The Dismantling of America

For a long time I could not figure out why our federal, state, and local governments did not care about  farms and manufacturing closing down and more and more food and other basics needing to be imported. This week, here in Frederick County, there are two more dairy farms closing down for good. Everything is being sold at auction, including the milking equipment. The last several years have been very difficult times for dairy farmers.

The construction industry is also being dismantled. Even if the building industry were to revive tomorrow, I’m not sure how much infrastructure is left to support it. The last several years there have been many sawmills sold at auction—probably most of them sold for scrap metal. The boys and I attended the auction of Monumental Millwork last year. It was a large supplier of doors, windows, and mouldings for the Baltimore and Washington areas. It had been there for years. Everything went dirt cheap, even though there was national online bidding. Most of the big door machines were purchased by a beekeeper who was going to take them apart for parts to put together machines to build bee hives – never to make doors again.

I have been studying the economy and reading many articles glossed over by the main news media. Gradually, I have been able to understand why the government is encouraging the dismantling of America. Normally, when massive amounts of money are "printed" like the government has been doing for the last 20+ years, it causes hyperinflation. But we have not had very much inflation. Why?

When newly "printed" money is kept within a country, it causes inflation. But if the new money goes out of the country it does not cause inflation. The government discovered a way to print their way out of their financial troubles without the problem of hyperinflation – at least for now. As a result, the trade deficit with other countries has become huge. Farms and manufacturing through government policies and regulations have been encouraged to close so that more and more money can flow out of the country, so that more money can be printed to cover government over spending. Currently, close to half of our food is imported and almost all of our clothes. It is a short-sighted philosophy, but it has worked very well so far. The questions are: how long will it work? What will the ultimate consequences be? Where will we get food and clothes if other countries decide they do not want our "funny money"?

There is always the possibility that the government has found a monetary policy that will work in the long run. But there is also the very real possibility that it will fail big time. Here at Jehovah-Jireh Farm, we are hedging our bets by trying to learn as much as we can about growing our own food. If something were to happen that would stop the availability of imported food, at that point it would be too late to begin to learn how to produce all our own food. Every gardener knows how hard it is to grow enough food to live on for a year. You have all these dreams about putting seeds in the ground and harvesting all this wonderful food. Then as the summer progresses, reality sets in as plants don’t grow right, bugs devour plants and vegetables, and the weeds take over the garden. The learning curve is steep, but in the end it is very rewarding as you learn to conquer those problems and are able to produce high brix, nutrient dense food that tastes much better than the grocery store food.

Now, more than ever, it is important to learn how to produce our own food and to support local farms. The Fukushima disaster also raises questions about the future safety of the winter fruits and vegetables that come from California and Mexico. Much of the organic salad greens come from these areas during the winter months.

Living Hand to Mouth?

One day Cathy and I walked into our local Giant grocery store, and as I walked in, the thought that struck me was: we could not stock up on food for the winter at that store. It is a HUGE grocery store but every thing is sold in small quantities. The selection of food is incredible. Apples are sold by the piece, but you can’t buy a bushel of apples. You can buy one sweet potato, but not a 50lb. bag.

Bulk food
We like to purchase as much as we can in 50lb bags. We buy the whole wheat grain and grind our own flour. Wheat, when it is made into flour, loses almost all of its vitamins in 72 hours.

Even cereal can be purchased in single serving bowls for $1 each. I realized that the HUGE grocery stores give the impression that there is an abundance of food to eat, but they have forced Americans to live hand to mouth by only being able to purchase small quantities at a time. They have also forced people to buy food the most expensive way possible – in small quantities. People find themselves running to the grocery store multiple times a week.

The grocery stores also function on a hand to mouth mentality. Most fruits and vegetables are not purchased locally and stored to be sold during the winter. Instead, there is a global dependence. Much of the fruits and vegetables that are produced locally are consumed in the summer months. For the rest of the year, we depend on other countries supplying much of our fruits and vegetables. We as a country are living hand to mouth, more dependent than we would like to admit, on other people all around the world supplying our food for us when we want it.

