Welcome to our Holden's Hide a way farm

Holden's Hide-A-Way Farm is a diversified farm that produces a wide variety of meat product, in much of the same manner as a farmer would have 100 years ago. Our ideas on how to raise livestock come directly from mother nature. We raise grass fed beef and lamb because that is what mother nature intended. Our pigs are free to root and roam through out the warm seasons. Winters are spent in a barn with ample space and lots of hay to eat and root around in. Poultry is raised on pasture where they get lots of fresh air and can do the things poultry likes to do.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Local Food


Local Food

There has been a lot of publicity recently about food safety and quality of food we serving our families. One of the best ways to make sure you are getting what you are paying for is to get more involved in the production process. The easiest way to get more involved is to buy locally. Locally produced meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables offer considerable benefits over conventionally raised and grown foods. We are lucky enough to live in an area that has an abundance of farmers and food producers. When you buy local you get the chance to develop a personal relationship with your local farmers.  You get to know how they produce their products, and the reasons why they chose their methods. Believe it or not there is more than one way to grow a tomato. We are constantly bombarded by the industries latest catch phrases and marketing lingo. From naturally produced, organic, sustainable, free range, grass fed, corn fed, the list goes on and on. The Canadian Food Inspection agency (CFIA) controls labeling of food items in Canada. However I think they have a hard time keeping up with the latest language.

Consumers need to be aware that not all local food is created equally. I remember talking to a local farmer that was growing all natural vegetables. He believed they were natural because he used the manure produced from his cattle operation as the main source of fertilizer for the garden. After a short inspection of the picture perfect garden I asked him how he kept the weeds under such control. He proceeded to tell me that before and after rotor tilling his garden he sprayed it down with round up. For those who do not know, round up is a very popular herbicide and is a major bone of contention between conventional producers and those of us that promote a more natural and sustainable method of production. The farmer legitimately did not recognize that fact that using an herbicide such as round up was not natural.

Buying local means you will usually be receiving the best nutrition for your dollar. The main reason we spend so much money on food is for the nutrition it offers us. Other than clean water and clean air food is the next most important requirement for our survival. You will notice that I did not say “clean food”. That is because we are proving that humans can survive on food that is not necessarily clean. How long we survive and the quality of life we have however is very dependent on how clean our food is. Every year that goes by more research suggest that many of our ailments are directly or indirectly related to the food we eat. I recently read a book called “Wheat Belly”. According to the books reviews some people do not entirely buy into the author’s argument against wheat, however he does bring forth many good arguments about how our food factories are putting shareholders interests ahead of the consumers. Conventional producers are fighting back though. In 2011 Stanford University released a publication that stated organic food is no more nutritious than conventionally produced food. The statement made quite a stir in the organic industry. However when researched further you will find the type of study was a meta analysis. Basically they compile a bunch of other studies and make a finding. How they decided which 200 or so studies out of the thousands available to include I don’t know. For me they lost a lot of credibility when I read on Dr. Mercola’s website that one of the co-authors had published a paper finding no link between smoking and emphysema.  

Everyone has an opinion on how many toxins and pollutants are safe, and which method of food production is best. On our farm we subscribe to a more holistic system. Many small local farms believe the same and try to produce meat and vegetable products in a way that is sustainable. Direct marketing to consumers is challenging for small farms. All of the laws implemented by the CFIA are geared towards large industrial type farms. We deal closely with local abattoirs that have to implement costly upgrades and incur increasing costs that are geared towards larger factory size abattoirs. However when was the last time one of these small abattoirs made the news for selling contaminated products? It really only makes sense. The small family run abattoir has a vested interest in the end product.  The factory worker does not.

This fact works the same with a small family run vegetable farm. When you have a vested interest in the farm and a passion for growing the best vegetables you can. The product will always be better. Small family run farms are taking advantage of new marketing systems and technology to produce better vegetables and making them easier to access for customers.

