Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Grass Farmers

As I scroll through hundreds of pinterest recipes, a recipe for Mexican chicken salad catches my eye. With a salad in one hand and a thick coffee stained book with a used TRU bookstore sticker in the other, I start chapters ten to thirteen of The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Chapter ten starts off with an explanation of the in’s and out’s of local, grass-based, sustainable farming. He then discusses our relationship to grass as compared to the relationship that the owner of Polyface farm has. We don’t really notice grass or particularity care to, where as at the Polyface farm they see themselves as grass farmers above everything else. These farmers see each animal on the farm as a small portion of the larger picture, where grass is the keystone species. They share techniques engineered to allow maximum grass growth and diversity, which is centred around a rotational grazing system. Their grass fed cows have no need for antibiotics, they eat a variety of grasses referred to as the salad bar and live in a clean environment. This is a sharp contrast from the factory farm in earlier chapters. Furthermore, they also raise chickens and use their droppings to add nitrogen to the soil. To do so effectively they move the chicken pen daily, so that the grass is evenly fertilized. Pollan explains that this farm runs on a balance where every animal has a job to do that somehow helps to sustain the farm. The polyface farm is three generations old and was started when the families original land in Venezuela was taken. From the beginning their goal was sustainable, environmentally friendly, healthy and community oriented farming. They achieved this goal as they live basically off the farm only buying odds and ends from grocery stores. The final chapter talks about the processing of the farms chickens, which they do outside in the open air. First the chickens are collected into a crate and moved to a killing cone where they are bled out and then put in scalding water. From here they are plucked of their feathers, their head and feet are cut off, their viscera are removed and finally they are put in a bath of ice water. Pollan ends this section with explaining that our industrial style food system depends on people not understanding how their food is made and buying locally you protest against huge grocery corporations like Walmart. He then proceeds to describe a local dinner he makes for his friends at home in Charlottesville using Polyface chicken, which his guests agreed tasted more chicken-like than store bought breast. There were a lot of things that I liked about these chapters some of which include the grass farmers, the comparison of grain to a industrial commodity and connectedness of Polyface farm.

Grass farmers is a term I've never heard before, but its makes sense and its clever. The way they see it they raise animals, but they see also see themselves as raising grass where grass is the keystone species. They see their animals as being solar powered and grass is mechanism by which they collect this solar energy. This type of farming is also very eco-friendly because they use much less petroleum than conventional animal farming and their animals are healthier so it’s a win win. I liked the section on grass farmers, but I also liked the comparison of grain to a industrial commodity.

Pollan makes the claim that grain is the closest thing in nature to an industrial commodity. To back up this claim he explains that just like an industrial commondity it can be stored, portable and accumulated. Grain can also be traded, used to form wealth and used as a weapon because the stronger the grain storage the stronger the country. I liked the comparison of grain to an industrial commodity, but I also liked the connectedness and balance present in the Polyfarm.

The polyfarm seems to run perfectly well, but only because each animal had a job to do and in some way helps the farm run. For example, the cows trim the grass and fertilize it with their manure. The chickens can then move through the grass because its short enough and they get valuable protein from the worms in the cow poop, while depositing nitrogen into the soil as part of their waste products. The whole operation is based on grass, the grass feeds the animals and the animals then feed the grass with their droppings.

All in all, chapters ten to thirteen in The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan explored the grass farming world in its entirety. Some of the things I liked includes the grass farmers, the comparison of grains to industrial commodities and the balance of polyface farm. The benefits of grass fed meat seems universal and suddenly my factory farmed Mexican chicken salad seems much less appealing. 

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