By: Mac Stone, Farmer & Owner, Elmwood Stock Farm
The genesis of my writing about food and farm subjects was having to, for years, watch people my wife, Ann, and I know and love make lousy food choices, which in turn would have a collective impact on our Big Blue Nation. Consuming industrial foods harms the planet, you personally, your housemates, extended family and the neighbors. Eating organic, regeneratively-raised foods is beneficial to the planet, you personally, your housemates, extended family and the neighbors.
Just think: What if we all committed to eating as well as we are able? How might it impact our Commonwealth and the people we all know and love?
We each are but one little organism running around among millions of other organisms known as the population of the State of Kentucky. Just as in Nature, each of us has slightly different characteristics, but we collectively impact the space we call home.
Kentucky is consistently reported to have a high incidence of diet-related health problems. It seems to me, proper diet is the antidote for diet-related disease. The data coming out of the University of Kentucky related to the Kentucky Farm Share Coalition’s organic CSA farm-share programs validates this statement. Employers that have incentivized their staff to eat more organic, locally-produced fruits and vegetables are seeing fewer healthcare claims from their employees than predicted. My interpretation: People who eat more fresh fruits and vegetables are spending more time in their kitchens preparing and consuming awesome- tasting foods, less time visiting a doctor, and less money on pharmaceuticals to fix what ails them.
COVID-19 has exposed the food system’s tenuous underbelly. Big Food was wielding all the power, feeding the world with never-seen-before technologies that have evolved at breakneck speeds. This pandemic—and the resulting panic-buying and supply-chain breakdowns and meat processing plant human-health disasters—have caused some folks to think more about whether industrially produced foods have a place in their diets.
To Big Food, the genetic modification of plants and tweaking of chemical toxins that are applied to farms and the food growing there are the norm. Elmwood Stock Farm and the 100-plus other certified-organic farms in the state of Kentucky are considered oddballs among the farmers feeding our nation. The USDA National Organic Program doesn’t allow us to—nor would we want to—use genetically modified seeds, toxic synthetic chemical pest controls or fertilizers or growth-promotant antibiotics. These unnatural materials won’t find their way into the environment, our waterways or your body from organic farms. We already know these toxins are bad for the environment. (You’ve heard of the dead zone, right?) What if we find out in 10 or 20 more years that there is some insidious disease that came in our cheap industrial food Trojan horse?
Organic farms are big and small, though they trend toward small, and most are nowhere near as big as those of Big Food. One issue rarely considered by laypeople is Big Food’s industry consolidation and control of plant and animal genetics. Vertically integrated pork and poultry industries have extremely shallow gene pools. Beef is decentralized at the reproductive farm level so is a bit more diverse. A fistful of international vegetable companies has a grip on produce-seed genetics, hiding behind the veil of differing catalogs. Feed grains are controlled and manipulated by one or two or three megacorporations, depending on how you count.
I am thankful that organic farmers still have access to diverse vegetable seed banks, thanks to the growth of the local food movement and the advocacy of the National Organic Standards Board. Many of us employ heritage-breed poultry and livestock that can breed on their own. The cattle on Elmwood Stock Farm are part of the same lineage that was here when Ann and her brother, John, were born. The poultry and livestock that are purchased for local, organic production generally come from smaller operations that are also certified organic.
Take this time at home to consider your role in shaping your sphere of influence. Are you subsidizing environmental toxicity somewhere in the Midwest or wherever, or are you supporting regenerative farms right here in the Commonwealth?
Committed consumers can invest in their organic agrarian footprint. As Wendell Berry said, “Eating is an agricultural act.” A decentralized, regenerative food system builds strength through numbers. As the collective, we can place a stake in the ground and say no more will we foster the lunacy of cheap food. A decentralized, interdependent, organic food production and distribution network would be less vulnerable to the vagaries of international politics or the price of crude oil and a global pandemic, for that matter. Now that’s a Commonwealth like no other.
—Mac Stone, Elmwood Stock Farm