2014 Historic Farm Tour in Keswick

Saturday was the 5th Annual Grace Church Historic Farm Tour in Keswick. I’d been wanting to do it for years, and this year, when I was actually in town and free, I didn’t even know it was happening. Thank you Cheenius for the spur-of-the-moment adventure!

Having only a few hours, we decided to split our time among the Country Fair booths at Grace Church, the retired racehorses at Old Keswick, the antique cars at Linden Lane (where Cheenius’s father-in-law was an exhibitor), and the foxhounds at Keswick Hunt Club. The weather was ideal for a drive through the countryside, and we had a lovely time.

Farm tour map

Grace Episcopal Church

Grace Church

Grace Church, a gorgeous Gothic church built in the late 1800s, was hosting a Country Fair with craft booths, 4-H animal exhibits, dog adoption corrals, and food trucks. We bought our tour tickets and cruised through the fair, petting some animals and attempting to get some food (wait times were 30 minutes! food trucks are supposed to be fast, people!) before hitting the road to Old Keswick.

Llamas 4-H cow

(check out his drool!)

Old Keswick Farm

Old Keswick, a former racehorse breeding operation, is a foster home to several retired racehorses from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, but there wasn’t much to see at this stop. We walked through the lovely barn where a couple horses dozed in stalls, popped into the Wildlife Center of Virginia’s tent to see a possum and an owl on display, and took off. Fortunately there was a horse near the fence on the way out who was happy to relieve us of the carrots we had picked up in the barn.

Old Keswick Farm Old Keswick Farm horse

Linden Lane

Linden Lane’s enormous front lawn was host to an antique car exhibit, and we stopped by to say hello to Cheenius’s father-in-law and admire his prize possession. It turned out he had dropped the car off and gone on his own farm tour adventure, but all was not lost, because the exhibit turned out to be really interesting (I had been skeptical). The cars were shiny and pretty and so different in layout and design from today’s cars. Clearly, I am a knowledgeable car person.

Antique PackardAntique Corvette

Shadwell Market

Shout out to Shadwell Market for feeding us when the food trucks could not. Cheenius and I shared some Power Balls (nut/date/honey/crack) from Mudhouse, Mr HP got a sandwich, and when I admired the Brussels sprouts in the hot food display case but lamented that they had bacon, the fabulous kitchen crew offered to stirfry me up a batch sans bacon. So nice!

Keswick Hunt Club Kennels

Keswick Hunt Club was the highlight of the tour for us. Foxhounds everywhere! We got to lean into a puppy enclosure and play with some younguns, after they peeled themselves off the pile of napping puppies to come say hi. The kennel was full of happy, goofy adults, half of which got to come out and run around for a demonstration with the huntsman, whip, and kennel manager. Even non-dog-person Cheenius was smitten and confessed she considered puppy-napping on last year’s tour when the resident puppies were tinier.

Keswick Hunt Club foxhounds foxhounds and huntsman


So, in closing, a recap:

  • Food trucks should serve food quickly
  • Old cars are cool, especially turquoise ones
  • Shadwell Market workers are friendly and accommodating
  • Foxhounds are adorable, but probably not good apartment dogs (ahem, Mr HP)

In Appreciation of Happy Cow Beef

Guest post from Mr HP!

While visiting Tucson a few weeks ago, my brother took me to St. Philip’s Plaza Farmers Market where I ran into one of the proprietors of San Rafael Valley Grass-Fed Beef.

San Rafael Valley Grass-Fed Beef

Upon seeing his sign, I decided to make some small talk.

“You mean you don’t torture your cows?”

“No, we treat all of our cattle humanely.”

“But, don’t tortured cows taste better?”

He took the joke and we spoke about their ranch a little bit. They keep around 200 head of cattle on about 7,000 acres of land in Patagonia, Tucson, a beautiful (and temperate, thanks to the elevation) part of Arizona about a 75 minute drive south of Tucson. (Incidentally, Patagonia is a short drive from Sonoita, home to outstanding vineyards producing some fairly drinkable wine; all in all, well worth a visit.)

Sonoita Arizona wine country

Sonoita, Arizona Wine Country

In addition to enjoying beautiful scenery, San Rafael Valley Grass-Fed Beef’s Angus-Hereford cattle are on a diet of 100% grass, and are spared hormones, feed lots, big corn, antibiotics and pesticides.

San Rafael Valley Grass-Fed Beef

Unfortunately, it was my last day in Tucson so I didn’t get to taste any of the beef, but I agree from past experience that grass-fed, humanely raised cows taste better. It’s good for soul. And possibly the brain, heart, immune system, etc.

Zero-grazing=poor man’s factory farming?

While perusing our new issue of WorldArk, the magazine of Heifer International, we stumbled upon a new (to us) concept: zero-grazing. Zero-grazing is primarily used in areas where grazing land is scarce, or where predators are a problem, such as in parts of Africa. Fresh food and water are brought to the livestock, who live in a sheltered enclosure. Processes such as milking are easier to perform, as the animals are kept corralled. Manure is collected from the enclosure and used as fertilizer for growing crops.

Zero-grazing can be helpful to rural farmers who lack grazing lands or have depleted the nutrients from their crop-growing soil, but we don’t like the idea of the animals sometimes being kept indoors their entire life; standing in their manure; and being fed corn, which they are not equipped to process properly. How can the animals stay healthy? What is their quality of life? Is this just factory farming on a small scale?

