Experiences and contemplation’s on farms a year ago.
Alot of my posts have been about a big trip I did a few years ago to Europe/India/Nepal. This post is about my experience on farms and with animals whilst maneuvering through BC. I did this a year ago, and this post shares the reflections and lessons I had during that time.
Brief background story.
I was determined to do volunteering and exploring around where I live in Western Canada. Within hours I can explore islands along the coast, or deserts along the interior. It was an exciting plan to mix these destinations with farming and food.
I didn’t work at my jobs and did alot of moving around, volunteering in numerous places, trying many different things. Home landscapes, music festivals, food festival, home steads, real farms. It sounded idyllic, but was surprising less tranquil then I imagined it to be. Even the ease of 5 hours a day volunteering can still subjectively feel like alot.
I had high hopes and expectations of where I would be farming. Yet alot of those places I messaged never got back to me in time. So I was on a journey different than the one I initially intended, off to farms I wasn’t seeking, but they needed help, and I needed to work. I was astonished of the delays in responses from some places. That really highlighted I have an intention, and the universe has one, and we got to compromise, and meet in the middle.
I was looking for some grass roots, self-sufficiency communal or mom and dad veggie farms, but ended up more at homes just with animals. Some for profit as a business, and others just for themselves to feed their family and friends. I traveled to two places in southern Vancouver Island, then made my way to a place in Galiano Island, afterwords helping a few days in Salt Spring Island. I also volunteered at 4 festivals with a few months, and traveled the interior of B.C., to alot of the towns between here and Nelson. My last agriculture volunteering was at a pig farm in Meritt, then had a final volunteering gig at a local music festival to end the summer. 5 festivals and 5 ‘workaway’ locations, so lots of volunteering projects.
To clarify, “Workaway” is a website where you can volunteer with someone in any form they need. Gardening, building, weeding, feeding animals, collecting eggs, etc. It is not necessary to be on a vegetable farm for this to happen.
I wrote this post because I was really confronted in many places the reality of raising animals, even in the ‘ethical, small town’ glossy version we imagine. The truth that fatigue and financial strain of the owner directly affects the animals in many ways is sad to really witness. The amount of corners cut which burdened the animal in favour of the owner felt like constant. Everyone had a reason and a pressure going on.
At the time I was mostly vegan, so working around animals was a hope to reassess my values I felt by addressing something more “head on” – my inner conflict about eating meat. My veganism was not based on direct experience of working with small farm animals, so I thought I’d see if that impacted it. There are many arguments that can be made about any diet or lifestyle, for or against it. Some things reinforced my avoidance of meat, and some gave me new questions to ask. On the last days of the farming volunteering project, I took some time to reflect on questions of vegetarianism, local food, and animal welfare. These are questions that came to mind, and thoughts that I learned during my time. Hope something stick out.
- I hear alot if you had to kill it would you eat it? Well if you had to dig to find the gas for your car would you still drive? Would you only speak a language if you invented it? Fly if you knew how to fly the plane? Wear clothes if you had to pick the cotton and seam every item? Live in an apartment only if you built it? Use the internet only if you coded the website? Have coffee if you had to go to the source yourself and pick it?
- And the wording we use can paint such different pictures. Processing is a lighter way of bluntly saying killing, but that’s too graphic. But then again when I cook my veggies should I just say I am burning them alive? When I chew my carrot am I just stabbing it to death? Is digestion just an acid bath? How extreme can we get with this aspect of labeling and definitions?
