Big or Small, We All Produce Food!

It’s all the new food craze. Buy Local! Go to the farmer’s market! Meet your local farmers! Stay away from big company food products! Go organic! Stay away from Antibiotics and Hormones! I think someone missed the point.

Getting to know who produces your food is a great thing! Buying from farmer’s markets and supporting local growers is great as well! But big companies are a part of Agriculture too. It’s part of America’s economy. Big can be more efficient and cheaper. After all it is the consumers’ dollar that drives demand and supply.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for small producers and believe they will remain a vital part of food production in America. I grew up on a family ranch in Arkansas. We produced our own beef. Traded for pork from our neighbors and always had a taste of friends’ gardens. We knew everyone we traded cattle with and all of the producers in our area. The operation was small family owned and operated, and we knew where our cattle came from and where they were going. That place where they were going was a large company owned feedyard.

So many people give big businesses a bad wrap simply because they do not take time to know the people in the business. (I will use cattle feedyards as my example here simply because it is my experience. The concept is applicable to all sectors of food production.) The employees at the company feedyard are people too! People like me who grew up on a small, family operation, who still hold to their values, and might be looking for a career opportunity to gain experience and improve upon their skills. Since when was the idea thrown out the window of getting to know the people who produce beef from a feedyard? Do you really think it is a completely different industry? If so, please do tell me, because I sure would like to know how so.

Image courtesy of feedcattle.com

Both small and large agriculturalists work toward ONE and the SAME goal: Produce food that meets consumer demand. That demand requires that some produce food for specialized markets along with mass production for the demand of the general population. If one producer raises beef for the organic/natural markets, does that mean he/she has to despise the feedyards who produce beef for another demographic? Absolutely not! We all have to find our own niche in the markets. There are specialty markets for everything. Hispanic demographics demand different cuts of meat compared to a Jewish demographic. Some people prefer food labeled organic/natural. Some prefer to purchase food from local producers. Everyone has the right to make that choice, but it does not make one producer more/less important than another.

So take this as a challenge to meet someone from a larger food producer and get to know what is behind the company name. I guarantee you will find people just like me. People with a small, family production background looking to experience more. Someone looking for their niche in food production. If you have no one else around, send me a message! I would be more than gracious to tell you my story and answer your questions. It’s not always antibiotics and hormones.

“Don’t point out the spec in your neighbor’s eye, until you remove the plank from your own!”

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12 Comments

  1. First let me say that I am not part of the agriculture industry, I am one concerned consumer.

    I agree with you insofar as it pertains to consumer demand right now. There is demand for feedlot beef and there is demand for organic beef which – by its very nature – requires more space per animal, longer finishing times, and a no-hormone, no-antibiotic policy.

    In fact, not only do I eat organic beef, I also try to buy **grass fed** organic beef. Grocers like Whole Foods aren’t fooling consumers with signs that say “all vegetarian diet!” We know that corn is a veggie! I have read, and seen in documentary films, that a nearly all corn diet makes cows extremely sick. From what I have read, my understanding is that hay and grass forage is the natural diet of cows and the preferred feed, even though it slows down their growth and therefore takes more time to get the animal to market.

    Anyhow, my concerns with what I’ve read about feedlot beef:
    – the density of animals on a feedlot is unhealthy and can promote the spread of disease
    – given the density of animals, large pools of untreated manure build up and create significant pollution
    – extensive antibiotic treatment of animals must be used as a preventative, whether animals are sick or not, which can potentially lead to human resistance of antibiotics when *we* get sick

    To conclude:
    – I am NOT out to villianize people who work in agriculture for a living. I imagine that farming is extremely hard work, prone to risk (weather, animal health, market prices rising and falling) etc. I do imagine that the margins in farming are usually razor thin, at best, esp for small family farms
    – I believe large ag co’s are in business to make money first, and worry about anything else after that
    – I personally believe that organically raised animals live more humanely and are better for me to eat, I have decided that when I eat meat I will try to eat this kind of animal
    – I would strongly encourage others to eat certified organic meat, or ‘naturally raised’ products when you can visit the farm and/or can have a relationship with the farmer. In this modern day and age, there are lots of options open

    I would encourage all of us to think about the ways that we can help support the kind of farming practices that help preserve the land. Farmer authors like Wendell Berry have it right I think – we need to understand that we are stewards of this land, and farmers much more than me… just a consumer who reads a lot and tries to be aware of my options and what those choices can do to the economy, the environment and my future available choices as a consumer.

    Thanks for listening.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond! I will send you a message and reply to all of your concerns raised here. Look for a future post addressing these concerns as well. Please keep in mind, all large farming and ranching is not feedyard operations. Feedyards make up a very small portion of the cattle industry yet are very strict in monitoring animal health and well-being as well as environmental impacts.

      1. Hi Ryan,

        Thanks, I look forward to reading more. I’m open to having a dialogue about this, and I think you have the right attitude – information is the key for consumers to make the right choices for themselves.

        I’m also wondering if I’m confusing the terminology out there today. Perhaps instead of using the term “feedlot” I should have used “CAFO” which I understand to mean “concentrated animal feeding operation.” I have been using these inter-changeably and would be curious to know if they are actually interchangeable from your perspective as well.

        Thanks,
        Carol
        P.S. I saw your post on Twitter saying thanks for the birthday wishes, so happy birthday to you (although by now probably a little late.)

  2. In the long run, does it even matter? I mean, once all the cows have been counted, weighed and shipped, you can’t tell me that the feedlot didn’t produce a product that they can sell for a reasonable profit.

  3. This is an excellent post. Different methods of production do not need to demonize each other! As a farmer who raises beef in confinement and on pasture, and sells both directly to local customers and big food processors, I have respect for anyone in the business of producing food!!

  4. You made some nice points there. I did a search on the issue and found most guys will agree with your site.

  5. I can’t say I’m in agreement with all you mentioned but it was definitely intriguing! I will return again soon.

  6. I have been checking out some of your posts and it’s pretty good stuff. I will make sure to bookmark your blog.

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