Monday, June 20, 2011

Grazing Days

I've been a vegetarian for years at a time, for various reasons, on and off since I was 16 years old. My most recent stretch of going meat free was largely for environmental and ethical reasons and because the ADG is a veggie, so our shared meals are always vegetarian.

In April, for health reasons, I started eating meat again. I recently learned that I am allergic to beans and eggs, which were two significant sources of protein for me, and my last blood test revealed that my iron levels were sitting somewhere in the bottom of the Marianas Trench. I experienced troubling symptoms that made it challenging to live this wonderful, crazy life of mine to the fullest. After thinking about it for a long time, and with some gentle nudges from my naturopath, I decided to reintroduce meat back into my diet again (3 times a week only) to see if it helped.

There was never any doubt that the meat I chose would have to be local, organic, sustainably and humanely raised and slaughtered and ideally grass-fed. Luckily there are quite a few farms in the Ottawa area that offer most of everything I am looking for. Over the last two months I have eaten grass-fed lamb, elk and pork from heritage black pigs.

Has it made a difference? Oh wow, has it ever. Within 2 days my symptoms started disappearing one by one and I feel much better than I have in a long time. It seems pretty clear that eating meat again is the right choice for me and what my body needs, and I'm very grateful that I have access to meat that is raised in line with my ethics and values. Oh and it tastes amazing too!

On Saturday I had the opportunity to visit a farm and see how it's done, up close and personal.

Just outside of Ottawa, in Manotick Station, farmer Paul Slomp pasture raises a herd of black and red Angus yearling cattle on a rotational grazing system. The farm, Grazing Days, is run as a CSA with deliveries starting in October. The land is leased and Paul actually lives in the city, and get this: he bikes over 20km each way, every day to take care of his animals.

Paul is a friend of a friend, and we stopped in for a short visit on Saturday evening and walked through a few of his fields and checked out his herd. We saw the electric fences that he moves on a daily basis, giving his animals fresh, new pasture every day, while allowing the just-grazed areas a period of rest and renewal. He showed us the super cool, self-training, nose pumps that the cattle use to access fresh water whenever they want. He talked about the ways in which he is increasing the bio-diversity of the grasses he grows and improving the fertility of the soil. From a distance we saw the corral he is working on, using the design principles of the amazing Temple Grandin.

The summer sun lazily slid lower in the sky, the tall, tall grass whispered in the breeze, refreshingly cool after a hot day. The cattle chomped and filled their bellies and were at turns skittish and curious about the the two legged creatures with long shadows moving through their turf. It was a perfect summer's evening and heart-biggering beautiful. I didn't want to leave. I wanted to freeze time and stay in that field forever, fresh cow patties and all.

Of course, I know it's easy to romanticise some kind of pastoral idyll. I mean, I don't have to bike 40+ km every day in all kinds of weather, and work my ass off all day long, no matter what the weather is like, with no real shelter, nor deal with whatever stresses come with being a grass-fed cattle farmer and CSA business owner. I'm sure there are challenges, struggles and lots of hard work and maybe even some hard times. But I'm also sure that all the hard work, commitment and dedication amounts to something of real value and worth. The respect and care for the animals, land and people is as obvious as a lightning bolt. And if I'm going to be a responsible meat-eater, it definitely amounts to something that I want to support and sign up for.

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