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Fase Vandana: la filósofa india entrevistada por Soledad Barruti

El 24 de marzo al atardecer, el primer ministro de India, Narendra Modi, le dio a la población de su país solo cuatro horas para establecer un lugar de residencia del que no podrían salir durante los próximos 21 días, salvo para satisfacer necesidades básicas. A las doce de la noche se suspendió el transporte público, se cerraron todos los negocios que no fueran alimentarios o de medicina, y las calles pasaron a ser vigiladas por la policía, que tenía la orden de garantizar el aislamiento de las mil trecientas millones de personas que conforman la séptima economía mundial del capitalismo salvaje.

El 25 de marzo ciudades como Mumbai y Delhi amanecieron así: con los mercados raleados por quienes podían asegurarse el abastecimiento de comestibles, productos de limpieza y farmacia; con los pequeños puestos de frutas, verduras y especias clausurados; y con millones de personas que viven en la calle y dependen del trabajo diario para vivir sin nada que hacer más que buscar cobijo en una ciudad superpoblada y sin habitaciones de más.

Los pobres aguantaron acomodados donde pudieron un día, dos, algunos ni siquiera eso. Tomaron lo que tenían, sus propios cuerpos, los de sus hijos, alguna tela para taparse la boca, y empezaron a caminar para volver a casa: ese destino rural del que habían salido unos 10, 15, 25 años atrás forzados por la idea de un futuro próspero en las capitales. En una semana las rutas y caminos de India se vieron colmadas por millones de personas que, hambreadas y asustadas, improvisaron la caravana migrante más grande de la actualidad, y de ese país desde 1947, cuando se retiró la colonia inglesa.

A la doctora en física, filósofa y ecofeminista Vandana Shiva el bloqueo en India la encontró en un lugar privilegiado: Derhadun, una ciudad al norte, sobre las laderas del Himalaya junto al Tibet, donde nació y vivió su infancia rodeada de bosques, y donde hoy funciona la Universidad de la Tierra y granja agroecológica que creó en 1987, su fundación: Navdanya.

Vandana no se ha movido de ahí desde entonces y, sin embargo, con un entusiasmo avivado como volcán por la contingencia, no ha dejado de desplegar ideas y proyectos para aprovechar el impulso. Porque así lo ve: “Lo que se está viviendo en este país, donde la cuarentena fue más brutal que en ningún otro, es un fenómeno masivo e inesperado de desurbanización. La vuelta a casa de millones de personas que se están reencontrando con sus familias, en lugares donde no falta comida porque hay tierras para producirla, donde la vida para ellos puede volver a tener sentido”, dice y sonríe y se enciende como pocos en esta época de miedo y parálisis. “Yo creo que estamos viviendo una gran oportunidad. Por eso lo que estoy pidiendo a quienes reciben a los migrantes, a quienes los ven retornar, es que lo hagan con los brazos abiertos, dispuestos a enseñarles a cultivar, a ser autosuficientes, a reconectarse con la comunidad”.

Para esta líder revolucionaria y pacifista nada es casual. La degradación física y moral del sistema económico, con el sistema alimentario como máximo exponente de nuestra capacidad de destrucción, nos ha dejado a merced de este virus que antes que como metáfora, funciona como Aleph. Ahí está todo: el resultado del absurdo espejismo antropocéntrico sobre el que hacemos andar la modernidad y la ineludible mutualidad de la vida en red que puede ser de contagios mortales o interconexiones virtuosas. “A mí me resulta inevitable pensar que este es un momento de volver a la raíz, y reorientar nuestro propósito, como individuos y como sociedad”, dice Vandana hablando primero de sí. “A mí el bloqueo me dejó encerrada en mis memorias de infancia y juventud. Cada día me despierto y agradezco a mis padres por estar acá, por haber plantado los árboles que me rodean estos días. Respiro, pienso, escribo, comunico consciente de todo lo que me hizo lo que soy, de cada uno de mis anhelos y luchas”.

¿Creés que algo de esa reconexión pueden estar experimentando las mujeres y hombres que volvieron a sus pueblos en estos días?

Creo que esa es la oportunidad, que experimenten eso. Porque los jóvenes que caminaron 500, 800 kilómetros para volver a sus hogares habían sido convencidos de que no había ninguna razón para producir alimentos, para vivir en el campo. Pero tras 25 años de libre mercado, globalización y desruralización, las ciudades les demostraron de la peor manera que no podían contenerlos ni a ellos ni a nadie. Que sobraban. Estamos hablando de personas que no tienen nada, que viven de lo que pueden hacer con sus cuerpos cada día. Y estamos hablando de la mitad de la población de India…

Sin embargo, los analistas hablan de la economía India como “floreciente”, “pujante”, “una demostración de lo mejor del capitalismo”, “la séptima economía del mundo”…

Es que las personas están por fuera de esos análisis. La naturaleza también. Cuando se habla de economía lo que se tiene en cuenta aquí y en todos lados es solo lo que ocurre en el mercado formal, las ganancias de las grandes compañías. En India somos una economía de mucha gente, que trabaja duro, en muy pequeños negocios. Los vegetales llegan a la puerta de cada casa. O al pequeño almacén, de los que hay muchísimos. Son los lugares que cuando cierran nadie cuenta. Por eso el primer ministro cerró el país sin analizar esas pérdidas. La economía de los pobres no se tiene en cuenta, de las mujeres no se tiene en cuenta, de los campesinos tampoco. A toda esa cantidad de personas caminando de vuelta a casa nadie las contó como pérdidas. A lo sumo les pusieron unos trenes cuando llevaban días de caminata y las imágenes eran una vergüenza nacional.

Esos mismos analistas dirían que esas personas van a volver a las ciudades no bien puedan hacerlo.

No. Yo creo que el coronavirus está revirtiendo lo que hicieron tantos años de colonización e invasión en nuestro país. Y exponiendo cómo funcionan en todo el mundo los modelos como el de Monsanto. Hace muchos años esa empresa publicó su plan: una agricultura sin agricultores, sin naturaleza, sin nada más que su combo de semillas modificadas y agrotóxicos diseminadas por el campo. Algunos le creyeron. Y lo que estamos padeciendo ahora son los resultados de esa invasión: un mundo con la naturaleza rota que permite la dispersión de virus, campos vacíos y hacinamiento en las ciudades.

Y una población cada vez más enferma.  

Eso es muy grave. No solo hay nuevas enfermedades sino que los riesgos de morir por una de ellas, como la Covid-19, aumentan con la diabetes tipo 2, la hipertensión o el cáncer que crea este modelo. Empresas como Bayer-Monsanto, y también Coca Cola, Nestlé, Kellogs son las responsables: compañías que crean productos que no son compatibles con nuestra biología.

¿Qué es lo que impide que la sociedad pueda despertar ante algo tan evidente?

Por un lado, el poder corporativo que nos atrapó en su modo de entender la vida. Este pequeño puñado de corporaciones que consolida su poder en la Segunda Guerra Mundial. En la Alemania Nazi empresas como Bayer generaban gases para matar a las personas que estaban dentro de los campos de concentración. Esas mismas compañías, terminada la guerra, cambiaron el uso de sus productos: empezaron a usarlos como herbicidas, insecticidas, fungicidas, un arsenal químico que se instaló en la agricultura continuando su capacidad de daño y de dominación a través de la violencia y el miedo. Pero además hay otro: este sistema crea adicción. Se habla de Bayer como el productor de las aspirinas. Pero antes de eso fue el productor de la heroína. Una droga altamente adictiva que debe su nombre a que te hacía sentir como un héroe. Este sistema se sostiene con ese espíritu.

Cultura zombi

El 12 de mayo las cámaras de televisión de todo el planeta apuntaban a Francia. Tras semanas de aislamiento y casi 30 mil muertos por coronavirus ese país inauguraba la Fase 1 levantando la clausura de los lugares icónicos a los que pocos creían iba a ser tan fácil volver. Ni la torre Eiffel ni el Louvre, me refiero a tiendas como Zara. El momento en que la persiana de metal subió y las luces led se descubrieron como siempre están, prendidas, los miles de compradores que aguardaban el evento, caminaron encimados en veloz procesión pagana, olvidando al instante la distancia social y el alcohol en gel.

El momento quedó inmortalizado como un nuevo hito del poder magnánimo del consumismo que se lleva puesto, ni digamos la esperanza de un futuro mejor; antes que eso: el instinto mismo de supervivencia. Y lo mismo ocurrió en Brasil, y en Estados Unidos, y parece que ocurrirá en cada lugar que decida volver a la mentada normalidad.

¿Qué te provocan esos fenómenos? 

Creo que es la mejor evidencia de lo que te decía antes, de la adicción que provoca este sistema. Las personas creen que tienen libertad de elección porque les han contado que viven en un sistema regido por el libre mercado. Pero lo cierto es que están atrapadas en un esquema consumista creado por compañías expertas en generar adicción. Las personas son forzadas a desear y comprar lo que no necesitan. Y compran y tiran, y compran y tiran, y compran y tiran, y trabajan solo para eso: comprar y tirar. Esta forma urbana y destructiva de colonialidad es lo que trajo el mundo al estado en el que está hoy y eso encuentra en algunas ciudades una representación perfecta con todo el conjunto: la mentalidad antropocéntrica, mecanicista, monocultural y dominante.

Hace unas semanas entrevisté para este mismo medio al arquitecto y activista brasilero Paulo Tavares, que hablaba de la urgente necesidad de deconstruir la arquitectura y la vida urbana bajo la perspectiva decolonial. Él planteaba que la arquitectura sirvió hasta ahora para erigir una forma de vida urbana que concreta una idea civilizatoria en antagonismo con la naturaleza. Teniendo en cuenta que la vuelta al campo nunca va a ser tan masiva como para abandonar completamente las ciudades, ¿cómo creés vos que podríamos transformar eso en algo más razonable?

Yo crecí en una ciudad en India que aun muestra que eso es posible. En mi ciudad natal había una regla: solo se podía construir en un quinto de la tierra. El resto debía estar ocupado por la naturaleza. Por eso hoy mi casa es un bosque. Podemos ser una civilización que cree caminos bordeando bosques, en vez de avanzar en línea recta talando árboles. Si queremos ciudades en armonía con la naturaleza podríamos empezar por ahí: que los árboles nos den la dirección: permitamos eso. Otro buen ejemplo de una vida urbana posible está en Xochimilco, en plena Ciudad de México: un lugar de huertas que podría alimentar a toda esa población. Eso fue creado por las civilizaciones indígenas que vivían ahí antes de la conquista. Es un método productivo y un modo de vida al que se le opone el Real State que es el modo de construir en este paradigma: especulación inmobiliaria para montar vidas lineales y rápidas. Es lo que hacemos. Vivimos así. Bueno ¿a qué nos llevó? A este parate, a este encierro. Y acá estamos. Algunos repensándolo todo por primera vez, viendo esa locura por la velocidad.

