Stop Demonizing Dairy, Farming & Beef

Cyberbullying has now moved into agriculture. Modern Farmer recently reported that the latest victims of cyberbullying are farmers. Vegans and animal activists have been using social media to threaten farmers and their families in what looks like an attempt to “shame” them for their profession but also make nonsensical threats that infer meat farmers should be slaughtered like the livestock they raise.  

In this case, it’s an Oregon dairy farmer named Derrick Josi (he has over 100,000 Facebook fans). Reading through some of the threats made to Derrick, you can see they are based on pure ignorance and misinformation. Clearly, not one of these threats is written or backed by any credible research. 

Seeing this is disheartening, as consumers clamor to know how their food is made and where it comes from. Farmers who care about what they make and produce are answering the demand by utilizing social media to show what their operations are like

Anyone who works in food knows that topics around farming, agriculture and food are complex; especially the conversations that happen around the industrialization and commercialization of these areas. It’s my belief that until you’ve walked in the shoes of the person you’re so adamantly against, there is simply no sense in threatening or attacking.

Making presumptions and judging something you know LITTLE about or making threats towards someone you don’t know makes the person making the presumptions look like a fool. 

Farming at any level is hard work, and if you research it to any degree, you’ll find candid accounts of what it actually takes. Here’s my story:

Do You Have What It Takes To Learn To Farm?

Two years ago, I started to learn about farming as I was living on a small “homestead” while building my business. The homestead was by no means grand, but it was four acres that housed over 100 trees. For the first time, I was able to have my horses in my front yard, and my dogs could run around freely (though one still insisted on his daily walks). I’d come from a long line of Midwest farmers and thought, “I can do this!” 

About two months into it, I realized I’d bitten off way more than I could chew. From manure management to patching fences in rain, getting rid of unwelcome pests to creating dry lots so that my horses didn’t stand in water, I never realized how much work the property required just to maintain it. 

I had to step back and ask myself if this was something I truly wanted to do. And the answer was – “YES. I love food, I love animals and I was in love with what I was learning about it (it’s even why I pivoted my business to focus on it)”. Come hell or high water, I WAS GOING TO LEARN TO FARM. 

Farming 101

Do You Know What’s In The Soil Your Veggies Grow In?

Did you know that in order to grow the beautiful veggies you lovingly photograph before you purchase them at the market, you need good soil? Soil science and health are extremely complex, and it varies by the region you’re in. In the simplest and shortest explanation I can write, good soil needs nutrients in order to grow the food you’re eating.

Soil has to be continually covered (meaning something’s always growing on it) and the rotation of what’s growing on it (plant diversity) is critical to the soil’s nutrient composition. What’s more, the soil that those awesome veggies are growing in/on requires an animal presence. Livestock plays a pivotal part in balancing out the soil’s carbon/nitrogen ratio and animal manure is an extremely important part of the nutrient cycle. 

Spoiler Alert: So even if you’re vegan, your veggies are related to animal byproduct, in this case – poo poo!

I spent seven months learning about developing healthy soil. I worked on a farm in the mornings, for free, in exchange for the knowledge I was seeking. What I learned is that ensuring that the dirt your food grows in is healthy, is extremely hard work. There are so many nuances to making sure the soil will yield what you’re planting on it. Its “sustainability” is based on farmers and their families being willing to put in long hours to continually produce what you put on your plate. 

Do You Know What It Actually Takes To Raise An Animal For Food? 

The next part of my journey brought me back to California, and I decided to learn how to raise my own meat. Luckily having access to a farm allowed me the ability to create an apprenticeship and learn how to raise and kill my own meat. The first year, I raised a Berkshire/Yorkshire cross pig. Her name was Breakfast Sausage. I also had the chance to work with goats. 

While the first round of animals was very easy (I had expert help), I began to understand the intricacies and complexities of the animals we consume. To take it a step further, I even started learning about their genetics during several seminars at Ag Expo, and then spending time learning from breeders I’d met in the industry. The desire to raise my own meat was just a small, simple drop in the bucket after learning more about the science of meat (that’s another post). 

From genetics, I began to learn about feed and housing conditions. I raised “Saus” on organic, corn/soy-free feed, in an open pen where she had plenty of room to move around. I also made sure my compost, leftover goat milk, eggs and whatever fruit had fallen from the trees made it into her diet (she had a thing for figs). 

On the day Saus became breakfast sausage, she was led into our barn, put in a pen where she was eating and resting, the butcher came in, put a gun to her head and she was gone. This process is known as a “farm kill” which is how all my meat was “harvested.” The butcher then takes the animal’s body (after cleaning and draining it of blood on site) back to the butcher shop and cuts it up as I request.

The majority of meat in America goes through USDA-approved slaughterhouses to meet its end, farm kills are done at your property. The end of life of any animal isn’t easy by current U.S. government regulations (I write about it at length here), and farmers internationally are trying to come up with better end of life processes.

Does this look like abuse? This is the dream of every cow everywhere!

Most Farmers Want Sustainable Practices, Help Them, Don’t Terrorize Them

It’s been two years since that first farm, and one year since the first pig. I’ve gone on to learn how to raise and butcher my own chickens, and I’m learning how to butcher pigs, game, and goats. From feeding to ensuring they have adequate care and are healthy, what it takes to actually raise meat is a lot of work. I still patch fences, clean troughs and work in any weather required. I consider myself a novice and I know I have a lot more to learn. I commend farmers who do it at scale because it’s labor intensive and a lot of hard work. It breaks my heart to see people terrorizing and attacking farmers for simply doing their jobs. 

  • Yes, we know that the agriculture and food production system is broken. 
  • We know that industrial practices can have a negative environmental impact.
  • We know that commercial feedlots are inhumane. 

But guess what? Until consumers change their demands for mass amounts of cheap food and become more conscious of their own consumption, things will largely remain the same. 

And for those who decide to threaten and bully families simply trying to make a living from providing your sustenance, I’d suggest you watch a documentary beyond “Cowspiracy” (a biased documentary that was completely unresearched beyond the point the filmmaker wanted to make), and research the difference in types of food, farming, and agriculture. I’d suggest you become well-versed in humane animal care, regenerative land practices and conservation techniques being pioneered by those who grow your food and raise your beef. I bet you would be impressed. 

Artwork by Christina Oertel for The Wright Consulting Co.