Monday, January 19, 2015

If you love them, how could you eat them?

This is one of the hardest things for non-farm folks to understand. I could not possibly love the animals we work with more. I love when they are babies, and helpless. I love making sure they are warm enough, have enough to eat, and are dry and safe. I, just like the non-farming world, have my cold and cynical heart melted at their downy-baby softness and utter adorableness in all shapes and sizes of every critter here. I love palm-sized bunnies, tiny hooves on goats, fluffy chicks. I show no shame in my delights.

And then, when it's time, I also have no problem when they become food. How could that be?

Firstly, it is my job. My job is to shepherd the lives of these animals in a responsible way, guide them to appropriate size and health so that myself, my family and my customers can eat well. I believe in pastured meats, I believe in the environmental sustainability of using livestock to care for land. I think it is healthy to consume, in moderation, animal protein that was raised responsibly. Research is coming in droves that when done properly, livestock farming is an asset to the environment, not a detriment. But that is a much, much longer conversation then I want to address here.

So, so many times people have said something along the lines of, "But, don't you feel sad? Isn't it disgusting? Or horrible?" No. It is not. It is not sad, because the animals only live on our farm with the understanding that they have a purpose here. They are fulfilling their role in our ecosystem. And they have lived a life full of comfort and kindness. They have been treated with honor, because we love them so much. We do not take their sacrifice lightly, nor our responsibility to them. It's not disgusting, because even though making meat is hard, there is beauty in the gritty little details.The circle of life is not disgusting- it's real. It's visceral. And it's messy. But what is not both visceral and messy in this human life?

Ours is work that gives you so much more respect for your plate. I'm not sad when a live animal becomes our next meal, I am appreciative and solemn. It's serious business, but just as their livest were dependent on us, our lives are dependent on them- in income and in nutrition.

If you have spent your life just buying something on the shelf, prepackaged, it must be strange to consider how that package came to be. But, for me, I need to look at it from start to finish. I need to know that everything was done to care for this package, before it was a package.

I'm not afraid to love the animals, or to name them. I'm not sad when they go away. I'm proud of the life we have given them, and of the way that then meat is made. It's that love that makes the work we do possible for me. If I didn't feel so passionately, I couldn't get out of bed to face the mountain of work that is farming. I couldn't haul one more bucket with frozen eyelashes- I couldn't spend hours lifting 50lb shovels of shit. Livestock are not pets, but they are integral to the fabric of our lives. I set my schedule around their needs, get up early, work long hours, and worry in the middle of the night when there are storms or a temperature change. I fret constantly, I'll be a gray old man sooner than later because we tend livestock. And then, there is the sweet release. Those hours, the gentle hands, the broken fences, the bruises and aches disappear when we sitting together over a well cooked meal or handing a share to a customer.

I guess, what it comes down to for me, is that we do not fear the planned harvest of our livestock- because that is always the goal. I fear the idea that the reality of farming is so outdated and foreign that a meat-farmer is strange and icky- but a package on a shelf, from lord-knows-where, treated lord-knows-how is normal and preferred. How, could that possibly be better? How could the love, compassion, passion, and care we provide be weirder then the alternative? How could it be better to not be able to identify how what you are about to put into your body came to be? I don't believe it is. I think that it's far more tasteful (pun intended) to have a personal relationship with your food, either through raising it yourself or knowing your farmer. To know that what you eat was adored and respected. And that's what you'll find on our farm- we love them from their very beginning to their final days, and believe in the whole process.

I know that some farmers and customers think it's unsavory for us to post pictures of the animals we raise, particularly when they are adorable. And I understand their positions. I just strongly disagree. We're proud of the journey our livestock take, and we want to share it. We are humbled by our work on a daily basis. We are honored to serve at the mercy of the weather and the whims of nature. And the few great pleasures this work provides are the joys of the animals, when they're not escaped or wrecking something or knocking me over. We want you to have the whole picture, so you can understand just how very much we care here, and why it matters. So that you can see for yourself that it isn't sad-- it's complicated and beautiful and above all, delicious in every meaning possible.

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