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Misty Meadows 1

Misty Meadows Farm

Meet Ralph and Kathy Packard.

Ralph and Kathy run the Misty Meadows Farm in Payneville, KY, about 50 miles southwest of Louisville. They grow “everything but okra” on their bucolic 28-acre parcel of land; on our visit, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and blackberries were just beginning to come up. Heavy rains delayed the start of their planting season, and only now in late May are they getting a start in earnest on their crops.

Roosters cockily patrolled the chicken coop. Happy, inquisitive pigs came up to us in the barn to check us out. The two most recent were born on inauguration day, a male and a female inevitably named Barack and Michelle. The pigs come in black, red (with hair that shines fiery like copper filament in the sun) and one spotted pig that instantly became my favorite. Cattle are kept at a nearby Mennonite farm. The Packards’ two dogs, Maggie and Timmy, keep watch over it all.

 

Misty Meadows has the longest-running CSA in the state of Kentucky (ten years strong); started the local farmer’s market in nearby Brandenburg, KY; and were among the first farms to do organic gardening in the state (albeit not certified). As well as their produce, they sell farm-fresh eggs, various cuts of pork, beef and lamb, and homemade sausages including chorizo, sweet and hot Italian, and Kentucky-style breakfast links, redolent with sage. Their efforts have stood in defiance of the indefatigable encroachment of corporate and fast food that has all but crushed any semblance of local, indigenous foodways in this part of the country and others. It’s a glimmer of hope of a food renaissance, a return to the old ways of raising and eating honest food.

But their way of farming is at risk.

The USDA is enforcing the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), a draconian policy of chipping and tracking all livestock. The intent of this policy was initially stated for the purposes of food safety but was ultimately pushed under the guise of disease trackability. The policy is presented on their site as being voluntary, but is increasingly being made mandatory on a state-by-state basis to incrementally enforce participation nationwide.

NAIS is a danger to small farms, who will be forced to chip and track each individual animal. Should an animal, even one chicken, go missing, the farm must figure out which animal it is and report within 24 hours; there is a $1000/day fine for each day a missing animal goes unreported.

Factory farms are less prone to suffering; they need only identify their livestock in larger groups with one number. Smaller farms who do not process their livestock in bulk must have a unique identifier for each animal. There are many Amish and Mennonite farms throughout this and other areas, and they are being pressured to conform to this system. Never mind that to do so requires that the farm have electricity and computers to do so, which is expressly against their beliefs. So severe is the threat to their way of life (a violation of their constitutional right to freedom of religion, I believe), that a group of Amish are discussing leaving the country altogether. Today’s growing trend of backyard henneries may soon also be threatened with the government’s desire to control small agriculture.

Misty-Meadows-2

It pains me to think that small family farms may be crushed under the onerous burden of this policy. As we enjoyed our breakfast of eggs harvested and washed just that morning, alongside plump breakfast links, with fresh biscuits and gravy, we savored the terroir of rural Kentucky. It is a gift too precious to let slip away.

 

Related:

The Traveling McMahans blogged an entire season of Misty Meadows Farm’s CSA deliveries.

NoNAIS.org is fighting the good fight.

Visit Local Harvest to find and support small farms in your area. This is a war than can be fought with economics.

  • Sean and DPaul, great to meet you both and we’ll expect a visit whenever you are in this area. Love the picture and love the article.
    We had an interesting day after we saw you this week; I’ll email under separate cover.
    Rain again this week, as you are probably aware. Hope you have safe travels back home and blessings to you both.

  • Wow — I had missed the entire NAIS debate, which seems awfully ridiculous. Thanks for highlighting it, and I’m so glad to hear about your visit to the farm — DPaul was talking about it the night we were all at Two, and it sounded great — sounds like the reality was even better!

  • What great reporting, Sean. Thanks for a great, heart-wrenching piece.

  • Kathy: It was so great to meet you both and all your wonderful animals. I wish you all the best!
    Genie: This has been totally sub rosa. The USDA tried to make it mandatory in Kentucky with just 2 weeks’ notice! They’re moving on to CA next, with upwards of 3 months advance notice, but I suspect they’ll get very strong resistance. I hope so, anyway.
    cookiecrumb: Just trying to do my part.

  • Sheila

    I became frustrated with the quality and safeness of meat, fruits and vegetables available at the supermarket. I am sickened by the thought that the foods I previously prepared for my family were unsafe imports of fruits and vegetables that may have been tainted with pesticides that the US outlawed years ago. The fact they traveled thousands of miles before they arrived on my table is not reassuring either. The news of tainted baby formula and e-coli tainted foods prompted me to be more vigilant. The possibility I may be poisoning my child and husband definitely motivated me! Recently, the news of e-coli tainted foods have come from corporate farms in the US. The stories have become so commonplace; it doesn’t seem like a surprise anymore. Even one death from tainted food is unacceptable.
    Unfortunately, the local farmer does not have the lobbying power or the funds to fight corporate farms that have become a necessary evil to provide enough food for the masses. As a mother and a consumer I DO want to know my food is safe. I would think there could be some compromise with small farm operations. This is a great opportunity to get the small, local farmers story out! The partnership between local farmers and families is a great alternative to the supermarket. I found out through word of mouth. I wish I had done this years ago. Thanks Ralph and Kathy and thanks for a great article!

  • What a great post! Love the photos and issues you bring to the forefront. Thanks Sean.
    Lovely meeting you at IFBC!

  • Sean, the absurdity of requiring someone who owns a chicken or pig or two or even 100 to track each animal via RFID but allowing others to track a large group of animals as one lot (using one identifier) blows my mind. If you haven’t seen it yet http://nonais.org/ created by Walter Jeffries is a great source of information on the subject.
    As for the comment above about e-coli coming from corporate farms, this is a bit of a misnomer, most farms are incorporated for business and tax purposes.

  • Sheila: I think you touch on an important issue, in that large-scale processing is where there is greater room for human error and therefore contamination. The closer we are to the source of our food, the more we can know about how it has been handled. We should have the option of pursuing that.
    Traca: It was so great to meet you as well!
    Carrie: I agree; they should at least be consistent if they are going to enforce this. If small farms must have unique IDs for each animal, so should the large farms. Let’s see how much support they get then.

  • Lovely pictures, and a what a great photo of two hard working farmers! lovely:)

  • Kathy

    Carrie, Not all farms are incorporated and most don’t even have a tax number. We, as small farmers, are not required to do that. We do, however, have to have everything that we have processed done under federal inspection at a processor who is a USDA Inspection processor. Not one animal gets by our inspector, whereby large meat and poultry companies (who do have to have to be incorporated and have tax numbers) have perhaps 2 inspectors for every 30,000 animals that go through at a rate, faster than the speed of lightning!
    Most corporate farms or feedlots, just by nature of how they perform their business, are breeding grounds for certain ecolis. And just for the record, not all ecoli is bad. Some is beneficial bacteria and we all walk around with ecoli all the time. But the ones that end up in our blood streams are usually not a part of how they are raised, but more of how they were processed and handled.
    I know very few small family farms that are incorporated.

  • EB

    Ok… what do they have against okra?
    I love this post Sean. Sometimes I feel like my “YAY CSA!” “Boo Factory Farm!” rants fall on deaf ears… but if just one more person decides to support these farms then well done.

  • Kathy

    EB, Love okra, just allergic to it 🙁 Can’t find anyone to pick it and we have to suit up in a suit of armor to pick it… BTW, it grows so fast, it has to be picked twice a day!