Thursday, February 9, 2012

What are you eating? What's in your food?

I had the opportunity to go to a meat farm - New Frontier Family Farms - over the weekend as a member of the LA Eco-Village food coop. I myself am a vegetarian, was interested to check out a farm claiming to raise happy chickens in an environmentally sustainable manner and to learn what that might mean to these farmers. I asked them to explain why they do what they do based on the local to global impacts of their work. Check the video above, and feel free to peruse the rest of the article below. And please, as always, feel free to share your thoughts. :)


Nisha Namorando Vida
Local to Global Life Works Founder/Director 

LA Eco-Village food coop folks gathered around chicken tractors and New Frontier Family Farms co-owner Heather to learn about how they raise their chickens.

One of the little ones in Farmer Dave's hands

We learned about the term 'free range'. The farmers informed us that according to government regulation, the way that they raise their chickens (in open air, outdoor pens, which they use since there are coyotes and wild dogs in their neighborhood) is considered 'free range'. Dave and Heather feel that 'free range' should mean that the chickens run around as they please, but they say that they at least work to keep the chickens living in a comfortable situation. Check this link for criticisms on 'free range'. Check this link for how to decode your egg carton.

Chickens chilling in the sun

Chilling chickens and Farmer Heather

At New Frontier Family Farms, chickens stay in the pens as you see above. After a few days, the grass gets worn down, and the pens are shifted to a grassier patch. We were informed that meat chickens tend to be a bit lazy and stay near where their food is. When the pen is lifted, they often follow it to stay near their food. This is apparently a different situation from egg-laying chickens, who are very active and will sometimes fly into trees and on top of roofs, if they aren't unlucky enough to be born as a factory chicken.

Chicken manure fertilizes the pasture on which the chickens graze.

Dave informed us that the health of the chicken mostly depends on the health of the grasses it is eating, which depends on the soil. It all comes back to the Earth. (Watch the film Dirt!)

Chicken feed in addition to the grasses they graze on and the grubs they pluck from the dirt.

A good reason to buy pasture raised meat is because most animals consumed (chickens, cows, goats, sheep, rabbits, etc.) mostly eat grasses by nature. Even 'organic', 'vegetarian fed', or 'cage free' are not necessarily eating the foods they should be biologically. Further, most likely the grains and 'vegetarian feed' these animals are consuming is soy and corn (soy farming, by the way, is the biggest contributor to destruction of the Amazon, other than cattle raising). If you buy organic, then you are likely not buying genetically modified foods, but soy and corn are grains that none of these animals would ever eat in nature. New Frontier supplements their chickens' diets with an organic feed that they said unfortunately contains corn and soy. They said, however, that of all the feed supplements they have tried, they have had the least chicken death and illness with the one they currently use.

In this video, Farmer Dave explains how he kills chickens. He and Heather discussed how they have looked into different methods for killing chickens, but this is the least cruel and painful. The chickens do not live stressful lives, and experience minimal stress and no pain until the final moment of death. After they are defeathered, Heather removes all of their innards. Some of the people who order meat from them request the liver or feet, and so they keep these for customers. Currently, they bury the chicken parts that are not sold, though they informed us that they are looking into composting methods. The kids that Dave refers to in the above video are his own - they help out on the farm. He says they prefer living on the farm, even though they have to do more work, because they have a wide space in which to play, and can observe wild birds (such as hawks nesting on the farm).

 Close up of the defeathering machine

Dave and Heather's farm are surrounded by dairies and meat farms. As soon as we exited and started driving toward the farm, we could smell methane. As Dave mentioned in the video at the top of this post, there are a lot of polluting byproducts from animal rearing, particularly when it is done irresponsibly. He says the water is so bad in their area that it was killing off a lot of their chickens. They installed an industrial water filtration system (below), which has lowered the illness and death levels of their chickens to 15% of the previous number.

The people of the United States have an enormous impact on the world. We alone use 25% of the worlds energy and natural resources. What we eat is central in this equation, whether it is because of the pesticides that leach into the ocean, or the tons of fossil fuels burned by shipping meats and other ingredients across the nation and the world. Further, if we want to have peace within ourselves, we need to think about the peace levels experienced by the food we eat, since both plants and animals release stress chemicals and hormones based on their life experiences.

So, if you are interested in making the world a better place, think about what you eat, what was eaten by what you are eating, and how the animals are treated. And remember, each of your dollars is highly coveted and goes a loooooooong way. Buy local as often as possible. Visit your farmer's market - ask how the chickens are raised, what they are fed. If you are going to eat meat, at least eat meat from animals treated well at a farm that treats the Earth with respect.


All pictures and videos taken by LTG, except for 'Free Range' above. That photograph comes from a slaughter machinery company website.

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