Cowschwitz: Confined Dining

Have you heard the term factory farm? Basically, it is a farm that is more like a corporation, operated to achieve a grand bottom line, often cutting corners and being more lenient on principles in order to first and foremost make a profit. This becomes a problem when animals are involved, because cows aren’t pieces of machinery. Factory farms are run quite differently than the average family farm or smaller-scale farm is.

Here are some things that are important to know regarding factory farms.

1. They are only inspected every ten years.
Dina El Boghdady of the Washington Post recently reported that although the Food and Drug Administration is supposed to be inspecting these farms more regularly, and Congress has in fact urged the department to do so, they simply don’t have the money needed to do so. So, the best they can afford to do is to address outbreaks of disease and other issues after they occur, rather than preventatively.

2. They often have widespread infection.
Roughly half of the dairy cows at these farms have had mastitis, a bacterial infection, as a result of unsanitary environments and a lack of good hygiene in caring for the cows. Mastitis is difficult for the animals and it lowers the nutritional value of that cow’s milk.

3. The horns of the dairy cows are removed.
To save on space and to avoid animals hurting each other, the dairy cows are dehorned. The process is not pleasant. On young cows, a hot iron cauterizes their emerging horns, while on adult animals, saws or clipping tools are used—usually both without anesthesia. The beef industry has for the most part transitioned to breeding hornless cows, but the dairy industry has not.

4. Most of the milk for public consumption comes from huge conglomerates.
Even though the Big Ag industry uses pastoral imagery in their advertising, these factory farms aren’t so peaceful or pleasant. Sustainable Table reports that just 2 percent of farms now raise 40 percent of all animals in the United States. This makes it hard for family or smaller-scale farmers to thrive, and leaves most of the power in the industry to the big, corporate-owned factory farms.

5. Conditions on factory farms lower cows’ life expectancy by 75 percent.
Usually a dairy cow will live about twenty years. However, those on factory farms become fatigued more quickly, only living about four or five years.

How Can You Help?

Here are some simple ways you can be supportive of a healthy life for dairy cows.

Buy Local: Only purchase your milk from local farmers who practice ethical treatment of their animals. You should be able to find out what their cows eat, how they’re treated, and whether they are subjected to dehorning.

Opt Out: Another way to protest practices you don’t support is to choose not to buy the products of the factory farms. Besides buying from local, ethical sources, you might decide to go dairy-less altogether, using soy, almond, or rice milk instead of cow milk, and choose non-dairy alternatives for cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products.

Help Small Farmers: To show your support for family and smaller-scale farmers, show your support for a fair Farm Bill, so that small-farm farmers get the support they need from the federal government. With a fair farm bill, Big Ag will not have a monopoly.

CAFO’s Uncovered

In regulatory lingo, meat factories are called “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs. (Pronounced “cay-fo.”)

Union of Concerned Scientists, CAFOs produce about 65 percent of our country’s manure, or about 300 million tons per year—that’s double the amount of poo generated by all the people in the United States.

In its 2008 report, CAFOs Uncovered, the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote, “Although they comprise only about 5 percent of all U.S. animal operations, CAFOs now produce more than 50 percent of our food animals.”

The EPA reports that CAFO waste has polluted over 35,000 miles of river and groundwater in 17 states.

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Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance

RAFT is a coalition of groups combining their efforts to reclaim and preserve food traditions found all over America.  On their website, they explain they are “blending our respective expertise to develop programs that support farmers, chefs, breeders, producers, and our food system as a whole.”

Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Coming Home to Eat (W.W. Norton, 2002) and editor of Renewing America’s Food Traditions, explains the plight we are facing:

In the last 100 years, more than 1,000 varieties of uniquely American seeds and breeds, fruits and fish, greens and game have declined and are currently at risk of extinction. More than 76 food varieties have vanished altogether. Some, such as the wild Atlantic salmon and the sugar maple, are threatened by environmental factors ranging from damming of rivers to climate change. Gone are flavors, aromas, textures, and colors we can hardly imagine: historic delicacies from the sea such as white abalone and shortnose sturgeon; the Cui-ui sucker and the Colorado pike-minnow from our rivers; Gaspé flint corn, Chapalote popcorn, Jack beans, and sumpweed sunflowers from our fields.

Nabhan and others in RAFT remain hopeful that many of these diverse food sources can still be rediscovered and revitalized. They advocate seeking out rare apple trees and wildflowers and helping to recreate environments where these food sources can grow. For example, Nabhan describes how the bison, which almost became extinct due to overhunting, is now being raised on large prairie landscapes, and their very presence there then affects the environment to allow certain wildflowers and creatures to thrive, some which are also then food sources. He claims he can taste the “terroir” in the bison meat he eats, just as some can ascertain what land certain wines come from. “They broaden my sense of what it means to be truly nourished by the American earth,” Nabhan says.