Otra de las cuestiones que se están poniendo en debate en estos días en todo el mundo es el sistema de salud. 

Así como tenemos que conseguir un equilibrio entre la ciudad y el campo, tenemos que redefinir qué es salud y hacer resurgir una conexión con nuestra salud y con nuestro cuerpo. El paradigma de salud occidental asume al cuerpo como un contenedor de órganos y funciones. Cuando alguna de esas partes se descompone se le declara una guerra a esa parte, a esa enfermedad. Así, cada terapia diseñada por el sistema médico occidental es de algún modo un ataque defensivo. Por eso sale una y otra vez la misma metáfora: la guerra. Esa que se está librando ahora contra el coronavirus, y que se libró tantas otras veces contra otras enfermedades. Es una metáfora terrible, porque esa guerra nunca se va a ganar.

Claro, si se ve la enfermedad como un desequilibrio de la vida, un ataque solo va a agravar el problema teniéndonos a nosotros como campo de batalla.

Exacto. Pero la mentalidad bélica y militarista gobierna también la relación con los cuerpos. En India el paradigma de salud es muy complejo: una ciencia para la vida. No es un sistema creador de enfermedades ni bélico. El objetivo está puesto en comprender la organización  y preservar el equilibrio de un sistema complejo: el organismo humano. Si la enfermedad es un desequilibrio, la salud radica en traer ese equilibrio de vuelta. Y eso depende mucho de la alimentación. La comida es un gran estabilizador del sistema, es la cura de todas las enfermedades para nosotros. Y eso por supuesto no está reñido con la evidencia: si nuestra comida está intoxicada, si usamos venenos para producirla ¿cómo vamos a estar saludables? Hace unas semanas lanzamos un manifiesto llamado Food for Health al que invitamos a los mejores médicos de Europa a sumarse, reunimos estudios y comunicamos una vez más que necesitamos cambiar el sistema alimentario para que sane la humanidad y la tierra.

Una de las frases trilladas favoritas del agronegocio y de la agroindustria es que esta forma de reconexión que planteás es un viaje al pasado. 

La construcción científica contrahegemónica tiene una biblioteca muy abundante. Está nutrida de papers, avances y científicos muy calificados. Pero tampoco es una novedad que los poderes buscan deslegitimarla. Y, si no pueden, la prohíben. En India también somos un ejemplo de eso. Cuando los colonos ingleses llegaron y conocieron nuestro sistema médico, el ayurveda, lo prohibieron. Hasta que se empezó a enseñar y a estudiar bajo la forma de impartir el saber de los ingleses: con universidades, currículas, modos de estudio. Entonces en los 90 en Estados Unidos  entendieron cómo funcionaban algunas cosas. La cúrcuma, por ejemplo. Una raíz que en ayurveda se usa para elevar la inmunidad. ¿Y qué hicieron? La patentaron. Pasamos de la prohibición a la apropiación.  Y es algo que sigue al día de hoy cuando la Organización Mundial de la Salud imparte los lineamientos sobre el ayurveda escriben informes en donde sugieren no nombrar a la cúrcuma.

¿Bajo qué pretexto?

Ellos dicen que están buscando la evidencia que pruebe que tomar cúrcuma eleva el sistema inmune. Pero lo hacen midiendo el efecto según su modo de evaluación, que no reproduce las formas de uso que tenemos en India, porque partimos de esta base donde un cuerpo sano y enfermo no quiere decir lo mismo. Entonces nos enredan en una carrera engañosa.

¿Y cómo responden a eso?

Huyendo de ese reduccionismo lineal, mecanicista, cartesiano que fue creado como otro modo de colonización europeo, y que considera a nuestro conocimiento superstición, nos inferioriza, se lo apropia y se queda con nuestros recursos.

Carne de soja

Teniendo en cuenta que este virus, según la evidencia científica disponible más fuerte hasta ahora se origina del abuso que generamos sobre otros animales, me gustaría preguntarte qué pensás sobre el consumo de carnes, de las granjas industriales y del veganismo como una respuesta a eso.

Desde que escuché la idea de las granjas industriales siempre me parecieron mal. Las vi crecer. Y crecen porque crece la producción de soja y maíz transgénico. El agronegocio necesita vender todos estos granos que producen. Nadie se los va a comer si no están esos miles de millones de animales. Estas fábricas de carne son mayormente subsidiadas por eso: porque sirven para que funcione el sistema. Luego creemos que son buenos negocios, pero si no estuvieran apoyados por los gobiernos, ni siquiera como eso funcionarían.

Vos sos vegetariana.

Sí, lo soy. Pero no creo que todo el mundo deba serlo. Hace un tiempo estuve en Groenlandia y cuando pregunté por qué comían carne uno levantó la mano y me contrapreguntó: “¿Te parecería mejor que importáramos tomates de África?”. Creo que tenemos que entender que podemos tener una relación violenta con las plantas –y ahí los transgénicos son un buen ejemplo- y una relación violenta con los animales –las granjas industriales son eso. Pero podés tener una relación no violenta con las plantas –como la que logra la agroecología- y una relación no violenta con los animales –que es la que tienen los pastores de Groenlandia o los indígenas: hay muchas culturas indígenas que no comen animales, pero otras muchas que sí. Las que están en Amazonas por ejemplo, protegiendo y garantizando la biodiversidad como ninguna otra cultura, lo hacen.

Claro, se trata de entender la diversidad cultural y alimentaria, expresada en un contexto determinado, como una selva, el Ártico, un lugar costero, como parte garante de la biodiversidad de ese lugar.

Sí. Tenemos que respetar las formas de vida que hay en el mundo y no podemos pensar que comer animales es igual en todos los casos. Y tampoco podemos pensar que defender una alimentación basada en plantas sea sinónimo de defender un mundo mejor. Hay personas veganas que celebran que exista la Imposible Burger: una hamburguesa artificial creada en un laboratorio mediante plantas salidas de monocultivos tóxicos, o sea tratadas con violencia, que para su producción violentan campesinos, mariposas y abejas, y animales que por supuesto ya no viven en torno a esos cultivos. Esa hamburguesa de soja que parece carne sangrienta es una mentira. Y hay algo que se llama verdad: no se puede pregonar una idea de alimentación no violenta partiendo de esos alimentos, de esa relación mentirosa con la tierra y con el propio cuerpo. A quienes pregonan eso como la salvación les diría que despierten: la alimentación basada en plantas que crecen con toda esa violencia no produce nada mejor. Coman una zanahoria y reconozcan eso como alimento: conozcan de dónde viene, cómo se produje, denle la dignidad que merece a la planta. Dejen de hablar de una alimentación basada en plantas: esa zanahoria tiene un valor enorme en su subjetividad, una historia de interrelaciones maravillosas, que incluye animales, insectos, personas: no es simplemente una planta que da igual. Y hay algo más. En el instante en que alguien dice “basado en plantas” están dando a la industria permiso para usar esa parte de la naturaleza como material para sus experimentos, manipulación y control. Y tal vez esa persona crea que llegó a algo mejor, pero solo porque permanece ciega a todo el horror que decidió no ver. Y así será llevado como otro adicto a la heroína de este sistema hacia otro nivel, más oscuro y difícil del que salir, con un costo altísimo para la tierra en su totalidad y para sí mismo.

Antes que un problema alimentario, de salud, o de vivienda, pareciera ser un problema de información.

Y de conciencia. La conciencia nos invita a actuar, a tomar las decisiones que estén a nuestro nivel. Tenemos que decir más fuerte que no a todo ese modelo agroindustrial de salud, de vida, de alimentación. Y eso incluye hoy cuestiones incómodas como estar en crisis y decir que no a las donaciones que el agronegocio hace para alimentar a los pobres. Tenemos que elevar la vara: la comida de todos, también de los pobres, debe ser saludable, sin transgénicos y sin venenos y sin mentiras. Cuanto más alta la amenaza, más grande debe ser nuestra responsabilidad para enfrentarla.

¿Sos optimista?

Bueno, estoy entrenada en la teoría cuántica. En eso me doctoré cuando terminé la carrera de Física. Entonces cuando veo un problema trato de entenderlo desde sus causa, sus raíces, sus perspectivas. También me coloco a mí misma en algún lugar de ese panorama y pienso, qué puedo hacer yo para que ese asunto sea mejor. Y no importa cuán grande el problema, al final siempre llego a lo mismo: tenés que tener semillas, producir comida y liberar tu mente. Esa es mi responsabilidad. Luego, las soluciones empiezan a acomodarse solas.

¿Cómo creés que afectará a este movimiento todo el sistema represivo que está naciendo a medida que la pandemia avanza?

Yo estoy segura de que estamos llegando a un nuevo nivel dentro del capitalismo. Será un capitalismo de vigilancia y control. Los estados van a hacer dinero de vigilarnos y lo peor es que nosotros con nuestros impuestos vamos a pagar porque nos controlen. Pero en la historia humana cada vez que ha habido opresión, se ha podido recurrir a un arma popular que sigue vigente: la desobediencia. Y en mi país tenemos un ejemplo muy importante en ese sentido: Gandhi. Con su manifestaciones no violentas, sofisticadas al punto de impedir el control de la sal que quería obtener la colonia inglesa, y conducirnos a la independencia. Eso mismo me inspiró a mi para combatir a Monsanto cuando quería patentar todas las semillas: yo llamé a la desobediencia civil a los campesinos y 33 años más tarde seguimos entendiendo que la guarda, intercambio y siembra de semillas es nuestro derecho. Ese es el espíritu que tenemos que despertar en esta época para ir en contra de las corporaciones que ya no van por un país sino que buscan globalmente quedarse con los recursos y controlarlo todo. Nosotros, los que queremos un mundo libre y una tierra sana, somos una red muy grande, mucho más grande que esa.

