraising effort raised £19,000 in about 24 hours in support of the charity Mary’s Meals.

This is an incredible example of what can happen when people care and act, but we can’t content ourselves with just this. We have to keep caring and keep acting.

If you live in the US and want to help improve the lives and health of public school students, consider supporting  and organization like Farm to School. Let’s keep up the momentum. We can win.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: Government silences a 9-year-old girl over bad press for telling the truth

This article about the local government of Argyll and Bute, Scotland silencing Martha Payne of the NeverSeconds  school lunch blog is exactly why I am so adamant in my opposition of governments involving themselves in food. What possible rationale can a government have for censoring a young, motivated 9-year-old public school student over a little bad press? How do we […]

This article about the local government of Argyll and Bute, Scotland silencing Martha Payne of the NeverSeconds  school lunch blog is exactly why I am so adamant in my opposition of governments involving themselves in food. What possible rationale can a government have for censoring a young, motivated 9-year-old public school student over a little bad press? How do we expect our children to learn that they can engage and change the system if our governments are going to silence them over a headline?

Get the government out of food and let the kids have a voice. We’ll all be better off for it.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: Punching calves

I think it’s funny that one of the terms for handling cattle is “punching”. It seems like a kind of inside joke among cattle people about the arduous nature of the task of physically handling cattle during those times when they have to be moved, sorted, tagged, or banded. I punched a bunch of calves […]

I think it’s funny that one of the terms for handling cattle is “punching”. It seems like a kind of inside joke among cattle people about the arduous nature of the task of physically handling cattle during those times when they have to be moved, sorted, tagged, or banded.

I punched a bunch of calves this weekend with the help of my wonderful and dedicated family, and during the hours I spent handling those animals, the reality of food production once again hit home. It’s hard, hard work, and no amount of money ever really pays for what needs to be done.

In fact, I realized that food production is kind of like a never-ending boxing match with nature. Every encounter ends with the producer at the least exhausted and, far too often, bruised and bloody. I sometimes suspect that, even if we happen to win a particular round, we really lose a little each time until we’ve finally lost enough that it does us in.

The nature of the food production task is one that is lost on most people anymore. To them, food is something harvested by big machines and purchased at a grocery. Far too few people realize how precarious our food production ecosystem really is and how desperately they rely on the producers to keep doing what they do no matter what so they don’t starve. They have no idea that all that stands between them and real hunger is a few rhetorical pugilists who don’t know when to throw in the towel.

The fact is, we won’t. For whatever reason, the will to fight is in us. We see nature as a sometimes ally, sometimes enemy, a truly worthy opponent for the investment of our time and our effort. We’ll keep punching calves and the like because we won’t have it any other way, even if no one else understands what we do.

DLH

 

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Innisfree Farm: Web roundup

Want to know what I’m reading about agriculture, food, and sustainability? Well this periodic post is the place to find out: Kajabi on the old wise farmer Treehugger on exploding pig barns The New York times on the rise of the artisanal food producer Scientific American on the impracticality of the cheeseburger Foreign Policy Magazine on […]

Want to know what I’m reading about agriculture, food, and sustainability? Well this periodic post is the place to find out:

  1. Kajabi on the old wise farmer
  2. Treehugger on exploding pig barns
  3. The New York times on the rise of the artisanal food producer
  4. Scientific American on the impracticality of the cheeseburger
  5. Foreign Policy Magazine on commodity induced food price inflation
  6. Popular Science on how feeding antibiotics to pigs is helping to create superbugs
  7. The Guardian on Monsanto being found guilty of poisoning by a French court
  8. Gene Logsdon at The Contrary Farmer on the need for secret crying places
  9. Wake Up World on bus roof gardens
  10. Treehugger on Seattle’s attempt to create the world’s first public food forest

You can also get these kind of links in real time by following me on Facebook or Twitter.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: People like us

I’ve noticed a lot of these kinds of articles recently: articles about people giving up on what most people consider the modern way of life and the American dream to embrace or return to agriculture. Most of them head down the sustainable route, finding small farms where they can embrace the ideas of multiculture and […] Continue reading

I’ve noticed a lot of these kinds of articles recently: articles about people giving up on what most people consider the modern way of life and the American dream to embrace or return to agriculture. Most of them head down the sustainable route, finding small farms where they can embrace the ideas of multiculture and permaculture in the most effective way, though quite a few seek out specialties and niches as well.

