Terra Talks Toxic
Last week we stumbled into the terrific program being offered at Eli's Cheesecake. Right now it's basically my wife and I, plus the kidz from Chicago Ag School. You should come too. We got a great talk yesterday from Ms. Brockman of the Land Connection as well as a few sage words from Joel Smith of Slow Food (whose pitch of eating well while doing good finally has my wife seeking to join, and if she wants to do it, guess who won't be far behind). Terra talked local. Her vehicle, the tale of two farms. She contrasted battery egg production and other industrial farming against her brother's organic farm. She offered much, in a witty and engaging way, but what I most took from the hour was that eating local was even better for the environment than I thought.
OK, I'll say that I am pretty familiar with the ills of factory farming. I'm aghast at the idea of a huge penned milk line going up in Western Illinois. Still, when I've thought about local and the earth, including in my recent speeches, I've focused almost wholly on food miles. And when I try to think of other environmental reasons for local, I tend to think of the lack of packaging in my CSA box. Terra fully reminded me of a range of problems with standard ag.
Battery eggs, the slightly nicer term for caged in total confinement is gross in many ways. Think about that again, caged in total confinement. It is also bad for the earth. These factories produce huge amounts of, well, chicken shit. The shit as well as the occasional chicken that cannot handle the heat (so to speak) get poured into a brew known as the lagoon. Regs require these pits of animal hell to be sealed and otherwise set off, but of course it does not always work that way. This toxic water finds its way to where it's not supposed to be. Terra also talked about the typical industrial ammonia based fertilizer, which is really a off-shoot of petrochemicals--she cited some numbers of the amount of natural gas that is needed to make fertilizer. I did not write it down, but believe me when I say, a lot. Again, you have problems of run-off and seepage. She showed a picture of a sign in a Wisconsin farming community cafe, where the denizens were warned that the local water was not safe for the young and infirm...because of the nitrate stew of washed off fertilizer, unsaid in the warning. She ended her talk with the notion that no human activity causes more earthly harm than the production of food.
Wait you say. Terra's brother Henry, is an aberration. His farm is totally solar powered. He rides to the market in a biodiesel powered truck. The only fossil fuels he encounters occur at the locker where his chickens are processed. That's not local, that's a freak. 'Tis true. It's not like there are not factory farms that are local to me. I love the foodstuffs at Fair Oaks Dairy, hate the farming practices. My response would be that local, local food, locavore, means more than just food within my foodshed, food grown or produced near me. It means getting my food from the places I want. Making choices about my food. Choosing my farmer. Knowing my farmer. If you question anything Terra said, go visit the farm this weekend. She reminded me that there's more to local than good food.