Tag Archives: farmers markets

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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Farmers’ Market Conversations, Part I: You Have to Believe in Your Product

Farmers’ Market Conversations

People who know me know that I’m a talker. In fact, I think my favorite thing at the farmers’ market so far has been all the discussions and conversations that I have had with visitors and vendors alike. This gave me the idea to expand into detail some of the topics that have come up that we’ve discussed. Over the next several weeks and perhaps in the future when I have more, I’ll share my favorites here.

Part I: You Have to Believe in Your Product

Today another vendor at the farmer’s market shared a very important truth when it comes to direct selling. She said, “You really have to believe in your product and show people why you do to be successful.”

For some reason, that struck a chord with me. While explaining what Jersey Beef is and why we raise it instead of some other breed I often suggest with a grin that I could be the poster girl for the Jersey breed of cattle. Seriously, I think I could.

I love my cows. There, I said it. My family started with Jersey calves with my older sister and brother’s 4-H projects back in 1982. We’ve never looked back though we had never lived on a farm. I lived on one briefly where I raised my own heifers (young female cattle) and now of course, I find myself on one in a beautiful spot in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

That’s me with the Mickey Mouse shirt on, anxiously waiting to show one of my sibling’s heifers in the kiddie class at a local fair

Through those early years, we took care of our animals whether they were next door or 45 minutes away. We showed our heifers at the local fairs and visited friends that had dairy farms throughout New England and New York. I think when you put so much work and effort and hanging-on into something so long you’re bound to be bound to it one way or another. And we didn’t live in one spot – my Dad is a United Methodist minister, retired now, and so we moved a few times, but always found a place for the cows wherever we moved. I think that was fate.

If there is one part of having Jersey cattle that always bothered me was that there was not much you could do with the bull calves. We would send them to the auction house and generally because they are smaller, you don’t get much for them and often end up paying the auction house to cover the commission, trucking and other costs.

You can imagine my surprise when I learned about the excellent qualities of Jersey beef which was not long ago. I had no idea, really. Jersey beef ranks up with Angus and Waygu cattle in terms of taste and tenderness. It has one of the highest rates of monounsaturated fats and beta carotene among the various breeds of beef. And because they are generally smaller and leaner, the cuts are smaller and leaner which helps with portion control and goes along with a more health-conscious diet.

The challenge in raising Jersey steers (castrated male cattle) is that they take longer to grow and finish, they have different diet requirements than a larger breed and they’re not the easiest to herd – they too have the Jersey “attitude.”

What a coincidence. Here are all these wonderful aspects of a breed of cattle that I already love. And as far as the challenges go – we raise them right alongside the heifers (young female cattle) and we are in no rush. I grew up with the Jersey attitude and have an appreciation for their sass.

Two years ago I convinced my DF to give raising a few Jersey beef a shot. Remember – he brought the Holsteins to our farm equation and sometimes has to be reminded about how great Jerseys are. So far, the success that we have had at the farmers markets has him more and more interested. It seems perhaps he too is a believer in our jersey beef; the first of many more to come I hope.

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Filed under Agriculture, Dairy Care, Farmers' Markets, Jersey Beef