On Thursday July 17th, the County Theater hosted another great installment of the Farm Fresh Film Series. The featured film, "American Meat" focused its attention on the unsustainable state of meat production in America, as well as the growing revolution in small grass-based farms.
The question posed to the audience: Can small, grass-based farmers feed all of America?
Industrialization and the Second World War changed the way Americans raised animals. A primary focus on efficiency nearly brought an end to pasture raised animals, as smaller confined barns were created. Instead of eating grass as they had done for centuries, animals now were fed a steady diet of corn, wheat, and soy. Food was no longer regulated by hand, but increasingly by chemicals and machines. In an effort to bring the price of meat as low as possible, the Federal Government began subsidizing the factors of production that make industrial / commodity farming possible.
As the meat industry expanded every decade after 1940, small confinement pens (in which animals are raised) grew in number and in density. Subsequently citizens and farmers were separated more and more from the production of their food.
Adjusting for population growth, America produces more cheap meat than ever before... But at what cost?
- Modern animal farming relies primarily on pesticides and fossil fuels, sustaining an unhealthy dependence on Oil. This system also harms the environment through direct and indirect carbon emissions as well as pesticide runoff into our waterways.
- Fluctuations in Oil, Natural Gas, Corn, and Soy prices leave modern systems fragile.
- The rise of industrialized farms has destroyed small towns and communities that cannot manage the debt and financial burden that now comes with modern farming.
- Animals enjoy a limited quality of life, rarely seeing grass or roaming a pasture.
- Finished products are lacking in taste and quality, due to poor diet and living conditions of animals.
But there is Hope!
There is a growing resurgence of small grass-based farmers who believe our current system has to go. One farmer in particular, Joel Salatin of Virginia, epitomizes this. Joel runs his Polyface farm using natural systems and rotational feeding. What does this mean? It means that he uses farm animals symbiotically with one another in place of fossil fuels or chemicals.
The result? Joel and numerous farms like him around the country are producing nutrient-dense, delicious, environmentally conscious meats that sustain their surrounding communities. Small, local operations increase accountability to customers as they remain visible within communities.
As the film put it there must be a shift back to, "Raising FOOD instead of raising COMMODITIES".
All across the country, small grass-based farmers are beginning to feed America again. Can this revolution compete with industrial farming? Well, after the credits rolled there was a live-panel discussion between the audience and 5 local farmer and producers that embrace grass-fed and pasture-raised farming!
Our Panelists were:
- Joanna Michini of Purely Farm
- Adam Lichty of Pine Apple Farm
- Nathan Layton of Hershberger Heritage Farm
- Sloane Six of Quarry Hill Farm
- Mathew Ridgway, chef and owner of The Pass restaurant
The panelists treated the audience to their great wealth of knowledge. Some discussed the process and benefits of USDA organic certification, while stressing the greater importance of knowing your local farmer. Our panelists talked about the inequalities in funding given by USDA to small organic farmers as compared to larger commodity farmers. When asked if they were concerned about the high price point comparison of local meats to commodity farming, each producer expressed that the 'Value of Local Always Trumps Price!'
One message was very clear when it came to changing the larger meat industry. Each panelist urged the audience to vote with their dollars and support local producers that embrace this growing meat revolution. The real change must come from consumer demand.
Thank you to all of the panelists for sharing their valuable time with the community- it was a great time and a great discussion!