Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Factory Farm???

“I need to ask a question.”  The customer eyed me warily…intently.


“I need to know about your growing practices….is this from a factory farm?”

“Uh..bwah..uh…” my brain seized up, the snappy comeback didn’t happen.  The conversation teetered on the brink of disaster. So much for that first impression of an articulate farmer!

Her friend jumped into the conversation with, “oh, I can vouch for them…known them for years…nothing like factory farms in M’brook!”

“But,” she said, “I am from the big city…I have to ask these questions!”  By then, my brain had begun its usual function, and we were able to have a pleasant, informative conversation.  But, it got me thinking…FACTORY FARM???  I didn’t, and don’t, have the slightest idea what is really meant by that term.

Living in the Valley, once the breadbasket of the Confederacy, we are surrounded by lush and beautiful farms.  There are days when the view of my surroundings is so achingly beautiful that I wish I could just hug it all to my heart.  The rippling grain and hay fields, the hearty, healthy animals under the gorgeous blue sky defy description.  There can be no feeling finer to a farmer than looking over his fields, surveying the health and abundance that is a direct result of his own hard work. I share this feeling with many of my fellow farmers.

The mental image created by the term “factory farm” is one of a harsh, forced, polluting industrial model…even the word sounds ugly.  I have seen the movies, heard the rhetoric, and read the articles.  The “factory farm” is supposedly out there, somewhere….lurking in the shadows, threatening the health of the world.  I have yet to experience this as a reality, despite the fact that we know farmers of all sorts of operations, some of whom are responsible for very large numbers of animals. I might add that the folks we know represent a great number of different farming practices.

Animals are monitored for health
medicated when necessary
There is a lot of misinformation out there.  Much of it is promoted by those in opposition to certain practices.  Because the public has lost its personal contact with the farm, farmers (in particular large conventional farms) are often demonized unnecessarily. It is said that most grown-ups are now three generations from the farm, that fact would explain the acceptance of many of the misconceptions that surface repeatedly.

one of my favorite views

When I was a little girl, farmers were well-respected members of the community.  They were known for their honesty and integrity, where their word was as good at their bond, and a handshake sealed many a deal. They were the folks that we all looked to in order to keep the rest of us clothed and fed.  They were the ones who understood weather and agronomy when many others did not. That is no longer the case.  …and unfortunately that is not because everyone understands agronomy…far from it.

There is now an adversarial tone between the factions of urbanity and agriculture.  This is so sad. Some folks have the unfortunate picture of farmers as being unkind and unconcerned about the animals in their care.  The mental picture of a farmer keeping the animals locked in the dark, pouring on antibiotics and chemicals and while making more and more money is ludicrous.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Most farmers are highly skilled and well-trained professionals deeply concerned with those in their care and who have a network of nutritionists and veterinarians and others with whom to consult if need be. Farming practices are under constant scrutiny and modification to meet the needs of the animals and other crops in a manner that is both healthy and economical.

When investigating the subject on-line, the treatment of animals, confinement, pharmaceuticals, and veterinarian practices came under scrutiny time and time again.  These were presented as wrong and possibly evil.  The simple fact that there is a positive side to each of these topics was overlooked.
hens in nestboxes
while they are able to go outside, instinctively they
go to a quiet, dark place to lay their eggs

Confinement, medications and veterinary practices are used in some way on every single farm. To make all these practices sound evil is just plain wrong. In order to care for animals, some control must be maintained by the farmer.

Confinement can be as simple as fencing, or as complex as indoor housing.  All can be used in a humane manner for the health and well-being of the animals. Animals need shelter and protection.  Medications are not some horrible type of science experiment with dire side-effects.  In many cases, a simple administration of a medication will save the animal’s life and protect the investment and livelihood of the farmer….perhaps even the farmer’s life. To withhold this would indeed be abusive. Some veterinary practices sound mean and/or possibly abusive unless one has some knowledge of the farming situation.  Farmers would be foolish to mis-treat or abuse the very things that assure the viability of the farm, be it animals or crops…or the land itself.

Lambs in creep feeder
completely free to graze, they cram in for goodies
So, in short…NOPE…we’re not a “factory farm”.  It is just a farm…the land, the weather, the crops and critters…and a couple of folks willing to work hard to make all the factors come together in some sort of agricultural choreography.
Actually, that’s the basic tenet of a farm of ANY type. We will be glad to tell you about our practices, as will any other farmers, if you want to take the time to listen.

I was glad to have the opportunity to talk with the lady from “the big city”. (once I recovered my ability to think and speak coherently)  She was interested to hear of the practices here on the hill.  It seemed to make a big impression on her that our animals come along willingly when offered feed, that they seem to like us, and that we really like what we do.  I do hope that she was able to take a new understanding and appreciation of farms and farmers from our conversation.

I will re-iterate… I do NOT know of anyone with a “factory farm”. Honestly, I don't think there are any...anywhere. And, I will NOT demonize everyone who does things differently than we do here on the hill.  It seems to me that we should all try to understand the challenges and innovative solutions to the issues that face agriculture without calling names or casting aspersions. For goodness sake, there are 7 BILLION people in this world who need food, shelter and clothing!  It seems we should work together on the issues of agriculture.


  1. Great post Barbara! I hate the term factory farm, because farms of any kinds are not factories. Even farms will large quantities of animals still receive personal care from the farmers. We all have a part to play in feeding the world from the smallest to the largest. I hope to one day have a vegetable farm so that I can sell at farmers markets and use it as an opportunity to share the story of agriculture with consumers.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Anna!
      You're absolutely right...farms aren't factories and farmers of all sizes/practices DO care.
      Best wishes to you in your endeavor to have a vegetable farm and become a market vendor. Having been a market vendor since 1998, I can tell you it's a great way to make a living and the very BEST way to get the story of Ag to consumers.
      Have a wonderful day!