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Sustainable Steps


Sustainable Steps: Buy Food from Farmers Who Feel Bad

       I shared on Instagram last week that we lost two lambs because I didn't clear the ewe's milk ducts when I checked on them after they were born. I still feel a heavy weight about being responsible for their loss, but I've switched from beating myself up to carrying a responsibility for doing better. Making a mistake like this has actually catalyzed my learning, and feeling bad about losing those two lambs has actually helped me care more about the minutia of my management.

In struggling to adjust to animal losses, I have begun to notice that other farmers -the ones who are doing it right- feel horrible about the deaths that happen on their watch. My friends, Craig and Jen at Rockside Ranch, almost scared me initially with their stories of dismembered chickens and shriveled stillborn piglets, but I realized that those images affected them because they are brilliantly conscientious farmers. I really believe that farmers who don't feel bad about death are probably not the farmers you want raising your food. 

      Full disclosure: I am an omnivore and I raise animals to eat them. I spent many hours last year trying to reconcile the connection between eating meat and death, cementing my own justification for it while responding to vegans online. It's still too strange for words to witness the raw disassembly of living beings, but getting food on the other end of that process makes it worth it. What feels less noble to me, is the inevitable deaths of animals that don't become food for anyone. Little sparks of life snuffed out by bad genetics or sloppy management. These deaths feel frustratingly unjustifiable. 

      Last June I looked in on our brooder of 30 brand new heritage turkeys and found a wreck of tiny bodies strewn about in the straw, gasping for air. It was only days since their arrival and some had brought with them a fatal respiratory disease that typically arises from poor sanitation in the hatchery. Half of them died.

     The worst of it wasn't really the loss, since I talked the hatchery into refunding us, but I felt horrible that those tiny birds travelled so far just to suffocate in their own bronchial fluids. In my conversation with the hatchery's sales associate, I passed along the comment I had learned from several industry-leading turkey breeders that pneumatic E. coli can often from unsanitary eggs. I could literally hear over the phone that the man was rolling his eyes, and it made a splash of white hot anger wash over me as he dismissed my gentle critique. Of course a business that large would be comfortable with a larger margin of error than our minuscule operation, but that sales associate wasn't the one filling an empty pizza box with the dead. I believe that it matters to God when even the littlest animals die so shouldn't it matter to us?

      Buying organic is great. Sometimes, however, organic food comes from the same big farms that casually pick out dead animals like they're sorting dirty laundry. Agribusinesses that house tens of thousands of creatures in tight quarters just can't escape disease (and sometimes cannibalism!) so they've learned to medicate the heck out of those animals and they've become numb to the high volume of senseless death that happens inside their walls. It's impossible for giant factories to replicate the care and attention that family farms provide.

      When you purchase your food from somebody who is emotionally invested in the animal from which your food comes, you can bet that they devoted themselves to learning the best management techniques for the highest quality product. Sure, we're a little emotionally unstable at times, but it's totally worth it! Just give us hugs, ok?



Sustainable Steps: Reducing Plastic Use

   Plastic. It's only been around since 1907 and yet every single piece of plastic created since then still exists today (with the 5% exception of incinerated or recycled pieces.) Every year enough plastic is thrown away to circle the earth four times, including 48,000,000,000 plastic water bottles. 48 BILLION. The fate of all these discarded materials is pretty grim, and while recycling can alleviate this damage, we have been trying to progressively cut down our use of plastics altogether.

   Part of my reasoning is safety. We've all heard about the carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting properties of Bisphenol A and phthalates, and yet still, an estimated 90% of adults have detectable levels of BPA and phthalates in their blood. Even BPA-free plastics have been found to be equally unsafe. Here are just a few of the side affects credible research has linked to plastic exposure: diabetes, liver toxicity, heart disease, low-sperm count, irregular ovulation, high blood pressure, genital disfigurement in baby boys, hyperactivity and developmental delays in children. In the video above, Allegre Ramos from Ember Living explains which types of plastic tend to contain more of these harmful chemicals, and which ones tend to have less.

  Beyond the safety and waste issues, I have a more personal, aesthetic dislike for plastic. Actually, I should say that I have a huge preference for the weight and feel of natural materials and that using plastic has been somewhat of a chore to me. There's a practicalness of the cheap, durable plastic things I've had in my life that made me feel obligated to slate them for my primary, everyday use and save the nicer things for fancier times. Then, two springs ago, I ran out of plastic bowls and reached for a gorgeous, swirling-blue handmade stoneware bowl for a boring, everyday bread recipe. As I kneaded the bread, I held the soft, organic form of that beautiful bowl and this delicious, irreverent joy came over me like I was stealing back all the saved-up fanciness for that mundane moment. That afternoon I put all the obligatory plastic in a box for the Goodwill and have used all my best ceramic, stoneware and glass things every single day since.

   The same goes for textiles. I am a firm believer in natural fibers firstly because of the environmental and health impacts, but mostly because I love the feeling of cotton, linen, wool and silk against my skin. You can read a little more on my natural textile philosophy here

   I don't think we can ever fully escape plastic, (I'm typing on plastic keys right now) but if you want to reduce the plastic in your life, chances are you already have a lot of things already in your home that you can sub-out (we use old glass jars for everything!) If, however, you're looking for some replacement options, I have complied a list below of some plastic alternatives that I personally use (or want to try when the funds allow.)

You can go as far as you want with this whole plastic-free thing, but personally, I would rather not spend a ton of money on replacing items that don't come into physical contact with my family as often as the items listed above, (like this ridiculous leather fly swatter!) I am also painfully aware of the fact that so many of my cleaning, health and food products come in plastic containers -but, while those things can't always be avoided, I can always check the bottom of the products to see what type of plastic the container is made out of (Remember, 1-2-4-5 stay alive and 3-6-7 straight to heaven!)

Do you have any plastic substitutions that I missed? Do you have any recommendations for small, handmade businesses that offer beautiful, plastic-free home goods?