Farming without Outrage

A farming friend sent me a provocatively written news story that was almost perfectly calculated to rile us both up. As will become clear, my purpose here is not to debate or to dispute that story. But for a brief context, the article’s subheading sums up the ideas: “If we can’t dramatically cut meat consumption then intensive ‘factory farming’ may be comparatively less risky.” The risk referred to is the risk of animal-borne pandemics, and the conclusion is that we’d be at less risk to overall health if we moved animals off pastures and into confinement housing. From my point of view, this entire article and the research study on which it was based were impossibly entangled by misunderstanding and confusion, so much so that it all felt like willful misrepresentation.

Enough with the Outrage

After reading the piece, I continued a discussion with my friend, trying to figure out what, if anything, would be worth saying. We wondered how to react when our intense attachment to organic and regenerative farming comes into contact with other perspectives, particularly ones that seem dangerous. Long-time readers of this blog will know that I do occasionally write a post on something that I feel is seriously wrong with our food and agricultural systems, such as the monopolization of food or the inevitable consequences of unbridled growth. Through our discussion about this article, we both expressed a feeling of outrage-induced exhaustion.

We are surrounded by voices clamoring for our outrage. And in this complicated world of ours, there never is a shortage of fuel for the thrumming indignation engine. Every possible social, political, and economic issue can justify it. With eight billion individual human actors, two hundred nation states, and innumerable organizations (corporations, academic bodies, religious groups, etc.) we always have examples to point out while exclaiming, “Look at this horrible thing they’re doing over there!” Among so many different agendas, power struggles, and historical grievances, any incident will serve as the casus belli for somebody.

But outrage wears us down. Obviously it has a useful purpose in motivating us to action, but for all the times we simply feel the emotions without taking action, or when it just confirms our bad opinions of others and reinforces our self-superiority, it serves no good purpose. During periods in which I’ve steeped in it, when I’ve allowed it to play a role in my life, I’ve never been pleased with the tone my life took.

I don’t want outrage to dominate my life. I don’t enjoy being with people whose primary mode is outrage. So it is worth taking the time to clarify what I’d like to do with our farm’s little corner of the internet, and what I want to achieve with this platform.

Expressing Ideas without Indignation

My primary goal in writing is to help our customers understand what is happening on our farm, what it’s like to be a farmer, and what it takes to bring food from a plan all the way to the plate. This goal provides capacious boundaries, whether I’m showing how we build pasture shelters for chickens or discussing the types of plants our grass fed cattle are eating. Whatever I write about, I hope it can ultimately help connect people to the food they are eating.

The majority of people are many steps removed from farming. Since their daily lives don’t put them in contact with farming’s physical realities (soil, fences, tractors, seeds, and chemicals), and since the workings of the economic and political forces aren’t clear, as a farmer living in the middle of this I probably have some responsibility to speak out.

Some of the food system is deliberately deceptive. Almost all of it is opaque. And there are agendas, many of which are not concerned with our thriving. So there are deeply important topics to discuss, topics which directly impact our health, security, and future prospects. But even when dealing with the weightier issues, I want to steer clear of stridency. Not everything requires a clenched jaw as we grimly trample out the grapes of wrath.

There will always be outside events to be discussed and contextualized. There may occasionally even be some times to pound on the table while decrying something that’s wrong. But there’s enough good, important work happening here to focus on. I want our customers reading this to know what we love about farming. So I hope that my writing can reflect the life of the farm, telling the story behind our food and our work, sharing a little goodness. That’s my goal.


10 thoughts on “Farming without Outrage”

  1. Thanks Dave, well thunk and well written as usual.

    It’s been brutally hot these last few days and I’ve spent hours in the orchards mowing four feet high grass with a scythe and finally yielding to the heat and renting a walk behind brush hog for two days. The Japanese beetles are back in force. The foxes claimed two more chickens because I failed to turn on the electric fence one night. And the news of the day is less than hopeful as it always seems to be, so I rarely pay much attention to it. But, like you, I have moments of anger and sadness with the state of the world but find hope on the ground under my feet. That is usually, but not always, enough.

    Our friend Wendell says it best. Be Well.

