Friday, May 24, 2013

A stanza for summer

"How many things by season
season'd are
To their right praise and
true perfection."

The Merchant of Venice

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Case for regulating all CAFOs

Just over a year ago, opposite the editorial pages of the New York Times, Blake Hurst, a former hog farmer and current president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, bemoaned the plight of livestock farmers.  Mr. Hurst wrote of a market that signals farmers to produce more for lower prices while diverting inputs to ethanol production and imposing burdensome regulations.  Others, he said, disparage the industry over animal welfare and pollution, calling for the abandonment of practices that best provide cheap and plentiful meat and dairy.
Referencing a Chipotle advertisement, he wrote, “Commercial farmers will have to decide whether we can withstand public opprobrium while continuing to efficiently produce the world’s most essential good, or join the entertainment industry, selling expensive pork chops with heaping sides of nostalgia.”
While I share some of Mr. Hurst’s distaste for the small-farm fetishism often used by the sustainable agriculture community, his rather ad hominem caricature and dismissal of those who would seek alternatives to the predominant livestock production system largely misses the point – that there is a real need for both improved regulation and alternative production practices (the NYTs fielded numerous responses to Mr. Hurst's op-ed linked here). 
Hurst is guilty of perpetuating an unnecessary duality, where animal agriculture is either large and industrialized or small and pasture-based.  This argument, myopic in scope, is an appeal to ignorance and a distraction from the immediate need to improve regulation of an industry that feeds the vast majority of Americans while simultaneously poisoning their water. 
Industrialized livestock production is the driving force of American agriculture.  It is the cornerstone of our agricultural policy, a key consumer of more than 150 million acres of corn and soybeans.  And, yes, consumers reap the benefits of the remarkable economies of scale that play out on these Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs. 
The EPA regulates CAFOs that discharge or purpose to discharge pollutants requiring operators to have permits to do so.  For a sense of both farm size and market share consider that 58% of all swine production in 2011 occurred on a mere 135 industrialized farms, each home to more than 50,000 hogs.  A full 81% of all hog production took place on 1,340 farms with over 5,000 head each. 
The amount of livestock waste produced on such farms is equally impressive.  A large operation is capable of producing more than 1.5 million tons of manure a year.  In total, the EPA estimates that CAFOs annually produce 3 times more waste than humans with the amount of excrement produced on the largest operations surpassing that of many U.S. cities.  The geographic concentration of large operations – hogs in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota for example – compounds the issue, imposing a disproportionate burden on those living within these production regions and their watersheds.  As a result, 43% of the population has had their drinking water quality compromised by CAFOs. 

The current standard of regulation is inadequate in part because it fails to require that all CAFOs with the potential to discharge apply for permits.  The EPA previously sought to require universal registration unless a farm could demonstrate “no potential to discharge.”  This proposed rule would have provided basic information about all CAFOs, their locations, the waste they produce, and how they manage it.  However, the Waterkeeper Alliance v. EPA decision in 2005, found that the EPA lacked authority to mandate permits.  Rather, a CAFO must be found to have discharged pollutants before being required to obtain a permit.

Yet all CAFOs are presumably polluters - a point that is absolutely critical to the EPA’s ability to effectively regulate point source pollution.  Without mandatory permits, a CAFO must be caught in the act of polluting before they are brought under the auspices of the EPA.  The practicality of this strategy for mitigating pollution is mindboggling, especially in the absence of a comprehensive inventory of all CAFOs. 

Upward of 90% of raw waste produced by CAFOs is applied to cropland.  However, there is insufficient land on which to apply it safely.  This necessitates the use of structures to store manure, wastewater, and contaminated runoff and opens the door to catastrophic failures and overflows, especially in cases of extreme precipitation.  As a result, there are more large-scale discharges and significant increases in nutrient and pathogen runoff.
A concern over excessive runoff has led many to call for improved ecosystem monitoring in proximity to large CAFOs.  Again, without a comprehensive inventory and requirement that CAFOs obtain discharge permits, any monitoring will be severely gap-laden.  To achieve maximum efficacy, the EPA must have all CAFOs under their purview. 
What Waterkeeper made clear is that this likely cannot be accomplished through the rule making process alone.  Legislation increasing the scope of the EPA’s regulatory power is needed.  Requiring all CAFOs to have discharge permits and to be held accountable seems as much a matter of conscience as it is an ecological necessity. 
Please feel free to contact me for additional information or direction to resources.  Below is the Chipotle video Mr. Hurst referenced in his op-ed. I will go on the record as a fan of the video and its sentiments:


Sunday, December 4, 2011

This used to be a blog, now it's a ghost town

It recently dawned on me that my life is currently mimicking a few of the broader structural trends within U.S. agriculture over the past 50 years or so.  That is to say that in a small-scale, anecdotal, hokey kind of way, when you close up the farm and move to the city to pursue a graduate degree, you in turn are mirroring - and adding to - the continued loss of farms, trends of young farmer attrition, and more broadly contributing to the rural brain drain that for decades has precipitated the cultural and economic collapse of rural america.  The consolidation of agricultural lands onto increasingly fewer and larger farms due to an aging farmer population that has no options of generational transfer - because the kids all moved to urban, semi-urban and peri-urban areas in the pursuit of jobs and materialistic comforts and haven't the ambitions of eking out an existence as their parents did and do - is just one spike on the morning star being used to beat the life out of a sustainable agricultural future.