- Meat production was no perfect system, even locally, yet I see even veganism has its challenges, especially on a global scale. Huge amounts of land, perhaps endangered land, pulled for mass production of vegetables. With pesticides, mono cropping, the shipping, all the packaging, the heating and cooling, it felt challenging to imagine a very low footprint lifestyle that way. Also, the big near impossibility for full transparency. It’s so hard to know about the soy grown in timbuktu. The workers who picked it, the ones who packaged it, the boat it was shipped on. I thought of another aspect, I’ll call it second degree meat eating. Where I am not eating meat, but the industries I rely on to fulfill that goal is perhaps done by meat eaters. Meat eaters picking food for vegans. It’s like when you see a vegans working at a restaurant that mostly serves meat, probably because it’s just a better paycheque. So I buy soy from half way across the world, and the person who gathered it can now celebrate with a steak, his soy crop selling incredible amounts. The gas it takes to ship everything. That gas and oil industry could be majority meat eaters, getting paid to buy meat off the purchase you made of vegetables. Maybe it seems over thinking, but it was just a thought. I wondered how many people who were a part of me getting my package of tofu were also vegetarian? Did it take 100 non vegans to support one vegan? All the side industries who are kept afloat buy supporting this global food system of veganism. Its complex, and when I see that side effect then nothing is perfect. Maybe veganism is the less of two evils. I believe it surpasses factory farming, but how about local small scale meat production? Is low quality veganism, mass produced veganism, do they outshine proper local meat? Questions to ask. A lot of the negative stats of meat eating are about industrial farming. How about on local farming, where the cow is eating the grass on the land, where the chickens are eating bugs. Will animals exist just in zoo’s or petting farms if the world turns vegan? Again, all different things to wonder.
- During my time I noticed how inequality exists in the small farm of animals no different than in human form. Patterns of fear or scarcity psychology mimic in small groups of animals on the farms I visited. Hoarding food when there is enough to go around thus alienating other animals from getting food, would be an easy example. Literally it’s just a power statement, to create a hierarchy. They would bite and nip at each other just to create a sense of dominance, deciding who got to eat first, even though again there was enough food for everyone to have an equal generous amount. Every animal would crowd around a small pile of food when there was a giant one right next to them. They were in such a tunnel vision and stress mode they would not even notice the other pile of food next to them. There was no human mistreatment leading to this, just nature confused in an unfamiliar habitat. Perhaps no matter how well fed they were daily, there was a looming anxiety to them. They have no influence over if they get fed or not, perhaps that is the stress. They have no independence, and that is their fear. To them it is unpredictable and unempowering. Only my guess.
- The sounds on the farm can be really disturbing. Pig squeals are so high pitched. Cows that are ready to mate can be extremely loud and aggressive. How strange it is for them to feel trapped. I suppose in nature they always felt the possibilities to move, to roam, but they have no ability to explore now, it’s so limited for them (I want to empathize that this was this specific location. I have read about other farms were cows, pigs, chickens, have tons of land, more land than they could utilize, so this is not one of those). When a family owns one cow, it really isolates it from a sense of community. I imagine it’s strange for the animal. Even for myself, feeling like a witness to a lot of these aspects of animal life is very conflicting at times.
- Transporting with local animals is a huge issue. Even if they can spend 99% of their lives on the field in harmony, the last moments of their lives are these shipping trucks, unfamiliar moving environments, and constrained weird places. Rather unfortunate. And that’s not done by the maliciousness of the owner, but the over regulating of the industry. It’s become an unavoidable aspect of those little farms nowadays. Perhaps it’s a tactic used by corporate industry to make it more challenging for the small competitors. That is a detail that owners have no control over, (atleast for the time being), it’s just the laws as they are right now force them to that. Seems unjust people who are trying to do better than factory farms are heavily over regulated, forced to comply to laws that force more discomfort for the animals.
- Another weird industry word I came across when animals were killed and were packaged was called going to ‘freezer camp’.
- I’m feeding and watering the animals, and that’s the easy job. I’m like earth, sharing its bounty. I do not have to be the lion or the hunter, ending a peaceful life. Maybe indirectly I am, doing by association. To a pig who was someone’s mom, someone’s dad, someone’s son, someone’s daughter. Even with it being local and right outside my door, it still felt really uneasy, maybe wrong, that I was doing all of this. Trying to be open minded even with eating local meat that’s right outside my door. I was always mixed with guilt and appreciation. I only felt better when I would force myself to stop thinking. Or devalued it. I was really conflicted because I adored the taste of the meat. It was some of the best tasting experience, and that made it so hard to understand. Thinking made it awful, yet it tastes delicious. If it tasted wretched the choice would be easy, but the taste gets me to rethink if I’m just over critical about a purely natural experience.
- Local use to be a buzz word for me. But I learned local can mean mismanaged, poor animal habitats, neglect for animals, under feeding, isolation of animals, etc. The word used to be a symbol of all the good pure intentions, an award for not having any of the negatives of factory farms. But I was really conflicted to see how challenged some of these farms were.