But the good news is that all is not doom and gloom. It is possible to eat local, eat healthy, and significantly cut your food costs. The key is to buy in season, in a large quantity, and store it for the winter. It is usually much cheaper buying a 50lb bag of potatoes or a bushel of apples than buying them by the individual potato or apple in the grocery store. When you buy it locally, you can find out how it was raised. When you buy those fresh fruits and vegetables one at a time in the grocery store in the middle of winter, you have no idea what unregulated pesticide might have been sprayed on it in that distant country on the other side of the world, even if it is called organic.

There is a real satisfaction in having food stored up for the winter. I enjoy opening the freezer and seeing it full of good food for us to eat this winter, or looking at the pantry shelves full of food that we raised ourselves and canned for the winter months. Our family has opted out of the hand to mouth mentality of purchasing our food in small quantities. We do not want to go back!

One of our freezers full of sweet corn, apple cider we made at our neighbor’s house, cucumber juice, peaches, and meat.

One of Cathy’s pantry shelves with peaches, tomato sauce, pickles, apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie filling, and beets.

Yukon Gold potatoes from our garden stored for the winter in our cellar.

If you want true pasture raised chickens to eat this winter, this fall is the time to stock up. Over a year ago, we upgraded to a heavier 2mil plastic bag for packaging the chickens and turkeys. That has improved the amount of time that the poultry can be held in the freezer without freezer burn. Cathy recently got some turkey soup bones out of the freezer from almost a year ago (last Thanksgiving). She did not find any freezer burn. Our biggest chicken customer likes to eat local all winter. They plan to have 100 chickens in the freezer to last until May. While that sounds like a lot of chickens, it is only about 4-5 chickens a week until the May 2011 chicken processing. That "customer" is our family. Yes, we eat a lot more than just chicken. When you set four hard working, growing boys down at the dinner table, it had better be more than just a salad!

Another one of our freezers full of home grown food – Chicken, green beans, and raspberry jam.

Food, Inc.

We recently watched "Food, Inc." Many of you have already seen Food, Inc., and if you haven’t seen it yet we highly recommend it. They take you inside the chicken houses, feed lots, and poultry and beef processing plants and give a behind the scenes view of where food comes from and how it is processed. They give you an inside view of how some of the large multinational companies are bullying farmers into submission to their program. You will see why I said "I’ll NEVER raise chickens" after working on a farm when I was in college where I took care of 75,000 broiler chickens in the big factory farm "jail" chicken house.

We saw Food, Inc. the week before the latest egg salmonella scare occurred with the 500,000,000 egg recall. When I saw the processing plants with the conveyors, shackle lines, pipes, etc. that move raw meat and other food ingredients from one place to another, I was amazed that there has not been a lot more food poisoning. For example: it would be difficult, on a daily basis, to completely clean a big long belt conveyor that carries raw hamburger. There are rollers and other contact points under the conveyor that carry the conveyor belt back to the starting end of the conveyor that would be difficult to completely clean. It is a totally different situation than a small butcher shop where it is relatively easy to clean down the tables and small machines at the end of the day. Because of the difficulty of totally cleaning up the big processing plants, they have to use irradiation, ammonia, and other chemicals with names that we can hardly pronounce to control bacteria from growing in the final food product.

The chicken houses are very similar to the ones I worked in when I was in college. The chickens walk a short distance to the feeder, or a short distance to the waterer and then they plop down. There are so many birds packed together. Every day I walked through the chicken houses and picked up the dead chickens just like the lady does. What you can’t experience in the movie is the strong ammonia smell inside the chicken house from the manure nor do you experience all the manure dust that is continually in the air. My one uncle developed a bad cough from breathing all that dust in his chicken house. He finally had to sell his farm because of his health.