Then think about the politics of it all, the terribly illogical inconsistency between what our government recommends we eat and what they encourage farmer's to grow, the revolving door between large agricultural businesses, government and lobbying interlocutors, and an ever-growing cultural malaise directed by oft-misguided priorities.  Add to this a venerable russian nesting doll of causes and effects, some smoke, mirrors, and red herrings, and an impotent political structure run by people that lack the benevolence, ethics, and all too often intelligence necessary for governing, and you can start to assemble a lens through which to view the pressing needs for change.

I really can't go on, but thought I would break some of the silence recently embracing this corner of the inter-web.

A final note to anyone paying attention: everything above is an overwhelming oversimplification, replete with any actual justifications, data, or actual literary cohesiveness, but I'll save that for graded work.

And a poem by Wendell Berry:

The Farmer among the Tombs

I am oppressed by all the room taken up by the dead,
their headstones standing shoulder to shoulder,
the bones imprisoned under them.
Plow up the graveyards! Haul off the monuments!
Pry open the vaults and the coffins
so the dead may nourish their graves 
and go free, their acres traversed all summer
by crop rows and cattle and foraging bees.
Additional, final note: anyone interested in pursuing a project to plant orchards on graveyards (I read somewhere that the roots will follow the bones of subterranean skeletons leaving the buried memorialized in a wooden cast of sorts, pretty cool), or more broadly an Initiative for Rural Weirding (although I suppose the previous call to interest could fit comfortably within the structure of this second)?  I say this in half-jest.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Oh, collard greens, what do you do with those?"  "Why do the radishes look like that?"  "Look Jim, have you ever seen a beet like that?"  "Swiss chard, how do I cook swiss chard?"  "What is mesclun?"  "Do you have tomatoes?" "I love carrots, but I can't pay $3 for a bunch."  "Kale?"

This is what our Saturday's have sounded like for the past two months.  And we try to offer comprehensive answers or explanations each and every time.  I love to tell people about our heirloom varieties, how by growing them we are fighting against the collapse of agricultural biodiversity and continuing and adding to an important tale of cultural heritage, and how by purchasing these varieties they are joining in this continuum as well.  I enjoy explaining the ways to prepare kale and I appreciate it even more when we get customers returning week after week for their new favorite green or vegetable.

I will talk food and farming all day with anyone who cares to chat it up.  If they decide to buy something that's great.  If not, who cares.  We will bring it home and eat it or freeze it.  We do this because it is important to us.  For us it is the most enriching, self-gratifying work we can imagine and we are passionate about it.

As Horace Greeley wrote, farming is, "that vocation which conduces most directly and palpably to a reverence for Honesty and Truth."  We deal with both, directly each day.  We are at natures every whim.  Last week a customer asked me if the holes in the swiss chard were bad, to which I answered, "no, you just shared your chard with a few slugs."  And today it finally rained.  Too late for our lettuce which pretty much all bolted in the recent stretch of heat, but nice timing for our tomatoes, which are finally ripening.  Yet, we persevere - because we have to.    

We are earning a little extra money and learning more and more about food each day - growing it, selling it, and cooking it.  I know we are happiest when we are engaged in the community of food and eating it and we've never been more immersed.  Lately we have been pretty damn happy.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Wedding Catering

This past weekend I had the pleasure of doing the desserts for a friend's wedding.  Held at the Frog Pond in Skaneateles, on the most perfect day of the season it was probably the most beautiful wedding I've had the privilege of attending.  The bride's 'do-it-yourself' aesthetic was executed superbly, like a hip-picnic colliding with Martha Stewart and a burlap sack.  Here's the desserts.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rain All Week and an important Public Service Announcement

With rain on the forecast for much of the week we've sidelined some of our scheduled plantings affording me a true day off.  Chard, Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants, Melons, Squash, Cucumbers, Artichokes, and some herbs will have to hang on just a bit longer in their tiny, inch by inch cells.

So, today, while Tamara works, I'm baking and cooking up a nice dinner of Braised Rabbit atop homemade Pappardelle with a salad of spicy arugula and a crusty loaf of bread.  For dessert, rhubarb pie with a mint-infused crust will have to do.

I can't help but feel guilty that I'm not outside preparing the beds, but really working the soil in this weather would probably lead to a good deal of detrimental compaction, so I suppose I can rest easy.  Still I could be picking slugs off the mushroom logs or weeding.  Which leads me to the ultimate conclusion that I can never rest easy this time of year.  Alas, I hope to manage a little self-appeasement this evening through outrageous acts of gluttony.  Who knows?

All that being said - the Skaneateles Farmer's Market starts this Thursday, May 19th back at the old hockey rink on the corner of Jordan and Austin.  So get out and support your community and your health.  We'll be joining the Market on Saturdays when it goes to its twice weekly schedule June 11th.
In the meantime, we'll be trying to help things grow so we don't look like fools on our first day.  I think we'll be alright.  I will be baking a few loaves of bread and hamburger and hot dog rolls to help fill out our stand and we got a really cool stamp in the mail today, so ...

Here are some pictures of recent meals we've enjoyed and some other daily happenings.  If you visit this blog to enjoy my typical biting wit, you'll have to wait for another day.  I'm too busy enjoying a much needed, relaxing day in the kitchen.


BEES busy collecting pollen

Salad with a nice edible flower

Fried DUCK egg with asparagus, truffled cornbread, and some cheese from the Northland Sheep Diary

Homemade Veggie Burgers with black beans and ramps topped with kimchi 

Plum Blossoms

Tamara watering our young blueberries

Pork Steak with grilled Ramps (thanks the Pig)

Soft Boiled Egg wrapped in bacon and fried (thanks Dan Barber and the Pig and some chicken)

and again

and again, but back in time