Farmers that prescribe to a natural way of growing meat and vegetables are realizing that our ancestors were doing things right. Take care of the soil and you have the biggest hurdle beat when it comes to all types of farming. The new catch phrase for beef farmers, when asked what do you grow? The response is grass.  A good beef farmer takes care of the grass. Make sure it is eaten when it is the most nutritious. If the grass is to long they waste it and won’t grow as well. Too short and the grass will take a long time to recover and will not be digested as efficiently.  Speaking of cattle, Cattle are ruminants. Just like sheep and goats. They can make use of higher fiber plants like grass and turn it into energy and protein. Many argue that they should not be fed grains. Grains are not a natural diet for ruminants. There were no natural fields of corn, soybeans, or wheat on the Great Plains for the buffalo to graze. By feeding these high energy and protein grains to ruminants we change their body chemistry. Many of the unhealthy attributes blamed on red meats are actually because conventional farms are feeding them unnatural diets to increase growth rates and make the meat fatter. When looking for local beef or lamb specify 100% grass fed. A grass fed steak will have higher omega 3 fatty acids and the total fat content in comparable to skinless chicken breast.

A true diversified farm will include some livestock as well as vegetables and fruit. Each and every product has a role on the farm. Livestock produce manure that when mixed with bedding and composted provides some of the best nutrition for the soil. Small farms that produce poultry, eggs and pork usually buy in feed. This feed is processed by the livestock and results in very nutritious manure. Buying in feed or other soil amendments is necessary. When selling off products whether it is a tomato or a side a beef the farmer is really selling nutrients. These nutrients need to put back in some form. This is where conventional farming has gone awry. They continually spread nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous in the form of chemical fertilizers. However that is not enough. Evidence of this can be seen on the prairie provinces in Canada. In areas that once had soil thicknesses measured in feet, built up by centuries of manure from buffalo and other animals, they can only be measured in inches now. Intensive grain production and erosion has sucked all the nutrients out of the soil. There are studies showing that the nutritional content of grains today is lower than grain produced 50 years ago. This is a direct result of poorer nutrition availability in the soil.

A handful of healthy soil is contains millions of forms of life from bacteria, single celled protozoa, to earth worms. Not to mention a whole host of insects. It is often said that a handful of earth has more living organisms than people on earth. Conventional farming makes soil very inhospitable for these creatures. The petroleum based synthetic fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides kill the microscopic life forms. This leaves the soil in almost a sterile state. Farming in a sustainable way promotes this microscopic life. After all these little workers, work for free all day and night breaking down left over materials from past crops, composted materials, some even fight off disease, harmful insects and predators. The worms aerate the soil allowing oxygen and moisture to reach the roots of the crop. By limiting the exposure to harsh chemicals and feeding the soil with compost we can grow these little helpers. Combining these methods with an effective and planned crop rotation we can eliminate our dependence on chemical inputs. Rotating crops allows us to effectively limit disease and pests on the farm. One of the reasons conventional production has such a reliance on chemical inputs is the battle against insects and disease. By planting potatoes in the same field year after year we make life very easy for Colorado potato bugs, scab, verticillium fungi and other potato diseases. Not to mention that the potato continually removes the same nutrients from the soil year after year. The farmer has no choice but to continually add these nutrients back into the soil through chemically derived fertilizers. On a sustainable farm the farmer would add compost to the area and plan to plant another crop in the area next season. The farmer would also recognize that potato, tomato, eggplants and peppers all belong to the nightshade family and share many diseases. A better choice would be to plant a crop like peas or beans, which will fix nitrogen in the soil for the next crop and so on. All of the reasons for crop rotation are still being explored, but the fact remains it works. For instance potatoes planted after sweet corn grows remarkably better. Large industrialized farms have a difficult time rotating crops in a sustainable manner. The equipment in an average potato farm in P.E.I is worth in excess of $300000. It is hard for these farmers to change crops with investments like that. A small diversified farm will have an investment of as little as $200-$300. (The price of a good pitchfork and a used roto tiller) The rest of the work is pure manual labor.

