Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yes -- That is a Dead Pig, and No -- You Should Not Be Offended!

Yes, you are seeing what you think you are seeing: that is me on the kill floor with one of my pigs. And I am definitely giving a thumbs up! This is an exciting point in the process of raising animals. You could certainly look at this photo and think, "Gross! Dead pig!" Think, however, about what this picture means to me: it is the conclusion of months of hard work to raise healthy animals, and it is the start of the process that means my family will be well-fed this year. One of the reasons that I always use the word "slaughter" instead of "harvest" is because I absolutely feel that raising & processing food is a noble endeavor. Yes, it is messy, but it is ethical. I will not shy away from the truth of this, and I think the public would feel better about food production if they understood the process. Consumers are smart -- open the doors and educate them! So, yes, this is my way of bringing you face to face (literally) with hog slaughter . . . because I think you are smart enough to be interested and to learn!

Let me introduce you to my pigs. I got them a few months ago when they were a little over 100 pounds, and since then I have purchased A LOT of hog feed for them! (They were also amazing at cleaning up leftovers from the kitchen!) The female was curious and often romped in the yard. Sometimes these romps were Goatherd-approved . . . and other times they were not. Ever awoken at 1:00am because your puppies are going ballistic, only to discover that your pig has busted out part of the barn wall & escaped? Not fun! The male was extraordinarily lazy. He would lay around all day, and only get up when he saw me approach with food. He would waddle a few steps over to the feed, take a handful of bites, and then lay down with his head in the bowl to continue eating!

I have fond memories of these pigs. They received great care and attention. They grew very large (250-300 pounds) and could be difficult at times. Their destiny was to feed my family. In the days leading up to the intended slaughter date, I will admit that I was sorry our time together was drawing to a close. I knew, however, that I did not have the facilities to keep them for an extended amount of time, I did not have the extra money to feed extremely large pigs, and the natural circle of life dictated their role on the food chain. It is very important to me that animals are treated well in life and shown respect in death. Each time I have raised pigs, however, I forget just how hard it is to load them in a trailer from my barn. Thus, by the time I struggle and struggle to get them to the slaughterhouse, I am ready to say goodbye!

I owe a great deal of thanks to my friends Angie & TEC, who assisted me by offering their trailer for transport. My adopted son/student assistant Big Al served as my trusty right hand during the slaughter process. My amazing baby brother was right there with his gun to quickly dispatch the pigs. I am very appreciative that my step-father allowed me to utilize his facility for the butchering. I truly have a great farm family supporting me!

I am often asked about the slaughter process. As mentioned, we used a gunshot to the head to stun the pigs. My brother did this, then Big Al stepped in quickly to bleed the pigs. He used a very sharp knife to sever both the caratoid and jugular in one rapid stroke. This immediately shut down the neuro-sensory system, and the pigs bled out in a very short period of time. As the farmer who adored these hogs, I am comfortable with this process. It is quick, it is humane, and it is sanitary. Once the pigs bled out, they were placed in cradles to be skinned. I will post some more photos, as I believe that people are truly interested in how their food is prepared!

I love raising animals and I adore eating meat! I am proud to be a butcher, and this work has only increased my respect for life. If we accept that death is a reality and show respect for the process of dying, I believe that we will become more cognizant of the value of life. Life is beautiful, and death is a part of that journey. Farmers endeavor to raise their animals well, and provide humane slaughter options to produce the products we use. Learning more about food production is a good thing for our consumers!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Want You to Know Mohamed

This picture is of me & my friend Mohamed. Mo Mo was our first Somali employee at the slaughterhouse, and he has been there for five years now. Mo is a wonderful person: charming, funny, and just odd enough to be adorable. Over the years, I have grown to have a great deal of respect for Mohamed. There were a lot of late nights that it was me & Mo Mo working very hard to clean the slaughterhouse after a long day of processing. He is a good man.

Mohamed always managed to catch my attention with his interesting perspective on the world. This was influenced by his life experience. Mo grew up in Mogadishu, and spent his youth during the turbulent years of the 1990s. As a teenager, he & some other boys were playing with a rocket launcher. Yes, it really was common for such weapons to be accessed by children in Somalia. The rocket launcher strafed Mohamed's face. He lost an eye and suffered some minor brain damage. Mohamed was eventually able to come to America, and I have never heard him say anything but good about this country. He is now married with four children, and he is delighted to raise them in an environment so different from his own childhood.