We could stop here, at the level of the poor African farmer. Zero-grazing systems do help pull some farmers out of extreme poverty by allowing them to produce milk on land that cannot otherwise support livestock; and when a farmer owns only a few animals, he will likely tend them carefully, as losing one would be detrimental to his income. Unfortunately, the term zero-grazing is also applied to  mega factory farming. Perhaps the programs that train rural Africans how to build small dairy businesses should adopt a new term for the farming system they promote, that doesn’t make one think of an industrial feedlot.

CSPI’s Food Day: Celebration of sustainable and humane food practices, or something more sinister?

The Haute Pasture office subscribes to the Nutrition Action newsletter published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and we were pleased to see that they are planning a Food Day celebration for October 24, 2011. The aim it to celebrate nutritious, responsibly-sourced food, and further the group’s goals of helping citizens make healthier choices, and helping policymakers improve rules regarding food safety and quality. CSPI strives to do the following, as described on the CSPI site:

  • To provide useful, objective information to the public and policymakers and to conduct research on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues related to science and technology;
  • To represent the citizen’s interests before regulatory, judicial and legislative bodies on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues; and
  • To ensure that science and technology are used for the public good and to encourage scientists to engage in public-interest activities.

After reading the mention of Food Day in Nutrition Action, we went online to see if we could find more information about it. CSPI’s Facebook page has a similar brief description of Food Day, as does the site of the company developing the Food Day logo. Most interesting to us, however, was a blog post titled “CSPI Shills for World Food Day–A Monsanto Operation.” This post seems flawed in that it links the CSPI Food Day to an unrelated World Food Day, but the argument was intriguing enough that we continued researching.

As long-time subscribers to Nutrition Action, we were surprised to read about an alleged link between CSPI and Monsanto. It turns out many bloggers have written about CSPI being backed by major food corporations and basically being a PR group for the FDA. The posts and comments we read were from the angle of anti-big-government rather than anti-agrigiants. Listed as evidence of the evil of CSPI were: the support of the executive director of CSPI, Michael Jacobson, for the S.510 Food Safety Bill; Jacobson’s description of controversial Food Safety Czar Michael Taylor as “… extremely knowledgeable and public-health oriented”; Jacobson’s support of genetically-m0dified crops; and CSPI’s work with Walmart to remove HFCS and decrease sodium in their products.

Politics aside, we can see how the stance of CSPI regarding the above items could conflict with the best interests of small farms. The food safety changes needed to protect consumers should be made at the level of the large agricultural corporation; a small local farm which can be policed by its own customers should be allowed to sell raw milk without the government getting in the way. But where should the line be drawn between protecting consumers from the carelessness of agrigiants, and protecting family farms from the long arm of the law?

How farms should be: Polyface, Inc.

You may have heard of the Salatins and Polyface Farms from the farm’s feature in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Building their family farm from scratch, the Salatins formed strong principles regarding how a farm should treat both its denizens and customers. They believe that the earth and animals should be respected, so they allow the livestock free-range access to foods that they would naturally eat in the wild, and they compost and encourage healthy soil. They also respect customers, and do not ship food in order to give consumers the freshest possible food, and therefore the best possible experience.

All animals, including chickens, cows, turkeys, rabbits, and pigs, at Polyface are allowed to eat as much grass as they’d like. Cows are moved to new grazing areas daily, and chickens roll in behind them to enjoy the newly-cropped grass. As the chickens graze and scratch, they break up the manure, cleansing the ground. Pigs root through the fermenting hay and corn bedding in the cows’ shed, aerating it, and turning it into rich compost that is used around the farm. Poultry birds’ diets are supplemented with local grain, and the rabbits are specially bred to thrive on a roughage-only diet.

To get the best sense for how Polyface operates, visit the farm for a special tour, and if you live in the area, be sure to patronize restaurants that purchase Polyface products.

Arguments against patronizing factory farms

From the McGill Daily:


This article gives a nice breakdown of the standard categories that vegetarian’s reasons for not eating meat usually fall into: health, environment, and animal cruelty.

The health issues related to eating red meat have long been known. E. coli and salmonella are in the news more and more often. The average meat eater probably doesn’t think about the link between MRSA and other bacteria-resistant infections, and meat consumption. The overuse of antibiotics in farm animals leads to stronger bacteria, to the point that known antibacterial drugs are useless in fighting off these infections. More and more people are getting sick from feces contamination on meat, as well: modern machines that tear apart the animals can spray the contents of the intestines onto the meat.

Factory farms are huge polluters, contributing more than 20% of the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions, and polluting waterways which leads to killing massive numbers of fish with animal excrement. Forests are clear cut to make way for farms or land to grow corn for livestock feed.

Nobody can deny that animals are abused in factory farms. Apparently there is a legal loophole allowing farms to participate in “common practices” without consequence, so if most other farms are abusing animals, it’s okay. Animals drop dead due to illness and injury, or are killed for being sick or too small.  In addition, the article points out the psychological hardships and injuries inflicted upon workers.

Here are a few of the horrifying factoids from this article:

  • 99% of the 10 billion animals slaughtered each year are factory farmed
  • it’s estimated that the average American eats the equivalent of 21,000 ENTIRE animals in his lifetime
  • the majority of antibiotics pumped into farm animals are banned in the EU
  • the FDA reclassified feces from dangerous contaminant to “cosmetic blemish”
  • nearly one-third of the planet’s surface is used for livestock