Formerly,Bar None Ranch, of Berlin, NY, we are now Climbing Tree Farm, of New Lebanon. We raise PASTURED POULTRY, LAMB, GRASS-FED BEEF, and WOODLAND/PASTURE-RAISED, MILK-FED PORK. We keep our animals true to their instincts- letting our pigs dig, our chickens range, our sheep graze. We feed rotationally graze on pasture and silvo-pasture (in the woods). We work with a local dairy to feed our pigs Jersey milk. We are conscientious stewards of the land, and our animals.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Eating Someone You Know: Conscientious Meat-Eating

Tonight, while barbequing lamb sausage, I was looking out over the pasture while Colby moved the sheep. The lambs were baaing, and the flock was sprawled out in a great, bucolic, chain across the hillside following their shepherd. Our flock is small, usually around 10-15 sheep and lambs in all. Needless to say, with children around, each sweet, new lamb gets a name. Tonight I grilled Cartman, a big, strong guy that we've known since he was a baby.

When people hear that we are meat farmers they almost always say something like "I don't think I could eat an animal I raised." Which always strikes me as funny, because I can't imagine eating an animal that I didn't raise. As a matter of fact, until we became meat farmers, I didn't eat meat. At the age of seven I became a vegetarian, citing animal rights and environmental issues (I was a kind of intense kid...).  It took over two decades for my vegetarianism to wane, but in the past several years, as our meat production grows, so too does my meat consumption. Here's a brief explanation of why: As a vegetarian I often turned to beans, soy, and dairy for protein. Most beans and soy are grown half a world away, mainly in China, meaning that while they have a smaller footprint to produce than meat, they have an enormous carbon footprint due to transportation. Our animals (and their food) are grown right here in my valley. And, dairy operations (for the ovo-lacto vegetarian) are rarely as picturesque as the side of a milk carton would have you believe, many have deplorable conditions, and most young dairy bulls are fed into the commercial veal market, which isn't known for animal welfare. I'm guaranteed (and so are you) that the animals at Climbing Tree Farm live well, because we're taking care of them, and their welfare matters to us, the farmers. In short, if I am concerned with the environment and with animals being treated justly, it makes sense for me to raise my own protein in the form of meat. (We do grow soy too, but there's only so much edamame you can eat!)

Does it feel weird to eat an animal, with a name, that you raised from infancy? I would be lying if I said "no." It's really weird, but anything turns weird if you think about it enough. At dinner tonight our five year old son asked if we were eating Cartman.   When we said "yes" his response was, "oh, he's good." Our society has been so divorced from meat production for so long, that we forget that meat is animals. My hope is that as people become more involved with local, small farms, we will remember that meat comes from real animals on real farms. And, that more people will choose farms, like ours, where the farmer's kid calls his lamb sausage by name.

As a farmer the ethics of eating meat comes up a lot in our everyday life. Below I have copied an essay from The New York Times that was written by a professor at Warren Wilson College (where I went to school). It seems pertinent:


The Ethicist Contest Winner: Give Thanks for Meat

A few weeks ago, we invited readers to make an argument for the ethics of eating meat. Thousands of readers submitted essays, and thousands more voted on the finalists that we posted online. Our panel of judges — Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan and Peter Singer — chose the essay below as the winner. It will be published in the May 6 issue of the magazine.

As a vegetarian who returned to meat-eating, I find the question “Is meat-eating ethical?” one that is in my head and heart constantly. The reasons I became a vegetarian, then a vegan and then again a conscientious meat-eater were all ethical. The ethical reasons of why NOT to eat meat are obvious: animals are raised and killed in cruel conditions; grain that could feed hungry people is fed to animals; the need for pasture fuels deforestation; and by eating meat, one is implicated in the killing of a sentient being. Except for the last reason, however, none of these aspects of eating meat are implicit in eating meat, yet they are exactly what make eating some meat unethical. Which leads to my main argument: eating meat raised in specific circumstances is ethical; eating meat raised in other circumstances is unethical. Just as eating vegetables, tofu or grain raised in certain circumstances is ethical and those produced in other ways is unethical.
What are these “right” and “wrong” ways of producing both meat and plant foods? For me, they are most succinctly summed up in Aldo Leopold’s land ethic: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” While studying agroecology at Prescott College in Arizona, I was convinced that if what you are trying to achieve with an “ethical” diet is the least destructive impact on life as a whole on this planet, then in some circumstances, like living among dry, scrubby grasslands in Arizona, eating meat, is, in fact, the most ethical thing you can do other than subsist on wild game, tepary beans and pinyon nuts. A well-managed, free-ranged cow is able to turn the sunlight captured by plants into condensed calories and protein with the aid of the microorganisms in its gut. Sun > diverse plants > cow > human. This in a larger ethical view looks much cleaner than the fossil-fuel-soaked scheme of tractor-tilled field > irrigated soy monoculture > tractor harvest > processing > tofu > shipping > human.
While most present-day meat production is an ecologically foolish and ethically wrong endeavor, happily this is changing, and there are abundant examples of ecologically beneficial, pasture-based systems. The fact is that most agroecologists agree that animals are integral parts of truly sustainable agricultural systems. They are able to cycle nutrients, aid in land management and convert sun to food in ways that are nearly impossible for us to do without fossil fuel. If “ethical” is defined as living in the most ecologically benign way, then in fairly specific circumstances, of which each eater must educate himself, eating meat is ethical; in fact NOT eating meat may be arguably unethical.
The issue of killing of a sentient being, however, lingers. To which each individual human being must react by asking: Am I willing to divide the world into that which I have deemed is worthy of being spared the inevitable and that which is not worthy? Or is such a division hopelessly artificial? A poem of Wislawa Szymborska’s, “In Praise of Self-Deprecation,” comes to mind. It ends:

There is nothing more animal-like
than a clear conscience
on the third planet of the Sun.

For me, eating meat is ethical when one does three things. First, you accept the biological reality that death begets life on this planet and that all life (including us!) is really just solar energy temporarily stored in an impermanent form. Second, you combine this realization with that cherished human trait of compassion and choose ethically raised food, vegetable, grain and/or meat. And third, you give thanks.

Jay Bost, who says he has been "a farmworker, plant geek, agroecologist and foodie for the past 20 years," teaches at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C., and plans to head to Hawaii next year for a Ph.D. in tropical plant and soil science. His deepest interest is in agrobiodiversity, a field he will be better able to explain once he and his partner, Nora Rodli, get their 5-month-old son, Kailu Sassafras, to sleep.

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