Saturday, September 28, 2013

Your Chicken's Frequent Flyer Miles

The other day my partner told me that the FDA had given the green light for chicken processing intended for the US market to be conducted in China. As I often do, I told him he must be mistaken. Now understand I wasn't questioning his intelligence (my guy is hella smart) or his honesty, but it was just too crazy to believe. Chickens that were hatched & raised (if you can call chicken factory life being 'raised') in the United States, were going to be slaughtered in the US and then their bodies could be shipped to China for final processing, perhaps cooking (again if you can call what happens in a factory "cooking") and the finished product shipped back to the United States for sale and consumption. What? That's just crazy talk, it couldn't possibly be accurate. How could it possibly be safe to send half-processed chickens to the other side of the planet for finishing? Aren't we told to prevent cross-contamination that we should minimize the handling of raw chicken in our kitchens? How could it be cost-effective? I mean seriously what brainiack thought, "ya know what makes sense, filling a cargo jet with dead chickens and shipping them to China to be turned into chicken nuggets, I bet the American market will just eat 'em up."?

As I mentioned in another entry recently, my To Do List has reached epic proportions. I wanted to fact check this story, but I just couldn't seem to squeeze another hour into a 24-hour day. This morning the littlest gelfling had me up at 7am and then just as my caffeine kicked in, he drifted back to sleep. So now that an extra hour has been created in the day I figured I might as well investigate the claim.

It was challenging. I couldn't find anything on the FDA's website. I thought- see my guy has been hanging out on the hardcore tinfoil hat wearing websites and it was just not accurate. I kept looking though just to be sure. I misunderstood the fine-details, that's why I didn't find it at first. It is not a new law, bill or act; it was just an inspection. An inspection of all four of China's chicken processing plants was recently completed by the FDA, and they passed. Chicken manufacturers now have the approval, clearing, blessing of the FDA to fill cargo jets with dead chickens & ship them to China to be made into chicken nuggets.

And so far, I don't hear any outrage. I haven't seen editorials peppering my Facebook feed talking about the loss of American jobs, questioning what ongoing measures will be implemented given China's spotty food safety record (have we just forgotten stories like this?) or talking about the environmental impact of filling cargo jets full of dead chickens,shipping them around the world to be made into chicken nuggets and them shipping them back to the US again.

Chicken can be a low-impact, low-cost, local & logical source of protein for communities. Right now conventional chicken is only one of those things, low cost. It is kept that way artificially & by paying no mind to those other ideals. Chickens are kept in deplorable conditions; packed into poorly ventilated, dirty, and dark battery cages or chicken buildings. They're fed an unnatural vegetarian diet primarily consisting of GMO soy & corn, which by the way is heavily subsided by our tax dollars. Even before the FDA opened up China as an option for cheap processing, chickens are shipped all over the country to make it to our dinner tables. A heavy footprint is put down at each step in the production chain; the pesticides being sprayed on their feed, the concentration of chicken waste near factory farms, and the fuel used to truck (or now fly) them all over the country; to name just a few.

It doesn't have to be this way. It is completely reasonable & feasible that families could keep small flocks of chickens in modest-sized backyards. Allowing them to range would keep feed costs next to nothing, and the chickens natural diet of pest bugs would eliminate the need to use chemical pesticides. As an added bonus their waste can be composted & used to enrich garden soil eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers too. Moderate sized community flocks can be just as easily maintained using the same concepts, by providing a proportionately larger area to forage. In a time when so many of us are worried about job security, food security, while also striving to meet lofty ideals like leaving a better planet for our children; I'll ask again- why are we going to allow cargo jets of dead chickens to be shipped to China?

Friday, September 20, 2013

What is a CSA and Why Should You Have One?

CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. It may be the very best example of the expression it's a win-win situation. For any family trying to eat healthy, local, seasonal produce and stay within a budget, a CSA is the way to go. For any farmer who wants to build a strong local client base, a CSA is the way to go. So what exactly is it? A farm makes available a number of "shares" for a fee, the farmer plants his or her gardens knowing how many shareholders she has invested in her crops and as the crops are harvested each shareholder picks up their share of the bounty. The fee may be a one time cash fee, a monthly payment, a commitment to volunteering on the farm, an agreement to barter items or a combination of these; each farm establishes what works best for their farm and their community. For example our family has participated in Farm to Family's CSA program for many seasons. Since they carry an array of local items, their CSA includes local pasture raised meat, eggs from free-range hens, dairy, and other specialty items and they charge a fee that can be paid all at once or monthly. (Just a little cross-promotion for one of my favorite local stores.) I have also seen CSAs that the share-holders did most of the work of maintaining the crops and the farmer charged only a low fee for overhead & use of the land. What is constant in each of these variations though is that the community is able to access local in season produce at it's peak of freshness. It also builds a living, working, vibrant connection between farmers and their clients. As a farmer I may hear from my customers that they love home canning, so I then know that perhaps I should plant sauce tomatoes in greater numbers than slicing tomatoes. Within the micro-community of a CSA recipes may be shared and friendships formed. 
Serendipity Farm is now offering shares for our Fall CSA. This is our first venture into both CSAs  and fall gardening so we're offering shares for a very low fee. We're asking $100 (which covers the whole fall season until the end of December) and a commitment of 2 hours per month volunteering at the farm. We'll also offer our Fall shareholders a discount on our Spring CSA for being brave enough to learn with us this season.