- It’s rough to think most places are uglier than the public suspects. The messes, animals dying early, the smells, the sounds. The packaging looks so idyllic, yet so few people ever scope into how accurate the packaging really is. The packaging doesn’t tell the story of the piglet who died in the pen and the rest of them started eating it. Doesn’t tell the story of the bigger boy pig raping the other smaller boy pig. All you see is the clean pasture and smiling animals on the label. These small farms had no red barn, no clean area for hay. No nice tractor and horizon view and picket fence family. They can be an over stressed, under payed, under staffed, out of time mentality for some of the places. But beautiful packaging. This is not a blanket statement to put on any local meat producer. This is a testament that one must inspect for oneself what is true and what is romanticism.
- The few farms I have been were hoarder’s paradise, this included one I visited in Belgium. Mess and junk scattered everywhere with no plan to clean it. Always half done many projects. It’s so important and a high priority to start the project, but never to finish it.
- When a family used to farm they had plenty of kids to help. Now new age world we have couples farming of just 2 people trying to accomplish the same yield. Volunteers are the new helpers. The couple may not have kids, but they have someone else’s kid there for a week or month helping out. Funny how that works. It’s like the parents who are too busy to watch their kids so they hire child care workers, and those child care workers have to get someone else to look after their kids while they are with your kids, and how that cycle just repeats itself.
- In the wild, man would catch the weakest animal. The animal was maybe a bit sick, a bit neglected from the group, small – who knows. Also the animal would be considerably stressed, knowing it may be about to die. It can be easy to think that animals don’t die until humans come and intervene. They live forever happily in the hills until humans invade, pillaging their village for bacon. Sure, the animal in the slaughterhouse is stressed and maybe thinks it’s about to die, yet the bison chased by the natives may have felt identical. The deer running from the lion – identical. It doesn’t make it right, but I think it’s important to realize that experience isn’t much different in some ways from the animal in the wild. I think one measure again though is independence. The ability for the animals to feel like it had a chance. The running pumped it with adrenaline and neuro chemicals, yet factory animals are docile at the moment of death. They are given no warning, and maybe that’s a gift, or a curse. That’s an issue we may never know, but it opens the door to questioning.
- Its ironic cause humans are probably the most stressed thing existing on the planet. It can be compassionate to feel for the animals on the farm, when they get anxious or uncomfortable, confused. Yet we can’t even get humans on a mass balanced wave length, so it’ll take a lot to get animals there. Why should I expect the little farms to be perfect, if the farmers are under so many pressures themselves?
Veganism can feel like ride or die (funny idea) at times. All or nothing. Can you be vegan and go to places like this? Veganism is a personal path and choice for each. For me, I was beginning to eat meat when my vegan friends aren’t around. Closet meat eater. Shaping stories with them so meat doesn’t come up. Avoid conversations about how long you have been vegan. I wasn’t “true vegan”, but just experimenting, testing the waters. I ate very plant based, but I was contemplating should I have an open mindedness for local cheese, eggs, meat, etc. Was my veganism a rejection of factory farming practises? In many ways yes it was. Does local meat get my vote? Maybe sometimes, but it takes much more inspection of places, and introspection of my desires.
This trip for me was a search for new ideas based from personal experience. To see if being in those environments would allow me to feel more grounded in my perspective, and to see what it’s like out there around me. This post talks a lot about vegan or animals, but I went also to see how it is for local food around me – the challenges and reality of it. I respect the battles these farm owners are up against. Facing the tough situation of being small businesses among big corporate industry.
Even with local food, we never know how pure and high quality the product really is. Atleast at the farmers market you can look people in the eyes. The closer you are to the source, the better in my opinion. We act with good intentions and we have no “guarantee” that veggies raised half way across the world, or meat raised across the street is done too our idealized standards. Ignorance is bliss in the food world. It feels like the more homework you do, the less options you have. The common thread here is the value these local farms are doing is putting more options into the world then just factory farms or corporate industries. It’s a place that neighbours can go visit, and is in so many ways, a better step up the ladder. I atleast got to visit these places, good luck trying to see any of the big industry facilities. I think small farm tours will be a much bigger thing in the future, and that may bring more transparency and exposure to where their food comes from. I hope this post offers some new questions and ideas to whatever lifestyle you choose to follow, and where I was at a year ago.