Presented to the Atlantic Region Biodynamic Conference, October 1998 and Acres USA Convention, December, 1998
Today I stand before you, a distinguished audience that includes a number of farmers, uniquely qualified to talk to you about farming. I have never been a farmer, never lived on a working farm and never participated in a farm community, In fact, I grew up just about as far from a farm as possible, in a bedroom community of Los Angeles. So I come before you without any practical knowledge of farming but rather as an autodidact-someone who has learned about a subject on his own, by reading books. Now someone trained in a subject, either at school or through practical experience, tends to be reticent about his knowledge, but the autodidact is characterized by brash self-assurance, shoving what he thinks he knows down your throat.
I do, however, know something about food, and about food preparation and food processing and hope that some of the knowledge I can impart will be of benefit to the conscientious farmer, struggling to make a decent living in today’s America.
Two Agricultural Systems
Just what is the situation in America today? I’d like to begin with a quote from Rodney Leonard, writing for Community Nutrition Institute: He notes that two agricultural systems are emerging:
“One is a system of small independent farms relying on the management skills of farm owners who produce natural, organic foods that provide a rising portion of the American diet.”
“The other is an industrial agriculture system managed by executives of corporations that genetically convert plants and animals into miniature factories producing chemicals, drugs and body parts through biotechnology; farmers will grow and harvest these factories on command of corporate managers.”
“In a global economy, biotechnology is transforming U.S. democracy into its commercial agent. The national interest is defined as compelling the world to accept products of biotechnology corporations, even jeopardizing the rights of citizens to decide how much risk to health and environment they will accept.”
“In fact, this strange new world is already here with the rules of governance quietly being changed to restrain popular reaction. In the last several months, a radical transformation of agricultural biotechnology has largely been completed, with a small number of corporations in the chemical and drug sectors emerging to dominate an industry of which few Americans are aware.”
“Control of seed production, with the monopoly pricing power from control of patents on genetic changes, allows the biotechnology corporation to control farmers and industrial farming production. Enhanced by such gifts as the terminator gene from Department of Agriculture (USDA) research, which causes seeds to become sterile after one season, AHP-Monsanto and DuPont will be able to dictate seed prices, growing practices, marketing and other terms of management. Growers cannot object. Seeds for next year’s crops must be purchased, and alternative uses for croplands are few.”
The Marxism of Corporate Farms
We are all aware of the trend to corporate farming in America, with its reliance on chemicals and genetically manipulated seed. But let me make a few observations of how this fits into the scheme of things. It has become unfashionable these days to talk about communism-this is a thing of the past, the Berlin wall is down. But let’s talk about Marxism a minute. One of the central planks of Marx’s communist manifesto was the corporate farm. The true enemy of Marxism-or communism, or world socialism or whatever you want to call it-is the yeoman farmer, the independent agriculturalist, the rancher-because he can survive without the state. Thomas Jefferson recognized that the basis of true representative government was the small, independent farmer, the Joel Salatins of this world, and the farm-based community.
Now the products of today’s corporate farm are traded on world markets. The corporate farmer-the farmer who is now planting GMO’s in the American Midwest, America’s corn and soy wasteland-has to have these world markets; he and his corporate overlords are dependent on the principles of free trade to survive. You might be interested to know what Marx had to say about free trade: In 1848 he wrote: “The Free Trade system works destructively. It breaks up old nationalities and carries antagonism of proletariat and bourgeoisie to the uttermost point. In a word, the Free Trade system hastens the Social Revolution. In this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, I am in favor of Free Trade.”
What we have today is a system in which the farmer finds himself a cog in the corporate structure, supplying raw materials that are then processed in big factories,and shipped to far away places, thereby disrupting traditional economies; American economic and political policy is geared to creating markets for the products of the corporate farm. IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank loans are geared to creating export crops in foreign countries so that these countries will have the capital to import the products of America’s corporate farms. Thus, for example, in Thailand, farmers are no longer allowed to plant the native indigenous rice. IMF policy forces the government to mandate use of high yield hybrid rice, which the farmer must purchase every year, in order to create a cash crop for export, in order to pay off the IMF loans, and in order to be able to import the products of America’s corporate farms.
