On recalls and stuff…

Half a billion eggs and counting on the egg recall so far.  And today, a new one, a nationwide deli meat recall from Walmart.  Well, really from a factory farm in upstate NY that sells to Walmart.  This on the heels of the Perdue chicken nugget recall from Walmart in June.

Sitting on top of my soapbox, looking at my eggs that came from chickens I know personally 2 days ago,  I’m feeling pretty smug.  And glad I no longer participate in the “normal” food systems this country.

The E-mail

As K and I go along in our  “trying to stay close to basics” kind of lives, we’ve taken some things for granted.  One, that people we interact with in this new-found community we’ve become a part of have motives as pure as ours.  Two, that the farmers, who are charging a premium for their “crop” (whether it’s produce or meat), are fully upfront with their wares – that they don’t use genetically modified feed, and that while they may not be certified organic, they make their best efforts to practice as such as much as possible. Three, that those farmers are fully informed regarding what they are selling, and able to answer any and all questions regarding such.

As such, imagine our surprise, and outright dismay, upon receiving this email from our egg and chicken farmer.

From: “Phil Metzger”
Date: May 1, 2010 11:19:40 EDT
To: K
Subject: [Coopers Ark Fans] Cooper’s Ark Farm

Dear Friends,

If you have the time, please read.

Last year, you might remember a rabid skunk getting into the processing plant and “possibly” contaminating a chicken. We had to destroy 100 birds rather than take the chance of a problem. The fact that we carry over $3 million dollars in insurance never entered the picture.

On Thursday, April 28th, I brought our first 60+ birds for processing.   Approximately 40 birds were to stay whole, while the rest were parted out. When I picked them up Thursday evening, I was informed of a greenish color in a piece of meat, as well as one bad bird. He showed me the bad bird, and told me he removed the tinted meat from another.  Neither Jim Eklund (processor) or myself have ever seen this before. I did not sleep very well Thursday night worrying about the “what if’s”. On Friday morning I called Leon Moyer from Moyer’s Chicks – most of our broiler chicks and all of our pullets come from
Moyer’s.  (www.moyerschicks.com) He returned my call later and confirmed “Green Muscle Disease”. One of the causes is from a bird flying. Please don’t laugh.

Today’s broilers are bred for faster growth and larger breasts. They need a quiet, not too well lit, little space environment. Raising them outdoors presents a different set of growing practices/problems.

Today at noon, I’ll be bringing the whole birds back to Stanford to have them parted out. Whether there is or isn’t any other traces of Green Muscle Disease, both Jim and I feel it is in the best interest of
everyone concerned to proceed in this manner.

I’ll be available at the market Sunday if there are any questions.

I’ll be having chicken tonight.

Phil Metzger
Coopers Ark Farm

I am very sorry if this presents an inconvenience to anyone.

Best,

Yea, we had questions.  The first being, once I looked at the website listed above, I felt a little disgusted.  This huge …factory (there’s no other word for it) puts out genetically modified breeds, not much better than a factory farm.  While our chicken and eggs are definitely raised free-range, their source is not something we want to support.

Second, it appears that only hybrid birds get this disease, not heirloom or what they call heritage breed birds.  We never asked what kind of birds we’ve been getting. Totally our fault, but I wish that was something Coopers Ark had shared with us previously.  Their pictures and such (we haven’t been to the farm yet, due to my medical issues last year, but were planning on it this year) quite clearly demonstrated the conditions they’re kept in (wonderful, ample space to move around – definitely free range) and we just automatically assumed the bird breeds themselves were equally as good.  Well, you know about that assuming thing.

Phil seemed sober at the market today, no doubt from all the questions he was probably fielding.  K was rather hard on him, I thought.  For one thing, he had been completely open about the whole situation. He didn’t have to say a word.  He could have said there was a problem at the processor and they didn’t get any chicken or something.

Second of all, Phil made a really great point to K’s questioning.  Organic feed costs $750/ton (he pays $250 a ton for whatever he gets).  That organic feed at $750/ton STILL includes GMO corn.  What the heck? You just can’t win.  AND, the amount of money he would have to charge to use that feed (plus heritage breeds) would certainly be beyond anything we would pay.  We’re into this lifestyle, but we’re still reasonable people.

So really, what is he to do?  He buys the chickens from this place, he raises them well, (he once again told us to come out to the farm) and this is what happens.  I think there is something wrong with his business model, but I’m not sure how I would fix it.

And in the meantime, we feel like we’ve lost a bit of my innocence regarding all of this, as well as a bit of our naivete.  No longer can we hide our heads in the sand; we really need to be proactive with our questions, with our farm field trips (THIS SUMMER), and with our dollars.  That’s the whole point of why we do what we do.  No one’s perfect, but we can strive to be better.

