Putting culture . . . back into agriculture

By Av Singh
In a profit-driven approach to food production many animal characteristics have been lost in favour of yield (e.g. average daily gain or litres of milk produced). In contrast, Rick and Sue have based many of their farm management decisions on such characteristics as maternal instinct; ease of calving (or birthing in general); ability to produce both milk and meat; ability of the animal to perform well in their natural environment, and of course taste and quality of the product. For example, just as many organic farmers are celebrating biodiversity by growing heirloom varieties of potatoes and tomatoes, on most beef and sheep farms is calves and lambs will suffer from scours (an intestinal disorder that leads to diarrhea), yet on Pinnacle Farms through the use of kelp and diatomaceous earth the animals remain healthy. These products are given free choice to the animals and when recovering from stress or having an upset stomach (or stomachs) they will self-prescribe what they need to heal themselves. Furthermore, the fact that the Cheeseman’s have a farm with such a wide variety of ruminant and monogastric species they will have the added benefit of multi-species grazing which can help reduce livestock infection to intestinal parasites. Perhaps, the only drawback to such a mixed-farm is that it becomes difficult to remember

“Food is a cultural product; it cannot be produced by technology alone”
- Wendell Berry

The North Shore is blessed with a diversity of small farms scattered among our many communities and we are welcoming one more. Rick and Sue Cheeseman have recently settled in the Roslyn area and are re-creating Pinnacle Farms. The Cheeseman’s were organic livestock producers in eastern Ontario and are bringing their horses, ducks, chickens, goats, cows, and hogs along with

their philosophy on animal husbandry and sustainable farming to Nova Scotia. “Pinnacle” seems an appropriate title for their farm as few farms do as well as they do in meshing the often conflicting issues of environmental and economic sustain-
ability with those of human health, social and spiritual well-being, animal welfare, food security, and rural culture. As with many small-scale farmers, Rick and Sue believe farming is more than just a way to earn an income – it’s a way of living.

Pinnacle Farms is fully certified as organic and is internationally accredited under the certifying body EcoCert. For Rick and Sue, meeting organic standards is not the end goal, but rather a foundation upon which to build. At Pinnacle Farms animals are encouraged to express their uniqueness, their species individuality – essentially a pig must be allowed to do what makes a pig a pig! So, cows will graze grass, chickens will roost, hogs will wallow in mud, goats will socialize because those behaviours are innate and need to be expressed. It is this philosophy on animal husbandry that has made Pinnacle Farms the first Animal Welfare Institute farm certified in Canada.

Ways to Support Small Farms
Many of us can easily become overwhelmed by the complex issues involving food and agriculture, but each of us can take steps to help support small farms and in turn rural communities; in doing so we also help ourselves by buying and eating healthier food and forming relationships that strengthen our communities.

  • Read labels. Know where your food comes from and what’s in it.
  • Buy food in season (when possible)…simply because it will taste better and most likely the food has not been transported thousands of miles.
  • Buy local at your Farmer’s Market and get to know the people who are growing or raising your food and how they do it. You can also buy local from going directly to the farm or joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group.
  • Ask you local restaurants and grocery stores to feature locally grown foods, and then spend your dollar at the stores that do.
  • Keep learning about agricultural issues and act upon the knowledge you gain.
Pinnacle Farms works toward increasing farm genetics through heritage and rare breeds of livestock.

In having a philosophy that acknowledges that the animal knows its needs better than the farmer, the Cheeseman’s work at providing the necessities for their animals and then allowing their animals choice. A common problem
which animals are foaling, kidding, calving, farrrowing or hatching!
In the mid-seventies, Wendell Berry (Kentucky farmer and poet) wrote an essay
on the agricultural crisis and attributed much of the circumstances to the disintegration of the culture and communities of farming. The “modernization” of agricultural techniques and the corresponding transition from quality to quantity has shaped much of our current food production systems. Pinnacle Farms and farmers like Rick and Sue Cheeseman are making small steps in re-creating a farming system that puts greater emphasis on knowledge than technology. The knowledge is based upon a culture of farming that fosters respect of the earth, its plants, its animals, and its people. Wendell Berry has defined culture in such a way that it cannot be paraphrased but only quoted:
“A culture is not a collection of relics or ornaments, but a practical necessity, and its corruption invokes calamity. A healthy culture is a communal order of memory, insight, value, work, conviviality, reverence, aspiration. It reveals the human necessities and the human limits. It clarifies our inescapable bonds to the earth and to each other. It assures that the necessary restraints are observed, that the necessary work is done, and that it is done well. A healthy farm culture can be based only upon familiarity and can grow only among a people soundly established upon the land; it nourishes and safeguards a human intelligence of the earth that no amount of technology can satisfactorily replace.”
The Northumberland Tide March 2006
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