|All in a day's work for the laying hens.|
Last week, I had the pleasure of food transparency. I learned where my chicken and pork chops come from. I took a tour of Graham Farms the home of Omega Meats just outside of Grand Rapids, Ohio. Lindsay Graham is the best kind of farmer: small and sustainable. His farming methods are good for the animal, good for the land, air, and water, good for the workers that produce it, and especially good for the people that eat his meat. Think chicken without dangerous bacteria (something you can’t find at the local Kroger). Think grass-fed beef with a correct and heart-healthy ratio of omega 3 and omega 6. Think rich, golden-yolked free-range eggs that have more vitamin A than their factory farmed counterparts and are free from salmonella. This would be reason enough to support Lindsay’s farm, but the thing is this meat (and eggs) actually tastes better too.
|Approximately 5 week old meat chickens|
This year, Graham farms will have 25 acres in production. On this amount of land, Graham can more than comfortably raises 400 Golden Comet hens as layers. (These are the same breed as my backyard hens!) And, throughout the spring, summer, and fall, he raises batches of 300 meat chickens at a time, which are a Cornish Cross. These chickens are allowed to express their chicken-ness. When I was saw them, they scratched in the soil and preened. They were able to roam outside for bugs—to get fresh air and sunshine. And because they are housed in movable pens that Lindsay rotates to fresh pasture frequently, there was fresh grass for them to eat, along with their organic grains.
|The coyote decoy in the background scares off chicken hawks.|
The pigs too, looked happy and healthy. They had their curly tails, which is something you’ll never see in a factory farm. Industrial farmers cut off the pigs' tails because the pigs are under so much stress confined to a concrete crate that they become cannibalistic and would gnaw each other’s tails off. Lindsay’s pigs were down right playful. They oinked and snorted in curiosity as I approached, and one even let me scratch its back.
The cows too, have a good life at Graham farms. Since we’ve had such cold weather this spring, the cows aren’t yet on pasture—the grass isn’t ready for them to eat--so they were still eating organic dried hay. Even though the 10 cows—a mix of Herfords and Angus—the blocky, body type that Lindsay told me produces best on a grass-fed diet--were confined to a large corral around the barn, unlike feed-lot cattle, they weren’t standing knee deep in their own excrement. At this scale, their manure can be safely composted and not turned into a manure lagoon or nitrate laden run off that poisons drinking water.
This is the face that I put to my food. Lindsay is a farmer that I trust to raise food responsibly, ethically, and safely. This is where I want to put my money. And seeing how much this is all worth in terms of my health and the health of everyone and everything on this food chain, I’m willing to pay more for Omega Meats than in the grocery store. When people tell me they’d love to eat local and organic food, but that it’s too expensive, I just want to shrug and say, “It’s where your priorities lay.” My husband is a full time student, and on my teacher’s salary we manage to afford it because we don’t shop at the mall recreationally, we don’t eat out that often, and we grow some of our own food. We might not be able to afford quite as much meat as we would if we were only buying industrial meat from the local Kroger or Walmart, but I'm okay with that. In this case, quality really does win over quantity. Also, I don't feel like I can put a price on my health. Eating meat that won't make me sick or lead to chronic disease, is worth every penny.
Another criticism I hear about eating local is this: “I’d eat locally if it wasn’t so time consuming and inconvenient.” It’s true that Lindsay doesn’t sell his meat 24hrs a day like Walmart, but I’m excited that he’s starting a Meat Buyers’ Club in Bowling Green. For a fifteen dollar annual membership fee and a small delivery charge, members get twice monthly meat and egg delivery to their front door! Orders can be placed quickly and easily online. And, I can leave a cooler on my porch and don’t even have to worry about being home at delivery time. So, if you live in Bowling Green, and you care about where your food comes from, support your local farmer and feel good about where your food comes from. You can sign up here.