Farmers’ Market Conversations Part II: Our Chosen Farming Practices

This post started out as “Why We Choose Not to be Organic.” However, the forever positive person that I am, I was having a hard time with that negative title. It’s a question that has come up at the Farmers’ Markets a few times. Actually it goes something more like this:

Person: “Oh, you’re not organic?”

Me: “No, we aren’t.”

Person: Gives an empathetic look as if to say oh, that’s too bad.

Me: “Let me tell you the reasons why we do things the way we do…”

This is a tough post to write. Like a previous post, “It’s Okay to Buy Plain Old Milk,” it has taken me a lot longer than I expected. To be clear, my DF and I support all responsible agriculture which we believe comes in all sizes and shapes, including organic farmers. By no means is this a jab at them, but rather a little more detail into why we’ve made the choice to remain “conventional” as some would call it. I simply prefer “farming.”

The main and most important reason for us is the fact that by remaining conventional, we can use whatever medical treatment necessary to treat a sick animal, which includes antibiotics. Now some organic farms have found a way around this – some will not withhold any treatment, giving a cow what she needs to get better were she to get really sick. However, the cow then can’t stay in the herd. They may sell her to a conventional neighbor, or some organic farms are large enough to also have a separate conventional farm and they can send the cow there. For us, at 30-cows the idea that the cow must exit the herd is not sustainable. Besides, with the amount of financial, historical and emotional capital we have invested in each one of our girls it just does not make sense to us to not treat her with what she needs to get better and send her away.

And, to be sure, our cows do not get sick very often. A brave person at the market asked, “But aren’t the cows healthier with organic practices? Isn’t that the idea?” It was a simple question, which of course she is allowed to ask, though I felt my face start to flush and a wave of anger rise up. It was hard not to feel like she was implying that our cows were somewhat less healthy because we are not organic. Rest assured, I kept my cool, “Oh no, we take excellent care of our animals.”

Fact is like anything, there are good and not-so-good caretakers that are organic, conventional, grass-based, corn-based, small, large, etc. Just because a farm gets a particular label does not necessarily indicate the level of care or health of the animals is better or worse. Another person at the FM shared with me this past week that the sickest, skinniest cows she had ever seen were at an organic farm, (I hope she called the local American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals- ASPCA). The sickest, thinnest cows I ever saw were from a conventional farm, (and yes, the ASPCA was called). I guess there is some truth to what an old boss told me when I was a loan officer, “You have to get out and see what you’re investing in for yourself.”

The kicker to the antibiotic use issue in organic animal agriculture is that while U.S. organic standards strictly prohibits the use, European standards do not. (I’m trying to track down Canadian standards, though I think they are allowed). Typically when antibiotics are allowed in organic animal agriculture, it is for medicinal use only and  there are longer waiting periods before the milk or meat from a treated animal before it is allowed to be sold again. Rest assured that medications already require holding periods where meat or milk is not marketed. And because of rigorous testing, you can be certain that no milk on the shelf has antibiotics in it. We risk the ability to sell our milk if one of our loads ever failed a test – something no dairy farmer messes with.

Liddy saying hi!

We have other reasons why we have remained conventional, but this is really the crux of it. Maybe it’s not very business-like of me to be so tied to my animals, but when you feed and care for them each day, when you see their personalities come out, when you are never far from them when they need medical attention or treatment, or when your life is scheduled around their attention needs, you’re bound to get attached. And in my opinion, that’s a good thing.

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4 Comments

Filed under Agriculture, Dairy Care, Dairy Industry

4 responses to “Farmers’ Market Conversations Part II: Our Chosen Farming Practices

  1. iridescentsheep

    I HATE the word “organic” in the past couple years it has become mainstream and everyone wants to buy that instead. But to me the word holds little value, to me its like reading “low-fat”, “sugar-free” or “free” on a product. It is more of an advertisement then an actual representation of the product.
    Some organic farm abuse their animal, use more pesticides, located overseas or they are a big company. While many of the customers want humane, mom and pop, pesticide-free american farm.
    Also I am working towards become a livestock veterinarian and I understand fully how not giving the animals antibiotics when the need it is more inhumane.

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment. I very much agree – I feel jaded by the marketing prowess of companies using the term “organic” just to make sales. I know a situation where a milk company tried to push organic sales to an office (they will do weekly deliveries to offices, which I actually think is cool) but the salesperson couldn’t accurately say why they should buy organic. Turns out, he is paid on commission and organic milk costs a lot more than plain ole milk.

      Anyway, I digress. Thanks for sharing and good luck with your studies!

      • iridescentsheep

        Thank you.
        It really is all about the money. I read a pro organic article and they stated it was cheaper to grow organic… but wait how can that be considering where I live if I go to the store I would have to pay double for organic. How can it possibly be cheaper to grow but at the same time it costs double? Also the “study” only followed beans and corn no other farms not even livestock.

        I much rather support conventional farmers that I know then the big business companies that grow “organic”

  2. Pingback: Where our food and wood come from | George's VAFPDB Blog

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