2010-09-16 / News

Conanicut Grange Report

By Bob Sutton
Recently, 500 million hens’ eggs were recalled from supermarkets around the country because of a salmonella contamination problem that sickened thousands of people.

The contaminated eggs came from two Iowa factory farms. This recall shined new light on factory egg production in this country, and it is not a pretty thing. No animal is treated more like a factory machine than the chicken.

Factory chickens are kept in what are called battery cages – so named for their size and shape – which are wire cages approximately 12 inches by 18 inches. Each cage holds six chickens for the entirety of their lives (one to two years). These cages – stacked on top of each other – are kept in huge poultry sheds housing 50,000 to 125,000 chickens.

During their lives, chickens see no natural light or air, and have no room to move about. They are pumped full of antibiotics that fend off the spread of disease. They are fed a manufactured product that maximizes egg production. After two years, they are destroyed and their meat is used in chicken-based processed food.

If you are up to it, Google “chicken cages” to learn more. This is the system that the vast majority of us depend on for our bacon and egg breakfast on Sunday morning.

Today’s domestic farm animals trace their heritage back to a time thousands of years ago, when their ancestors roamed the earth wild and untamed. Today’s chicken is a direct descendant of the Red Jungle Fowl, which still runs wild in parts of southeast Asia.

In his book, “Guns Germs and Steel,” author Jared Diamond identifi es the domestication of some wild animals (and wild plants) as a pivotal human accomplishment. It fundamentally changed man from nomadic “hunter gatherer” to landed farmer and in so doing, allowed and accelerated the development and advancement of human civilizations. Over time, the aggressiveness of the selected wild animal was bred out, and docility and productivity were bred in. In this process, animals that at one time were able to survive in the wild, eat and fend for themselves became completely dependent on humans for their daily existence and, as importantly, their quality of life.

In New England, Native Americans practiced a type of nomadic agriculture focused entirely on growing grains and vegetables. For the most part – with the exception of dogs – the large wild animals that were indigenous to the North American continent were hunted for meat, and were wild, uncooperative and never transitioned into willing domesticity. Domesticated farm animals arrived in this country like the rest of us – as immigrants on ships from other places.

For many years, New England farms had a kind of “Old Mac- Donald Had A Farm” quality about them, with each farmer having a variety of cows, oxen, horses, chickens, pigs, ducks, turkeys, etc., as well as a garden and fields. The animals provided the farmer with transportation, power to pull his plow, milk, eggs and meat for his family, and, at times, a cash crop to sell or barter to the neighbors.

Good farmers recognized that they were in a partnership and a relationship of mutual dependence with their farm animals. Good animal husbandry was good common sense for the farmer and further, this relationship reinforced the value of ethical behavior in the farmer’s social relationships with the human community, family, neighbors and with the land on which he walked.

As this country became more urbanized and as farms became larger and more specialized – and as farmers became more involved in the business of turning farm products into cash – human contact with farm animals diminished and for the most part, agricultural production disappeared from public view. Supermarkets, not farms, became our “food reference” and if they were clean, bright and user friendly, then all was right with the world.

The truth of the matter is that all is not right with the world in the way we as a society allow the treatment of our farm animals and our land for agricultural production.

The people of this country have a love for pets that is unmatched in the world. There are laws and regulations for how we must treat our cats and dogs at the local, state and national level. We have our governments hire animal officers to protect their treatment and we applaud the fireman who climbs the tree to “save” the little kitty. Men go to jail for allowing their dogs to fight, yet we as a society ignore the way our chickens are brutalized in factory farms, and our cattle and hogs are mistreated and degraded in massive feedlots. It is not right for us to accept this type of agriculture production.

It is degrading to us as a society of humans and it is inconsistent with – and diminishes the value of – ethical behavior in our own relationships with our human community, family, neighbors and the land.

In Jamestown, there are presently more than 1,400 chickens laying eggs and more than 500 head of livestock in the green Conanicut Island pastures. Not a single farm animal is raised under any type of factory conditions. Jamestown farmers have committed themselves to good animal husbandry and to the respectful treatment of their farm animals and the land that we all walk.

Out standing in the field

In the middle of August, on a beautiful evening with the moon shining, the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce, Preserve New England, and Don and Heather Minto invited more than 200 people to a hayfield in the middle of Watson Farm to eat, laugh and dance the night away (there may have also been a little beer). You could not help but enjoy yourself, and it seemed like everyone who bought a ticket did. The Jamestown Chamber of Commerce is very much a part of a sustainable Jamestown community and has consistently supported a strong agricultural community. The Jamestown Chamber of Commerce, truly outstanding in the field.

What’s available in Jamestown

Dutra Farm: Hay, 662-5686

Hodgkiss Farm: Late summer vegetables at the stand, 423-0641

Watson Farm: Grass-fed Red Devon beef, lamb, Conanicut Island and Rhody Warm wool blankets, North Main Road, Thursdays, 3 to 6 p.m.

Windmist Farm: Grass-fed beef products, eggs, Weeden Lane, Fridays, 3 to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Casey Farm Farmers’ Market: Saturday mornings

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