I opened up the computer this morning, intending to order more packaging shrink bags for our poultry operation, and fell down the Facebook hole. We've all done it. This morning, it was because I found out that Michigan essentially re-wrote their right to farm law to prevent backyard flocks and small livestock.
I'm always confused by the idea that preventing small livestock is a step in protecting public health. Well, less confused and more enraged. I get it, we need to make sure that animal waste isn't getting into the water supply, and not everyone wants to hear the sweet sound of roosters at 4am. But, there has got to be a way to balance the right to produce your own food and maintain a sense of suburban decorum.
There are very few things we all must do every day. But eating is one of them. In much of the world, food access isn't plentiful and there are many people who are forced to go hungry every day, in the US and abroad. So why on earth would we prevent citizens from taking control of one of their most basic needs? Why would we say that they must remove themselves further from the food system? We have kids in schools who can't identify where butter comes from, which veggies are which, and believe that all chicken comes pre-packaged. I can't think of anything more complacent then compulsively throwing food-shaped pieces of corn down your throat without any regard for how it got there.
I have had a few CSA customers over the years who have stopped purchasing from our farm because they moved to a more rural community and started their own home gardens, flocks or small livestock. As a farmer, you'd think I would be bummed out at the lost revenue. But that couldn't be further from the truth. I've sold people starter flocks, answered lengthy emails on chicken nutrition, replied to emails on the best seed sources. I want what we do to inspire or empower people to take control of their food, get really up close and personal with it- and then do it themselves. If I can help with that, great. There are always going to be people who can't provide enough food for themselves by growing it, or don't want to, or do not have the life they feel allows for it. Farming isn't going to suddenly become irrelevant. But a society full of people who have no idea how food is produced- that makes farming- especially on a small scale and using sustainable methods- a hell of a lot harder.
When we as a culture make a decision that everyone isn't eligible to produce their own food, that's a profound method of control. We're forcing them to participate in the existing food system, which privileges mass produced packaged foods- with basically no nutritional value. How could that possibly be better for the public health?
In my fantasy world (oh, the imagination of a farmer!), we would instead be educating our communities on how to safely handle poultry, how to prevent any perceived risk or draw back to a home coop or rabbitry. You don't need a rooster to get eggs. A community that has access to good, clean food is inevitably a healthier, more empowered one. And if more people understood where food came from, they could make more informed decisions about the products that they do need to purchase. I wouldn't have to start from scratch (oh, the humor of a farmer!) explaining that eggs really shouldn't be washed thoroughly and put in the fridge, and that chicken in the meat isle is soaked in bleach.
It's not an organic hippie theory that food matters in health. Nutrition is one of the most standard, accepted preventative measures one can take to prevent disease. But here we are, saying essentially that the minor discomfort of hearing a crowing rooster, or the passing whiff of a chicken coop is more of a problem for good living then convenience stores serving as the only food option. We're endorsing a population with less regard for what they put in their mouths then what program is starting on the television.
Most people will look at what happened in Michigan and think, "oh well". Maybe they already live in a community that doesn't allow 3-4 hens, or a breeding pair of meat rabbits. But i can't. I just can't. I want to hop in the van and starting passing out chicks, I want to build pallet coops and bring them to schools... and while none of this is possible right now- I really believe it should be.
It's more than "grow food, not lawns" (though it's that too!). It's- Open Your Eyes Before You Open Your Mouth. It's- Feed Your Neighbor. It's- Kids Going Hungry while the Corn (syrup) Grows Higher.
I know, I know- soap box. But think about it.... what decisions do we make every day that support the idea that growing food is best left away from the populations who eat it?