One of the newer changes in most chicken houses today is the windows have been closed up and the chickens never see sunlight. They are dark tunnel houses with controlled lighting so that the chickens can be stimulated to eat more. The chickens never know when it is day or night.

Chickens can be controlled very easily with light. When I worked in the factory farm chicken house, it was fun to play with the dimmer switch. When I turned the lights up the chickens got up and started eating, then when I turned the lights down the chickens sat down. I could make the whole sea of chickens move up and down at will with the lights. The poor chickens never see sunlight!

Another characteristic of confinement raised chickens, and this includes chickens raised in confinement in small chicken tractor pens on pasture is that their legs have difficulty holding them up. They plop down rather than gently sit down. This is mentioned in the movie. When I saw a chicken plop down in Food Inc. I suddenly realized it is not as much a characteristic of our chickens any more, even though we have the same breed of chicken. It is not a breed problem, it is how they are raised. Our chickens get lots of exercise and have strong healthy leg muscles that can support their body. They are not the flabby, weak muscled, couch potato, lazy chickens that people buy in the grocery stores and restaurants. We are what we eat and I wonder how much the way the meat is raised affects the person who eats it to be flabby, weak muscled, lazy, etc.

Our broiler chickens getting plenty of exercise and sunshine and a fresh "salad bar" pasture.

The laying hens eagerly going out to the pasture in the morning.

One point in Food, Inc. that was misunderstood by at least one person is that they said that there are 13 main slaughter houses in the US that process the majority of the beef. That does not mean that there are only 13 slaughter houses in the US. There are still many small butcher shops left. We get our lamb processed at Horst Meats, a small family owned USDA butcher shop that is located on their farm near Hagerstown, Maryland. Our butcher is a relative and we feel confident that we get back the same lambs that we take in. When you purchase pasture finished lamb from us you are supporting not only our farm but also a local small butcher shop that is not part of the factory food industry.

What Food, Inc. does not have time to address is where the other half of the food that the US consumes comes from. Almost half of the food consumed in the US comes from other countries. What are their processing plants like? How do they control food borne bacteria? Are the methods USDA approved? What are the working conditions of the employees like? When we eat at a restaurant, or buy food in the grocery store (organic or conventional), what practices and growing methods are we actually supporting overseas with our food dollars? Is the food really fit to eat? What is the environmental impact in those countries?

When you buy local from us at Jehovah-Jireh Farm, you can meet the farmers, you can see where your food comes from and how it was raised, and you can taste the difference.

The Importance of Local Food – Lessons from Haiti

Last month, on March 20, the Washington Post ran an interesting article titled "With Cheap Food Imports, Haiti Can’t Feed Itself". After reading the article, I realized that our national agricultural situation in the United States is similar in several ways to Haiti – we import about half of the food that we eat, and the cheap food imports have caused many farmers to go out of business. As a nation, we can no longer feed ourselves.

Thirty years ago, Haiti imported only 19 percent of its food and produced enough rice to export. It was able to do that in part as a result of protective tariffs on rice of 50 percent which were set by the father-son dictators Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier.

When their reign ended, the United States and Europe pushed Haiti to tear those market barriers down in the interest of "free trade". In 1994, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was freshly reinstalled to power by Bill Clinton, cut the rice tariff to 3 percent.

The Haitian farmers, unable to compete with the billions of dollars in subsidies paid by the U.S. to its growers, abandoned their farms and moved to the cities. Today, Haiti depends on other countries for 51% of the food that it needs and 80% of the rice. For the Haitians, their dependence on imported food has been a disaster.

Last month, after being in Haiti, Bill Clinton publicly apologized for championing policies that destroyed Haiti’s rice production. On March 10, Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else." Clinton is to be commended for seeing the consequences of a failed policy, apologizing for it, and now working to rebuild the agriculture in Haiti.

