By Andrew Gunther
| October 25, 2012
Two separate but very much related events that could radically change the way America farms and feeds itself are big in the news right now. Both concern a matter dear to my heart: Food labeling.
As leading food and ag writer, Tom Philpott, recently wrote, the upcoming vote in California on Proposition 37 “could spur a revolution in the way our food is made.” If adopted, Prop 37 would simply require the labeling of food containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients.
For over 50 years, TK Ranch has been committed to taking care of the wild prairie and producing quality beef for Albertans. Situated about a three-hour drive southeast of Edmonton, 10,000-acre TK Ranch is located in the endangered northern fescue grasslands of east-central Alberta. Thomas Koehler Biggs established TK Ranch back in 1956; today, three generations live, work, and raise Animal Welfare Approved grassfed beef cattle on the ranch.
Working with a staff of technicians, farm workers, temporary employees, and fellow scientists, Dr. Joan Burke leads the small ruminant livestock research at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in the Ozarks region of Arkansas. The research center is approved to supply Animal Welfare Approved sheep and goat breeding and feeder stock.
In the foothills of Vermont’s Green Mountain Range, Lucas Farrell and Louisa Conrad raise 30 Animal Welfare Approved dairy goats on Big Picture Farm in Townshend, about 17 miles north of Brattleboro.
Coming from varied locations and career backgrounds, Lucas and Louisa have grown to adore the life of a goat farmer. Louisa, who grew up in New York City, and Lucas, who was raised in Colorado, made a life together in Middlebury, VT. Louisa worked as a photographer, an artist, and a teacher, while Lucas, also a school teacher, wrote poetry to supplement their income. But when the couple decided to take a farming apprenticeship at nearby Blue Ledge Farm, a goat dairy and cheese operation, the experience opened their eyes to the wonder of sustainable agriculture. As Lucas says, “After a few months of living and working with the animals, making cheese, and falling into the rhythm of farm life, we knew we were hooked and wanted to start a farm of our own.” In 2010, they started Big Picture Farm and have never looked back.
When Chris London, a full-time United Airlines pilot, and his wife Karen purchased the first 51 acres of Springhill Ranch in Petaluma back in 1999, neither had much experience with farming. In fact, they hadn’t even decided what to grow on the property. After consulting with local agriculture experts, the couple settled on wine grapes. Chris and Karen soon enrolled in farming and viticulture classes with the University of California – and learned very quickly. Today, the 138-acre ranch grows and supplies quality pinot noir grapes to five local wineries.
I’m sorry to say it, but news that a large-scale “organic” egg producer is being sued for making misleading marketing claims about the welfare of its chickens comes as no real surprise. To be honest, I’m more shocked that it’s taken this long to make the headlines.
Several news agencies are reporting that the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has filed a class-action lawsuit against Judy’s Family Farm Organic Eggs and Petaluma Egg Farm for allegedly violating California’s consumer protection laws. Judy’s Family Farm Organic Eggs cartons feature images of hens roaming on an expansive green field, while the carton wording states that the hens are “raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to ‘roam, scratch, and play’.” However, the ALDF claim that the organic hens at Judy’s Family Farm “are crammed in covered sheds with no outdoor access. Implying their hens are free-range when they are not provides an unfair advantage over actual free-range egg producers, and also cheats consumers.” The complaint? The packaging used by these egg producers leads consumers to mistakenly believe the eggs come from free-range hens. From what I know about the farm in question, I couldn’t agree more.