If you’ve been with us for any amount of time, you’ve undoubtedly noticed changes to our product offerings this year. Over the winter, we embarked on an eye-opening journey to learn more about the main input we purchase regularly for our farm—our livestock feeds. Our main purpose in growing food is to feed people well. In order to do that, we must never stop learning—there are always ways we can improve our farming.
In a nutshell, what we learned after weeks of research and talking with feed companies, grain growers, chemical testing laboratories, and other farmers is that while there is a common belief that “non-GMO” livestock feeds are the same as “organic,” that is not the case.
Genetically-modified crops or “GMO’s” come with their own set of concerns and we personally believe they should be avoided, but that is a discussion for another day. We encourage you to learn more about GMOs here: http://www.nongmoproject.org. At this time USDA Certified Organic standards do not allow GMOs in food products, but that may not be the case for every organic certification agency, so when in doubt, look for the USDA Certified Organic label.
Chemical applications such as herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers are also of concern to many consumers, and with good reason since exposures to even small amounts of agricultural chemicals have been linked to cancers and a whole host of human health problems. We do not use chemicals in our farming practices, choosing instead to utilize natural methods for managing pests, weeds and disease. Of course, we also want to use livestock feeds grown without toxins as well.
Think about this: GMO’s have been on the market since the 1990s, yet heavy chemical use in farming goes back to the years just after WWII. Crops may be “non-GMO”–grown from non-genetically modified seed, yet still grown using conventional chemical-heavy farming methods. When we asked our former feed supplier if their non-GMO grains were grown in fields sprayed with herbicides and pesticides, they did not try to hide the fact that they are. Another frightening fact we learned is that the levels of toxins allowed in livestock feeds is much higher than that in crops grown directly for human consumption. Animals eat these chemical laden feeds for weeks, months or years while the toxins build up in their bodies. The meat, eggs and dairy products produced by these animals can have very high levels of toxins. Therefore, for your own health, it is very important to choose products from animals fed an organic diet.
Right now, Certified Organic livestock feeds are harder to come by and are very expensive. Because of the rigorous certification process and the less convenient farming methods required, there just are not enough Certified Organic grain growers in the U.S. Because of the high up-front cost, most farm businesses choose not to use Certified Organic livestock feeds. We found that making the switch has caused us to make major adjustments to our family’s farm business, but as difficult as that has been we know it is all for the better. Once you have knowledge, you are accountable to act on it, and we could not in good conscience go back to a less-healthy farming practice because of the responsibility we have to all of the people for whom we grow food. It is our hope that as more farmers and food buyers choose organic, it will become more readily available and affordable. In our effort to feed people well, we also offer practical support and encouragement to those who desire to begin growing their own foods.
Want to know where you can get great Certified Organic livestock feeds and supplies for organic farming? Here in Virginia, we are fortunate to have New Country Organics, a company truly dedicated to healthy sustainability.