Thursday, November 13, 2008

Scaling up without selling your soul - Part 7


Numerous people have encouraged Polyface to become the Tyson of pastured poultry. But one of the distinguishing characteristics of an environmentally friendly farm compared to one that doesn’t care about the environment is how it handles the waste stream. In Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), including large processing plants, the waste stream overpowers the surrounding ecology, the landscape. That’s why they stink to high heavens.

But beyond that, waste must be carted all over the countryside to get it spread out because the nearby land simply cannot metabolize all that waste. In many places, feedlots, hog factories, and chicken houses generate 10 times the waste that can be ecologically metabolized on the land where the CAFO is located. Manure, guts, blood, feathers and whatever enter the global trafficking channels rather than staying where they were generated. Imagine if every time you swept your house and emptied your trash, you had so much that it spilled out of your yard and cascaded into your neighbor’s yard? Now you see why the industrial-sized butcher, baker, and candlestick maker have been kicked out of the village and banished to highly rural, out-of-sight areas.

As we’ve expanded at Polyface, we’ve carefully defined the ecological carrying capacity and refuse to haul manure or waste anywhere. This forces us to decentralize, stay divested across the landscape, and remain aesthetically and aromatically attractive.

We provide a habitat that allows each plant and animals to fully express its physiological distinctiveness—i.e. the pigness of the pig. In our Graeco-Roman western linear reductionist compartmentalized fragmented individualistic systematized disconnected paradigm, plants and animals are just inanimate piles of protoplasmic structure to be manipulated however cleverly the human mind can conceive to manipulate them. I suggest that a society which disrespects and dishonors the pigness of the pig to that extent will also view its citizens with an equivalent egocentric manipulative mindset—and other cultures. It’s how we respect and honor the least of these that creates an ethical, moral foundation upon which we honor and respect the greatest of these.

The beginning of civilization is civil, or civility. The hog industry right now is using our tax dollars to figure out how to pull the stress gene out of pigs so that we can abuse them more aggressively but they won’t mind. Talk about being uncivilized.The local ecology includes the workforce. When industrial processing plants overpower a community with low paid foreign workers, it destroys the community ecology. A business that can’t or won’t hire its neighbors due to poor working conditions, low pay, repetitive motion sickness, or anything else, is not neighbor friendly. Redesigning the business to fit, to nest into the local ecology takes innovation, but anything less will create social, environmental, and pathogenic upheavals.

This principle is one of the reasons why those of us in the healing food movement say our food is the cheapest on the planet: because we don’t externalize costs to society. Ours may carry a higher sticker price, but all the costs are figured in. We’re not destroying groundwater, giving someone food borne illness, or stinking up the neighborhood. Appreciating our landscape and people resource ecology and staying within those parameters is simply foundational to being a good citizen.
To be continued...

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