Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A little bitty rant

For something not so off-topic for me, but way off-topic for this blog so far, I shall introduce you to some of the ladies on the Putney farm. For those that don't know, I am currently working at the Putney School in Putney Vermont, apprentice teaching photography, but because of my interest in agriculture I help out down at the farm bit of the campus every once in a bit. Yes I do this for fun, and yes 5am is early. So the farm has about 60head of dairy cows, of different breeds, these are milked 2 times a day, 6am and then around 4 in the afternoon. There are sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and a large veg patch as well but the cows are where I typically help out. Most of the job involves shoveling shit, you start the morning cleaning out the gutters behind each cow, this involves a shovel and a wheelbarrow, and needs to be done quickly and with open eyes because they can shit on you at any time. It then progresses to haying, feeding, cleaning the utters, attaching the milking machine, and then getting them back out again, and shoveling the shit they produced while you were feeding, haying, and milking. The younger ones, that do not go out to pasture, require other things but usually it’s a whole lot of shoveling shit and laying down fresh sawdust. Its great work and certainly works up an amazing appetite for breakfast, and certainly makes you appreciate that milk even more.

So how does this relate? Well small-scale dairy farms are hurting very much thanks to the giant Midwest factory farms where most of your milk (in the US) comes from, and the artificially low prices that they create. However it’s the small-scale operations done mostly by hand involving pasture raised cows that we need to keep, and these are the ones most hurt by this economy and changing milk and feed prices. Its the skills involved that we are at risk of loosing and when the oil runs out will have to try and relearn, but there will be nobody left that knows how to do it properly if we are not careful. It’s these practical skills that need to be taught again in our high schools, thankfully Putney does just that during the summer programmes and during the main year. It also comes back to reducing your dependence on foreign energy as well as increasing your health, and the health of your local economy. There are many on the environmental side that don’t like dairy or beef production and see all of it as bad. The problem is, as with most things it’s not that black and white. Small-scale organic pasture fed beef and dairy are fine, so long as you are not having meat and or large amounts of dairy with every single meal (like most Americans do). Yes there is an environmental impact from the production of both meat and dairy, but when done right and combined with a change in our diet it can be ok and easily offset by using renewable energy or using the cow shit to produce methane and power the facility. Just because traditional large-scale agriculture has destroyed the environment in many forms, does not automatically mean that small scale local production is just as bad. It just annoys me when many vegans and environmentalists constantly beat up on all meat and all dairy and don’t distinguish between them.

a couple more pictures,here, and here

The Putney School

1 comment:

  1. I'm interested in knowing, how much would a gallon of milk from a small-scale dairy operation cost, compared to industrial milk?

    I agree with you that industrial food production is extremely detrimental and has created artificially low prices - the problem is that low prices is the goal, and the only way to achieve that is through mass-production. If we were to change over to small-scale operations for the entire agricultural field, food prices would skyrocket like crazy. To the best of my knowledge, no one would support that because then our poorest people would not be able to afford food. (Of course, nevermind the overpopulation problem.)

    Anyway, I guess my point is that society cannot have it both ways. We cannot abolish industrial food production and still expect to feed all of our citizens as well as provide aid for poorer countries. Now, I have my own beliefs as to which route we should take (let's just say, I would support survival of the fittest, and if the fittest are those who can afford food, so be it), but I guarantee you that no one wants food prices to increase.