The Evil Net of Free Trade
So you see we have something like an evil net spread out over the whole world, the net called Free Trade. And the strands of this net are the products of the corporate farm. Average citizens have no power under this system; and neither do their governments. There may be the trappings, but the true power of the governments has faded away. This, my friends, is Marxism, and it has been thrust upon us surreptitiously, and lauded and promoted by prestigious, respectable organizations and influential people who profess to love patriotism and to support “family values,” organizations like the Heritage Foundation, the Washington Times and the Republican Party. And it has been implemented, not by Lenin’s thugs and Stalin’s strongmen, but by bankers in pinstripe suits. Thugs in suits.
Most Americans would be shocked to learn that the system we have in place today all over the globe is Marxism-slipped in under their noses. Most people would call it Capitalism. I suppose you could debate the point for a long time, but the truth is, there are just two economic systems. One is the system where millions and millions of people can make a decent living; and the other is the system where a few people make millions and millions of dollars and the rest of us are paupers. And for some time now, America has been moving slowly but surely toward an economy in which the population is divided between the superrich and those who are just surviving-a kind of neo-feudalism on the global plantation.
So the old dichotomy between left and right really has no meaning any more. Instead we have this capitalistic-Marxist system more like a high brick wall in the form of a circle, where Left runs imperceptibly into Right, with the rest of us trapped in the middle. The solution is not to choose between radical left and radical right, but to become part of the radical middle. And by that I mean the collection of little guys who knows where the weaknesses are in the wall, and has the determination to poke holes into it until it falls down.
Fast Food—Weapon of the Global Overlords
One of the main weapons of the global overlords is fast food. Quoting from an excellent article called “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser appearing in Rolling Stone Magazine Nov 26, 1998: “In much the same way that the fast-food industry changed the nation’s retail economy, eliminating small businesses, encouraging the spread of chains and uniformity, fast food has transformed American agriculture. The centralized purchasing decisions of large restaurant chains and their demand for standardized products have given a handful of multinational corporations an unprecedented degree of power over the nation’s food supply. During the 1980’s, when the virtues of the free market [and free trade] were being proclaimed, giant agribusiness companies-such as Cargill, ConAgra and IBP-gained control of one agricultural market after another. The concentration of power in the food-processing industry has driven down the prices offered to American farmers. In 1980, about thirty-seven cents of every consumer dollar spent on food went to the farmer. Today, only twenty-three cents goes to the farmer-a decline of forty percent. Family farms are now being replaced by gigantic corporate farms with absentee owners. Rural communities are losing their middle class and becoming socially stratified, divided among a small wealthy elite and large numbers of the working poor. The hardy, independent farmers whom Thomas Jefferson considered the bedrock of democracy are truly a vanishing breed. The United States now has more prison inmates than full-time farmers.”
So the first defense against this diabolical system is-not to eat the witch’s food. Remember the story of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, when the children found the enchanted world through the wardrobe. Edward was tempted and ate some of the witch’s food and then he became her slave and finally was turned into stone. None of us should be eating McDonald’s hamburgers or drinking Coca-Cola, or even Budweiser for that matter, for a variety of reasons, but the farmer who eats these foods is truly pounding nails into his own coffin.
Overlords Control the Value-Added
For this global plantation to function, it is the overlords who must control the value-added, not the farmer. It is the overlords who must have a monopoly on processing of raw materials in order to make animal feed pellets, lysine supplements, high fructose corn syrup, margarine and vegetable oils, soy protein isolate, powdered milk and of course all the fabricated foods that these products are put into-commercial spreads, cookies, crackers, chips, frozen meals, diet drinks, veggieburgers, etc., etc., etc. You’ve heard the ads for ADM-Archer Daniels Midlands-I call it Arch Devil of the Midlands-the “Supermarket to the World. . . adding value to America’s crops.” Why should the corporate dinosaurs get the value added? The farmer who adds value by farming organically, by making cheese or butter, or who simply sells directly to the consumer, is the enemy of this system, and a whole battery of laws-health laws, licensing laws, even environmental laws, is used against him.