Imaginemos que sucede, que el encierro sirve para sacar del encierro y la opresión a millones de personas… 

Es que es lo que va a ocurrir, porque el paradigma que celebra un futuro donde las personas viven masivamente en las ciudades, y solo un 2 por ciento se queda en el campo no funciona. No hay tal futuro. Ese plan no ha sido bueno para nadie. Ahora hay que trabajar para que esas personas que quieren volver al campo o que ya volvieron encuentren ahí un modo de vivir, con compasión y consistencia. Hay que regenerar la economía rural. Ese salvataje incluye el de las tierras: tiene que haber tierra para ellos, y medios de producción. Yo estoy haciendo lo que siempre he hecho y lo que creo que hay que hacer más que nunca: conservar semillas y promover la agricultura no tóxica. Salvemos a las comunidades, salvemos la tierra: regeneremos; ese es mi plan. Afortunadamente, como en India el fenómeno de urbanización no tiene tanto tiempo, cuando las personas vuelven encuentran que sus padres y abuelos aun les pueden enseñar a cultivar. Los agricultores que ya venían trabajando de ese modo hoy me dicen: “Porque producimos nuestra comida no tenemos hambre ni estamos en crisis”. Y con ellos estamos dándoles la bienvenida a quienes vuelven. Utilicemos esta crisis para construir un sistema que sea libre de venenos, de petróleo, de semillas modificadas. Comunidades donde cada persona sea valiosa.

Es un buen momento después de todo. 

Sí. Si tienes la conciencia más o menos clara, e incluyes en tus variables la capacidad creativa y regenerativa que tiene la tierra, es un buen momento. Tenemos que volver a trabajar con la naturaleza, eso es todo. Y tenemos que trabajar puliendo nuestros corazones y nuestras mentes para estar preparados para este cambio de paradigma, de vida, que es inevitable. Es un momento que exige lo mejor de todos nosotros. Por eso cada día al levantarse hay que luchar contra la inercia. Mirar hacia adentro y preguntarse: cuál es la injusticia que no estoy dispuesta a aceptar, cuál es la brutalidad que ya no estoy dispuesta a aceptar, cuál es la forma de violencia que ya no contará conmigo. Y después salir a encarnar esas respuestas.

Publicado con permiso de La Vaca

Carbon Cowboys Versus CAFOs

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many fragile industries to the breaking point and highlighted systemic problems in others, including the industrialized, centralized food system in the U.S. Major meat processing plants have emerged as hotspots for transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Prior to the Defense Production Act, which compels meat plants to stay open in order to protect the functioning of the U.S. meat and poultry supply chain, being invoked in April 2020, many were forced to shut down. As threats of meat shortages emerged, farmers were faced with the grim prospect of killing thousands of food animals just because they had nowhere to send them to be processed.

The system created to serve concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has cracked during the pandemic, putting U.S. food supplies in jeopardy. Meanwhile, so-called “carbon cowboys” — those who have embraced an alternative method of food production that works with nature instead of against it — not only are surviving the upheaval but thriving, all while providing nutritious food to their communities.

‘Carbon Cowboys’ Persevere, Thrive During Pandemic

The dichotomy between CAFOs and carbon cowboys could not be more stark, with CAFOs that control the majority of U.S. meat and poultry largely reliant on a limited number of large processing plants. “The coronavirus is showing how food supply has become too centralized, especially for meat processing,” Peter Byck, an Arizona State University professor, told Fox News.

Byck directed a 10-part documentary titled “Carbon Cowboys,” following farmers who use regenerative grazing techniques, allowing them to largely avoid chemical pesticides, fertilizers and other pitfalls of industrial farming while building carbon-rich soil that increases crop health and livestock yields.

“We could use a lot more mid-level meat processing plants, all around the country. So, if one plant went down, there would be others to pick up the slack. It’s one of the reasons the farmers in the film are often making so much more money — because they’ve created their own supply chain and selling direct to customers,” Byck said.

Indeed, regenerative farmers who sell their products directly to consumers and rely on small processing plants are not facing the hardships that CAFOs are seeing. While meat from small, custom slaughterhouses is not permitted to be sold to grocery stores, schools or restaurants, it can be sold directly to customers who have purchased an entire animal prior to slaughter through a share program, as well as via local farmers markets.

Allen Williams, a sixth-generation farmer and chief ranching officer for Joyce Farms, is one of the carbon cowboys featured in the film. He cited a 400% to 1,200% increase in demand for regenerative producers, and though the film has been in the works for six years, the farmers it features stated they’re seeing a three- to 10fold increase in demand compared to last year, thanks to their ability to market directly to consumers.

Will Harris III, owner of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, also cited the need for smaller, decentralized processing facilities to free up the bottleneck that’s placing a hardship on so many farmers. By creating “at least one medium-sized plant in every state,” food that currently travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to consumers would only need to travel 100 or 200 miles. This, he says, is key to transforming the U.S. food system:

“We have to build out additional capacity. We need processing of the middle. We don’t need a lot more mom-and-pop processors. We need processing facilities with 100-500 per day capacity to start …

With more processors, more farms can transform and thus grow small businesses and the rural economy. These communities that are dead and boarded up will come to life and rural economies will surge. The country’s economy surges when small businesses and communities thrive.”


Meat Prices May Rise as Plants’ Poor Conditions Spread Virus

Tyson, JBS USA, Smithfield Foods and Cargill Inc. control the majority of U.S. meat and poultry, processing it in a handful of centralized mega-processing plants. The plants are notorious for their poor working conditions even under ordinary circumstances, but in the midst of a pandemic, the elbow-to-elbow spacing and fast line speeds have made the low-paying job even more hazardous.

It’s unknown just how many COVID-19 infections have occurred among the more than 500,000 workers employed by the approximately 7,600 slaughter and processing facilities in North America, but internationally it’s suggested that more than 10,000 meat workers have been infected while at least 30 have died as a result. The cases aren’t confined to inside the processing plants but, rather, are spreading to the community.

An analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that counties with meatpacking plants, or within a 15-mile radius, reported 373 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, which is close to double the U.S. average of 199 cases per 100,000.

To slow the spread of infection, some plants have slowed production to adhere to social distancing measures, while others have installed barriers between workers and in common areas. Other processing plants are ramping up efforts to automate the process, accelerating plans that have been in the works since long before the pandemic.

“You are going to see a bifurcation where the larger, more profitable facilities are going to move toward a vastly more automated meat processing facility,” Decker Walker, an agribusiness expert at Boston Consulting Group, told the Longview News-Journal. “Incentives for automation have never been higher.” Ultimately, consumers will pay for the changes being implemented throughout the industry.

Sanchoy Das, a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, predicted that reduced capacity at processing plants, along with the distribution of protective equipment, could drive up conventional chicken prices by 25% to 30%, adding, “The 99-cents per pound chicken could be in short supply very quickly.”

Is Big Meat Really Cheap?

The increase in meat prices, as well as the increased demand for higher priced niche meats like heritage pork and grass fed beef, is also highlighting a socioeconomic divide in the U.S. While some grocery outlets are running out of supplies of low-priced CAFO meat, demand has ramped up for specialty meat products, for those who have the income to support it.

However, as the processing facilities spread disease and necessitate shutdowns, we’re now seeing the high price that is ultimately paid for the convenience of cheap meat, whereas regenerative farming, while often producing a higher-priced product, remains able to supply food to local communities, without the environmental destruction and disease outbreaks caused by industrial agriculture. As Bloomberg reported:

“The virus has had limited impact on the output of specialty meats for some of the same reasons those products are more expensive. The plants aren’t run on huge economies-of-scale, where hundreds of workers are jammed into elbow-to-elbow working conditions processing thousands of animals each day.

Instead, livestock are raised on organic feed and pastures and then processed in relatively tiny plants or local butcher shops. It’s small-scale production, which means social distancing is easier and companies can more readily enforce sanitary precautions. Even if one plant goes down, it only accounts for a small fraction of supply, and the larger chain isn’t broken.”

Meanwhile, prices for specialty meat are holding steady while conventional meat prices have risen sharply in recent months. The price for conventional ground chuck, for instance, increased by 57% compared to a year ago, according to USDA data.

Ultimately, if demand for grass fed meat increases, and processing facilities are available to distribute it, it can become more accessible for all. And, it’s important to remember that real costs come with Big Ag’s “cheap meat.” The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), in fact, has sued pork giant Smithfield Foods for claiming its products are the safest U.S. pork products.

“Consumers are unlikely to know that the USDA has notified Smithfield slaughter plants on multiple occasions that their pork was more likely to be contaminated with salmonella than similar products in slaughter plants of the same size,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA co-founder and director.

“Failure to report these notifications to consumers is one thing. But claiming that its products are the ‘safest’ possible pork products in the U.S. is a blatant misrepresentation of the brand’s actual safety record,” Cummins said. “The current heightened consumer concern about safety in the meat industry is all the more reason to hold Smithfield accountable for false safety claims.”

The conditions in which cheap meat is raised and processed are the same that have been found to contribute to antibiotic-resistant disease as well as the emergence of diseases that may be transmitted from animals to humans, a high cost for all of humanity.

Food System Is Changing, Is Reform Coming?

The pandemic started with Americans hoarding food and has triggered a newfound, or perhaps old-fashioned, trend to cook more meals at home. The return to home-cooked meals has been a boon to meal kit companies, which have cashed in on Americans’ desire to eat at home and have their groceries delivered while they’re at it.

Meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron noted a 27% increase in demand in late March and early April 2020, while online food retailer Thrive Market cited two distinct waves of increased demand — the first for certain products like toilet paper and hand sanitizer and the second from those seeking to replicate their normal grocery shopping online. Many of these changes are likely to remain even post-pandemic.

“People are more confident in the kitchen than they used to be before, and more than half of them intend to cook at home more than they did before Covid-19, even as things start to settle down,” Blue Apron’s chief executive Linda Findley Kozlowski told The New York Times. Still, as Americans’ desire for fresh, safe and readily accessible food has peaked, many small farmers are struggling.

With restaurants and farmers markets closed, small farmers have lost steady customers. Many have pivoted and have begun supplying produce boxes directly to consumers, but such changes are labor intensive and farmers may not be able to keep up with the demand. In a survey of small farmers, between 30% and 40% predicted they could be bankrupt by the end of 2020.

Representative Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, is among those calling for reform and suggesting that the pandemic is providing a unique opportunity for change:

“As the owner of a small farm, I’m frequently amazed at how little Washington understands the work that goes into putting food on our plates, but coronavirus has made it impossible to ignore the labor of grocery store employees, farmers, processors and food producers. Our nation is collectively acknowledging what’s always been true: Those who grow, sell and serve our food are essential workers, and we should treat them as such.”

In addition to calling for an essential workers’ bill of rights that would provide benefits to essential workers in the food system, and expanding access to locally produced food for food banks and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program beneficiaries, a key part of the change should be making locally raised livestock processing more widely available.

Under current government regulations, the USDA, not individual states, has control over how meat is processed, and small farmers must send animals to be processed at a USDA-inspected slaughterhouse, which may be hundreds of miles away. The state of Maine, for instance, has only one USDA poultry plant in the state.