One Hopeful Example

The Pacific Northwest stands as an example of how to go about successfully preserving local native plant and animal food source diversity. Because various groups in the area, such as the Portland Farmers Market and Chefs Collaborative, have made this a priority, evidences of success include the fact that:

• Downtown Portland restaurants use more than six million dollars worth a year of local produce, meats, and dairy products

• The number of farms in Oregon has actually increased by 44 percent, instead of declining, as is common elsewhere

RAFT Is Born

RAFT began in 2003, as a nation-wide coalition to “recover the diverse, imperiled foods of North America” and to (along with engaging others to help) “find, recover, and celebrate these culinary rarities.” Nabhan reports that 669 food varieties are currently considered endangered, and another 348 are considered threatened, while 76 “uniquely American foods” have already been lost. But, as Nabhan urges, much help from others is crucial. “This is conservation with a human face.”

RAFT’s mission is to bring “food producers, chefs, and consumers together to develop and promote conservation strategies, sustainable food production, and awareness of our country’s unique and endangered foods and food traditions.” They use what they call an “eater-based approach,” which they define as “reintroducing the stories and flavors of America’s traditional foods to larger audiences, so people are once again growing and consuming them sustainably.”

Some of RAFT’s projects include:

• Creating regional food communities and identifying foods that are at risk of being lost

• Restoring at-risk plants and animals, including an heirloom vegetable recovery project, an heirloom fruit tree recovery project, and a heritage breed recovery project

• Celebrating America’s food traditions—“connecting the stories, flavors, fragrances, and textures” of the foods with people, toward the goal of creating “eating, purchasing, and recreation habits that once again support the food’s producers.”

How Can You Get Involved?

The RAFT website lists resources for you to learn more, a calendar of relevant events you can attend, and encouragement to participate in keeping alive the diverse array of stories and experiences of traditional American foods. You can grow RAFT-listed foods in your garden or yard, organize field trips in your area to view rare foods and educate others about this issue, shop and eat at businesses that use and promote the preservation of these foods, and plan your own meals at home using these foods—and their stories!


Local Food Means Job Growth: How You Can Help

A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that the local food movement is growing steadily and is employing four times more people than if those farmers only sold nationally or internationally.

In 2009 the USDA rolled out its campaign to encourage local food, the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program. The 2011 study confirmed that local food is a win-win situation. The study found that for some farmers, local food sales made up 61 percent of total sales. Some main points of the report, as explained by Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan include that:

1. Local markets are important for a lot of farmers. The study found that 40 percent of all vegetable, fruit, and nut farms (nearly 110,000) in the United States sell their products in local and regional markets. Also, roughly 61 percent of these farms’ total sales came from local sales.

2. The market for local foods goes well beyond direct-to-consumer sales. The local food story is not just about consumers buying foods directly from farmers, at a farmers market or community-supported agriculture program, even though direct sales increased 215 percent between 1992 and 2007. But intermediate marketing channels, such as farmers selling to a regional distributor, grocer, or restaurant, and then on to a consumer, have also been growing. In fact, intermediate sales were three times larger than direct-to-consumer sales. So, indirect sales are also a vibrant part of the local food story.

3. Local doesn’t necessarily mean small. We tend to think that farms selling locally are on the smaller size, but larger local farms are more likely to sell to restaurants, distributors, and retailers than are small local farms, the study found, and direct-to-consumer sales are evenly split between small, midsize, and large farms.

4. Local means jobs. The report found that fruit and vegetable farms selling into local and regional markets employ thirteen full-time workers per $1 million in revenue earned, for a total of 61,000 jobs in 2008. In comparison, fruit and vegetable farms not engaged in local food sales employed three full-time workers per $1 million in revenue.

This isn’t the first report to show that local food efforts could help local economies. A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that investment in farmer’s markets could generate 13,000 new jobs in five years, while also providing healthy food options to local residents.

Besides shopping at farmers markets, there are other ways you can support your local food providers. Derek Denckla, chair of the New York City chapter of Slow Money, a national nonprofit committed to increasing investment in local food systems, says, “The majority of people invest in the stock market, but we want people to invest in their local food system.”

Here’s how:

1. Shop locally. Look for ways you can use at least a portion of your food budget to support a local food business, such as a locally owned bakery or a butcher shop that sells regionally raised meats. Or shopping locally may mean simply asking your favorite restaurant or grocery store if it uses local ingredients.

2. Move your money to a credit union. Big banks lend money to big companies, but small banks and credit unions are more likely to keep their loans close to home. Perhaps you will find a credit union that works toward lending to food and farming businesses, or one that provides no-interest loans to people who’d like to join a CSA but don’t have the $200 to $500 it can cost to buy a share.

3. Give a local food business a leg up. Thanks to sites like and, it’s easier than ever to invest in local businesses and nonprofits trying to get up and running. Give what you can to a local food endeavor needing some initial cash to get things going. Or, start your own!