Fortunately, dinosaurs don’t remain forever, they eventually die out and become extinct, and are replaced by lots of small furry mammals-“the small independent farms relying on the management skills of farm owners who produce natural, organic foods that provide a rising portion of the American diet.” We want this kind of farmer to replace the giant cold-blooded reptiles, to make money and to prosper, so that the poor guy who was duped into the corporate system, and who finds himself more and more in hock and dependent on the vagaries of commodities prices and trade policy, will see that he would be better off returning to traditional methods of agriculture. It will take more than a handful of organic farmers to revitalize our soil and our economy. And of course, we want this system to survive because the products of the corporate farm are becoming more and more worthless, stripped of nutrients and loaded with toxic chemicals.
(You might be interested to know that the average plant crop on the corporate farm gets 10 applications of chemicals, from preparation of the seed through the growing process to storage.)
Small Farmer Should Add Value
For the conscientious organic or biodynamic farmer to survive and prosper he needs to be able to add value to the products of his farm, and add value in such a way that does not require a large investment in equipment. And he needs access to a market for his output.
Adding value is accomplished in two ways: One is by growing techniques that make a product superior to the one from the corporate farm-in other words by growing organically or bio-dynamically-allowing the farmer to sell them for a higher price. The other is through processing methods that are traditional, low-tech and that preserve or alter the food in a way that enhances nutrient content, or that makes nutrient content easier to assimilate.
The Cow is the Key
The key to the biodynamic farm is the cow, the sacred cow providing rich manure and nitrogen-bearing urine for the replenishment of the soil. Composted manure from cows on well-mineralized soil is the ultimate fertilizer-the only real fertilizer just a generation ago. Today, it is only the biodynamic farmer who accepts this as a fundamental principle of farming. (Not even all organic farmers accept this principle.) In fact, animals should be the central feature of the farm; without them the farm is sterile. Animals not only provide manure, they also force the farmer to rotate his crops so that his animals always have pasture. The monoculture of the corporate farm is the fast track to complete destruction of our soil. And by animals, I am talking about old fashioned animals-Jersey, Guernsey and Aryeshire cows, not the modern Holstein.
But the farmer also ought to be able to make a handsome profit from his cows, first of all in the form of milk products. Just by farming in a way that puts traditional breeds of cows out on fertile pasture, the farmer is adding value to milk products-for milk from such cows in infinitely superior to the milk from today’s modern freak pituitary Holstein, fed soy pellets and dry feed in barns, needing three milkings a day, and pumped full of antibiotics-not to mention hormones that drive her to the udder limits of milk production.
Raw Milk is the Answer
The main factor that prevents the farmer from getting a decent price for good quality milk is laws requiring pasteurization. Pasteurization not only destroys the value added from conscientious farming-it alters proteins, reduces vitamin content and destroys enzymes-it also puts an almost insurmountable barrier between the farmer and the consumer. It prevents the farmer from selling directly to the consumer-which is the way milk should be sold.
Getting rid of pasteurization laws is, I believe, key to opening the door to prosperity for our farms and ultimately the entire populace. As some of you may know, only in California and Arizona can raw milk be bought in stores (in Arizona it is sold as a pet food); in some other states you can buy directly from the farmer; but in many states, the farmer runs great risk for selling raw milk to those who want it. One of Ronald Reagan’s last acts as president was the issuance of an executive order forbidding the transport of raw milk across state lines. So we have a situation where a truly health giving food, one that is extremely important for growing babies and children-is illegal! And the substitute, the pasteurized, homogenized, reduced fat milks from freak barn-fed cows, is causing more and more health problems-from allergies to diabetes to cancer.