The PRIME Act Is More Important Than Ever

The Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act would allow farmers to sell meat processed at smaller slaughtering facilities and allow states to set their own meat processing standards. Because small slaughterhouses do not have an inspector on staff — a requirement that only large facilities can easily fulfill — they’re banned from selling their meat. The PRIME Act would lift this regulation without sacrificing safety.

“The PRIME Act would change federal regulations to make it easier to process meat locally, helping small farmers stay afloat during this economic crisis while simultaneously keeping food on our plates,” Pingree said. “This bill would shift more safety oversight to states, some of which already have equally rigorous inspection practices, and break down barriers for small farms looking to sell their product.”

The solution to food reform is not, as some lab-grown meat companies would like you to believe, to create a fake meat industry without animals — that is big technology’s ultraprocessed dream.

Replacing farms and livestock with chemistry labs is not the “environmentally friendly” alternative envisioned by biotech startups and its chemists. The long-term answer actually lies in the transition to sustainable, regenerative, chemical-free farming practices, and making the sustainably-grown foods produced by small farmers accessible to all.

Reposted with permission from Mercola

How Colombia’s Small Farmers Contribute to Resilience and Food Sovereignty in Post-Conflict and COVID-19 Pandemic Times

By Ana Prada

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA – In his book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed“, Jared Diamond analyzes why certain societies prevail and others collapse, and explains how the decline of some, such as the Mayan and the Easter Island civilizations, resulted from the  mismanagement of nature. 

Indeed, the way societies manage their natural resources largely defines their future, according to Diamond.  The abundance of resources and successful adaptation to climate change, together with the correct decision-making by a society’s leaders, are some of the factors that determine a society’s ability to survive over time.

Conversely, the abuse of environmental resources and exploitative agricultural production systems can lead a society to collapse.

Socio-environmental conflicts are not foreign to the Colombian reality. The unequal distribution of land and territory has given rise to Colombian armed conflict. The socio-environmental confrontations in Colombia date back to the time of the Spanish conquest.  However, the trigger for the armed conflict occurred in 1948, with the assassination of political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. 

In 1948, the country was ruled by conservatives and landowners, and was totally polarized between extreme poverty and wealth. Thus, one of the longest-running armed conflicts in recent world history was born. It was not until 2016 that the Peace Agreements were signed between the National Government and the extinct guerrilla of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Initially, the guerrillas were driven by political ideals. But later, toward the end of the 1970s, with the arrival and subsequent consolidation of drug trafficking, the conflict became a business matter. The search for concentration of land by the various sides left the Colombian small farmers in the middle, and on the losing end. 

Yet despite being politically marginalized, culturally undervalued and economically excluded, and despite experiencing greater difficulty accessing land than any other social group in the country, small farmers, who represent 30 percent of the country’s total population, produce 70 percent of the food consumed in the country. 

In addition, this disadvantaged but industrious population reminds those of us who live in cities of the value of having roots in our land and territory, and cherishing our identity.

Small-scale agriculture has taught Colombians about resilience and innovation. On less than one hectare, small farmers manage to feed themselves, create surpluses to sell and learn about the diverse Colombian soils and ecosystems through trial and error.  And despite being displaced because of the armed conflict, it has been small farmers who have opened the agricultural border in the country, and started their lives from scratch, in the country with the greatest internal displacement in the world—worse even than Syria.

In the value chains of the drug trafficking industry, small farmers have become the first link. Indeed, it is the most vulnerable link in a chain characterized by the predominance of activities that leave Colombia with nothing but social burdens: land concentration, idle lands ownership, diminished productivity and at-risk national food sovereignty and autonomy.

In the Peace Agreements, small farmers are recognized as victims of the armed conflict. A political framework to reduce the gaps between the countryside and the city was designed, guaranteeing the small farmers the right to political and economic participation and decision-making regarding the future of their territories. 

In points 1 and 4 of the Peace Agreements, Comprehensive Rural Reform and Comprehensive Solution to the Drug Problem respectively, multiple political and legal instruments were created. These include the land fund for Comprehensive Rural Reform, the multipurpose cadaster; Development Plans with a Territorial Approach; and Comprehensive Nations Plans for Substitution, among others. 

Although the implementation of these political and legal instruments has been slow, they have become novel tools to rethink small farmers as a strategic actor in the territorial planning to restore peace, the conservation of the territories and the guarantee of security, sovereignty and food autonomy.

In 2013, there was a national agrarian strike in Colombia, supported by the main farmers’ organizations, as well as workers from other areas, which over time managed to get the recognition of the citizens. Since then, Colombians who live in cities have shown growing empathy towards the small farmers’ movement, appreciating the producers of the food they have on their plates daily, as well as the need to rethink and re-territorialize cities to stop the growing trend of food deserts, which put at risk the right to food, especially for the most vulnerable. These transformations have become more necessary than ever in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

This is a country whose rulers have lacked the gallantry to guarantee its citizens the right to food, and to preserve the country’s rich biocultural diversity. They have succumbed to globalization and progress in the short term, at the expense of resources that give us life. 

In these days of covid-19, we ​​have witnessed two trends that are two sides of the same coin.

On the one hand, we see citizens who increasingly demand healthy, local and sustainable food, and who are more willing to consume food from small farmers, family and community agriculture. 

On the other hand, small farmers continue to face the traditional challenges of the agricultural Colombia: the appalling road and telecommunications infrastructure, the persistence of the armed conflict, the murder of social leaders, insufficient healthcare system that increases the risk of infection and death due to the epidemic, price speculation and misinformation, among many other challenges.

Despite these challenges, there are reasons to be hopeful. For instance, the creation and strengthening of collaborative networks between the territories, the building of close relationships between producers and consumers, the possibility of resuming peace dialogues between the National Government and the guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the use of information and communication technologies to facilitate food distribution and the consolidation of small farmers and/or agro-ecological markets as viable and secure supply alternatives, even in times of epidemic.

The reader may be wondering, how can I put my grain of sand? It is very simple, buy local! Buy from small farmers, family and community agriculture! Go back to the farmers markets, go to meet the producer so you give him your vote of confidence to stay in the territory feeding hope to the country.

In Colombia, The National Network of Family Farming (RENAF) leads the national campaign “Yo llevo el campo Colombiano (I carry the Colombian countryside) that seeks to make visible the farmers markets that exist throughout the country.

By eating local and seasonal food lime the uchuva or the curuba, and supporting the small farmers, Colombians can put their grain of sand in the construction of peace in Colombia.

About 3Colibrís

We are an organization that contributes to the strengthening of marketing and logistics of products from small farmers, family and community and/or agroecological agriculture in Latin America. We work for the construction of sustainable farming that’s connected to the cities in Colombia and Latin America. We seek out and involve producers of healthy food and agro-ecological products so consumers have easier access to these foods. We visit and guide food producers to improve their marketing channels and ensure that we work with ethical and responsible organizations.

Ana Prada is the founder of 3Colibrís and a business administrator and sociologist from the Javeriana University of Bogotá, apprentice for the International Training in Dialogue and Mediation at the University of Uppsala and the International Course on Food Systems at the University of Wageningen. She has worked for Colombian Caritas in the implementation of “Article One” of the Peace Agreements, and on projects for UNDP, UNFAO, EU and the Suyusama Foundation. 

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No cultivamos porque está de moda: Cultivamos como resistencia, para la curación y la soberanía

Durante más de 150 años, desde las zonas rurales del sur hasta las ciudades del norte, las personas Negras han utilizado la agricultura para construir comunidades autodeterminadas y resistir las estructuras opresivas que las destruyen.

Hoy en día, la agricultura sigue desempeñando un papel importante en la vida de las personas Negras, por lo que vemos proyectos y programas de agricultura urbana en Filadelfia, Detroit y Washington D.C. y otras ciudades de los Estados Unidos. En todas estas ciudades, hay organizaciones lideradas por personas Negras que cultivan soberanía alimentaria y de la tierra ayudando a individuos y comunidades a recuperar su agencia y posesión sobre sus sistemas alimentarios.

Mi camino dedicado a la lucha de defensa y recuperación del territorio para la sobrebania alimentaria comenzó mucho antes de que yo naciera. Mis antepasados eran africanos esclavizados, obligados a cultivar en condiciones abominables en Carolina del Sur, Texas y Georgia. En 2012, comencé mi primer trabajo profesional trabajando en una organización sin fines de lucro dedicada a la justicia alimentaria e educación nutricional en Filadelfia.

CONTINUE LEYENDO EN ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH NEWS

We don’t farm because it’s trendy; we farm as resistance, for healing and sovereignty

For more than 150 years, from the rural South to northern cities, Black people have used farming to build self-determined communities and resist oppressive structures that tear them down.

Today, agriculture still serves an important role in the lives of Black people, which is why we see urban agriculture projects and programs in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington D.C. and other cities across the United States. In all of these cities, there are Black-led organizations cultivating food and land sovereignty by helping individuals and communities regain agency and ownership over their food system.

My journey in food and land work began long before I was born. My ancestors were enslaved Africans forced to farm under abhorrent conditions in South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia. In 2012, I started my first professional job working at a food justice and nutrition education non-profit in Philadelphia. I worked with youth from across West Philly to explore connections between food, agriculture, culture, sustainability, and leadership.

KEEP READING ON ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH NEWS

Will Pandemic Push Humans into a Healthier Relationship with Nature?

ROME, May 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Daniel Wanjama had everything ready for this year’s first seed fair in the Kenyan town of Gilgil, an important event where poor farmers exchange seeds of nutritious, hardy local crops they cannot easily buy in shops or markets.

But a week before the fair Wanjama had organised for late March, the government banned gatherings in a bid to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Farmers who were ready to deliver seeds are stranded with them, and those who were to obtain seeds have not planted (their crops),” he said by email.

“This is a serious situation because not planting means not having food,” added the founder of Seed Savers Network-Kenya, a social enterprise based in Gilgil, about 120 km (75 miles) north of Nairobi.

KEEP READING ON THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION

 

COVID-19: Lecciones de la pandemia para un planeta saludable

Los científicos han demostrado que enfermedades como el nuevo coronavirus SARS-COV2 (COVID-19) y la enfermedad del Ébola pueden surgir debido a los desequilibrios de los ecosistemas en los bosques.

En los últimos meses, esta hipótesis ha ganado terreno en la cobertura de los principales medios de comunicación, impulsando la noción de que el COVID-19 es zoonótico, transmitido desde un murciélago a otro animal, posiblemente un pangolín o un perro, infectando inicialmente a los humanos en un mercado en la ciudad china de Wuhan.

Tres de cada cuatro enfermedades infecciosas nuevas o emergentes se originan en animales, según los datos del Centro para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades de EE. UU., que indica que, en general, los animales han sido el vector de más del 60 por ciento de las enfermedades infecciosas.

