I tell you what, it is not easy being a food consumer these days. It can be extremely confusing to know which products are okay to buy and which are not. Food labels and the media are no help. What is a hungry gal to do?!
Making matters worse, Chipotle is releasing a four-part comedy series called Farmed and Dangerous on Hulu. Their goal is not to sell burritos, but to target “industrial agriculture” and push their views of modern-day farmers onto consumers. You will hear words and phrases such as factory farms, antibiotics, hormones, industrial and many other big, scary words. It is all a scare tactic to influence you to join their witch hunt and buy their food. The series will paint a nasty picture of modern-day agriculture that is far from the truth. I fear that Chipotle’s series will result in more consumer confusion. Let’s take the fear out of food. I would like to debunk some agriculture myths and help clear the blurred lines a bit (Don’t worry, in doesn’t involve twerking).
The dairy farm my great-grandparents established
It is true, farming is not what it was fifty years ago. The little, red barn on a hill with a sunset behind it is more difficult to find these days. It is because the agriculture industry is evolving and we have new technology to help us farm and feed the world…. and it is a good thing! The FAO (The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States) has predicted that by the year 2050, we’re going to need to produce 70% more food than what we do today because of the growing middle class and population. By the year 2050, the world population will reach 9 billion and we will have many more mouths to feed with less available land and resources. Technology will help us feed your future children and grandchildren. In 1940 one farm was able to feed 18.5 people and today one, single farm can feed over 155 people! We don’t use the same cameras or drive the same cars we did fifty years ago, why are we expected to farm the same way as we did in the past?
Let’s address what Chipotle and the media call “factory farms”. It sounds scary doesn’t it? Is this what you envision?
Chipotle’s view of dairy farms
Here is the reality:
The milking parlor at my home farm.
In the past, cows were milked by hand into a bucket. A very time consuming and labor intensive job. (hard on the knees!) Today, modern dairy farmers use milking parlors with machines to milk the cows. Milking parlors come in many different shapes and sizes and improve efficiency. Work smarter, not harder, right?! The parlor on our farm requires one person and has the capacity for 16 cows. We are able to milk 500 cows in less than seven hours! The cows enjoy coming to the parlor to be milked and they do so three times a day. It takes approximately five minutes to milk each cow. After she is milked, she is able to return to her pen to eat, lay down and hangout with her friends. Dairy cows are meant to be milked. Not milking a cow results in an uncomfortable animal that is much more prone to develop mastitis.
Here is something else you might envision when you hear “factory farm”:
Here is the reality:
The dairy farm I grew up on. This dairy milks 1,500 cows . It is where I was born and raised!
Interesting, in this case the vision is the reality! It is true, the barns we house our animals in and work in everyday look very different from what we see in storybooks. This type of barn is called a free-stall barn. The picture above includes four free-stall barns and two milking parlors. A free-stall barn is a large barn that contains a bedded stall for every cow to rest in and easy access to feed and water. The cows are not tied up and free to move about the pen. Get it…free-stall barn? This type of barn also provides great ventilation when compared to the storybook barns of the past. There are giant doors and tarp-like curtains on the sides of the barns that can be opened or closed depending on the weather conditions. It is important that we keep our cows happy and comfortable!
The inside of the free-stall barn at my home farm
The other difference between family farms of today and family farms of the past, is that today the average dairy farm is much larger. In the past there were more farms with fewer cows. Today, there are fewer farms, with more cows. Many farm families enjoy what they do and want to grow the business in order to make a good living. By expanding the farm size we are able to become more efficient and more profitable.
Now, let talk a bit antibiotics. Antibiotics are used when an animal is sick, just like with people. We utilize antibiotics ONLY when warranted. Farmers aren’t giving animals antibiotics willy nilly or just because; it is not cost effective or necessary. If we give an animal an antibiotic to get better, there is a withdrawal period. This means the meat or milk from a treated animal cannot be sold until it tests negative for antibiotics. The antibiotic cannot and will not reach your food supply. So when you see labels like “antibiotic free”, know that it is a marketing scheme to influence you to buy that label instead of one without an “antibiotic free” label. All meat and dairy products are antibiotic free, so buy and eat whatever you want! Interested in how and why we use antibiotics on are farm? Click here: Cows, Antibiotics, and You.
“Hormone free” or “bST free” are other labels we see on our food packaging. The secret is, nothing is hormone free. All living creatures are full of hormones that are naturally produced. My body, your body, an animal’s body, that flower over there; all full of hormones. Hormones that make you want to bow-chicka-bow-wow, some that direct nutrients, others that trigger a mother’s instinct and many more. So, don’t be fooled by the “hormone free label”.
There is a popular hormone you may have heard about, bST or rbST. bST is a naturally occurring hormone in dairy cattle and rbST is the synthetic version of it. We use rbST on our dairy farm to increase milk production. The hormone helps direct nutrients to the udder and enables the cow to produce more milk. This piece of technology allows us to increase efficiency and profitability while decreasing the use of land and resources. For more information on rbST use on our farm, check out O.M.G. You Use rbST?
My family’s farm, just like 96% of the other dairy farms in America, is still family owned and operated. We drink the same water as you, breath the same air, and eat the same food. We still care for our animals and practice animal husbandry just as our great-great grandparents did. Farmers are using today’s technology to produce a safe, quality product while using less land and fewer resources. I recently went through some old family photos. Check them out!
My dad at our home farm. He’s weird.
My grandparents in the early years of our family farm operation
My sister and I pretending to be calves.
My sister showing her cow at the county fair
My sister and cousin, back in the day, helping my grandparents feed calves
My mom and sisters at the farm. Not sure why I wasn’t included in the photo…..
Don’t let Chipotle or the media put a scary vision of modern-day farms in your head. Don’t let them put fear into your food. No matter what your choice is at the market, know it is safe. Conventional, organic, natural, big and small; we need all types of agriculture to feed the world. The agriculture industry is doing its best to deliver a quality product to your table.