Lately, largely inspired by the TV series River Cottage Australia, I have been incessantly daydreaming about moving to the country in order to grow my own food and live off the land. Unfortunately, I am having a hard time convincing my husband and kids to join me, so I thought the next best thing would be to try to buy as much of our food as possible from farmer’s markets.
In stark contrast to the cold and sterile feel of the large supermarkets, at my local farmer’s market I can get up close and personal with the people actually growing and producing the food I buy. There are so many advantages to buying food directly from the source – it is fresher and of better quality, as it hasn’t been stored for long periods or travelled large distances, and you can speak directly with the farmer about how the food was produced. For me this is really important, particularly when it comes to animal products.
The livestock farmers who sell their produce at farmer’s markets are usually small-scale producers who employ free range farming methods. However, to be sure that you are buying a higher animal welfare product, below is a list of questions to ask the farmers you meet about how they rear their animals:
1. Are your animals raised on pasture?
Not only is raising animals on pasture better for the animals but it is also better for us. The meat, dairy and eggs from pasture-fed animals has less total fat, more healthy fat (omega-3s) and higher amounts of other beneficial nutrients (see our blog http://consumewithcare.org/ethically-raised-animal-products-better-for-animals-better-for-you) when compared with the meat, dairy and eggs from factory farmed animals.
2. Are your cows and lambs “grass finished”?
“Finishing” is also known as “fattening up,” and while grain is a healthy part of the diet of poultry and pigs, it wreaks havoc on the digestive systems of cows and sheep. “Corn-finished” or “grain-finished” meat comes from livestock that ate little but grain and other processed supplements for the last six months of their lives, usually in a feedlot, while “grass-finished” animals were fattened up on pasture.
3. Do you give antibiotics to healthy animals?
Antibiotics are used routinely on factory farms to prevent disease. This is because the overcrowded and stressful conditions on factory farms mean that disease is widespread. This is contributing to an alarming rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can be harmful to humans. If farmers only use antibiotics on animals that are actually sick, you know that they have been raised in a healthier environment.
4. Do you use heritage breeds?
Many “modern” livestock breeds can’t even survive outside of climate-controlled cages, but ‘heritage” livestock are bred to live outside and are healthier, heartier animals overall.
If you’re also feeling the need to connect more intimately with your food, I strongly encourage you to seek out your local farmer’s market and pay it a visit. To find your local market go to: http://www.farmersmarkets.org.au/markets
Buying my food from farmer’s markets may not be quite the same as growing the food myself, but for now it will have to do!