La investigación sobre la relación entre los virus y los bosques desarrollada por el Centro para la Investigación Forestal Internacional (CIFOR) muestra que tales transmisiones de animales a humano, y luego de humano a humano, pueden ocurrir cuando los ecosistemas forestales son desprovistos de su biodiversidad natural.

CONTINUE LEYENDO EN LOS BOSQUES EN LAS NOTICIAS

Covid-19 Exposes Urgent Need for Regeneration, Resilience in Agriculture

When food companies want to set and meet sustainability targets, they must think about their supply chains — where the food comes from, how it was produced and the route it took to get to reach processing facilities and grocery store shelves.

It’s a rewarding but challenging feat. That’s because for decades, the industrial agricultural system has glorified largely extractive practices, rather than the regenerative ones that have been regaining traction and favor among sustainable food systems advocates.

That was the subject of a recent GreenBiz Group webcast, during which panelists shared insights about an essential question: How can we evolve our food supply system to eliminate the practices we don’t want and get more of those that we do?

“I think for decades we’ve had great examples of smaller-scale responsible sustainable agriculture and as demand from consumers has just skyrocketed for sustainable food, we need mechanisms to scale,” said Jamie Barsimantov, co-founder and COO at SupplyShift, during the webcast.

KEEP READING ON GREEN BIZ

What Climate Change and the Coronavirus Have in Common

At its best, each day lately is full of some degree of uncertainty. Stay-at-home orders. Lockdowns. Economic plunges. None of this is normal. Yet, it oddly shares commonality with a different kind of drawn-out pandemic—climate change. Hurricanes, wildfires, extreme temperature shifts are not normal either. These events, unlike the current coronavirus peak, are spread out geographically and seasonally, with the most ravaged effects often occurring beyond our sight.

What if we could stop the next pandemic before it starts? What if we could curtail climate change before it sweeps us aside? Incidentally, both crises share a common cause: our food system.

Repair our food system, repair our health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three out of four infectious diseases in people come from animals. That’s 75 percent, of which COVID-19 is one. Others, like SARS, Ebola, swine flu, and bird flu, have similar animal origins.

Until recently, virtually no one was searching for the infamous Spanish Flu of 1918, which killed nearly 50 million people—far more than in World War I. Suddenly, 102 years later, mass Googling began. Why? Like the virus we’re experiencing now, the Spanish Flu originated in an animal—the commonly consumed pig. This is not just a problem of earlier, less medically-advanced eras. In 2009, the swine flu returned, taking between 151,000 and 675,000 lives. Similarly, COVID-19 is suspected to have originated in bats, jumping to humans from another mammal.

While COVID-19 may seem like a foreign disease that we have fallen victim to, it’s just one of many viruses that stem from the extreme confinement of animals being raised for food. In the U.S. alone, 9 billion animals are raised each year on factory farms, posing a massive pandemic risk.

Add to that the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, attributed to the overuse of antibiotics to promote the growth of animals raised for food. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 700,000 people die each year from drug-resistant diseases. They have been warning us that zoonotic diseases are transferred from animals to humans through exposure to animals and/or their products. The guidance is clear. We need to end factory farming or be prepared for an unhealthy future of pandemonium.

Repair our food system, repair the planet

Alongside our current crisis looms the seemingly obscure threat of climate change. There have been glimmers of hope that skies and waterways around the world are clearing, as flights and rush hour traffic all but halted. But pausing human activity for a few weeks is not going to stop the tide of climate change.

While curbing global warming requires change on many levels, one most obvious one is that of animal agriculture. It’s estimated that 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions—not including water and soil pollution—are caused by animal agriculture. More than planes, trains, and motor vehicles combined.

The time couldn’t be more opportune for us to reevaluate our relationship with our planet and the billions of factory-farmed animals who inhabit it against the laws of nature. Crammed into tiny cages. Packed into giant sheds. Instantly taken away from their mothers at birth. Treated like pure products being manufactured for profit. Except, like us, they have heartbeats, emotions, and curiosity. Like us, they get sick, that sickness spreads—through our soil, our water, and directly to humans.

Repair our future

At a time when many of us are looking to regain control of our lives, we can start by taking control of our plates, by reducing our consumption of animal products. Because the truth is—virtually all animals raised for food come from unhealthy factory farms.

We’re lucky to live in an era of plant-based burgers that bleed like meat and latte-foaming milk made from liquified oats. Innovations that allow us to experience food like many have grown accustomed to, with less risk and more benefit.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), substituting plant protein in lieu of animal protein is associated with lower mortality. Just the dose of health we could all use right now.

If you want to transform the health of people and our planet in one shot, stand up against factory farming, and fight for a better food system, by taking action with organizations who are doing just that. It’s time to take control of our health and our future. To define the new normal before our quarantines define us.

Posted with permission from Common Dreams

Interview with Will Harris of White Oak Pastures

Watch the video interview, or read the transcript below:

Robb: Will we did it right on time. How are you doing?

Will: I’m doing great, how are you?

Robb: Good. Luckily Nikki was here to walk me through the setup. They figured out this thing we have to Daisy chain things through zoom to YouTube to the Healthy Rebellion. And so a little bit of technical stuff to get it set up, but Will, it’s an incredible honor to have you on the Healthy Rebellion. White Oak Pastures has been in your family for over a hundred years? Could you talk a little bit about kind of the genesis story of how your family started doing what you continue to do today?

Will: I sure will. Thank you for having me as a guest today. The genesis of this farm is really my favorite topic. My great grandfather came here in 1866. He was a farmer, he had 50 miles from here. He was an officer in Confederate cavalry. He lost his farm in the war effort. He was very fortunate he had an uncle, who was medical doctor here in Bluffton, Georgia where we are right now, he started my great grandpa over here in 1866. He farmed throughout his life. His son, my grandfather, Will Carter Harris farmland. His son, my father Will bill Harris farmland, now is under my watch. I have two daughters and their spouses who were here very integrated into the management of the farm. And they’ve had three babies in the last three years. So we now have six generation here, although the sixth generation has not contributed.

Robb: Not yet.

Will: Not yet. But what I do enjoy most is how in that five or six generations, 150 years, the farm came full cycle from a way, my great grandfather and grandfather did the farm for all these years, which is very focused on the animals, the land, the local community. And my father, post world war II industrialized commoditized, centralized production, again, a monoculture of only cattle and now we moved back to production system over the last 45 years. That’s remarkably similar to what my great grandpa and grandpa.

Robb: Right, which is so fascinating. And Will, it’s interesting because there’s a zillion questions I want to ask you. Just the topic of animal inclusive agriculture is a really hot button thing these days. Like part of the reason why the Healthy Rebellion was formed is that Google took a very askance view of the things that we talk about and they’re not real big fans of kind of ancestral eating and the notion that regenerative food systems should and in fact must potentially include animals, and that it needs to look much more akin to what we were doing a hundred years ago, than 50 years ago. And it’s interesting to me. How did your family shift, what was kind of the impetus initially to adopt more of this industrial agriculture type system? And then what was the impetus for shifting back to this regenerative process?

Will: Good. So world war II was a game changer, in almost every aspect of production. Ammonia to fertilize was actually invented in the 1880, late 1800s, but nobody could afford it. It was not until the repurposing of the world war II munitions plants, that Ammonium fertilizer became cheap. So, that was a real game changer. I’m doing a lot of stories about that. If people farm knew, it’s because again internal combustion equipment was slow to be accepted, it was expensive. The guys left the news in Georgia with the European theater and drove trunks. They came back with only trucks, the first pesticides was Triple V, came from the nerve gas effort. And I would just go on and on there because it was the only hybridized seed became a thing during that period.

Will: And Europe was starving. There was a desperate need for cheap, abundant, safe food. So all these tools that world war II had provided and that desperate need, it was like a perfect storm. And my father’s generation took advantage of that. And it was wildly successful. It made food obscenely cheap and wastefully abundant and boring with consistent. And it came with unintended consequences that fell on the backs of a wildfire, the animals and the degradation of the land and the water and the impoverished rural America. So let me give the consequences of [inaudible 00:26:03], something we talk about a lot. My father was dead, I never asked him how he felt about making those changes. I suspect he was excited about it, and I suspect that all of the benefits were so obvious and the unintended consequences that were undesirable consequences were not obvious. So it was something to do and almost everyone did it. It wasn’t one or two guys industrialized, the whole generation industrialized, commoditized.

Robb: Will, so you’ve kind of alluded to this already. There were unintended consequences and this is where good ideas always go sideways. People are always trying to innovate, people are always trying to help folks. Even if the bottom, people can be cynical and say, “Well, it’s all profit driven and really at the end of the day, if you don’t figure out something that’s worth selling, then it’s kind of hard to make anything work.” But I mean, to your point, like people taking enormous pride in the work that they do and I think within farming and ranching communities, like that work ethic and ethos is kind of like, it is the soul of these folks, and taking pride in the fact that they feed the rest of the world, like that’s amazing stuff. Like that’s really incredible. Where did the industrial system go wrong? Like what are the cracks in that facade that looked amazing and maybe carried us through for a certain period of time. And then what are the failure points in it?

Will: That is a great question and it’s so obvious to me in the rear view mirror, at the time you couldn’t know but now-

Robb: Which I just want to pause on that real quick and we’ll come back to this because we’re facing a bunch of decisions that people are wanting to do today and having no discussion about unintended consequences. So I just kind of want to bookmark that so we can come back to it. Sorry to interrupt. Yeah.

Will: No, no, no problem. I so clearly see now in retrospect having been here generationally through this, I clearly see what went wrong and here it is. So we talked a lot about the difference in a complex system and a complicated system. This computer is complicated, there’s a lot of things going on in there to make it work. Your body is complex, there’s a lot of things making it work. In a complicated system, if one component ceases to operate, it’s game over, it just stops. In a complex system like your body or the federal government or whatever, when one component ceases to operate, to operate properly, everything else moves, and the system continues to operate after fashion. Now, reductionist science works beautifully in complex systems. That’s how we built computers, and put people on the moon, and there and there, very linear.

Will: It is hardly flogged in complex cyclical systems which is why we have drugs that we think are going to save humanity, and then we pull them off the market. It’s applying a reductionist science to accomplish. Well my father’s generation and mine, I’m not going to leave anything on my father, I was more industrial than he was when I came out of University of Georgia in 1976, but my father’s generation and my generation applied reductionist science to one of the most complex systems in the world, which is operating a farm mold of a very complex farm, and it just resulted in incredible unintended and undesirable consequences. And it took 75 years for them to start to surface. And then when they did start to surface, it was real obvious why that happened.