Here in the United States, the same "free trade" policies have destroyed our ability to feed ourselves. Like Haiti, we import close to half of all our food. When I was young, America was called the bread basket of the world. Today, cheap imports from China and other countries have forced many American farmers out of business. Many of the farms that remain are large farms that are heavily subsidized by the US government.

The difference between the food situation in Haiti and here in the United States is that we have money to feed ourselves and we have not had a national disaster. A war, or a breakdown in relations with China could change our food situation rather quickly.

Fortunately, millions of Americans in recent years have realized the importance of supporting small local farms and eating locally produced food. The demand has grown considerably for locally produced food. However, it is still difficult for small local farms to compete with cheap imported food and food produced by big corporations. As a result, there are few new farms starting up. Currently in the U.S. there are millions of unemployed people. Our high unemployment problem could be ended if we brought our food production and manufacturing back home. Support your local farmers. They need you and you need them. Let’s learn an important lesson from Haiti – it is important that we, as a nation, are able to feed ourselves.

A link to the AP article: “With Cheap Food Imports, Haiti Can’t Feed Itself”

A related article is one I wrote in our newsletter two years ago " Creative Destruction Related to Farms". In it are some excerpts from the Federal Reserve describing how they used financial engineering to reduce the number of farms and factories in an attempt to create a higher standard of living for Americans.

What Will You Eat This Winter?

We as Americans allow others to do our food planning for us and to provide the food we need during the winter months. Is that wise? For as long as many of us can remember, one has been able to go to the grocery store every week during the winter and find it full of all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables, and buy whatever one wanted. Being able to buy food in the grocery store all winter has been so easy and reliable that most people do not have more than a few day’s supply of food in the house. We have gone from the self sufficiency of 100 years ago to almost total dependency on the grocery store.

This winter has the potential to be different. Mexico and central California, which provide much of our winter vegetables, are experiencing the worst drought in years. The Central Valley in California is a 400-mile-long, 18 county area. More than 260,000 of the 600,000 acres that grow tomatoes, lettuce and other crops have been taken out of production this year. When you think of how many tomatoes can be grown on one acre and realize that almost half of the land is sitting idle while the rest of the land is not producing as much because of the drought, there is potential for a food shortage. A link to the Wall Street Journal’s Sept. 2 article on the drought in California  –
Note: We are not predicting that there will be a shortage of food this winter. It is possible that the food shortage will be made up from food from other parts of the world. We are just giving you a heads up.

The LA Times has a September 7, 2009 article "Mexico Water Shortage Becomes Crisis Amid Drought"

"A months-long drought has affected broad swaths of the country, from the U.S. border to the Yucatan Peninsula, leaving crop fields parched and many reservoirs low. The need for rain is so dire that water officials have been rooting openly for a hurricane or two to provide a good drenching.
"We really are in a difficult situation," said Felipe Arreguin Cortes, deputy technical director for Mexico’s National Water Commission.
"This is supposed to be Mexico’s wet season, when daily rains bathe farmland and top off rivers and reservoirs. But rainfall has been sporadic and unusually light — the result, officials say, of an El Niño effect this summer that has warmed Pacific Ocean waters and influenced distant weather patterns.
"Mexico’s hurricane season has been mild, with no major hits so far this summer, though a weak Hurricane Jimena dropped plenty of rain on parts of Baja California and the northwestern state of Sonora last week. The sparse rainfall nationwide has made 2009 the driest in 69 years of government record-keeping, Arreguin said…"
"Although no one wants to recognize it, there is a food crisis," said Cruz Lopez Aguilar…"

To read more –,0,6988447.story

One of the best savings accounts for an uncertain future is a freezer full of food. You always have to eat. Food and water are the most basic and important necessities of life. To rely totally on others to store up and provide food for us for when we need it is putting total of faith and trust in "the system".

