About Bittersweet Farm and Where My Interests Began

"Sow"prise

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At our visit on the first day of October, we were excited to find out that the pregnant pig, Hyssop, was in labor during our visit. Our group helped Ann and Cat deliver six piglets during our visit and made sure they were breathing, could get their first sips of milk, and learned how to walk. 

Citation

Jenna Bailey [Photographer] (2017). Helping piglets at Bittersweet Farm milk (Photographer)

For my Community Based Learning aspect of my sophomore seminar course, I selected to visit Bittersweet Farm in Heuvelton, New York every Sunday and learn about farming. I was interested in this topic as a conservation biology student and after a few volunteer visits last spring. Bittersweet Farm is an organic, sustainable, and family-run farm that has vegetables, cows, chickens, sheep, and pigs. The goal of this farm, run by the Bennett family, is to use their farm to unite the community and educate the younger generation about the practices and importance of organic farming.

Brian Bennett shared that, "We believe in the idea that sharing is caring and in the importance of community". 

During my first day of placement, I was struck by a conversation with the daughter, Cat, about the differences between the time that Bittersweet Farm keeps young piglets with their mothers and the time that the factory farms down the road keep their piglets with the mothers. She told me that they keep the mothers with their children for 6-8 weeks, the recommended time to let the piglets fully develop, while she knows the farms down the road take piglets away from their mothers after no more than 3 weeks. This made me sad as I looked around at the beautiful farm in Heuvelton, New York and realized that no matter how well they treat their animals, the quality of the organic food they feed the animals, or the hard work they put in each day, they simply cannot keep up with factory farms around the globe economically. This led me to begin thinking about focusing my research on just how great this divide is and what solutions are out there. 

Bittersweet Farm Quick Facts

8 Scotch Highland Cattle 

Approximately 40 St. Croix Sheep 

9 adult and 10 baby Tamworth Pigs 

12 Chickens 

2 dozen types of herbs 

100 different varieties of vegetables 

2 dozen types of fruit trees 

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A group of cows eating fresh hay in their large field at Bittersweet Farm in Heuvelton, New York 

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Jenna Bailey (Photographer). Taken 11 November 2017 at Bittersweet Farm. 

Does this controversy go beyond the North Country?

The experience of helping Hyssop deliver her piglets was unbelievable and as happy as it made me to see these piglets get so well treated by the Bennett’s, it made me sad to think that not all animals are treated like this and many pigs give birth under much harsher conditions. I was more determined than ever to examine the differences between the practices of organic and factory farms so that I could play even a small role in educating others in the goal of the Bennett’s, to educate and spread the ideals of a small and organic farm in upstate New York.

This issue does not just affect the population of upstate New York, but instead has a much broader scope. This issue affects everyone that is not certain where all of the food they eat comes from. Factory farms, like the ones down the road from the Bennett’s, supply over 2/3 of the country’s food sales but are only 4% of the total farms in the US. This concerns me because as I can already tell, the practices of the organic farm are much more humane, but without the resources to mass produce and lower their prices, the farm stands no chance next to the prices of these factory farms unless the consumers are educated and interested in the idea of supporting organic farms such as Bittersweet.  

 

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A sow unable to reach her piglets on a factory farm

Citation

McArthur, Jo-Anne (Photographer) (2010). Factory Farming - Pigs and Cows. [Photograph], Retrieved 24 October 2017. From http://weanimals.org/gallery.php?id=76#ph24

What is a Factory Farm?

A factory farm is defined as "a farm on which large numbers of livestock are raised indoors in conditions intended to maximize production at minimal cost" (Merriam-Webster). The United States government calls these farms Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFO's for short. The EPA defines a large CAFO as one that is home to more than 1,000 cattle, 2,500 pigs, or 125,000 chickens (Sustainable America). These large factory farm operations are owned by a few major corporations that lead the United States' agriculture industry. Examples of these multimillion dollar corporations are Tyson, Smithfield Foods, JS, Cargill, and Perdue which combine to produce 85% of the beef sold across the country (One Green Planet). Chamber's Farm is a CAFO located right in Heuvelton, New York rumored to be home to over 2,000 cows. The estimated revenue of Chamber's Farm yearly is $541,862 and the income is estimated at $45,958(Buzzfile). 

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A crowded group of cows gathering before the milking process

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McArthur, Jo-Anne (Photographer) (2010). Dairy and Veal Farm. [Photograph], Retrieved 11 November 2017. From http://www.weanimals.org/gallery.php?id=99#ph25

What is an Organic Farm?

An organic farm is defined as "a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of diverse communities within the agro-ecosystem, including soil organisms, plants, livestock and people" (Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs). Farms in the United States must receive certification from the USDA to label, sell, or represent their products as organic. Violating the regulations of organic certification can result in fees and suspension of certification (United States Department of Agriculture). Bittersweet farm is one of 14,093 certified organic farms in the United States, according to the Organic Production Survey of 2015 (Organic Farming Research Foundation). In 2011, average annual income for new organic farmers was $1,902, and $18,119 for established organic farmers(Deliciousliving). 

