Posts Tagged ‘humane’

Can Handshakes and the Internet Make Better Food?


Earlier, I explained that while I believe Organic certification has benefits for certain consumers and producers, it also has some inherent flaws and weaknesses.  I believe there is a better solution for many of us.  Like many of the practices we’re finding to help us make healthy and ethical choices in the ways we produce, market, acquire, and consume food, this solution is an old one with a bit of assistance from newer technologies.

The old part of the solution is the handshake.  In lieu of third-party state-managed certification processes, farmers and customers need to know each other and talk face-to-face.  The farmer needs to know what the customer values and desires, in product, quality, and methods.  The customer needs to be able to trust that the farmer will produce according to those values and desires.  Both need to come to an understanding of what this will cost.

Photo by Growmark.com

The best way to achieve this is through face-to-face contact.  Even in this age of smart phones, tablets, social media, and near-instant communication, we haven’t found a true substitute for shaking another person’s hand and looking her or him in the eyes.  Meeting in person allows the best opportunity for the customer to express his or her values and desires not only for the type of food, but also for how that food is produced.  It also allows the producer to present the realities of whether or not he or she is able to meet those values and desires, and the costs of doing so.  If the perfect match of these values, desires, abilities, and costs does not exist, these meetings also present an opportunity for finding the best match through compromise.

I admit, the "Great Compromise" wasn't all about food

There certainly are obstacles to such meetings, especially in today’s world.  Increased mobility, urban concentration, farm consolidation, and the sheer business of life all drive us away from physical, personal meetings.

Consider how car buying has changed in just my generation.  When I was a kid and my folks bought a new car, Dad did most of the research, mostly by talking to friends and going to the library (for those who’ve never seen one – it’s a big building with books in it and these helpful people called librarians who put Google to shame when you ask “What would be a great book for a 7 year-old kid who likes dinosaurs, Star Wars, and hunting?” – they still exist, by the way, and I highly recommend you visit and support them).  A lot of that research was supplemented and guided by his previous experience with different manufacturers.

After he did that research, Mom and Dad (and sometimes us kids) would go down to the local dealerships and take a look at the floor models of the cars they were considering.  Over a couple visits, they’d talk to the salesmen about models, options, and prices, and probably take a test drive before making their final decision and buying or ordering a new car.  The transaction always ended with a handshake.

Spring forward a few decades.  The last new car we bought (and probably the last new car I will ever buy) was while we were stationed overseas.  We did almost all of the research on the Internet, ordered the car through a series of emails (and only one phone call) with a dealership in Germany, completed the paperwork electronically with a scanner.  The car was built, put on a boat, and then trucked across the country to Texas to a dealership there, and we never saw so much as a photograph.

When we returned to the States, my family stayed with relatives while I continued to Texas.  I landed, got in a taxi, and made a cell phone call to the dealership (the first time I had spoken to them) to tell them I was on my way.  When I arrived, the car was in front of the dealership, washed and ready.  It took literally 5 minutes to complete the delivery and temporary registration paperwork before I was driving to base.

To some extent, this is amazing, and in another it amazes me how little human interaction was required to complete such a major financial transaction.

Food is an even more important choice, and it has changed similarly.  Just a couple generations ago, my Grandparents got their milk from the farmer who produced them (to whom my Grandpa had sold the Ford tractor, and for whom my father had worked the past summer).  The following generation, raw milk was produced by local farmers we didn’t know and processed to a dairy we didn’t ever visit, but we did know the “Milk-O” (Aussie for Milkman) who sold and delivered bottled milk and yogurt twice a week.

Nowadays, most people’s milk is produced by immense corporate farms, transported hundreds of miles overland in tractor trailers to huge dairy processing plants, hermetically sealed, and then transported hundreds of miles more to warehouses and then grocery stores before the consumer picks it up from the dairy aisle, rings up the purchase at an automated register, and swipes a credit card, often not even needing a signature to complete the transaction.  In many places, he or she can do that entire transaction online and have the purchase delivered to the door by yet another party.