There have been many technological advancements to help the sustainable farmer. For instance plastic mulch is very effective at increasing soil temperatures in the spring, holding moisture in the ground, and suppressing weeds. While plastic mulch does not sound sustainable or environmentally friendly it is very effective at helping sustainable farmers compete without adding chemicals to their produce. The mulch can last for many seasons if taken care of and there are types that claim to be biodegradable.

One of the biggest hurdles for a sustainable farmer is marketing the product. When we started farming one of our primary goals was to provide good wholesome food to the public at a fair price. This turned out to not be an easy task. While growing the meat and vegetables was difficult enough we found that marketing agencies, food inspectors and health departments were not going to make life any easier for us. While all three organizations have good intentions (or so they claim) they make direct marketing difficult. Eggs, chicken and turkey are all controlled by marketing agencies that restrict our sales not only in numbers, but I have to sell them to people at the farm gate. Some creative sustainable farmers have discovered effective ways to work within the marketing laws. We sell meat at the North Bay farmers market. Most people think that is great, fresh lamb, beef, pork. However the local health unit had something to say about that. We are only allowed to sell frozen meats. Many people think fresh meat is the best, however properly frozen meat is just as good and sometimes better since the freezing process can actually tenderize tougher cuts. However try selling that fact. Vegetables have proven to be much easier to market. Providing the vegetables are sold whole and not processed in any way.

Some newer ways of direct marketing farm produce have begun to emerge in Ontario. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a new trend here, however it has been around since the 1960s in Europe and Japan. CSAs began as a response to some consumers fears about food safety and the urbanization of agricultural land. The way a CSA works is a consumer would purchase a subscription. The subscription lasts for the entire growing season. The consumer’s investment would give them a variety of fresh and in season vegetables on a weekly or bi-weekly basis at a fair price. As the consumer they purchase a subscription knowing that they are accepting some of the inherent risk associated with the crop. In other words if the potatoes are infested with potato bugs, the consumer realizes they will probably receive less potatoes. However when one crop does poorly, usually another will pick up the slack. Last season our corn was terrible mostly due to the drought our area experienced. However it was our best year we have ever had for broccoli, cauliflower, and tomatoes.   

The advantage for the buyer is substantial. First of all, nutritionally speaking, fresh vegetables produced in an organic, ecological and sustainable manner are much better for you. It is a proven fact the vitamin content is superior. They contain more of the cancer and disease fighting substances that vegetables are noted for. Buying vegetables locally ensures that the vegetables are fresh and picked ripe. Many grocery store fruit and vegetables are picked before they ripen, then they are chemically ripened or some will continue to ripen on the shelf (bananas). The next advantage to a CSA buyer is price. The price of a CSA may seem steep, but in reality it is usually a deal. Our CSA is priced at around $200 less than the commercially grown vegetables at the grocery store. Thirdly the CSA subscriber will have a closer relationship with the farmer. This allows the subscriber to be confident in the product, and allows questions to be asked. The fourth reason for buying into a CSA is taste. This relates to the fact that the vegetables are fresh. But there is more. Organically produced vegetables are grown in healthier, more ecologically sound soil. We have found this gives a fresher, stronger and sweeter taste to our vegetables.  In fact when picking vegetables we have found it is hard to keep the kids on track. They spend as much time eating as they do picking.

Nothing tastes like a fresh carrot right out of the soil. An added bonus is we know that our vegetables do not carry the chemical residues that commercial vegetables do. A quick search of “the dirty dozen” on the internet will make you scared of eating conventional vegetables.

The more research I do into our food production systems, the more I feel comfortable farming the way I do. The “advancements” in genetic modification and chemical use is truly frightening. The effect it is going to have on our health, our environment, and our future does not look encouraging.

 

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