I have two children. As I have said before, my son is my little gardener. And my daughter is my little environmentalist. She has always been one who looks at the big picture. It was a result of her encouragement that you will find me riding my bicycle to accomplish my close in errands. During a farm unit at school, she made the unique choice to forego the tractor (relying on ‘clean’ horsepower instead) and the slaughtering of any animals (they would instead be used for their wool or their eggs or their milk). And she is, in part, the reason I have purchased my first pig. Or half a pig… or the parts and pieces of half a pig.
At six years old, Meagan came home from school and made the firm announcement that she was not going to eat any meat that had not led a happy life. We discussed what this meant and how we might find the appropriate information. Fortunately for her, this pronouncement followed my earlier reading of ‘In Defense of Food’ (which I wrote about here) and coincided with my reading on ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’, which provided me with just enough tools to start my own search for humanly raised animals. (Oh, and I had also just finished reading the hilarious ‘Farm City’ by Novella Carpenter ) I would highly recommend reading any of these books if you are interested in the subject of food and where it comes from.
I don’t entertain every new wish my young children bestow upon me. But this one seemed worthy of further research. After looking into it, I found the conventional way we raise animals in order to satisfy our country’s incredible demand for meat to be truly alarming. The increased efficiency, in order to meet our insatiable hunger, comes at an economic, environmental, and personal cost. CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) have been created to house animals by cramming them by the thousands and tens of thousands into small pens, corrals and cages, where they are unable to walk around, breathe fresh air or have exposure to daylight. Take a pig for instance: Industry might argue that hog CAFOs with climate control and automated feed and water systems, are a modern version of hog heaven. But the realities can be hellish: 1,000 to 2,500 animals in a single building, with as many as 20 hogs crammed inside pens no bigger than a bedroom, with no straw, no mud, and absolutely no way to be a pig. A CAFO hog lives out its short miserable life on a hard concrete surface, producing huge volumes of waste, which falls through the slatted floors into a massive cesspool underneath the building before it’s dumped out on the landscape. There is an economic cost: Smaller family farms find it difficult to compete with large farms that warehouse their animals. Market prices for these warehoused animals are so low that farmers aren’t able to compete against CAFO. There is an environmental cost: CAFO’s produce a high amount of animal waste that pollutes our waterways, air and soil with pathogens, pesticides, poisonous gases and other contaminates. And there is a personal cost: We have become so disconnected from our food supplies that our children don’t know where their food comes from or that there is an appropriate season for our food, even meat. (and here is another informative website.)
Timing is everything. In the midst of my endless Internet searching that led to more questions, concern and confusion, my friend sent me an email about splitting a pig that is being raised as a happy hog at a nearby farm. Portland and the Willamette Valley is known for a variety of things, among them are our coffee shops, brew pubs, restaurants and the incredible men and women who supply these eateries with fresh fruits, vegetables and meats that are grown sustainably and, well, happily!
Kookoolan Farms is a wonderful diverse farm that has wrapped itself in a community that supports each other. The Kookoolan owners, Chrissie and Koorosh Zaerpoor, have a passion for farming, animal husbandry and the land that supports them. It is immediately evident upon meeting them that they want to provide their clients with the best possible products while also giving their animals the best life they can. Don’t be fooled, these animals are not pets. They are raised for their meat, but in Chrissie’s eyes that doesn’t mean that the living creatures shouldn’t have a healthy, happy life. The chickens range free (when they aren’t being protected by their humans from the bandit predators that stalk the yard at night… The day I visited the farm, Chrissie’s husband and another farm worker had stayed up half the night protecting the yard of chickens from a band of pillaging skunks and raccoons!), the cows wander the field and the pigs play in their spacious pen.
My pig had actually come from a neighboring farm. And so Chrissie took me to see her neighbor Mark who raises, I can assure you, the most delicious pigs I have ever tasted! These pigs live together in spacious pens where they can dig in the dirt, wallow in the mud and sleep high and dry in a bed of straw. The pigs were given the opportunity to live as pigs should live. They were ‘clean’ and curious and very frisky. They were not afraid when I walked up to the pen to admire their pink and red and brown coats. My pig was not fed antibiotics, or growth hormones. They were instead fed grains, grass and hazelnut treats, that are locally harvested. These were definitely happy pigs, which resulted in tasty pigs!
I grew up in the Portland suburbs. We lived the suburban life, which meant that the only food that didn’t come from the grocery story were a few tomatoes and strawberries we grew in our back yard. We weren’t hunters or foragers or farmers. We were barely even gardeners. As an adult I am learning about food and where it comes from. My intention is that my children have a deeper relationship with their food and the land it comes from. Every week, we look forward to our Saturday morning at our neighborhood Farmer’s Market. And now, I am excited to extend that connection to our meat, through my relationship with Kookoolan Farms and their menagerie of pigs, chickens and beef.