Entries in Research (26)


Is this Progress?


photo by Janice Waltzer

to this......

photo by Ronnie Bergeron

Food has changed a lot in the last century and there could be large arguments over whether that change has been good or bad.  On one hand, food is cheaper, more plentiful and more equally available than it ever has been in history.  On the other hand, food has never been less nutritious, less safe or less sustainable than it is right now. It appears to me in America’s intent to make our food system ultra-efficient that we hit the wrong bulls-eye.  We should have more clearly defined our goals.  Instead of saying we want to make the most food on the planet  -- we should have said we wanted to develop a system that sustainably produces rich nutrient dense food that makes the people and the land healthier with each harvest.  Instead, while food prices plummet -- health care prices rise at an almost precise converse rate.  

The very first supermarket ever open was in 1930’s.  Before that, people got their groceries either from smaller markets, directly from farmers or grew it themselves.  In 1926 there were 136 grocery stores per square mile. In a quick Google Maps search -- there are 3 stores that sell groceries - not counting convenience stores - within one mile of me now.   A particularly amazing fact jumped out at me as I started researching this story of food distribution -- the way we get food in America has changed almost completely in the lifetime of one generation.   Which means for the oldest generation in America, they can remember a time when the majority of the food eaten in America had not shipped over 100 miles.  A time when a farmer fed not 158 people as signs along the highway boast now, but instead a few dozen.  Food was more expensive then, too. The average family spent over ⅓ of their income on food in the 40’s -- today they spend less than 6% on home prepared meals and a nearly equal amount on pre-prepared meals.  Many people believe that this shift in the food system was necessary to support the rapid growth of our nation.

But I don’t think so.  I think a  food system that was centered around a strong network of ultra-local food where families would procure ALL of their produce from farms within 250 miles of their home would be more efficient, more healthy, and more environmentally sustainable than the system that we currently have today. This is the system I have decided to proselytize in the most effective way I can -- by simply doing it.  As Ghandi says --”You must be the Change you want to see in the world.”


Why buy organic, summed up

Tonight, I came across an excerpt from Mark Keating's article "Transition" in Acres USA September 2011 edition.  He states, "The good news is that organic agriculture with its inherent foundation in the integrity and stability of the natural order affords us the surest path to correct the destructive practices of industrialized food production and protect the earth's life-nurturing properties."

And THAT is why I want to buy organic, naturally produced food and materials.  It's not only better for our bodies, it's better for the plants.  It's better for the animals.  It's better for our Earth.  And those are darn good reasons.  Mr. Keating sums up why to buy organic so succinctly, in a manner I've not heard before.

photo credit

Sometimes, I consider the impact of making an organic purchase, such as chicken.  Egotistically, I think about myself and family, believing naturally-raised chicken to be more healthy, more nourishing to our bodies.  Then, I think about the chicken and the better quality of its life as it explored pastures free range.  I think of the inputs and materials to raise the chicken and how sustainable they are in regards to our Earth's future.  I decide that buying organic is not just about the taste or the health benefits or the impact on the land, but rather all of those reasons together.  I am excited to make greater contributions to 'the integrity and stability of the natural order.'




What’s in a Name

Pork + Chicken + Lamb + Beef = Synergistic Acres

When we were choosing a name for our farm, the most important thing to us was that it represented more than just a physical location – such as Four Oaks Pastures – partly because we didn’t (and still don’t) have a physical location.  Instead, we wanted the name to represent more of the how and the why.  That is where the term synergistic comes from. 

The simplest definition for synergistic is 1 + 1 = 3 or The sum is greater than its parts.  Despite what I teach my students every day, there are times when the sum CAN equal more than its parts.  Synergism happens when two or more things work together to create something not possible by itself.  In nature, synergism happens all the time.  For instance sodium and chlorine by themselves are highly toxic to humans, but combined they make table salt, a beneficial compound.  Birds on the Serengetti exist in a synergistic relationship with the wildebeest.  The wildebeest attract and stir up insects for the birds to eat and in return the birds act as look outs for danger and remove parasites from their skin.  Even plants growing in the soil is a type of synergy.  They take water, minerals and sunlight and create completely new substances that provide their energy through the process of photosynthesis. 

Synergism is what will make a small sustainable farm like ours productive without depleting the land.  By mimicking nature, looking at the entire ecosystem on the farm and using multiple species working together, we intend to create a system that produces an amazing amount of nutritious and delicious food for people in the Kansas City area.

So what will this synergism look like?  On our farm, we will raise cattle. If you try to raise cattle without any other animals on your farm (the way most cattle in America are raised), you end up with problems that we then have to artificially respond to.  For instance, large amounts of cattle produce a large amount of cow manure.  Cattle manure leads to flies and parasites.  This is where it is important to have chickens.  Chcikens are excellent cow pie exterminators.  They will literally search out, peck apart and destroy the cow pies, eating a large amount of the larva from them which will dramatically reduce the parasite population of the farm.  These two animals need each other in order to thrive naturally.  Cows need the chickens to exterminate the parasites, and the chickens need the cows to keep the grass mowed and attract large numbers of larva.  The two grown separately would not grow as well.  There are similar relationships between all of the animals we will care for. 

Synergistic Acres represents the belief that nature has given us a model of sustainability and that if we watch closely and learn from that model, that we can grow nutritious and delicious food that will feed many people while simultaneously strengthening the land that sustains us.