Robb: And I imagine also the inertia of shifting to a different system. And then as these problems come up, you probably could try to double down on what you’ve always done, try to re intensify that application of technology to try to solve that problem. And it is that kind of the route that you folks took initially just trying to figure out ways within that kind of linear thinking a reductionist model to try to solve the issues that were popping up. And what were some of the specific issues I would guess like soil erosion and loss of kind of peripheral biodiversity, but what were some of the issues that popped up and what were some of the strategies that you tried initially before possibly shifting to a more regenerative approach?

Will: Well, that doubling down is still occurring. Not only is there this momentum of moving into more and more and more technology that comes from reductionist science. Not only we use stay, have that just basic momentum, but also even more importantly, don’t forget there are a lot of huge, powerful multinational companies making a lot of money in perpetuating the system. Whether it’s the pharmaceutical companies, the patrol companies, insurance companies, equipment manufacturing companies, big food, commodity companies, on and on and on. They just so many people making so much money that has all kinds of reasons to ignore these independent gospels and keep doing what we do. And that’s where we are with that.

Robb: Right, right. Will, what was then the impetus? I mean some folks are making a go of it still in the industrial food system. Clearly like you’ve alluded like some of the biggest entities in the world, good corporations that really wield more influence and power arguably than like national governments are in control of our food system. Those folks are still making a go of it. We both are probably on the same page that there’s an expiration date on that. But what was the impetus for you folks to shift in… It seems like not just swimming upstream, but it seems like being a tiny leaf trying to swim up upstream in this story. Like what was the kind of genesis for you folks shifting gears and really doing something that seems crazy from the outside compared to the way that things are typically done?

Will: Well, for me it was a very personal decision. It started out, and it’s evolved over the last 25 years. As I alluded to earlier, I was a very industrial cattleman. As much as anybody I know, maybe more than those, probably more than those. Probably because I was so extreme, it made me notice the unintended consequences that were occurring? If you drank a fifth of whiskey every night, you’ll fix [inaudible] alcohol more if you drink-

Robb: A shot.

Will: A shot, sorry. I was the guy who was really very, very heavy handed. So I started noticing the things, and unintended consequences and it started out purely an animal welfare issue. I focused on the fact that really my animal welfare, which I would vehemently defended to you, is not very good because I was not allowing the animals to express instinctive behavior. Confined with animal production does not allow the expression in instictive behavior and that’s poor animal welfare. So started I moving in that direction with my animal. And that led me to focus in on the way and the fact that I ceased to put steroids and antibiotics and unnatural feedstuffs in my animals, but I was still putting chemical fertilizer and pesticides because of ablation on my life. So I started moving away from that and that led me to this real focus on the locally wounded economy, this is what I’m passionate about. So it’s an evolution.

Robb: Interesting. So it’s interesting though, like you saw a need to address the needs of the animals first, and then I would assume that you started seeing some improvements, but then started seeing limitations with the way the land itself and the grass and that interface was occurring still under more of the industrial model.

Will: Yes, that’s exactly right. One thing led to the next. It was all connected, it’s all cyclical, so all that together. And while that evolution’s going on over a 40-year period, there was a business evolution that was required. So when we changed the way that we produced our animals allowing them to express the sticky behavior cows is far less stress on the animals and animals do better. I needed to, but it really costs me more to do it because I was giving him space and time and labor. So I needed to extract more value from them than I could by dumping them into the commodity market. So we started marketing our own beef and by that time it was a monocultural cattle only. And that led me to feel processing because I couldn’t get to be processed, and that led me to a marketing effort so I could get it moved.

Will: So that was a whole another set of reactions that were sort of out changes. And I need to say this right now, because I’m very proud of it. From an economic perspective for the community, I moved from having three middle wage employees, having 160 something employees and our employees made twice the County average last year. So that’s when we talked about the re enrichment of rural America, that’s what we call them. And that by the way, that was an unintended consequence. I never ever said, “I sure would like to try to bring some black package down.” That didn’t happen. The fact that we have moved our, what we actually call them sink in terms of… That was an unintended consequence costly, but I never say it. I believe I can help litigate climate change, I know how. So in the same way that Harlem was doing with unintended consequences, now good things are happening with unintended consequences.

Robb: So our world is a wash with unintended consequences. We’ve seen some examples of where it’s gone unfavorably for us and favorably for us. Do you have any sense of what is a way that we can make decisions so that we can at least hope that the likelihood of the knock on consequences are liable to be more favorable than unfavorable? Like I would go out on a limb and say trying to think about the way that nature works and things like that, or maybe a leg up in that regard, but what is a way that we could just do decision making at large that would better inform our ability to get the desired result that we’re gunning for? And then all the peripheral things maybe being supportive or at least not negative the way that we’ve seen with like a reductionist approach to medicine as well as the food production system?

Will: The only solution I could offer is white Oak Pastures on farm is a savory hub. I usually say risky. So we practice, teach and a study holistic management. And I don’t profess to be a teacher of the that, I’m a student of that. But for us all decisions, we’re very imperfect, let me be clear on this. We try to be inclusive of all the ramifications of our decisions rather than be in so very linear Western [inaudible] straight line in the way that we operated for two generations follows an [inaudible]

Robb: Interesting. Interesting. You know as we started this thing in, I kind of alluded to the fact that there are like just the topic of animal inclusive agriculture is a controversial one these days. Like on social media outlets, folks are finding that they’re being shadow banned, folks will post pictures of processing animals or even finished meals and they find that their posts are taken down or their beaches mitigated. And this is largely falling upon folks like you that are in… And whenever I say a small scale operation, it’s so ridiculous because running a farm of any size, it’s such a huge job. So I wish we had a different term versus small scale, but at the end of the day, they’re not the huge conglomerates and so it’s considered to be a small scale operation.

Robb: But I kind of feel like these folks are kind of getting picked off one by one, and kind of marginalized. And how do we do a better job of, couple of questions on that. How do we help support these folks in a better way? And then, what would the implications be for just rural communities at large and the kind of economic infrastructure, if we could figure out a way of making this, for lack of a better term, more mainstream, making this alternative more the mainstream to fault mode?

Will: Now a couple of great questions, kind of wrap it up I’m going to have them separately. So first of all I do not profess to be an expert on anything except the area, but I will claim expertise to speak with authority in three areas. Those areas are humane animal welfare, regenerative land management, and the re enrichment of rural America. When we start talking about nutrition and nutrient density and food health and food safety, and flavor, I’m neophyte. But I’m going to just talk just a minute because you brought up about the regenerative land management. And I tell you with authority there is no cost effective way to regenerate the land large scale without animal agriculture. That is so misunderstood, yet so clear to me. If the naysayers about animal aren’t going to just stop and look and listen and see how the great ecosystems of the world evolve. It’s with healthy soil full of microbes feeding plants.

Will: It’s herbivores moved by carnivores, what we’re talking about, they re feed the microbes in the soil there, extra money. It’s a beautiful cycle and it’s how we got all that oil on the ground and all that coal in the ground, all that natural gas in the ground came from this system. We’re going back to dinosaur, trinasaur tricks chase moving hellacious dinosaurs or buffalo via moved by timber wolves or caribou being moved by polar bales or gazelles being moved by lions. The great ecosystems of the world evolve with animal architecture. All that karma, they’ve been greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, they’ve been pulled down and sequestered through photosynthesis and the herbivores are an essential part of that photosynthesis thing that those plants need to be clipped off, excellent drop back down. So they continued to pull carbon into the reach of the soil. That’s how all that problem got down there. And for uninvolved people to think that they can get that effect without a central component of the system that put it by on, it’s just so wrong. So herbivores are not destroying the earth, herbivores are part of the solution. That’s been scientifically proven by Quantas on White Oak Pastures.

Robb: Right. Did you talk about that a little bit, please. That lifecycle analysis that occurred and let folks know what a life cycle analysis is.

Will: Okay. So I am an expert in dealing with soil. I am not an expert in measuring soil, but I’ve learned a little bit about it and a customer of ours… So product to epic is more by General Mills, general Mills was concerned about some of the claims that was being made by the ethic people about regenerative land management. So they agreed to pay for an $80,000 study to be doing on all our farm, third party environmental engineering company from Minneapolis Minnesota called Quantas. And that’s important Quantas. So the people from Quantas came to white Oak pastures via all kinds of scientific testing to loosen the time, we had provided the data on how much hue we use, how much electricity, how much… to get the equation right.

Will: And they determined that for every pound of beef I produce at White Oak Pasture, we sequester three and a half pounds of carbon dioxide in the pasture. We are a carbon sink that is helping to mitigate climate change. So that’s what the LCA is coming, that’s the name of the study it’s called a life cycle assessment, being peer reviewed right now. All right, now here’s where it gets, you can’t make this crap. Possibility Impossible Burger has been super critical about Dr. Brown, who’s the CEO and is super critical about regenerative farming practices, he was literally attacked. So you’ve used a coach like me that practice this kind of argument, literally very personally attacked.

Will: Also had Quantas do a lifecycle assessment for them, and in the same time for me. And it shows scientifically that for every pound of Impossible Burger that they create, they generate 3.5 pounds, for [inaudible]. It’s incredible like we’ve the same environmental engineering firm, and it’s exactly the same amount, was in mine. If you want to be breakeven with your carbon footprint, every pound Impossible Burger you eat, you got to eat a pound of ours, but not just one, the actual pound properly raised from me or Gay Brown or Spencer Smith or Greg Gunthal or somebody in this field, so you can’t make that up. So we’re very proud of that. And we had that study doing it did not, nothing in it is surprised me, I’m not. I certainly couldn’t quantify it or validate it, but I mean it was an unintended consequence of improving the land, I can see that improving the land.

Robb: Right. And I guess also peripheral to that you would figure it out a way of having a decent economic situation both for yourself and your employees and your local community. So talk a little bit about that. Like I’m not a farmer, I’ve raised some goats and sheep before, I’m a novice at that stuff. Even the little bit of work I did with that though, the area that we lived in, Reno had been horribly mistreated, the two acre pasture there that we had. And with a knuckle heads application of holistic management with some goats, it was transformed in three years. I mean like shockingly. So if I actually knew what I was doing, it would have probably been that much better.

Robb: My understanding of farming in general is that it tends to be a very debt driven process, there’s a lot of weird subsidies that kind of keep the current system afloat. Like how do you exist in almost like a soap bubble in this story and operate in such a different way. And what does it mean for you kind of economically and yeah.