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A group of chickens walking through the fields of Bittersweet Farm 

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Jenna Bailey (Photographer). Taken 11 November 2017 at Bittersweet Farm. 

Brian Bennett's 2014 NY Organic Farmer of the Year Speech

Economics of Sysco

Food Supplier for St. Lawrence University 

Total Sales: $55.4 billion 

Salary of Chief Financial Officer Joel T. Grade: $4,178,297

Salary of Chief Executive Officer William Delaney III: $15,043,510 

Cost of a dozen eggs to make a profit: $0.49 

Economics of Bittersweet

Income of Brian Bennett as a full time farmer: Less than $2/hour 

Average work day for the Bennetts: 3:30am-11pm 

Yearly income without external job: ~$7,000

Yearly income with Brian working at Lowe's: ~$20,000

Income of Brian at Lowe's: $16.75/hour 

Cost of a dozen eggs to make a profit: $5.00 

Can factory farming be completely eliminated?

As the population continues to grow on planet earth, to about 10 billion people by 2050, it seems unrealistic to assume that we could survive on organic farming alone. A study was done by John Reganold of Guardian sustainable business to examine if our current farmland could feed the world population estimated for 2050 and the results showed that this could only be done if the diets of the country changed. Reganold states that “The existing farmland can feed that many people if they are all vegan, a 94% success rate if they are vegetarian, 39% with a completely organic diet, and 15% with the Western-style diet based on meat” (Reganold 2016). Instead, I acknowledge that our country needs some forms of large production but should push towards organic practices when possible in order to treat animals more humanely, eliminate abusive and unlawful immigrant labor practices, and enjoy healthy, pesticide-free food options. 

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A common sight in the North Country: A baby dairy cow living in a very confined space 

Citation

McArthur, Jo-Anne (Photographer) (2010). Dairy and Veal Farm. [Photograph], Retrieved 11 November 2017. From http://www.weanimals.org/gallery.php?id=99#ph25

 

What can you do to help?

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Local Harvest Logo 

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Local Harvest [Photograph]. Retrieved December 1, 2017. From https://heidimsmith.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/local-harvest-csa/

If you are interested in helping organic farms such as Bittersweet become more successful, there are a few easy steps you can take. LocalHarvest.org is a website that connects people to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), farmer's markets, and organic farms by location. Supporting CSA's and buying from Farmer's Markets and organic farms will supply you with healthy options while economically supporting organic farming. On a smaller scale, you can look for organic options right in your local grocery store and a simple choice of local vegetables or meat instead of factory farmed produce can go a long way. Lastly, if you get the chance take some time to visit Bittersweet Farm in Heuvelton. It is an amazing place owned by a loving family, eager to share their knowledge and kindness with anyone willing to take the time to stop by. 

Citation

Jenna Bailey (Photographer). Taken 3 December 2017 at Bittersweet Farm. 

 

Sources

Buff, Elizabeth. October 17, 2014. Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm: A Look Into Whos Behind the World of Big Ag. Retrieved November 15, 2017. From http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/a-look-into-whos-behind-the-world-of-big-ag-factory-farming/

Buzzfile. (n.d.) Retrieved December 3, 2017. From http://www.buzzfile.com/business/Chambers-Farm-315-344-2208

Blumenfeld, Jenna. October 31, 2016. Can small, organic farms make a decent living? Retrieved December 3, 2017. From http://deliciousliving.com/blog/can-small-organic-farmers-make-decent-l…

Executive Compensation: Joel T. Grade. (2017). Retrieved December 1, 2017 from https://www1.salary.com/Joel-T-Grade-Salary-Bonus-Stock-Options-for-SYSCO-CORP.html

Executive Compensation: William Delaney. (2017). Retrieved December 1, 2017 from https://www1.salary.com/William-J-DeLaney-Salary-Bonus-Stock-Options-for-SYSCO-CORP.html

Factory Farm Map. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2017, from https://factoryfarmmap.org/

Introduction to Organic Farming. December 2009. Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Retrieved November 15, 2017. From http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/09-077.htm

Lee, Aubrey. What is a factory farm? August 12, 2012. Sustainable America. Retrieved November 15, 2017. From http://www.sustainableamerica.org/blog/what-is-a-factory-farm/

Local Harvest [Photograph]. Retrieved December 1, 2017. From https://heidimsmith.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/local-harvest-csa/

McArthur, Jo-Anne (Photographer) (2010). Dairy and Veal Farm. [Photograph], Retrieved 11 November 2017. From http://www.weanimals.org/gallery.php?id=99#ph25

McArthur, Jo-Anne (Photographer) (2010). Factory Farming - Pigs and Cows. [Photograph], Retrieved 24 October 2017. From http://weanimals.org/gallery.php?id=76#ph24

Merriam Webster. (n.d). Factory Farm. Retrieved November 16 2017. From https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/factory%20farm

Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. (n.d.) Retrieved November 24, 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_Foods_Production_Act_of_1990

Smithfield Foods. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2017, from https://www.smithfieldfoods.com/

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2017 from http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Bulletins/Transitioning-to-Organic-Production/Text-Version/History-of-Organic-Farming-in-the-United-States

United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.) Retrieved November 24, 2017 from https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/organic-certification