Welcome to Just Add Lauren

If you are new around these parts, you may want to subscribe so that you won't miss anything! We have new posts added almost every day, so you never want to miss out on the new information and links available. You can Subscribe to Just add Lauren by email (once you click on the link, there is a little blue envelope that offers email delivery) or Follow in Google reader!

Please also remember to take our reader survey while you are here! I want to hear your comments and suggestions!


Factory Farming and Sustainability

I recently came across a link on Kitchen Stewardship having to do with where meat comes from. I clicked through a couple of her links, and in the process came upon a very interesting source of information that I had not previously been exposed to. I wanted to share my thoughts on a couple of the sound clips that resulted from that internet surfing and research.

Apparently, this past fall, the University of Wisconsin - Madison chose "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan as their first "Go Big Read" selection for their university wide reading list. Of course with Wisconsin being farming country, the book sparked controversy and debate, to which the school responded by hosting Michael Pollan in a lecture session, and also holding a round table discussion involving a few different sides of the whole issue. I'll go into more detail on Michael Pollan's speech in an upcoming post, but for now I wanted to focus in on what the alternative farmer had to say.

Participating in the roundtable discussion was a man by the name of John Vrieze of Vrieze Farms, Inc. As much as I love Michael Pollan, I was actually far more interested based on the roundtable discussions on what Vrieze had to say. He seems to be a sort of middle ground - a large farm with great output, but controlled by a farmer who is very interested in the industrial ramifications and sustainability of his farm.  He appears to be an intermediary between an organic, small farmer and the large CAFOs, and I think he brings up a vital part of the discussion we should all be having - perhaps there is a middle ground between local, sustainable, organic produce, and the large CAFOs of production such as Food, Inc, which present the information in a way that makes it appear that large scale farming efforts have lost a complete sense of humanity.  

Vrieze talks extensively in the sound-bite of climate concerns, and he believes that the economies of scale that he employes actually help to reduce the carbon emissions in production. He claims that conventionally raised cows product about 10 pounds of carbon emissions per gallon of milk produces, but using his methods he has reduced that emission to 2-3 pounds of carbon per gallon of milk.

He uses genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in his farming methods, and praises the fact that with the introduction of GMOs he is able to discontinue the use of insecticides, and he has also completely stopped buying chemical fertilizers. 

The biggest thing that stood out to me about Vrieze's talk was that he was intensely concerned with reducing waste and becoming more energy independent. He has worked on creating renewable energy products from the waste on his farm, and has learned how to make natural gas out of cow manure using anaerobic digestions. He has also dabbled in raising algae on manure as a replacement for the diesel fuel that he uses on his farm currently. The idea is that he could raise the algae on the cow manure that he has, and would be able to extract the oil from the algae (which is high in omega 3s) and put it back into the dairy product, so that the farm has a complete circle of production. 

Vrieze claims that because of the size of his farm, he has been able to do his own research and development in experiments on his own farm. If he had a smaller amount of cows, he wouldn't have had the opportunity to do these relatively smaller scale experiments, and he wouldn't have had the opportunity to develop these ideas and realize some of his goals, such as creating the energy and resources that his farm does.

You can listen to Vrieze's sound clip here

There was also a much shorter sound bite by Michael Pollan, which didn't bring up an Earth shatteringly new ideas, but shared an important concept that I wanted to touch on. He speaks mostly in the round table discussion of the polarization of the issue - the idea that we would believe that all farms should be local, organic farms, or in contrast that all farms should be large concentrated feed lot kind of situations. In response, he brought up the idea that we really should be more diverse than that - the problems with industries tend to come when "all our eggs are in one basket" as he says. He believes that not only are monocultures in the field a problem, for the variety of reasons that he goes into in his books, but also monoculture in our marketplace is equally as detrimental. We need to balance the good aspects of efficiency in farming with the good aspects of resiliency. When all of our focus is directed towards one way of production (like large farms), our whole production can be easily shocked by one aspect changing (he brings up the increase in oil prices, which very much affected the cost/production of large farms). His main point is that we need to have a variety of ways that we produce things,  which helps to balance the market and maintain efficiency and consistency.
You can listen to Pollan's sound clip here.

I found Vrieze's farming methods quite interesting, and I do have a lot of respect for the fact that he is able to meld his large production sized farm with the ideas typically represented by smaller farmers - sustainability, energy independence, etc. However, I do not believe that Vrieze is the norm - I think there are many factory sized productions that are not concerned with the environmental impact of what they are doing. I think he brings a new perspective that does fall somewhere in between the extreme version of sustainability practiced by farmers such as Joel Salatin, and the other side of the extreme with no thoughts on health or sustainability practiced by many large farms.

What are your thoughts on the whole thing? Do you feel that Vrieze represents a middle ground? Does it matter? In the end, though he approaches it with more sustainability and awareness than some, he is still using massive amounts of fossil fuels for his production, as well as growing GMOs on his farm. Do the positives outweigh the negatives? I would love to hear your feedback!

No comments:

Post a Comment