Just for grins, some of the other names we considered:

  • Abundant Acres – Taken already – but I like this one
  • Pasturized Acres – Laura didn’t think anyone would find this play on words as funny as I do – thank goodness I have her to keep me in check
  • GrassRoots Ranch - Also taken - plus although I like the play on words, our roots in farming are not much to name a farm on.  

Raising Pigs Outside -- isn't that how it's always done?

What do you think about when you think of a pig farm?  If you are like the average consumer you might envision a group of pigs living in mud, running around in a fenced yard, eating table scraps.  You might even think about how stinky the pigs are. However, what most consumers don't think about is that most pigs never see the sun their entire lives, never mind mud.

Here is a video of a very typical pig farm. 

I chose this video because it was produced by the producer themselves.  If you want to see more graphic video of pig farms, simply go to youtube and type in pig farm -- you will see some much less pretty places.  

I thought I might elaborate on some of the terms they used just for clarity

"farrowing stall (crate)" -- the mother pig stays in this area 24 hours a day.  The crate is designed to not allow the mother to turn around or move, therefore ensuring that the piglets are safe.  The stalls are typically 7 feet long by 3 feet wide.   She will stay in these stalls until the babies are weaned at 21 days.  She will then be rebred and put into a gestation crate.  A smaller crate -- only 2 feet wide -- that she will live in 24 hours a day until she has her next litter.

"closely monitor barn temperature to ensure optimal conditions"  -- Industrial pig barns are kept abnormally warm 24 hours a day to increase growth on the pigs.  The closer to body temp the air is kept -- the less calories that are spent by the pigs body heating itself.  One problem with this is that it leads to lots of bacterial growth.  Don't worry they have thought of that too....

"nutritious feed" -- industrial pig food is primarily grain based, but also includes a daily ration of antibiotics  and other supplements such as arsenic and growth hormones.  The arsenic is there to calm the pigs. kill germs and to make the meat more pink by forming abnormal blood vessels through the pigs body. (Relevant fact, doctors use pigs for practice because their muscle and blood vessel structure closely resembles humans.  Also relevant. we can no longer use arsenic to treat the wood we build our decks with because they were worried about it hurting our children, but it is still legal and encouraged to feed it to our food).

"clean comfortable conditions" -- Pigs live their entire lives on concrete and steel grates suspended over shallow manure pits.  These are washed down often and the pigs are often sprayed with caustic chlorine solutions to ensure they stay "clean."

"industry leader in environmental stewardship" -- I guess this is like saying you are the most friendly pirate or the most trustworthy politician.   



There is another way though.

Here is a video of pigs living on pasture.  Eating nutritious food, in clean comfortable conditions, with closely monitored temperature (when it's hot they go to the shade, when its cold they go to the sun).

 Another amazing farmer who raises all hundreds of pigs outdoors in open pastures is Sugar Mountian farm  

Which one do you think most consumers would choose to buy if they had all the information?

This is Farmland's (a Smithfield subsidiary) website home page.  Doesn't quite seem to be an accurate representation of the barn we saw, does it?  I wonder why?

Pork Label



Are Free Range Organic Chicken Eggs better? 

Kansas City Organic Chicken Egg


Is there a difference between the eggs from a free range chicken and the eggs from a commercial egg producer that you would find at the grocery store?  What if the package says they are cage free or free range. I hope to show you that if you are buying any egg from the store in Kansas City then you are likely not getting the same quality egg you would be getting by buying eggs from a LOCAL farmer who truly free ranges their hens on open pasture. 

As the picture above shows, there is a dramatic visual difference between eggs that come from chickens who have a a natural diet that included a large amount of grasses, bugs and weeds.  The two dark orange yolks come from chickens who spent their days wandering around the pasture eating all that nature provided and then supplemented that with grains provided by the farmer.  In addition, they are continuously exposed to cleansing sunshine and fresh air.  This leads to inordinately healthy and robust chickens – which in turn lay healthy and robust eggs.   The yolk on the right was from a store bought egg that had a diet that consisted only of industrialized chicken feed.  This includes such yumminess as ground up chicken parts, arsenic and low-grade antibiotics. In addition, chickens living in confined housing are also breathing in and eating an incredible amount of their own feces which is also digested by the hens.  The lighter color is simply a visual indicator showing a difference in the diets of the two birds and is not a direct indication of health however. 

The real difference is in taste and nutrition.  A pasture raised hen lays eggs that have 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene than eggs raised from industrial chicken farms.  This is according to a study done in 2007.  So they are clearly better nutritionally, but why?  It is their diet.  Nearly every egg bought at the store comes from hens that were fed a nearly identical diet based primarily on corn and soybean and then "enhanced" with things that will keep them alive and laying more eggs. Even store bought eggs that say “Free Range” or Cage Free” are not nutritionally better and you might be surprised how those chickens live.  Cage free for example does not mean that the chicken is living its life out on pasture.  Instead cage free chickens live their life inside confined houses with as little as 60 square inches of space per bird (for comparison - a piece of paper has 88 square inches of space) and adding free range to the label simply means that the hens have an opening to an outdoor area.  On most commercial chicken houses, this is an opening the size of doggie door that goes to a small concrete pad outdoors. A larger space is not needed because few hens ever find that opening in their crowded condition and because there is not food or water on the concrete pad they do not stay long. 

So....the moral of the story is find a local farmer and buy eggs from them. Try to find one where their hens have access to as much pasture and outdoor space as possible.  You eggs will not only taste better -- they will be better for you.

Synergistic Acres - 21733 Iliff Rd, Parker, KS 66072 - 913-735-4769
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