The irony of a cold winter is that it allows me to catch my breath. After a busy nine months of 12 - 16 hour work days, winter is rapidly becoming a cherished time of year for me. It gives me time to catch up on all of the books I’ve been collecting to read and allows me to work on small projects in the comfort of my wood heated shop. But perhaps my favorite winter task is when Michelle and I take a full week to discuss and plan for the upcoming season.
In one of our many meandering conversations I said “did you know Wal-Mart is the largest Organic retailer”? She answered quickly with “that’s ridiculous”. It is ridiculous. Well, kind of. It has always been my opinion that Organic bought from a superstore lacks one thing, Integrity.
Integrity is a big topic for me. And for those of you that have ever asked me a question you know I don’t give short answers. But I will do my best to refrain from going down a rabbit hole. So here is a small example.
A few years back we had to submit a copy of our egg carton label to state and county bureaucrats for their approval. In keeping with the integrity that guide our farming principles I wanted the label to read “Honest Eggs”. And I’m sure as you may have guessed it was rejected. I was told I was not allowed to make undefined claims about my eggs that may mislead consumers. Yet somehow when I walk the grocery store aisle, I see cartons that say “Organic” with a picture of a red barn and a creative sunrise. Does that not lead the consumer to believe that those Organic hens are free to roam in the shadow of a historic barn on a small picturesque family farm? The truth is Organic or cage free doesn’t mean building free. Organic and Cage Free hens are still locked in crowded buildings that look more like an Amazon warehouse than a farm.
So where is the integrity? The honesty? The truth is commercial Organic agriculture is a lie. It is a bait and switch envious of any conman or “Nigerian prince” looking to take advantage of you. Wow! Did that hurt? If you have followed the recent changes in the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) or have ever read a report published by the Organic watchdog group Cornucopia Institute then you know this statement is not over the top.
So what is an overwhelmed consumer to do? The best answer is still to know your farmer and ask questions. Here at Weber Ranch we have always encouraged customers to visit. To bring their children and the neighbor kids out to see chicks and newborn piglets. Nothing brings piece of mind quite like knowing exactly where your food comes from. This goes for chefs as well. In fact last year I enacted a new policy that we will not supply a chef or restaurant until they have visited the ranch and fully understand what we do and how we do it.
Finally, as we enter a new year and a new season I want to reaffirm to you our commitment of raising animals with beyond Organic and sustainable principles while allowing integrity and moral character to guide us. Michelle and I would like every one of you to know that we see you all as neighbors first and we appreciate the opportunity to be your farmers.