Every once in a while, I would find myself conversing with Mo and then catching myself when I realized how different our experiences have been. When Mo was still new to the slaughterhouse, I tried to explain to him how to handle the stomachs on inspection day. Since the lamb & goat stomachs were condemned under inspected slaughter, they ended up in our inedible barrels. During the summer, the gasses in the stomachs would expand, so each stomach needed to be slit to allow the gas to escape. As I described this to Mohamed, he tried to confirm his understanding of the expansion problem by comparing it to the human bodies he would observe lying by the road back home in Somalia. Wow . . .

After spending five years working with Somalis, marketing products to them, and preparing their meats, I feel a deep bond to the Somali community -- and especially to my Somali staff members. Somalia has experienced so much turbulence, and now it is being wracked by a horrific famine. This evening on the news, there was terrible footage of the starving children. It tore up my heart to see little ones literally starving to death, mothers mourning their children, aid workers frustrated by the lack of resources. I know this touches me especially, because when I see the proud Somali faces, I think of my staff, my customers, my friends.

I want you to know about Mohamed. I want you to know about the starving children of Somalia. And I want you to think about them the next time you hear of genetically-modified crops. Too often, scientific advances in agriculture have been pronounced "franken-food" in the media. It is absolutely true that science is being applied to advance agriculture. To me, this is a golden opportunity! Research is being done to develop new varieties of crops (such as corn) that can grow in areas with less rain -- like Somalia! Before you condemn the combination of science & food production, think about the dying children of Somalia. Consider how their mothers would rejoice if crops were more readily available in their region to feed their children. Ask yourself what you would do if your baby was wasting away before your own eyes . . .

While I tend to choose numerous organic products, I recognize how fortunate I am to have the freedom, the access, and the resources to choose these products. I have so much respect for individuals like Mohamed who have come to a new country to build a better life. The Somalis in our country are grateful for the American food system that provides safe, quality, affordable products. We need to be responsive to food policies that help feed the world. We must consider the advances that will be required to provide food internationally. These same advances could even create jobs for farmers in other nations! Science has helped to cure diseases, advance communication, and send humans to space . . . science can even help farmers to conquer starvation! Before you condemn genetic research in agriculture, consider Mohamed. Consider his countrymen. Consider what you would do to feed your own child.

Think Before You Speak (especially if you are a farmer!)

Yesterday I was illuminated by a county president from a Farm Bureau in New England that farmers there are simply smarter than farmers in the Midwest. Farmers in New England have Master's degrees and run CSAs. They do NOT watch Nascar. They are simply more intelligent and more discerning than we Midwestern rubes.

I wish I was joking about this ridiculous elitist statement.

One of the greatest blessings of the farm community is its unity. I have been so fortunate to meet amazing individuals through my farm work and the many agricultural organizations that I belong. These friends and colleagues have supported me & my farming enterprise. Because I know the value of these bonds, I am greatly discouraged whenever I hear elitist commentary from members of our own farm community. Much of it arises because farmers think their own method of production is simply so much better than all others. I have no patience for this attitude -- we are blessed with many different market options for our products and we should rejoice in those opportunities!

I considered the impact of our attitudes during a conference I attended for Nationwide Insurance. Nationwide grew from its beginning as Ohio Farm Bureau Insurance. In the 1950s, it was renamed Nationwide to illustrate its growth. The company maintains very strong bonds with farmers, and is the number one writer of agricultural policies in the nation. I maintain my auto insurance through Nationwide, and am delighted to receive a discount on it as a member of Ohio Farm Bureau (yet another reason you should join Farm Bureau!)

This policyholder conference was an opportunity to connect with and gain feedback from representatives of state farm bureaus that partner with Nationwide. I learned a great deal about Nationwide and walked away with a positive feeling about the relationship between the company & Ohio Farm Bureau. I also came away feeling very proud of the fact that I am a member of Ohio Farm Bureau, and especially that I am a graduate of the AgriPower program. Our state farm bureau strives to promote positive relationships with consumers, works to unify the farm community, and reminds us to always maintain our professionalism as farmers. I am very proud to be afilliated with this organization.

As a county president for Ohio Farm Bureau, I have often heard the admonition that we are not just the county president for a few hours a month -- we are the county president 24 hours per day. 98% of the American population does not farm. Thus, we must always be good representatives for agriculture . . . whatever role we have in the farm community. This means considering the things we say. A condescending attitude toward other farmers helps no one. Ethnic slurs are offensive. Using perjorative terminology is unacceptable. Mocking others in farming -- particularly our workers -- is tasteless. Finally, if you come to visit Columbus, and are a guest in our fine city, please keep in mind that this is a VERY bad time to make fun of the Buckeyes!