Now some very brave people have tried to break this hold our governments have on the sale of raw milk. In Virginia, Christine Solem, who keeps goats, has taken her case single-handedly to the courts, representing herself in a protracted battle to be able to sell the produce of her farm, so far to no avail. In Canada, where the laws are even stricter, Michael Schmidt, a biodynamic farmer, has been selling raw milk from the back of his truck in Toronto. He was subjected to intense harassment-even his children were physically threatened. All this stopped the day he announced that he was going on a hunger strike-so this brave man continues to sell raw milk in Toronto.
I think ultimately this battle will be won in the courts. What’s needed is a suit by a vegetarian group, demanding access to raw milk as a religious right. Vegetarians need raw milk products because they are their only source of vitamin B12. An anthroposophical group could very well spearhead this effort-after all didn’t Rudolf Steiner advocate raw milk as the perfect food. What has happened instead is that the soy industry has co-opted vegetarianism, creating the impression that vegetarians don’t need any animal products at all. So the very groups that could be in the forefront of demand have been silenced.
It’s in the processing of good quality milk that we have the real value added-making yoghurt, cheese, cultured cream and butter. The number of dairymen now making artisanal type cheeses is growing and I look forwards to the day when America, like France, will be a nation that makes 365 different kinds of cheese. And you know what Charles de Gaulle said about France: “It’s impossible to govern a nation that makes 365 different kinds of cheese.” He understood the principle-when food processing is widely dispersed among thousands of artisans, it is more difficult for governments to concentrate power. Imagine the political clout and prosperity you would have in agricultural states if instead of dairy farmers selling to the dairy coop, you had hundreds of independent cheese makers-and I’m talking about real cheese, traditionally made, not processed cheese slices.
Butter, in my opinion, is in a class of its own. There is nothing more important in the American diet than good quality butter-and by that I mean butter from old fashioned cows, free roaming on fertile pasturage, unpasteurized, cultured and carefully churned. Such butter is the number one health food, full of nutrients that contribute to robust good health. The farmer making this kind of butter should get $5 a pound for his product-that will pay for a lot of improvements on the farm.
And they can get this kind of price for good butter as soon as the consumer realizes the value of this food. Let’s just zero in on one nutrient in butter-called CLA, conjugated linoleic acid. Many studies over the past 12 years have established that at least in laboratory animals, CLA offers strong protection against breast cancer and other malignancies, apparently through its role as a potent antioxidant. In addition to anticancer benefits, CLA also seems to dramatically reduce the deposition of fat. Livestock eating feed supplemented with CLA tend to lay down more lean tissue; and dairy cattle ingesting CLA-enriched diets have greater milk productivity. “Much to their big surprise,” scientists found that the highest level of CLA in milk was obtained with cows just eating pasture – nothing else, according to Larry D. Satter, director of the center working on CLA research. Satter finds the notion of pasture feeding -a far-out idea- but we know that pasture feeding is the only way to provide healthful, non-allergenic, nutrient-dense dairy products to the populace. Could it be that CLA in America’s pasture-fed cows at the turn of the century not only protected against cancer, but overweight as well, and allowed mothers to nurse successfully because they had plenty of milk? Meanwhile University of Wisconsin scientists are trying to figure out ways to mass produce CLA as a food additive, so the value added would go to a big corporation. But why not just get CLA in delicious butter, from organic or biodynamic farms. It could even be sold as a weight-loss product. Maybe farmers could even get $10 a pound.
Skim Milk for Pigs, Lard for People
Now what about those other animals on the farm? After all, if you are making butter, you will have a lot of skim milk and the thing to do with skim milk, which is essentially a waste product, is to feed it to pigs. The pig, in addition to being a great soil tiller, as Joel Saladin has taught us, is a machine for making nutritious fat out of skim milk. Farmers should be able to sell organic lard at a good price-and they will get a good price just as soon as the consumer realizes the value of the product-stable, good for cooking and frying, and loaded with vitamin D.
