While reading at David Gumpert’s The Complete Patient blog the other day, I took note when he, too, mentioned the call to "Trust your Farmer" that I’ve been hearing lately — along with various similar sentiments: trust your local farmer, farmers need a break, etc.
When I first heard this phrase, it was in the context of doing our produce shopping at our local Farmer’s Market … that, because it is so difficult and costly to obtain an organic certification, one should simply ascertain from the farmer whether pesticides and the like were used in the production of the produce — or, for dairy farmers, whether hormones, antibiotics, etc. were used on the cows.
Sounds logical. This is based on the idea that, if one "knows" the farmer, then one knows what’s going on at the farm.
Unfortunately, it’s not really practicable in the real world for us to sail around inspecting farms.
Now, it’s not that I was distrusting of farmers, or assuming out of hand that a farmer might misrepresent what he’s selling. My own operating basis for our business is that I give our clients and customers the best advice I can even if I would make more money by giving them different advice. I feel best taking this approach — which, incidentally, is one of the foundations of ensuring that our own "product" is of high quality.
However, while I don’t want to assume without proof that anyone is dishonest, neither does it make sense to presume that everything is at all times above board without my ascertaining that it is so. No matter what the topic, I simply can’t get with the idea that I should cast all doubt to the wind and make blind assumptions about who is doing what.
Case in point: we are looking about for a source of raw milk in (more or less) our area … but I’ll note that in California, our milk was not only raw but certified organic. Here, it makes no sense to assume that the fact that milk is raw ensures that the cows were hormone and antibiotic free, and that the milk was dealt with in such a manner that it is healthful. Factually, these are different issues.
As to the case in point I promised, I’d located a dairy farmer — or, at least, I’d located his website — who offers raw milk. The website looked nice — but, as a website designer myself, I noted that the photos were stock photography (which is easy enough to get — here’s an example). As you can see, the photos are far nicer than photos that I, for example, might take. Of course, in order to make a good website presentation, one might hire a professional photographer. Our California dairyman has nice photographs, too … but he’s also in the picture.
Then I popped over to Google Maps (and Microsoft’s Bing.com Maps, too) where you can search for an address and, most conveniently, get a satellite photo view of the area — and did a search for the dairy farmer’s address. There it was. I could see the house, what looked like a barn, and acres of land, some of which looked to have been cropped pretty closely. I should have been satisfied with that — the photos has revealed that it’s not a factory farm, but I found myself returning to the Google and Bing.com maps and pouring over them.
It’s funny that it’s easy to see what’s there, but sometimes seeing what’s not there can be hard to spot.
Finally, I spotted what was bothering me.
Between Google and Bing.com it was clear that the satellite photos had been taken at different times … between the two sets of photos, different acreage showed cropping (or mowing?). Not only that, but the twin silos appearing on the dairyman’s website did not appear in the satellite photos.
Then I tried the address of a dairyman (certified organic) in upstate New York … and there you could see the cows.
So, that’s my story. Rather than make assumptions based upon what could, in fact, be some kind of coincidence, I think what we’ll do is take a drive down there. There either are cows, or there are not.
And that is precisely my point … assumption is not the greatest gauge. And if what we really want is clean, wholesome food, it’s up to us to do our best to ensure that we’re getting what we want.
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