I think I am going to start a new program called “Know Your Steer, or toy maker, or dog food manufacturer, or something.” But I am getting not only tired but fearful of what all these recalls are going to do to farmers and our domestic food supply. I am even more worried about what it is going to do to people trying to eat a healthy diet. Even though the recalls we’ve seen and heard about all season emanate from huge multinational companies and/or places like China, these things always have a backlash that impacts those that can least afford it….like your local farmer. Last week, I spent a good portion of my time, not farming, but polishing off a HACCP plan for our cider operation. What’s HACCP? Why, it is Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points. Still not clear? It is the last line of defense in our cider making operation against the introduction of any possible contaminants like e. coli. There are “critical control points” in every food manufacturing plant; places where biological or chemical contaminants can enter the food stream and create the recalls we’re seeing now. However, the one commonality I am seeing with these recalls is that they are coming from companies that are so huge that one [me for example] wonders how any reasonable oversight can be expected. Read the Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan] for the low-down on how your typical steer/cow becomes hamburger and you’ll understand how easily contamination and subsequent recalls can occur. Unfortunately, people also get hurt in the process. We saw this with Earthbound Farms spinach recalls of last year. In this case, even the USDA seal of ORGANIC can’t prevent bacterial contamination when the path from farm to plate starts at what amounts to a compromised nuclear power plant with one person manning the “kill” switch. Something is bound to get through.
But when your “source” is the farmer down the road, it is a whole lot easier to make sure the process is never compromised. That doesn’t mean there’s absolute assurance, but pretty darn close. When it is Cargill, who the hell do you call to complain? You just hope that burger you ate wasn’t from the Lot # recalled. Even then if it was you gut it out [no pun intended].
Here at Stone Ridge Orchard we just started harvesting spinach and other greens. My biggest concern was how the consumer would react. Not that I was significantly concerned but it did cross my mind. I knew that I had control over my employees and the food safety practices at my farm. But there is the ever threatening cloud of commercial food f*ck ups that creates an ever increasing thicket of bureaucracy and make it difficult for the small grower.
I started this blog by talking about knowing your steer. Yesterday I had the opportunity to the spend the day at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, NY. We got up close with the whole production team and even some of the animals. It was a treat. You’ll never get that kind of access with a Cargill cow or a piece of Earthbound Farms spinach. It is so important to get to know your farmers. It is equally important to get to know their crops and the animals they raise. This is the ultimate in food knowledge. Up close and personal. I have just finished designing a workshop I am offering here at Stone Ridge Orchard next year called the Yen of Apple Growing. It gives folks with the desire to get up close and personal with the orchard and the fruit. It gives them opportunity to not only work with me, but to get a glimpse at what goes into growing apples and discuss food production in general. There is no better way to Know Your Roots than to visit a local farm and shake the hand of the person that grew your dinner. Oh, please only eat Happy Cows. You’ll feel better in the morning.
So what are you waiting for?
**If you’re interested in the workshop, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.