Still don’t know if we’ll buy chicken from him next week though.  But if not, what would be any better?  Do we really think organic chicken sold in the store isn’t from hybrid birds? Pfft.  At least with him we know how they were treated.  Sigh…it’s really sad in a way.  Progress isn’t always progress.

The Schenectady Times Union Blog

So Michael Huber at the Times Union put out a call for local bloggers last week, and I emailed him to see if I could do it.  I’m pleased to say I was accepted, along with a few other folks, to write for The Schenectady Blog.

It makes me giggle like a little school girl to see my name under Find Blog by Author dropdown menu now 🙂  Unfortunately, I haven’t written very much, beyond the Italian Fest and the Farmers Market this past weekend but I’m hoping to have more to contribute soon.  And honestly, what I like most about it is reading what other local bloggers are saying about my area.

I will admit a deep-seated desire to one day contribute to the Eat Local blog, as that is a really strong interest of mine lately.  And maybe one day there’ll be a homesteading blog too…but I’ll just keep dreaming about that for now…

So if you’re checking out this blog from my Times Union writing, howdy! Pull up a seat, enjoy the read and feel free to leave me a comment or three.

Huffington Guest Blogger: Killing Your Own Meat

Wow, the below link is a fascinating article about getting your meat right from the source – raising your own chickens and killing them for dinner.  It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, namely, how much I don’t want to do it, but feel I should be willing to.

You are forewarned: this is a very introspective blog post for me. Some strong opinions, some soapboxing, some insecurity.  Don’t go any farther if you’re not interested. 😉

I feel very hypocritical about my carnivorous tendencies.  I can’t deny them, to a certain extent.  I’m a Puerto Rican who grew up in a very Puerto Rican household, which means more pork and chicken than you can shake a stick at.  (BTW, what does “shake a stick at” mean anyway? I’ve always wondered). Pernil was a common “event” meal – by which I mean, an event was any time we had more than immediate family in the house.

To this day, I can never order chicken when I go out. It’s too “common” to me – and when I was younger, we didn’t go out very much, so I always wanted to get something I wouldn’t get every day at home.  Steak, seafood – that was living!

Since taking my Animal Law class last year, and becoming vegetarian for about 6 months, I carry enormous guilt about those meat-eating tendencies.  I’ve tried to assuage them by at least forbearing on fast food and eating local meat, but in my head, it’s not enough.

Part of it is that I love pets.  My cats, and growing up we always had dogs – I would (obviously) never eat one of them.  How can I justify it to myself that they are “untouchable” but other animals are fair game?  One of my friends is vegan, and he has a quote on his Facebook page (not sure who said it) – “If you love animals called pets, why do you eat animals called dinner?”

Kinda sorta true.

Another friend of mine is a “vegetarian,” by which she defines it as refusing to eat anything she wouldn’t be able to kill herself.  For instance, she’s ok with eating fish occasionally (perhaps it depends on the fish).  Beef, she couldn’t do it, so she wouldn’t eat it.  Same thing with chickens.  I generally like that “standard.”

My problem is that, I try to live my life by the “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  I try to not be rude to people, but you better believe that if someone’s rude to me, I have no problem giving it right back to them.  Mmm…very much eye for an eye, huh?

So, in regards to that, I generally worry about my hypocrisy in eating meat for much the same reason as Goodman writes in her last line, “at the same time…what if robots descended upon earth and decided to farm us? I might not like it.”

No, I’m pretty darn sure I wouldn’t like it.  And that’s why I feel a pang of regret every time I take a bite (like of that delicious lamb we had Tuesday night).  Some people think animals were put on the earth just for us.  That’s fine for them.  I don’t happen to be one of those people.  I tend to think that the majority of people today (majority, not all) would become vegetarian if they were suddenly responsible for the killing of the animal that they ate.  At the very least, the amount of meat consumed would decrease dramatically.  It sure as hell would for me.

But at the same time, I don’t necessarily begrudge hunters who hunt for food (I definitely begrudge hunting for sport).  I just happen to think that many (again, not all) enjoy the kill.  I don’t mean they’re salivating over bloodlust.  But much like is described in the article here:

It’s not an easy thing to watch a chicken slaughter. While it may be common knowledge there’s post-mortem thrashing–ever heard of “like a chicken with it’s head cut off”?–seeing it live can be a bit gruesome. But unlike a public prisoner execution, we were there to celebrate the chicken’s life, and what it had to offer us. And what better way to experience death for the first time. There was no: “take that, you sucker!” No proving our cultural masculinity, nor prowess. Therese was as careful and as kind as could be as she cooed to the bird, and quick as a wink in her execution with the knife. There was no suffering or stress on the bird, and it died in a habitat it’s come to know quite well, with familiar smells and familiar views.