There is one other aspect of "What will you eat this winter?". Will your food be from local sources or will it have logged many miles over land and sea from unknown (trusted?) sources to land on your plate? There is still a little time left to get a freezer and stock up on local food for this winter. We will have eggs available all winter, but our last chicken processing will be in November. We will not have any fresh chickens available after November until May of next year. The meat chickens are too young to handle the cold outside in the winter time. The "free-range" chickens that you will see in the grocery stores this winter will not be free-range! They are conventionally raised chickens, raised in big chicken houses with a deceptive title.

Shipping Crisis

There is another crisis that I feel I should let you know about so that you can prepare if it should become a bigger problem. All around the world, goods are sitting on docks waiting to be shipped by boat, but the companies buying the products are not able to get financing to pay for the goods because of the credit crisis. As a result of the big drop off in shipping in the last several months, the cost for rental of a large cargo ship has dropped over 90% as ship owners try to attract business so that they can survive. Ships that were getting over $200,000 a day to haul cargo are now only able to get $5,000 – $9,000 a day. This shipping crisis is an indicator of a much bigger problem. If things don’t change soon, imported items will start disappearing from store shelves when current inventories are depleted. This has the potential of becoming a serious problem because around 50% of the food in America and much of everything we use on a daily basis is imported. To read more on the shipping crisis, search for "shipping crisis".

The Principle of Preparing For Winter

In these times of economic uncertainty, the principle of preparing for winter helps us understand how to prepare for the uncertainty of the economic future. If you want to be self-sufficient in raising your own food, how many months’ supply of food do you need to store up for the winter? Three months’ supply? Four months’ supply? Six months’ supply? Our ancestors understood the importance of raising food and storing it up for the winter when they couldn’t grow food, and neither could anyone else around them. We have lost touch with what it means to store up food for the winter.

As a boy in the 1970’s I loved to explore my grandma’s basement. There were so many things to look at. It was so full of stuff that there were only paths to get around the basement. In one corner there were shelves that went from floor to ceiling, full of jars of canned fruits and vegetables from her garden. Plus there were boxes stacked on the floor that had more jars of canned food. The lid of each jar had on it the year when it was canned. I quickly discovered that she had at least two years’ supply of food from her garden in that corner. She used the oldest jars first, so she was always eating from what she had grown two or more years before. There were two freezers and they were always stuffed full of food year round. It was just her and my one single uncle that lived in the house, and yet every year she still planted two large gardens, one on either side of the house.

I thought at the time that my grandma was excessive in having so much food stored in her basement. However, in reflecting back on her food storage method, I learned an important lesson about how much food needs to be stored for food self-sufficiency. Just enough food to make it through the winter is not enough. If a person wants to be self-sufficient as much as possible food wise, you need to have more than just one years supply of food. In gardening, you never know how much of a particular vegetable will be produced each year. One year you will get a great crop and the next year little or nothing. If you only have enough to last one year, you will be without that particular vegetable until the next year.

There is another reason for storing several years worth of food. Grandma lived through the Great Depression and raised 12 children. She understood the importance of having food on hand. A two years’ supply of food enables a person to have time to adapt to whatever happens. A person with only a one week supply of food is quickly in an emergency crisis if something happens and they are not able to purchase food. There are a lot of things a person can live without. If a person can’t afford to live in a house, it is possible to live in a tent. However, if a person can’t purchase food, sawdust will not substitute!

My grandfather used to tell the story of a man who wanted to cut the cost of feeding his horse. So he started gradually converting the horse over to eating sawdust. He slowly increased the amount of sawdust that he added to the feed. Everything was going well and he almost had the horse converted over to eating all sawdust, when the horse died! 🙂

The principle of preparing for winter for self-sufficiency is, that a person needs at least one year’s supply of food and preferably two years’ worth. In preparing for economic uncertainty, if we have shelves full of food, and the clothes we need for the next year or two, it gives a satisfaction and comfort that having $10,000 in the bank does not give. You feel like a squirrel that has stored up its nuts for the winter.