    “Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet. Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground underfoot. Be lighted by the light that falls freely upon it after the darkness of the nights and the darkness of our ignorance and madness.

    Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you, which is the light of imagination. By it you see the likeness of people in other places to yourself in your place. It lights invariably the need for care toward other people, other creatures, in other places as you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

    No place at last is better than the world. The world is no better than its places. Its places at last are no better than their people while their people continue in them. When the people make dark the light within them, the world darkens.” – Wendell Berry

    1. I love those lines about places, their people, and the world. Thanks Phil! This winter we read Berry’s book Jaber Crow as a family. I was surprised at how the writing engaged everyone – I thought the kids might have had a harder time connecting with the story than they did. It’s fascinating how writers who have such a narrow geographic focus like Berry and Thomas Hardy can create works with such a broad appeal.

  2. Hi, Dave! I’ve been concerned that monoculture of poultry might be moving into / raising its ugly head here in the Finger Lakes. My concern is based on a short road trip back home to Kendal at Ithaca from points further north. It looked as though a number of chicken coops, or whatever, were taking the place of …. I’m not too sure what. I am both far far away chronologically and geographically from today’s Finger Lakes poultry culture, having spent a long, long-time-ago childhood in semi-urban to rural North Central Texas where we actually had chickens and an occasional duck in our backyard. Then, in between my Texas childhood and my Finger Lakes dotage, there was Bergen County, NJ where I made frequent trips to Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff, NJ.
    When the Ithaca Farmers’ Market offered nothing further than small frozen whole chickens I searched the internet for “local” fowl, and your WDF was the only source that I found to my liking. I have been pesce-pollotarian for the last two decades at least and have stuck closely to it with a few exceptions such as when my son proudly grills beefburger in his backyard; no way was I going to nix his fare! Of course, his father enjoys the free beef we get with my chicken and turkey purchases… so…. we both benefit from WDF, but I wish you were closer, as was Goffle Road Poultry!
    Since this was only supposed to be a comment, rather than an epistle, I should have stopped writing sooner, though I will be going back and rereading some of your former/farmer newsletters.

  3. If only more people be less ignorant, and educated yourself what is small farming and factory farming we wouldn’t have propaganda: meat consumption, milk consumption and we would have healthy nation.
    Thank you Dave for your hard work!
    Have blessed Independence weekend!

  4. Ilana & Diego Saporta

    Dear Dave

    I’m sorry to read this post

    Not only I feel bad for you, I feel bad for the few people that are aware of the role of healthy foods in our well-being

    I would like to express two comments

    1) nature is wise and zoonotic diseases are rare and not easily transmissible so FDA telling us that living in nature is more dangerous than overcrowding populations in small spaces is, well, complete nonsense

    2) this is not about making a mistake; this is a clear plan to kill the competition in favor of big-corpo

    Next step after this: cloned meat and no more availability of natural food…

    We hear you and agree with you

    1. Indeed. This is OBVIOUSLY an attempt by big ag to stop the tidal waves of people looking for good, CLEAN, healthy and responsibly husbanded food, both meats and fruits/vegetables. It’s about them realizing they can’t play “humanely raised” and “organic” without a loss to their bottom line and now they desire an end to the idea of fresh clean humanely raised food and to get out of the sandbox without losing market share. Hence a “scientific” study BY those who benefit from its outcome. These tricks won’t work because we’ve come to realize that these big institutions can’t be trusted. So farm on, Dave! We get you!

  5. Hi Dave,

    Great article. With so much divisiveness in our world it is refreshing to see someone take up the palm and reach out and discuss the important issues generally and food specifically that affect all of us regardless of where you might stand on the broader spectrum. Food health and therefore human health is everyone’s concern and with tolerance (where inquisitiveness is ok and expect to be offended because nobody except politicians can get it right 100% of the time) and ongoing discussion where everyone can feel like they have a voice and included and feel are contributing to the common good.

  6. Thank you for this calm perspective. I cringe reading news articles about meat consumption – it’s all about big business and agendas as you said. I’m glad you, and others like you are out there, farming in sustainable ways and offering healthy alternatives.

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