We need to develop—or rather resurrect-the traditional ways of making sausage. In Europe, the cured sausages are a lacto-fermented product that keeps a long time and is very nutritious. Similar products—blood puddings, haggis and pemmican—can all be made on the farm or in farmers’ cooperatives.
The farmer needs outlets for his meat-very often this means a battle with overzealous health inspectors. The health laws, like the pasteurization laws, put an almost insurmountable barrier between the farmer and the consumer. I’d like to see more use of moveable abattoirs, composed of two or three big semis, that bring the butcher with all the proper sanitation and the cold storage-and the sausage making-right to the field, so that the farmer is not beholden to the middleman, the stockyards, the meat processing plant, in other words, that allow him to have a good portion of the value added-not the meat packing industry.
A “Brothal” in Every Town
One thing I would add to these moveable abattoirs is big vats for making bone broth out of the feet, knuckles and gelatinous parts of the cattle or fowl. Or this could be done in a cooperative in the local town-I look forward to the day when we have a brothel in every town, providing nourishing broth, or soups and stews made from such broth.
Local Dairy Co-ops
We need to resurrect the old fashioned dairy queen-a cooperative outlet for local dairy products, and a very healthy alternative to fast food outlets. Even the local cafe could be a cooperative designed to bring farm products directly to the consumer, so that all of the value added stays in the community. Instead we have situations, like the one I encountered in New Zealand. In the middle of dairy country, I asked for butter at a roadside takeout shop-only to be told that they only had margarine, made from imported soybeans! The fish and chip shops in New Zealand used to fry in a healthy blend of tallow and palm oil, all available locally. Now they import partially hydrogenated soy oil for frying!
So butter, cheese, yoghurt, cultured cream, sausage and similar products, bone broths and of course meat from your own cattle as well as chickens and their eggs, should bring the highest possible returns to the farmer. And what about his vegetables, fruits and grains?
This is where lacto-fermentation comes in. I’ll be talking about this in my workshop later this afternoon. Lacto-fermentation is a simple technique that preserves fruits and vegetables and the farmer can do this with a very small investment in equipment and supplies. There is no pasteurization or steaming involved in this process. The example of a lacto-fermented food most familiar to us is old-fashioned sauerkraut which can be made with cabbage, good quality salt and whey. (You will have the whey left over after making cheese.) It can be made in quart-size glass jars, or in special large crocks that are now commercially available. Almost any vegetable can be preserved this way. In fact I had a call recently from a gal in Vermont who saved everything from her large garden by lacto-fermentation. She made pickles from cucumbers, beets, string beans, garlic and onions; ketchup from tomatoes; salsa from the peppers; and chutneys from berries, peaches, apples and other fruits.
Properly prepared, these delicious condiments will last anywhere from several months to a year in a cold root cellar or cold storage, and the farmer can sell these value-added products at the local farmers’ markets or roadside stands or in local stores. He doesn’t need to send his product to the canning factory, or see it rot from lack of buyer-he can preserve it until the buyer comes along, and without a large investment in equipment.
Grains are a special subject. We ought to be making good sour dough bread at local cooperative bakeries, using locally grown grain. Also, cookies, crackers and so forth. But there is something else we can do with these grains-and that’s make bootleg.
Now I am not talking about whiskey, or even beer or wine, but beverages made by this same process of lacto-fermentation. These beverages are found-or I should say used to be found before pushed out by coca-colonization-throughout the world in traditional societies. They are non alcoholic or have very low amounts of alcohol, are usually fizzy and pleasantly sour. They are very healthful in that they contain mineral ions, enzymes and beneficial lactic acid, and most importantly, they give a lift by feeding the body rather than by stimulating the glands. They are superior to water in quenching thirst, and very helpful for those doing physical labor. A very quick shortcut lacto-fermented drink of the past was oat water, made by soaking rolled oats in water and adding some molasses and vinegar. This was used in preference to water by those working in the fields. Old fashioned ginger ale and root beer can also be made by lacto-fermentation. Kombucha is another example of a beverage of this type, as well as kvass, a Russian drink made from stale sour dough bread. These drinks are the perfect alternative to both alcoholic drinks and soft drinks made by the big conglomerates and best of all, they give the farmer the ideal way of adding value to his produce.