Don’t get me wrong – this kind of process is essential to a large percentage of our highly-urbanized population.

Yet, for many of us I think we can take the best part of our old ways – knowing who produces our food and how they do it – and combine them with the benefits of technology to overcome obstacles presented by our mobile, urban, and busy society.

As we move forward in our production and marketing plan, we are looking at how we can do that.  One way obviously is through the use of the Internet and social media to market our products.  This blog and our website are examples – with a few clicks, you can quickly research what we produce, how we produce it, and the values behind it.  Through comments and emails, we can discuss better ways to meet values and desires of potential customers.  Resources such as the NH Farmers Market Association,  New Hamphire MadeSlow Money, and others can help us network with consumers and other producers.  As we progress, we may take advantage of other possibilities – maybe virtual farm tours, or perhaps even live “farm-cams.”

These are all great tools, but we will always face-to-face meetings and handshakes at the center of our business.

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What Does Free Range Mean?


You can do an Internet search of “cage-free” and “free-range” eggs or chickens and see that there really aren’t a whole lot of legal requirements to claim those titles. 

"Free Range" Chickens at a Factory Farm

“Free range” at the Flying T means that as soon as our chicks and ducklings are safely able to live in the outdoors, we let them roam the farm. 

Rhode Island Red Free-Ranging at the Flying T

  Most of the chickens return to the coop at night to roost, and the ducks to the barn (some chickens may choose to hang out with the ducks in the barn, especially Henny Penny, aka “Chuck the Chicken Duck”), but otherwise they are out foraging for insects, bugs, spiders, worms, seeds, and plants during the majority of the day.  We don’t use pens or cages except in special circumstances (in order to quarantine new or young birds for a short time to ensure biosecurity, or to separate an injured bird to keep it from getting pecked, for instance). 

Chickens hanging out on a woodpile at the Flying T

 

Mocha foraging with her flock at the Flying T

 This does pose some risks (like predators) and costs.  We can only select breeds that are suitable for free-ranging.  Many “production” strains have many of their natural free-ranging, brooding, self-preservation, and other habits bred out of them so that they spend as much energy as possible either into growing meat on their bones or eggs to lay.  We believe the benefits, however, are worth it.

 Benefits:

  1. Free-range eggs have up to 4-6 times the Vitamin D, 1⁄3 less cholesterol, 1⁄4 less saturated fat, 2⁄3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene than factory-raised eggs.  (article)
  2. Free-range ducks and chickens are miracle-workers when it comes to controlling ticks, barnyard flies, grasshoppers, and other pests.  This reduces the need for pesticides, which is not only better for all the animals on the farm… it’s healthier and better for us as well!  (citation and another). 
  3. Free-range birds are healthier than factory birds, and their meat has a firmer and more flavorful nature, and encourages us to return to more traditional harvesting, preparation, and cooking methods (read this article for good information and ideas).
  4. While factory birds are selectively bred to discourage broodiness (a female bird’s instinct to nest, incubate, and raise her own young) because a broody hen doesn’t lay eggs, our breeding plan actually encourages broodiness, allowing us to sustain the flock.
  5. A broody free-range hen will raise her own chicks/ducklings.  If you’ve ever raised either (we have… and actually, we are doing it again), you know it’s a lot of work and attention that could get spent elsewhere.  Our hope is that with our breeding plan, this is the last batch we have to hand-raise!
  6. Though we offer free-choice supplemental feed (especially in winter), free-range birds require a lot less of this, reducing our costs.  And since they don’t spend as much time in their roosts, clean-up is a lot less time-consuming also (instead, they spend a lot of time fertilizing our pastures and lawn).
  7. Free-range birds don’t tend to fight like confined birds, which is why even “cage free” and some “free range” factory birds have the tips of their beaks cut or burnt off. (citation)
  8. Finally, it’s just peaceful and enjoyable to watch birds range over the farm, stopping from time to time to peck at food, or chasing a dragonfly across the pasture.

Our website is live…


… not finished, but live!  Check it out at http://www.flyingtnh.com (or click on the link to the right).