Last night after our evening session, I returned to my hotel room and enjoyed a great documentary on PBS about President Lincoln. Despite all the pressures of the war, the presidency, and his critics, Lincoln carried on without fail in his mission to protect our great union & free our fellow man. With the advantage of time, we can appreciate this phenomenal man, yet he was widely ridiculed during his administration. Remarkably, Lincoln's keen mind and firm resolve were honed without much formal education. He did not have a Master's degree, nor did he run a CSA. (Rather, CSA meant something completely different!) It is important to remember that it is not the education that makes the man; it is the integrity of character that makes the man. Education without humility is wasted. Not every farmer has a Master's or a Bachelor's degree, or even a high school diploma. But then, neither did Abraham Lincoln -- that rough Midwestern -- who saved our country!

Friday, July 8, 2011

God Bless America & Her Farmers

In most of the adventures that turn into my best stories, there is always that moment when I find myself thinking "Of course this is happening to me . . . this would only happen to me!" I definitely had one of those experiences while celebrating Independence Day!
This was the first year that I was able to join the Franklin County Farm Bureau's float in the Hilliard Parade. My good friend, the Hay Farmer, does a fantastic job of arranging for this activity every year. He had one of his John Deere tractors hooked up to a hay wagon. The wagon had straw bales for seating and banners promoting Farm Bureau & Farm Days at COSI. The Hay Farmer had recruited some young friends to toss candy from the wagon. In addition, there were several adult volunteers from Farm Bureau who walked alonside, passing out coupons for Velvet Ice Cream.

Independence Day weekend was very busy for me with catering jobs. After working some late nights, it was a bit of a struggle to pull myself out of bed on the morning of the 4th of July! I hustled to get to Hilliard and meet up with my friends for the parade. After debating what to wear, I decided blue jeans were acceptable for a parade. The parade organized at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, and I passed by many other floats & organizations as I hurried to walk to the front of the parade line where the Farm Bureau float was waiting. I stopped to say a quick hello to the awesome Clarence Mingo, Franklin County Auditor. I also passed by some people I knew who were there to support Senator Portman. I was sorry that I did not see Congressman Steve Stivers, but many of his supporters were gathered to walk in the parade.

I finally located the Franklin County Farm Bureau float, and we were quickly ready to start the parade! It was a great event! We had absolutely perfect weather. There were large crowds and the attendees were very enthusiastic. We received an excellent response for our Farm Bureau float! I spend the first half of the parade working the crowd: "Did you get your ice cream coupon? This is for Velvet Ice Cream's new flavor sponsored by Ohio Farm Bureau: honey caramel! Support your local farmers! Eat more ice cream!" These coupons were very popular! None the less, it takes more time to walk along passing out coupons than for a tractor to move down Main Street . . . thus, I was often running to catch back up with our float!

Normally I only run when chasing pigs or evading bears, so this was a good workout for me! About halfway through the parade, it began to sink in that I had neglected to eat breakfast while hurrying to get to Hilliard. Thus, I jumped on the hay wagon and enjoyed the granola bar I had stashed in my purse. I sat with one of my girlfriends and we chatted while I rested up. In a few minutes I was restored and ready to pass out more ice cream coupons. I jumped off the moving wagon . . . and immediately heard: "RIIIIIIIPP!" Now, I've been climbing on & off moving hay wagons since I was a kid. I had never done that, however, on this particular hay wagon . . . and I was unfamiliar with the location of nails on it. A nail head managed to snag my jeans (so glad I didn't wear dress pants!) and opened them up all along the back of my upper thigh! Fortunately, I was not injured at all and nothing "inappropriate" was showing. Still, there was a LOT of visible thigh, so I thought it best for the President of the Franklin County Farm Bureau to spend the rest on the parade sitting on the float!

The conclusion of the parade went great and we began working our way back to the fairgrounds. This took quite a bit of time for the slow floats to travel. We happened to be stopped at one point, and I looked up to see that we were right next to Congressman Steve Stiver's contingent. They were decompressing after the parade, and the Congressman was right there with them! We saw each other and I went to greet him. As is usual for me with people of whom I am fond, we immediately went for the hug. At that moment, as I gave a friendly hug to one of my favorite Members of Congress, I suddenly remembered my pants were completely slit open up the back! Hoping no operatives of the other political party were there with a camera, I thought it prudent to tell the Congressman the funny story of my jeans being attacked by the hay wagon. Then I passed out ice cream coupons to all of the Congressman's supporters!

I hope you enjoyed a blessed holiday, and honored our country's glorious heritage! I also hope you enjoyed a good hot dog . . . and avoided any potential "Weiner" moments!