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Shundahai Farm


Question Your Farmer


We had a gathering of a few CSA Members in the spring of 2012.  One of the concerns people had was how to choose quality food sources.   How does someone not very familiar with farming practices know what to ask/ look for when buying food?  We were asked to share what we know, and one way we can do that is to tell you what we look for when buying food for our family.

o       Animals:

§         Living Conditions – We believe that animals should be on fresh ground with living grasses, weeds, etcetera. Ideally we like to see animals rotated on pastures, or have so much land to wander that it never becomes devoid of vegetation.   We do not like to see animals confined to a small pen with bare earth without a blade of grass in sight or, even worse, confined to a building.  Not only is this important for animal health, it also prevents environmental degradation.

§          Feed – We do not want to eat, nor would we want to eat meat, eggs, etc. from an animal that eats food that contains genetically modified (GM) organisms.  Almost all corn and soybeans grown in the US are GM, and corn and soybeans are the primary feed for farm animals.  The only way we know of to ensure that animal feed is GM free, is to buy organic feed.

§         Dairy –Realize that the pretty cornfield you drive by near your local dairy farm is more than likely genetically modified corn being sprayed with the herbicide Roundup to be fed to permanently housed animals.  Local does not necessarily mean good for you, the animal, or our planet.  Local gives us the ability to scrutinize the establishment, and scrutinize it we should.  Local is great because it gives us the opportunity to have a face to face encounter with the farmers, and ask important questions about their farming practices. Find a local source that you agree with.  The more demand there is for farmers to follow ethical farming practices, eventually the more farmers will be doing it. Also, expect to pay more for food produced in these ways.

§         Chickens for Meat – If we were to buy chicken, we would look for birds fed non-GM (almost always organic) grain, and living outdoors in movable coops or in an area large enough to have healthy vegetation growing all season.

o       Fruits & Vegetables (our raspberry bushes pictured below)

§         Pesticides – Simply ask, “Do you spray any pesticides (this includes herbicides, fungicides and insecticides)?” If the answer is “Everyone sprays,” or “Just a tiny amounts when I need to,” we would walk away.  We don’t spray anything and we know other growers who don’t and have been farming a lot longer than we have.  It is not necessary, but it certainly makes life easier in the short-term, so most Certified Organic and conventional growers use pesticides. 

§         Soil Fertility – “How do you address soil fertility?” is a good question we ask.  The answer should include the following: soil testing to address macro and trace mineral deficiencies, composting or a rotation system (ideally with animals), and cover-cropping.

§         GM (genetically modified) – Most genetically modified crops are not sold directly to consumers, but are processed and put into packaged food or fed directly to animals.  But more and more GM crops are coming on the market so this will be a greater concern and we will have to ask this question of farmers more if we want GM free food. 

o       Honey

§         I know this sounds absurd, but you need to ask these questions: “Is the honey in this jar (that is labeled with the name of your farm) actually produced by you?”  And: “Do you use any chemicals in your hive?”  I was recently speaking with a beekeeper who informed me that beekeepers can and do “legally” sell honey purchased from out of state, re-package it, and sell it with a label as their own.  Legal and ethical are obviously un-related. 

§         There are a myriad of health issues with honeybees, which are difficult to address.  Raising bees without using miticides and other pesticides is difficult, but we need to support whoever is doing it successfully.  Expect to pay a higher price.


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