I was recently in Australia and was introduced to a drink like this, that is being made commercially. It is pleasantly sour and bubbly. Kvass is being made in Canada, and could easily be produced here by any bakery making genuine sour dough bread.
So in addition to 356 different kinds of cheese, I believe that America should be producing hundreds of different kinds of lacto-fermented drinks. The day when every town and hamlet in America produces its own distinctive lacto-fermented brew, made from the local products of woods and fields, will be the day when Americans see the dawning of a new age of good health and well-being-along with a new era of economic vitality based on small-scale local production rather than on large-scale monopolistic control of the food processing industry.
Imagine how much fun it will be to travel through America by car, and discover a different interesting beverage in every town. You could have fairs on these drinks, and judging, and magazines and guide books to lacto-fermented drinks, just like we have for the wine snobs. For example, you could have a special lacto-fermented drink that is only eaten with strawberries at the full moon. And you could also eat cheese and sausage at local cafes, run by farming families. The picture I am painting is a picture of a nation with culture. I’m tempted to say that without culturing, there is no culture. Or how about a bumper sticker “Culture for culture!”
Evolution of Consumer Conscience
So I have presented some ideas of how the farmer can add value to his crop. But the farmer also needs to be able to sell these value-added products for a good price. Here two things are important. One is the evolution of consumer consciousness. This is already happening. We have a very positive trend among the consumer towards choosing healthier food-this will continue because those who do not start to eat healthier food will just die out. We have a kind of natural selection going on, to give us lots of furry little warm blooded mammals rather than a few cold blooded dinosaurs. Of course, there is plenty of misinformation in the popular books, and many people think that health foods are things like tasteless lowfat stuff and bars and powdered drinks and synthetic vitamins. But eventually the truth will out, and I have great confidence in the populace to find its way back to a healthy traditional diet.
The second thing that will be needed is vigilance and cooperation among those in the vanguard of this movement, to get rid of restrictive laws and ensure that others are not enacted. As I mentioned, we need a concerted legal effort to restore to farmers the right to sell raw milk, as well as meat and sausage, straight from the farm. We will need ever vigilant-vigilante groups if you will-to protect the conscientious farmer from overzealous administration of the various health laws. And we need to be prepared for upcoming battles. One thing I am concerned about is a push for mandatory irradiation of meat-which like pasteurization will put an insurmountable barrier between the farmer and the consumer-not to mention the damage it does to the meat. It will start out as voluntary-just like pasteurization did-but if we are not careful, it will become illegal to sell meat that has not been irradiated.
I also know that the big soft drink manufacturers are not going to watch the return of a cottage industry making local lacto-fermented beverages without a fight. These drinks will probably be condemned on the grounds that they are not sterile-not healthy-and there may even be laws passed against them, just as there were laws passed against moonshine. What prohibition did in fact was concentrate the liquor industry into the hands of the Mafia-just as our health laws concentrate the food industry in the hands of the corporate giants.
So we need to be aware of what may happen and be prepared to counter any inroads on the trend to local processing, value adding on the farm and in the local communities. At the same time, we need to encourage an outcry of consumer demand for good, healthy food, straight from the farm. Because after all, there is no greater force on earth than the American consumer, or at least the healthy American consumer.
In my opinion, the move toward organic farming and natural food is one of the most important things happening in America today. We need to protect these young seedlings, the biodynamic and organic mixed farms, so that they can grow into mighty forests that give benefit to all. Value added is the sacred manure that can make this fledgling movement grow, make the local economy grow, make the nation grow.
This concludes the diatribe of the autodidact.