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Do You Eat Food?

By Greg Lipes, Head Farmer, Lipes Family Farm, West Branch, Iowa

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If you’re reading this article, I presume that your answer to the title question is yes.  That being the case, you are exercising a huge responsibility each time you put food in your mouth.  You may have heard someone say something about “voting with your fork” and understood it at some abstract level.  This abstract idea, however, has very concrete consequences when put into action.  Allow me to explain, using our farm as an example.

Lipes Family Farm rolls across 178 acres, half of which is in pasture and the other half is timber.  The ground is very hilly and most of it should not be tilled.  This, however, did not stop previous farmers from trying.  We are now left with the challenging task of building back up severe gullies where soil has been washing away for decades.  With appropriate management of ruminant herbivores (in our case, cattle), we have already significantly slowed the erosion and will soon have it stopped altogether.  Then we will begin healing those scars so that they aren’t even recognizable as gullies anymore.  That’s our dream, anyway.  We are also managing our cattle to improve the organic material in our soil, increase the biodiversity of our landscape, and improve both the mineral and water cycles on at least this piece of the earth.

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One of our strongest passions is insuring that the animals in our care are treated humanely each day of their lives.  This includes ensuring a species appropriate diet, giving animals the opportunity to fully express their natural instincts, and of course working with them gently, using low-stress handling techniques.  Some examples of how we carry this out on our farm are:

  • Ruminants (i.e., cattle) are 100% grassfed to finish.  We never feed them any grain, since that would be a biologically inappropriate diet for a ruminant.
  • Hogs rotate through our hickory and oak glens without rings in their noses.  We want them to be able to root around and get a large percentage of their diet from their natural foraging abilities.  They are happy, healthy pigs.
  • When moving or loading cattle, we don’t whoop and holler and shock them with prods.  We have learned how cattle respond to our body movements and simply position our body to ask them to calmly move where we want them.

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These are just a couple of the things that make our farm unique – our commitment to environmental stewardship and humane animal husbandry.  We sell our meat and eggs directly to consumers and tell them all about our practices.  We invite them out to the farm and encourage them to come take a look around for themselves and see how we are raising their food.  We are incredibly grateful to our loyal customers who make it possible for us to farm.  Without customers to buy our products, we would not be able to steward the land and care for the animals as we do.

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So you see how your food purchasing decisions directly affect not just your own diet, but your environment and your community as well.  Your purchasing decisions today decide who will be in business tomorrow.  The best way to encourage good farming practices is to find a farmer near where you live who farms in a way that you want to support and buy their food.  That’s it.  Decide what is important to you and vote with your food dollars.  This is what people mean when they say “vote with your fork”.  Support the people near you who are farming the way you wish everyone was farming.

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published this page in Learn 2014-10-16 09:34:27 -0400