What these articles show me is that there is a quiet revolution going on right now, one that has the potential to shake the sand upon which our society built the of the house of cards we have called modern life since the 1950s. Slowly, quietly, but with great resolve, people are walking away from everything they now know and are returning to something our ancestors have know for thousands of years: in the end, life is about caring for ourselves and those around us, about making sure they have something to eat, something to wear, and a roof over their heads, and that the best way to accomplish those tasks is to do them directly, yourself.

It’s important for all of us involved in this quiet revolution to realize we’re not alone either in its undertaking or in the reasons we undertook it. It is important for people pondering this path to realize they are not alone in walking it. We are in this together, and the more we help each other, the better off we all will be.

So, if you’re one of the people just starting down this road, or you’re someone who is years down it, stop for a moment and look around. You’re not alone, and we’re all in this together.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: Feeding the world without reducing the problem to the absurd

I’ve been following the growing absurdity of the media fueled meme about food production since the UN declared the world officially hit 7 billion people with a mixture of frustration and amusement. The center-points of this meme are that we will have to grow as much food over the next 100 years as humanity did […] Continue reading

I’ve been following the growing absurdity of the media fueled meme about food production since the UN declared the world officially hit 7 billion people with a mixture of frustration and amusement. The center-points of this meme are that we will have to grow as much food over the next 100 years as humanity did over the last 10,000 and that the only way we could possibly do so is by intensifying our current industrial farming methods.

Unfortunately for most of the pundits spreading this meme, their argument fails on a simple apples to oranges comparison. The way humanity produced food over the past 10,000 years bears almost no resemblance to the way we’ve been producing food since the 1950s, and it is this radical shift that has produced so much of the problem we have today.

For most of mankind’s history, most humans were involved in food production. There were times and places where the number of people involved reached as high as 90 percent, and as recently as the 1910s in the United States, as much as 50 percent of the population was involved directly in food production. If you add in those whose work supported food production, the number reaches as high as 80 percent.

And the way these people farmed was completely different than the way we farm now. Historical farming was possibly one of the most green and sustainable undertakings humans have ever mastered, using crop rotation cycles involving dozens of crops lasting dozens of years, direct recycling of organic waste, and intentional use of multiculture to improve fertility and reduce waste. There are still parts of the world, especially in Asia, where these production methods are used to this day.

Now, fast forward to 2012. In 2011, as few as 1 percent of the US working population (about 1.6 million of 160 million people) work in direct food production. If you add in those whose work supports food production, the number barely climbs to 2 percent. Further, nearly all American agriculture consists of just eight crops, two of which aren’t even edible (cotton and tobacco) and three of which (corn, soybeans, and wheat) represent as much as 70 percent of acres planted. Meanwhile, most organic waste gets buried in landfills and modern farming requires massive amounts of fossil fuels to make anything grow at all.

Further, most Americans–in fact most Westerners–think it is their right to demand someone else grow their food in exchange for money. Many Americans believe food production is beneath them because they have better things to do with their time. Most people have no idea what it takes to feed them and assume that whatever it does take will continue to go on forever.

No wonder we face a food crisis of epic proportions.

The solution to this problem is not more of the same failed approach since the 1950s that got us here. We already have examples of ways things can be done better. For instance, during the height of the central planning induced famine in the Soviet Union during the late 1970s and early 1980s, as much as 70 percent of the calories consumed in Russia were grown on 4 percent of the available arable land by local farmers on small allotments that usually measured about a tenth of an acre. In urban Detroit, as I write this, small-scale sustainable farmers are creating farms capable of feeding entire neighborhoods without the need for grocery stores. In sub-Saharan Africa, farmers are returning to traditional farming methods that worked for millenia before European intervention and multiplying their yields by factors of hundreds.

In short, these problems have solutions and the solutions are already out there, but they all take the following form: smaller-scale agriculture involving more people using more intensive methods involving more plants and animals that take into account the entire cycle of birth to death to birth again.

