By Laura Weldon
Your Olive Branch
“You don’t actually drink the milk do you?” When acquaintances learn we have dairy cows on our small farm, many ask us that very question with incredulous expressions.
We’ve also been asked, too many times to count, if we really eat the eggs from our hens. “Don’t they, like, come out of a chicken’s butt?” a colleague asked my husband. She was accustomed to eggs laid at distant factory farms, comfortably far from her awareness.
Separation from the source of our sustenance may be unique to our era.. Until a few generations ago, millions of people lived on farms. Those who didn’t were still connected to what they consumed. They had to be, there were few choices other than locally produced foodstuffs. Many of those self-reliant elders are still among us with wisdom to offer.
The oldest folks I know tell me about raising goats and chickens on city lots, growing grapes behind apartment buildings to make wine, gardening anywhere they found land. They may have tended to the food needs of their families out of necessity, but their reasons went deeper. Each story they share, from fermenting sauerkraut in the autumn to saving the last jar of plum jam until Easter, is incomplete. What they’re really saying transcends words. Their stories have more to do with taste and texture, with seasonal ritual and tradition carried through the generations.
They’re talking about food sovereignty. They’re not using such a formal term, but they’d cozy up to the concept. It’s based on age-old principles of local autonomy, cultural integrity, and environmental stewardship. Food sovereignty has been with us since humanity began. Without it our health and the planet’s health suffers.
It was only a few generations ago that advertisers managed to convince consumers that growing, preserving, and preparing meals should be left to experts. Public opinion and zoning regulations added pressure. And in no time, independent growers and producers were largely displaced by monolithic firms that centralized and standardized the business of food. As a result many of us don’t know how to create a meal from scratch, let alone admit to ourselves that eggs emerge from a fowl oviduct.
But we’re eager to find solutions. We know store-bought tomatoes are bred for thick skins, then picked unripe and shipped thousands of miles. Pigs are genetically modified for size and raised in confinement, their growth hurried with drugs so detrimental to the animals that farmers complain of the effects. Nature-Deficit Disorder afflicts more than our kids. We all need to feel the essential link between soil, sun, water and life. Nature not only sustains us, it keeps us healthy and happy too.
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