And I think that’s what I think of when hunting comes to mind.  Sure, you may eat that animal, but I tend to think that for hunters, there’s a certain joy in killing as well.  I don’t feel joy in death.  It may have to be done, but I would rather it be done like the way Native Americans supposedly used to do it, by praying for and thanking the animal for what it was about to give them.  Its life.

Am I weird in feeling that way? Probably. And obviously, I’m a big ol’ hypocrite because I have eaten meat much of this year.  But I’m not entirely comfortable, and maybe one day, I’ll change.

Killing Chickens at Home: Would You Do It?

Guest post by Makenna Goodman, Chelsea Green Publishing

Last night, we had fourteen people over for dinner. And they wanted chicken. Good thing we had some…but they were running around. And so it was–all in the name of well balanced meals–farm life came down to its grittiest.

I live and work on a farm in central Vermont, and there’s always family around. That means a lot of emotional turmoil (and joy, ehem), a lot of secretly chugging whiskey in the closet (not really, but really), and best of all–extra hands. No one visits without pitching in. And now that it’s late August, the farm work is at its peak. Harvesting, preserving food for winter, and chicken killing.

Read the rest at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/25/killing-chickens-at-home_n_268663.html

News Article: Veggie Tales

Looking at the Sunday version of the Capital District’s paper, the Times Union, I saw another article on Captial District Community Gardens.  My favorite lines in the article are this:  “In these inner-city acres, rich and poor, white and black, young and old and people spanning the social, economic and ethnic spectrum mingle and create a community that is something of a surrogate family…’We’ve got lawyers pulling weeds alongside laborers and immigrants. They help each other and form an amazing community. They become families, in essence’.”

Having a garden this year has been one of the best experiences that K and I have ever had together.  The amount of hours we’ve put into our garden, the exercise, the pride I feel when I see the fruits and veggies grown from the seeds we planted in the early dark of spring, the dirt on my feet – I love it all.  So here’s the article:

Gardens Ripe With Tales of Albany

Urban community plots are a fertile ground for diverse crops and a variety of people

By Paul Grondahl, Staff Writer
First Published in Print: August 23, 2009

// //

ALBANY — Dressed in his formal chef’s whites, Noah Sheetz, Gov. David Paterson’s executive chef, ambled across Eagle Street from the Executive Mansion and picked his way through the bounty of the community garden that borders Lincoln Park.

From neatly ordered, weed-free rows in a corner plot he tends, Sheetz yanked up a fistful of ruby beets the size of baseballs and sliced off a head of broccoli as wide as his palm.

“This has worked out really well and it’s great to learn from the other gardeners,” said Sheetz, a Culinary Institute of America graduate with solid restaurant credentials.

As Sheetz commiserated about tomato blight and an influx of pesky beetles, gardener Euthia Benson, who grew up in the Deep South, told a story about how her mother taught her to grow tasty okra when she was a young girl.

Read the rest at: http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=834107

News article: So You Think You Can Farm?

I think I’m going to start posting articles related to this blog that interest me again. I did it in the beginning, but kind of gave up, but I think it would be nice to be able to go back at a later point and look at articles that interested me in the past.

Not sure whether to post them on my blog or on a separate page though.  I like the separate wordpress pages, but I just have to keep adding each article to the bottom of the page – I can’t do separate entries like I can here.  So, I’ll have to think about it…

In the meantime, I read this article last weekend and found it really interesting! When I was little, I loved The Oregon Trail and always wished I lived in the 1800s so Icould get in a covered wagon and be a settler.  This article makes me think about whether I’d be able to leave my home right now in 2009 and move to Iowa and start a farm.  I’m not sure I could!

Accountant, dentist, lawyer: future farmers?

Program partners aspiring farmers with aging pros to preserve way of life

updated 3:02 p.m. ET, Sat., Aug 15, 2009

RICHLAND, Iowa – He quit his job and drove his wife and their four young daughters across country, a 21st-century pioneer lured to these faraway farm fields by the promise of a life-changing deal with an older stranger.

Isaac Phillips always wanted to be a farmer. But some friends as well as colleagues at the Utah jail where he supervised inmate work crews were leery, telling him: a) don’t give up a steady job, b) you’re making a big mistake and c) it’s a crazy idea….

Read the rest at:   http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32428465/ns/us_news-life/

Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings

I’m obsessed with them.  O-B-S-E-S-S-E-D.  I love following #sotomayor on Twitter. I’ve even been re-tweeted by blogdiva 🙂