In fact, these methods represent a return to something nature has been telling us all along: we’ve departed from the way it works and it’s not going to let us win. The methods that fed humanity for 10,000 years worked with nature. The methods that we’ve used since the 1950s have destroyed it.

So, consider the following: if the United States would engage in an agricultural “Apollo Program” wherein it created an environment where agricultural entrepreneurs seeking to establish sustainable operations could succeed without unnecessary government or corporate interference, agriculture by itself could reduce the unemployment rate, reduce US dependence on fossil fuels, increase biodiversity, reduce pollution, and produce unprecedented food surpluses that would help redress the food imbalance in the world. And if the US does it, everyone else will follow.

Don’t believe me? Visit a local sustainable farm or a local farmer’s market and see what they have going on. Then, go home and dig up part of your yard and grow something yourself. Humans have been doing it for 10,000 years. What makes you think you’re so special?

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: 10-10 Challenge 2011 Update

If you’ve been watching farmers over the past few weeks, you may have noticed that the fall harvest has just started. What that means is that they’re going to plant their fall wheat later than normal. You may have discovered the same thing about your own planting, and that’s ok. I haven’t planted my fall […] Continue reading

If you’ve been watching farmers over the past few weeks, you may have noticed that the fall harvest has just started. What that means is that they’re going to plant their fall wheat later than normal. You may have discovered the same thing about your own planting, and that’s ok.

I haven’t planted my fall plantings yet either, and probably won’t until next week. But don’t give up, because it’s still worth doing. One of the secrets to growing ones own food is learning to live with the weather, whatever it might turn out to be.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: MENF 2011: Show me the money

Sometimes its easy to get lost in encouraging people to grow their own food and forget that this stuff still costs money. As idealistic as we may all want to be, at some point we have to pay the bills. It turns out paying the bills may not be as hard as you might think. […] Continue reading

Sometimes its easy to get lost in encouraging people to grow their own food and forget that this stuff still costs money. As idealistic as we may all want to be, at some point we have to pay the bills. It turns out paying the bills may not be as hard as you might think.

There are as many ways to make raising your own food pay for itself as there are people trying to do it, but I’ve noticed that most of the cash efforts seem to center around two kinds of things: greens and chickens.

First, the greens. Greens, sprouts, and salads have become the most common acknowledgement most people pay to trying to eat healthy. If you’ve noticed the lettuce display at your local grocer, you will have noticed people seem to be eating a lot of the stuff, and they seem to be willing to pay quite a bit for what they get. As an aspiring food grower, you can tap into that market, especially in the off-season.

The simplest way to grow such greens is to set up a simple greenhouse, hoop house, cold frame, or low hoop over a row of greens. One speaker I heard recently grows sprouts and microgreens on an Ikea bookcase fitted with cheap florescent lights from Lowes. While it is important to do your research and make sure you’re doing it right, growing greens can be simple and produce a good crop year around.

Of course, marketing such a product can be its own challenge, but that’s where due diligence comes in. Let’s face it, family and friends and word of mouth is the best way to sell your product. Local year around farmers markets and greenhouses are often looking for new sources of the products they sell, or you could sell them there yourself. Try getting your product into a local restaurant by giving them a sample of what you produce.

Second, we have chickens, and really poultry of just about any kind. Poultry flocks give food growers multiple benefits, but the one we’ll concentrate on here is the income from eggs and meat. Depending on your market, pastured chicken eggs can go for as much as $6 a dozen, and a flock of 12 birds can produce as much as 4 dozen eggs a week, though it’s sometimes a less. In addition, laying hens can pay for themselves twice, once in the eggs they produce and once again in the meat they produce later. Keeping a few roosters on hand can guarantee meat chickens as often as every 16 weeks depending on the variety you raise.

Granted, poultry has a higher start-up cost, and you may incur ongoing costs as a result of needing to buy feed, but I think in the long-run chickens are one of the simplest and most profitable undertakings any food grower can invest in.

There are many other ways you can make money from your food growing operation, limited only by your creativity and willingness to put out the effort. The key to these undertakings is to keep them as simple as possible and to remember that small steps are better than no steps at all. Don’t get impatient if things don’t happen right away and keep focused on the result instead of the work.

DLH

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