Will: Thank you for asking that question. That may be the most important question of the day because from the perspective of all of those other farmers that I listed, they leave for me to pay you this as far as saying that my timing, which was purely accidental and those are beyond perfect. No skillful reduction on my part happened to be just right. And I was also blessed that I am here to the bios makers of [inaudible 00:51:31] fall land, because I didn’t have any money, but I had assets that I could leverage and I did. How? Open with volume, some half a million dollars and bill processing facilities and a big infrastructure support what I did and it worked for me financially. I say worked for me for financially, our return on investment, and my account of friends think is horrible and they’re right. But it’s for me, and it’s fun and I’m happy with it. But had I that today instead of 20 years ago I would have gone broke.

Robb: Oh really?

Will: Yes. That’s the important takeaway here. Please listen to me. My company is still profitable, but it’s very, very certainly profitable. We went through a period of time two years ago, which we had a very reasonable return on assets. It was a pretty good business. The company today is a butter company, one of the company I meant to fall. The company today is a better company than it was 10 years today, our product is better, our people are better, our systems are better, the land is better, everything is better, except our margins. Our margins are what we’ve sold or sell, and our volumes about the same, I should say that, but our margins have crunched. And the reason the margins have crunched is over the last five or 10 years, five years, like big multinational companies have focused on the fact that this niche as profit, so they have green washed their product. And the best example of that is, if you know you can bring grass fed beef into this country that was born, raised and slaughtered in Australia, and sell it as product of the USA in the grocery store, legally.

Robb: Because like pork and beef are kind of the only things that don’t have a country of origin stamp on it. Right?

Will: They don’t [inaudible], they don’t. And not only do they not have stamp on them, the rule is horribly misleading. It can literally say, and it does, product of the USA, when the animal never drew a breath of air in the United States, came over here in chilled cargo container from Australia. And the reason is there’s a USDA rule, a rockaway, fraudulent flies in the face of what the consumers think they’re getting. Because USDA rule says that if value is added in this country, it’s a product of USA. So that Australian or New Zealand or Uruguayan cow or heard can be brought here, and if they cut it or grind it or repackage it is a product of USA.

Will: So those and there are other activities, like the multinational companies disclaiming, you know they’re buying little grass fed companies en masse so they can use that label. [Inadible]. But they are cheapening the product and the consumer never knows. And that is called… I transitioned from being the guy that feels young follows you all to consumer moving to your farm from the industrial commodity practice to more at what we do, which is like in five years, to me now saying, “You know Kyle, I really don’t know if you can afford to make that transition or not because the economics change.”

Robb: That’s crazy. This is something that I really wasn’t aware of. Like I’ve stayed on top of a lot of this stuff as a reasonably well informed consumer and somebody that’s interested in all this. And the crazy thing is any time you typically see improvements in technology and production and efficiency, we see a better product and typically some better margins for the producer. But in this scenario we’ve just managed to get the fact that this is a valuable item on the radar of the big players and then they’ve found kind of an end run around this process. Why is it that we can bring meat from out of country and ship it on a container ship and it’s still cheaper than what can be done here. Is this like a reflection of some of the labor laws and things like that, that we have in the United States that makes kind of the backend production of this more expensive to offset all of that other infrastructure that we see that doesn’t exist in other countries?

Will: I really cannot tell you why a grass fed beef can be raised cheaper in Australia or in Hawaii or New Zealand than it is in United States. I can’t tell you that, I have not been there and I’ve never visited those countries, never studied those systems, I don’t know. But I do know that the fraudulent rules that we have for example, allows big multinational companies like JVS or Tyson or Perdue or Smithfield to shop for product anywhere in the world where they provide it the cheapest, and bring it into the best market in the world and fraudulent labor live out of the USA. And the only, this is so inconvenient and so hard and why I’m not real optimistic. The only way the consumer can protect themselves from supporting that system or prevent themselves from supporting that system is to know who they’re buying the product from on a more like personal basis.

Will: And the personal basis don’t mean you come to White Oak Pastures and meet us, that could do, when we build cabins and build a restaurant or a store to accommodate people coming here. But the good news is with the social media, you can know, you can see what’s on social media. If I could go there and look and dozens of people do go there per day, then you can have the confidence that the product produced by again Gay Brown, Spencer Smith, Greg Goofball, Alexandra farms in California, White oak Pastures here, is probably what is supportive to you.

Robb: Right. Will, I’m guessing that trying to change that law would be a pretty uphill battle to get that transparency. I’ve heard folks kind of wax eloquent about things like blockchain where you could have a impromptu terrible history of where products come from, and there’s some interesting facets to that. Like, how can we change this? Like what can we do to affect change on this front? Again, I don’t know. Like is it even in the realm of possibility to try to get this FDA rule changed, and if not what are some other options? Like the only thing that kind of occurs to me is the possibility of blockchain getting plugged into this food production system so that we know precisely where everything comes from. But I still don’t know how that would ultimately, it wouldn’t change the economics that are undercutting this process. Like we would know, okay, it’s coming from somewhere else, even though the FDA says something different, but I don’t know that it would really change the economics in a favorable way for folks like you and Spencer, the other folks doing what you’re doing.

Will: But blockchain will be my favorite, I’ve heard that word, I don’t know about it. You are right, your assertion that getting those rules changed. American Grass Fed Association, AGA they have tried extensively and for years to get that rule changed, officials on the network register all those things, there’s no amount of [inaudible], so anyway, in the short run, long run, something like blockchain, whatever that is may be great. But in the short term, you just got to know your farm. It’s a shame, and sadly I thought that the farm certifications would be the answer for us. My farms, the first farm, we got all the certifications on the lands, sort of out organic certified Humane American Fed Association approved, it was all non GMO and animal welfare approved. I can’t even keep up with them. We got all those checks.

Will: Global Animal Partnership, which I’m not a fan anymore, none of those are affected, I thought they would be. Well what happened is again the ability of corporate America to morph, we reached a point that you can get a certification or any program from any shade of gray from snow white to smart white the certification for you. And the consumer understand understandably, is hopelessly confused because they say, “Oh I mean, you’re certified. That’s fine.” And it’s really about that. There’s some certification are fine, some of them are not, and you have studied all of that if you go to the consumer.

Robb: Right, and the consumer doesn’t have time to do that at all.

Will: If all was already mapped out, the consumer certainly don’t.

Robb: Will, so it’s not crazy to suggest that the current industrial ag system has an expiration date on it. Like we would agree with that, right? Like there’ve been some numbers thrown out there that there’s like 60 harvests left and it’s kind of hard to figure out if that’s accurate, but we could definitely make a case that there’s all this unintended consequence that’s happening. All kinds of knock on problems that seem to be accelerating like destroying waterways, pumping up aquifers, like it’s just everything that went into the last 50 years of like kind of a blip in what seemed to be really efficient production is actually it was taking out a high interest loan and that interest has been accruing for 50 plus years and that compound interest does what it does, it starts growing exponentially in the problems are growing exponentially. The big players have got to know this, right? I mean the Cargills and Tysons, I mean they can’t be ignorant of the fact that we’re driving this thing at high speed towards a brick wall. Like even just out of informed self interest, are these folks going to have to pivot at some point or is it just drive the train into a brick wall and we’re going to eat Impossible Burgers on the way there like does that make sense?

Will: Yeah. I mean, if it does and there’s no doubt there is an expiration date, I mean you can’t borrow yourself out of debt so there is an expiration date. To answer your question about how long will big multinational stock companies, first of all, we need to call them efficient that or multinational stock company is no soul. It operates quota report. And the answer is we’ll continue to go with the direction it’s going and as long as the quota report looks good, and if it crashes and burns, it crashes and burns. How long did big tobacco tell people that cigarettes are fine, they’re fine. So there’s an expiration date. I frequently hear people say, “Oh, I’m so worried about what we’re to the earth, we’re destroying the earth.” Don’t you worry about the earth.

Robb: The earth will be here.

Will: She’ll be fine.

Robb: We may not be, but the earth will be fine.

Will: Exactly. So I’m not storing up cartridges and canned goods, but I spend all of my working hours making White Oak Pastures more stable so that whenever what happens, happens that will be in as good a shape as we can be. I really don’t like talking like that. I’m a little unusual in that I am one of the good old boys. They came to this for that. Most of the people in leadership in this kinder, gentler on the food production or not graduates of the old school farm. And I actually have talked to my friends and relatives who were involved in industrial commodity production and the constellation will go something like, “Well, what you do is fine, it’s fine, but you can’t feed the world like that.” I don’t know.

Will: I’ll have that discussion with you, but before we have the discussion, let first stipulate that the earth has a carrying capacity and we can’t continue to have more population, more consumption, more degradation and it’d be fine, and they don’t do that. They won’t say, “well no, this technology no, we stay the hell out of that.” If you push them you can say, “Okay. All right. You can’t go so many people in a phone booth. That’s okay, good, good. We agree on that. I would go here, and can say to you right now that if the limiting factor is laying. How many eggs are laid and we got confused, you have a boat production system right there. You and I will be more efficient, more productive.

Will: Because I can’t produce as much or way of using all of these outside input. But if the first thing we’re going to run out of is petroleum energy, I win, I don’t use as much as you. And if we’re going to run out of water, I wind, I don’t use as much you do. If we’re going to run out of antibiotics that the pathogens are not immune to, I win because I don’t do that. If we’re going to attempt to kill the ocean with plastic and phosphate and nitrogen that runs off, I win. And I can go through dozens of scenarios in which my production system is exponentially more resilient than the current industrial commodity centralized. But if it’s just land, they win. So I’m convinced that the system we operate in denial does not have resiliency and will end poorly.

Robb: I agree. I mean, I see a lot of parallels with the way that a Fiat currency economic system has been driven since early 1970s and it’s looked like we’ve had all kinds of economic growth, but maybe all of that type of stuff is borrowed time. But that all gets doomsday bunker and like you said, we’re not stashing cartridges and canned goods quite yet, although I’ve got a few of those around just in case. So we had the discussion in the Healthy Rebellion. Like Diana Rogers and I are working on this book and film project, Sacred Cow. And it’s been a really interesting process because there are some things that pop up, like if we had a little discussion about this via email exchange, when we really dug into the nutritional characteristics of pastured meat versus conventional meat, there wasn’t as big a difference as what we would like for telling a story.

Robb: Like if we kind of ignored what I feel like is some of the best information available, then we could tell a really nice cohesive story much the way that the folks kind of in the vegan camp, it’s like they’ve got a beautiful story. Meat gives you cancer, meat gives you diabetes, meat gives you heart disease, it destroys the planet, you’re unethical to eat it, mystery examples. Like it’s an elevator pitch on kind of a gut level, it’s like, Oh, that kind of makes sense. And then every one of these topics for us to unpack that is virtually a PhD dissertation to try to get in and give it some type of a nuance. And one of the frustrations that folks in the regenerative agriculture scene have had with folks like us is that when we highlight the fact that it’s better for the environment, pastured dairy is far more nutritious poultry is, like eggs are better.

