(A tagged, calm, happy young cow at the Carter and Stevens dairy farm in Barre, Massachusetts.)
by Cynthia Graber
I just finished reading today's New York Times op-ed piece by Mark Bittman, called Banned from the Barn. It's not new, nor a surprise to me, that journalists have been increasingly banned from photographing the worst examples of our food system. As Bittman explains, journalists are not only not invited into these operations, but we can be arrested for trespassing. And in some states it's illegal to publish photos or videos.
I'm going to opine a bit here and say that it's a travesty. I think my blood is particularly boiling because - please excuse the lack of journalistic objectivity - I just visited the exact opposite of what Mark Bittman described. This past Saturday, I spent the morning at the Carter and Stevens dairy farm in Barre, Mass., for a story for Edible Boston. I'm in the process of writing three stories about land, the first about land that has stayed in the family for generations, and the youngest generation is now taking over.
I'll let you read the story of these twenty-somethings who've come home to help run the farm and take over from their father when it appears in the magazine. But I can tell you this: they care about the farm, the animals, and the ecosystem. The 200 cows have full access to pasture. I took this photo just standing on their land (the cows had moved onto a different pasture at the time).
And they're so committed to keeping this farm a dairy farm, as it's been since the 1700s, that they've gone ahead and invested in a million-dollar new milking facility and adjacent barn. They desperately needed the new facility, and it should be up and running by early 2012. This is despite the fact that Philip, the dad, told them not to bother, not to even continue with cows, and with running a dairy. It's just too hard to make a living.
They run the type of farm we all imagine farms to be. But they can barely make ends meet. The milk is sold to a bigger company that then sells it on the general market, so they have no control over the price they get. They can only control that price in their general store, where they also sell the most delicious ice cream. That's where they sell meat from their cows, too. And for the fourth summer now, they hold Friday and Saturday evening barbecues, where hundreds of people from the local community, and as far afield as Worcester, can sit outside and enjoy great meat from healthy, well-tended animals.
The blood boiling? That comes from the fact that, as they told me, they can't compete with farms that contain 2000 cows. The types of farms that Bittman describes here, the ones that provide super cheap milk. The ones that you're not allowed to see.
I hope you'll all go check them out - buy the milk, taste the ice cream, stick around for the barbecue. Because, really, would you rather support milk and meat operations where the operations would seem so shocking that they won't let you take photos, or one that invites you and your kids to visit with a sign like this?