Monday, September 21, 2009

Happy Chickens.

Last week I attended the National Small Farms Conference, sponsored by the USDA, put on by UIUC Extension (thank you Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant), and held this year in Springfield, Illinois.

It was a great conference--lots of information on training new farmers, marketing strategies, and USDA/CSREES/NRCS programs and funding. I learned a lot, made some great connections, and it was extremely well run. I stayed at a great place in Springfield, Mansion View Inn and Suites, just across from the Governor's Mansion on 4th Street. I recommend it highly in all categories!

After attending the conference and listening to the many presentations and participants, I felt like the progress we're making in developing the support structures necessary for small, diversified farms and local, fresh, diversified food systems is indeed significant. And then on Saturday I heard an ad during a baseball game on the radio that reminded me that our opposition has really deep pockets and a vested interest in industrial farming.
"You hear a lot about sustainability these days. Sustainability is farmers growing higher yields of corn and soybeans and being able to feed their families and the world," sponsored by Monsanto or some similar agrigiant. Feed them what?? Junk food and bacteria-laden meat and dairy products produced in filthy plants here and overseas?? From animals confined to feedlots and fed antibiotics for their entire lives and fields that cannot produce anything without chemicals? Enough.

So on Sunday, we let the chickens out of their chicken yard for the first time. It was off-and-on rainy and mostly overcast, but they spread out all over the back yard making happy chicken noises and eating bugs, grass, and generally exploring unlimited new territory. Everyone was back in the chicken house by dark, but I'm not sure if eggs were laid out in the "territory." No new ones this morning, so I'll have to look around. And this morning when I looked for them after they'd been out for a few hours, there was no sign of the "happy chickens" . . . more on this mystery later.

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