Robb: It’s the only way that we could have a sustainable system that if we came back 5,000 years from now it would still be here and would still be moving forward. But for the small scale producer, that topic of kind of the nutrient benefits of pastured meat, that’s something that they really have to kind of hang their hat on and it’s not as strong a position as I think any of us would have liked to have. Like how do we navigate that? Like I almost feel like in some ways, I don’t know if at the end of the day the work that Diana and I are doing is helping us or hurting us. Like if we could just leave all that stuff somewhat oblique and in the background and we can kind of wink, wink, nod, nod and just kind of move forward. But I mean Will, how do we navigate that so that I’m not actually undercutting the ability for folks to do something similar to what you’re doing?

Will: Well the work that you have done is essential and we need it. And the reason is we need it, well you did it, we can’t do it by ourselves. When I first started in this business first I started trying to market my product to extract more, to get more for it so I can extract the increased costs production, I made all the claims that I thought you could reasonably make. Your option is healthier, safer, more nutrient dense, tastes better, whatever. And after a year or so in trying to sell my product, I realized that I was giving up all authenticity on doing that. So I literally had my daughter go through all our material and remove any reference to those things. Safety, health, density, flavor, all those things. There’s not of thing, we have a superior product I think we do. But what I know is we’ve all must look stupid in saying that.

Will: I can speak as a subsidiary, I can speak with authority, on land management, animal welfare and impoverished local community. If I have that look don’t see any in and discuss those things with Dr Pat Brown of Impossible Burger, the CEO of Cargill, Smithfield or JVs or whoever. But when I stand up, the 65 year old farmer with an animal science degree, a 50 year old animal science degree from University of Georgia and start talking about conjugated linolenic acid, Omega threes, Omega sixes, I’m excused, and I need you people to do that.

Robb: Well we’re doing what we can, but some days it’s interesting.

Will: Let me interrupt you [inaudible].

Robb: Yeah.

Will: So because I have had no experience in marketing or sales or advertise more of those consequence, I have found it very interesting on this journey to hear about how so many times, different things motivate different people who make a purchasing decision. And when we first started, as I told you, it was all about animal welfare. And I think that most of the people that bought my product in the late nineties, early two thousands did so because I could show them, I could demonstrate clearly to them that my animals had a better life and death than industrial products, and that, that sold us enough product that we successfully grew. And then this whole environmental aspect became a focus of many people. And I would say probably, maybe even more people. I think that movement is probably bigger than the animal welfare.

Will: There was this overlap to it and we were fortunate in that we could without question demonstrate that our system’s better for the land and the water and air and that sold some product, and now I hope that people will, you mentioned the economic monetary of all that you’ve been in. I hope that people will start to realize that when you buy from people like White Oak Pastures, Gay Brown, Spencer, Greg, these guys, you’re enriching rural America. When you buy from Impossible Burger or Tyson or Smithfield, JBS, you’re enriching Wall Street and Silicon Valley and multinational corporations that operate on a quarterly report, those of us operate generational.

Robb: I mean this should be a topic that if we could figure out how to spin it properly should kind of be a across the political spectrum, we should be able to get some buy in regardless of where folks play out on that. Like there should be something in this for virtually everybody, unless they’re just kind of a super dyed in the wool ethical vegan, that you’re never really going to have a meeting of the minds, but virtually anybody else and even thinking about things like national security and stuff like that. Like we’re facing this interesting situation with the expansion of technology and all these predictions that we’re not going to have any jobs. Like doctoring and lawyering looks like it’s going to be some of the first things to go away due to AI. I have a sneaky suspicion that the creativity and the kind of labor intensive elements of holistically managed food production, maybe one of the holdouts that in which this is where people work because it’s going to require a degree of creativity and the type of information processing that artificial intelligence is either never going to get or it’s going to be very far down the road.

Robb: But this like the revitalization of rural America and decentralizing our food production and our economic base seems like a massive, like a national security position. Like what do we do to get this on more folks radars and you know, people like Dan Crenshaw and some people that really get in and champion some topics like this.

Will: Well, this is a case study for me, to plow over the ground again, in the last 25 years, we have that’s like quadruple on almost triple, almost quadruple the amount of land that we control. But our labor force’s gone from three to 160. I mean, what do you mean? This is the law, White oak Pastures make the largest private employer in this County. Early County is the poorest County in the state of Georgia, and Georgia is not a big state. 159 counties,] this is the poorest. White Oak Pastures writes payroll checks over a hundred thousand dollars every Friday. So from the perspective, I really do hope that the next focus is own this re enrichment of rural America because A, it’s so bad and then B, it’s doing, and then this is not a North, South East West thing, this is a rural America.

Robb: Which is virtually all of America

Will: Yeah, because it is or should be so nonpartisan. I don’t think I’m a Republican or Democrat, I don’t like Republicans or Democrats. But this shouldn’t be partisan. I mean, who does not want to see rural America made a vibrant all of the economy again. Who’s against that? Other than the big multinational vegan. That’s what that would be.

Robb: Right, we’ve got our work cut out first. Like we will not run out of a job trying to crack this nut over the next 20 years.

Will: Yeah, Leave a little bit of difference in me and you in all that. You’re trying to save the world, I’m trying to save White Oak Pasture. So your job’s a lot better than my job but, but we’re on the same team going in the same direction.

Robb: Absolutely. And you know I would have very little of a leg to stand on were not for folks like you, Joel Salatin, Allan savory. It’s funny, like this idea of ancestral eating got on my radar in 1998. I was super sick, had some serious GI problems and this idea of kind of like a low carb paleo type diet got on my radar and I did it and researched it and it made a ton of sense. And then as I started thinking about it, like what are the kind of sustainability implications of this story? And just kind of in the back of my head, I was thinking this is the only way that you could have a food system that could last 5,000 or 10,000 years. Like it is the only way that you could do this. And but this again was an in 1998 and I’m not a farmer.

Robb: It was just an intuitive thing because I’m a little bit of a student of economics and stuff like that. So I had a gut level that this was really the way to go. But it’s only been the work of folks like you and the other people in this regenerative scene that now we have the beginnings of kind of, I guess a front to be able to push this narrative back and have a counterpoint to the industrial food kind of narrative. That is crazy that things like Impossible Burger, kind of the ultimate manifestation of like that this is supposed to be the savior of us all and I think the life cycle analysis for Impossible Burger, there was a caveat on it that was basically, if you wanted to make that process sustainable, you had to plug animals back in on the grain and legume production to be able to make that thing work which you alluded to that already. Well, Will, it’s been incredible having you on the Healthy Rebellion. Let me, I think I might have an outside question here.

Robb: Okay. Yeah. It looks like somebody is telling me you have to jump here to another appointment. Nope. Okay.

Will: I’m good.

Robb: Okay. You’re good. You’re good. Well, I do want to be respectful of your time, but what are some things that we can do to move this discussion forward? So clearly this ft to where we should have a burgeoning and expanding local decentralized food production system. It’s being stymied because of artificially cheap imports that are bypassing this country of origin stamp. Like what do we do to affect change like today and then whether it’s some things that we could have for goals, maybe like three to five years down the road to really start changing this?

Will: Well I know this is more frustrating or less frustrating. But I’ll tell you that the decision of whether or not there will be more of these farm is purely absolutely in the hands of the consumer. So I don’t know, this is not a sales pitch for White Oak Pastures. White Oak Pastures model is not super scalable. We’re probably about as big as we ever intend to be, believe me they’re [inaudible], but it’s highly scalable. It can be a White Oak Pastures or two or three in every ag County information. But it won’t happen, this is important, it won’t happen because of government regulation. It won’t happen because farmers just think, “Wow, I think I’ll go with that rich.” It won’t happen because big multinational companies won’t see it go there. If it happens, it’s going to be because consumers choose to support a White Oak Pastures. I wish I could tell you that there are tens of thousands across the country, there’s not, there’s dozens.

Will: But if consumers will support these kinds of farm, there’ll be another one, and another one, and another one. Farmers are entrepreneur, it wasn’t to survive and Billy will respond to the market demand. Today the market demand is for cheap commodity production. You’ve consumed the shift that demand in the model of window bear, you vote with your dollars, then consumers will drive this whole production to the forefront, or they can keep stumbling into big box stores and supporting a stock company that’s driven by quota report, which [inaudible] get to decide. When you decide which [inaudible] you got any consumables. I’m not real proud of that.

Robb: Well, Will thank you so much for the work you’re doing. And the sort of support that you’ve put into this whole regenerative ag scene. Remind folks where they can track you down on the internet and any other things that you can provide for folks to learn more about what you’re doing.

Will: Our website is whiteoakpastures.com. Oak single, pastures plural. Or my email address is willharris, my name Will Harris, @whiteoakpastures.com and yeah, I appreciate you having me on today, and I appreciate it the people who listen to us today.

Robb: Huge honor to have you on the show and I can’t wait to see you in real life here at some point.

Will: Please come to visit.

Robb: We’ll do it.

Will: We got cabins in our farm. We cook three meals a day, seven days a week. We have some employees, I love if you and your family… So you’ve got two little girls?

Robb: Yeah.

Will: Oh, I got, I got grown daughters that work in the farm. Hope you’ll come see us.

Robb: We’ll do it. I have a strong back and a weak mind so you can put me to work too, so.

Will: I will.

Robb: Okay, awesome Will thank you. Take care.

Will: Thank you.

Robb: Okay, bye bye.

Will: Bye.

Robb: Holy cat.

Nicki: Holy cats. That was good stuff.

Robb: I might need a smoke and a cup of coffee and maybe even a hug.

Nicki: That was really good stuff. Thanks everyone. I hope you enjoyed that interview. Please share this one. This one is one that needs to be shared far and wide. This message needs to get out there. As always, please subscribe to the podcast.

Robb: If you find some value. Let folks know about it.

Nicki: Remember to check out our show sponsor. Perfect Keto go to perfectketo.com/rebellion10 and use code rebellion 10 for $10 off your orders or $40 or more. You can go there and grab your salted caramel MCT oil powder, and then finally join us in the Healthy Rebellion. Go to join.thehealthyrebellion.com and now’s the perfect time to join in advance of the cars reset that we mentioned earlier, and we’ve got a lot of great stuff lined out for the rest of this year. So join.thehealthyrebellion.com. And that’s a wrap.

Robb: Thank you, wife.

Nicki: Thanks hubs.

Robb: We’ll see you soon.

Nicki: All right, see you.

Robb: Bye.

Published with permission of Robbwolf.com