It was with mild uncertainty that we followed the narrow dirt road away from the highway and past shady, green pastures. Within minutes, the farm’s inhabitants became visible on the other side of the fence: goats stood munching on hay, ducks nestled on cool patches of earth, and chickens scooted around within their open-air enclosures.
We parked next to a large, hydroponic garden and walked over to the ducks. They good-naturedly fluffed their feathers and shook their wispy tails, as though inviting us to enjoy their shady respite.
I couldn’t help but notice how healthy they looked. I know it sounds silly, but it was reassuring to see that real, unaltered farm animals still exist.
What I didn’t see, though, was even better. There were no deformed birds missing feet and/or beaks as a result of “genetic optimization.” There were no poor fowl weighed down by enormous breasts pumped full of hormones. Birds were free to roam about, instead of being stacked on top of one another, like inanimate objects, covered in a mixture of antibiotics and feces.
It was clear that these animals were being treated as living creatures, even though they were being raised for food.
We were witnessing the beauty of a “free range” or “pastured” farm.
While the drive had only taken us down a few highways and a dirt road, the journey to this farm spanned a much greater distance and time.
You see, I’ve cringed at the thought of factory farming for a long time. I’ve watched the documentaries and shed tears over the deplorable treatment of livestock, read the articles about the sinking standards and corrupt regulations, and listened to endless pleas for action against the “science experiment” that the meat industry has become. Over the years, I’ve explored vegetarianism and organic foods. In regards to the former, I spent several years perpetually hungry and grouchy, until I realized that I was actually eating more factory-processed, soy-based foods in order to get enough protein and, in the process, continuing to support the widespread use of GMOs and high fructose corn syrup. Feeling silly and defeated, I began eating meat again. The problem with the latter, unfortunately, is that so many loopholes now exist that “organic” has become an empty term and does not ensure that creatures receive humane treatment.
Feeling insignificant and overwhelmed, I’ve spent the last few years pretending that my purchase of Publix Greenwise chicken isn’t supporting the very factory farms that I despise.
In my eyes, life is like a puzzle. The object is to put together all of the pieces in order to appreciate the bigger picture—but unlike that cardboard-backed country landscape from my childhood, this one follows completely different rules. Some pieces, for example, don’t fit the first time you try them, but then they connect perfectly down the road. Other times, pieces seem to vanish, leaving frustrating holes, until they are discovered and properly placed years later.
Local, free range farming has been a piece I’ve been missing for a very long time, and I just found it.
Last night, while watching a reality television show I’m too embarrassed to name, I saw one of the characters drag her sister to a free range farm to show her the beauty of sustainable, humane farming. Then, she said something that I had heard time and time again, but whereas it had been an incompatible piece before, this time it fit: “If you support free range farms like this one, there will be more of them.”
With my interest piqued, I searched for free range farms in my area and found one only half an hour away.
And, as previously mentioned, a short drive converged with a much longer spiritual journey at the Lake Meadow Naturals Egg Farm.
Inside the market, I was overwhelmed by the vast array of poultry and beef products for sale, all humanely and organically obtained. I admit, I faltered for a moment. I was used to sterile-looking chicken breasts, steaks, and ground beef gleaming from orderly displays. Here, versions of these were available, but they looked very different from what I was used to. In addition, there were so many things I had never seen before. Venison? Bison? Hearts? Tongues? You don’t see those at Publix.
I tried to look for a steak I knew, but my trusty NY Strip couldn’t be found. Honestly, I was afraid of buying a cut of meat I didn’t know how to cook, and I started to doubt the decision to come to the farm.
Fortunately, instead of balking at the unfamiliar, as I so often do, I dug in and made my selections. Some were simple things like ground beef and chicken breast, but I also branched out and selected two venison steaks.
I’d like to say that I felt victorious as I returned to my car, but the truth is that I felt uncertain. What if these grass-fed meats didn’t cook the same as their wretched counterparts, which I knew how to handle? Maybe it was enough to buy Greenwise—I thought cowardly—it was certainly easier.
Fortunately, before I could escape into my air-conditioned vehicle and travel back to a place disconnected from the reality of food production, the sound of clucking made me look up.
And there they were…healthy chickens with full feathers, contentedly walking around, acting like chickens. Just like that, another piece slid into place, and I could see more of the bigger picture.
Now, as I sit at my simple wooden table writing these words, waiting for beets to roast for dinner, I’m still anxious about cooking the venison. But behind that fear of the unknown is the thrill of supporting a local farm and, in a very small way, opposing the dominion of factory farming.
Change is never easy, but as a very wise professor once said, “If you do nothing to change the status quo, then you are, by default, supporting it.”
Today, I learned that a piece of me refuses to support the current practice of factory farming any longer.
Okay, grass-fed venison, here I come!
photo credit: -Mandie- via photopin cc
photo credit: ellajphillips via photopin cc
photo credit: river seal via photopin cc