About a week ago, a local woman wrote a piece for the local arts weekly about environmentalism and how veganism is the only way to not impact the environment and your body negatively. I wish I could share a link to the article so that you could read it and decide for yourself whether or not she has a valid argument. However, I disagreed with her points and also her thoughts on omnivores. I felt inclined to write to the paper to share my views.
I’ve always understood the motivation to abstain from animal products and meat. I respect the commitment that vegetarians and vegans make to their beliefs. But I have beliefs too, as an omnivore and I do believe that thoughtful choices about sourcing food made by many can change the world for the better. My perspective and experiences are different then most. To that, I’d like to repost my submission to the TriCity News for your consideration. Food for thought.
If you live in the greater Red Bank/ Asbury Park area, please grab a copy! And feel free to comment, but keep it respectful, ok? Open, adult conversations are always a positive.
To the Editor,
I am a farmer in Monmouth County. After reading the column by Gabrielle Obre arguing the case for veganism, I felt inclined to share my thoughts and experiences to offer a more balanced view on the topic of food consumption and more importantly, agricultural systems.
If there’s one thing that really burns my biscuits, it’s when people make sweeping claims about the life choices others should make. If you aspire to be the change, then be the change. Live by example. To quote author and inventor Buckminster Fuller, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Action and development of better systems are what change the world. I do not know Ms. Obre and I’m sure her intentions are noble, but to insult swaths of people because one thinks their personal choices are morally superior achieves the opposite of the desired effect. To state it plainly, it’s off-putting.
My stance on the topic of meat and dairy consumption is a moderate one, based on a different set of experiences than ones Ms. Obre discussed in her column. I left a well-paying and unsatisfying job in fashion to pursue what I felt was one solution to the problems facing our food system today. The business of feedlots and toxic monocrops is horrifying to be sure, and every day of my life for the past 4 years has been spent actively fighting against it in practice. My farm is based on a model of small-scale, diversified agriculture. We rely on a myriad of crops and farm animals to create a closed-loop and regenerative system to enhance soil health, create abundant habitat for wildlife, and produce nutrient-dense and seasonal foods. So, when someone like Ms. Obre claims that “You can’t be an environmentalist and continue to consume meat and/or dairy,” I find myself shaking my head in disagreement with such fervor that it might just fall off of my shoulders. I consider myself to be an environmentalist and yet I’m an omnivore through and through.
I moved onto a piece of land in New Jersey that, when we first broke ground, had dense, sandy clay instead of a more desirable humus-rich soil which was difficult to grow vegetables in. Now in our third growing season, our garden is filled with life. Worms, insects and mycelial threads tunnel through black, fluffy dirt where our vegetable crops grow. Birds, bees and dragonflies occupy the field in the spring, pollinating blooms and helping to manage pests so that we needn’t resort to any pesticides. The way we have achieved fertility like this was to diversify by raising livestock on a small scale.
How it works is simple. We raise dairy goats and chickens to meet our personal dietary needs and the nutritional needs of our acre sized market garden, which is the primary focus of our farm business. We drink raw goat’s milk every day and eat vegetables from our garden in the spring. In the summer we can tomatoes and freeze other crops to eat once the ground hardens in late-autumn. In the winter, as our local climate dictates, there are fewer vegetables available, save for potatoes, squash, and some cold hardy greens that we have growing in our small greenhouse. We also consume eggs from our free-range chickens and occasionally we will slaughter an older chicken for a meal, because we prefer it to navigating the nebulous welfare ratings at the nearby health food store. In order to enjoy the abundance of the garden, composted and biologically rich manure from our beloved farm critters goes back into the garden to feed the soil and replace the nutrients lost during the intensive production of annual market vegetables. It is a complete system that mimics nature and I can tell you from first-hand experience that it works beautifully for every living thing sharing our farm. It’s a system that is old as life itself and it’s inspiring to be a part of it.
Livestock have historically been raised to convert natural resources that are inedible to humans into food, especially during months when vegetation is scarce. Are sheep farmers grazing their flock on lush, grassy mountains in upstate New York bad people because they feed their neighbors mutton and lamb? Is the goat farmer in Morocco a monster because he slaughters a wether to feed his village? The difference between these scenarios and that of first-world eaters is that we have the luxury of buying cheaply produced cello-wrapped and out-of-season food in the store, where the farmer in Africa does not. Can you guess which scenario sounds least appealing to me?
I’ve never once felt inclined to shame anyone for their dietary choices. I understand why some people would choose to be vegetarian or vegan in this country. However, I feel deeply that the choices I have made make the world a better place. I aspire to show people that there is another way to feed communities that doesn’t require shipping fruits and vegetables from the other side of the world. Small, diversified, local agriculture can be one of the most regenerative processes in the hands of a skilled farmer because it mimics the cycles of nature and creates opportunities for life instead of mass producing it for the taking. If you don’t believe me, you are welcome to schedule a visit our farm to see for yourself.
Each time we eat food we’ve grown, our work, our heart and our intention permeates the meal. Every bite of food has a story and meaning. I understand full well the weight of our decision to raise farm animals. It is a complex and nuanced choice filled with joy and hardship, victories and defeats. But we need animals for our farm to work as much as they need us to rotate their pasture, fill up their water troughs and attend to their needs which always come before our own. They are our partners as much as they are our responsibility.
I take personal offense when someone gets on the horn to dismiss the type of work I’ve dedicated my life to. You are welcome to make whatever choices that you feel are right for you. I personally do not agree that eating foods that are shipped across the world, out of season is helpful either, but I do not judge because no system is perfect. I have the deepest admiration for anyone that has the conviction to make a life change based on what they believe is right. But, I can’t just stand by and let someone insult something I love deeply, when they seem to have a limited perspective on the subject. I believe in what I do, and my partner Neil and I have put our entire lives into this farm because we see with our own eyes the sort of good it can do for our immediate community and for our own well being.
Regardless of your dietary choices, we all can make the world a better place by eating more thoughtfully. I’d like to humbly offer suggestions of ways that I’ve learned to eat more consciously: Eat foods that don’t depend heavily on fossil fuels to get to you. Know your farmer, really. Shop at farmers markets and buy vegetables to preserve for winter. If you choose to eat meat, dairy and eggs, demand that your local market buy from small, local grass-fed or pastured ranches and farms. Buy large, bone-in cuts and learn to butcher at home to minimize wasting the flesh of an animal that gave its life for you to be sustained. Buy from farms and fisheries that treat their workers with dignity and have a policy of transparency because even vegetable farms can be guilty of unethical practices. Seek out a sustainable farm and volunteer on work days so that you can personally experience what goes into growing food. And if you think other farms are doing it all wrong, start your own! The best way to change the way food is produced is to produce it. The best way to change the way people are being fed is by feeding them.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readership.