TK Ranch native pastures and hay lands have not been sprayed since the land was bought in 1956. Our land was certified organic for many years, but we chose to opt out for many reasons — most importantly because we feel the organic industry has been co-opted by large multi-national corporations. Food Inc. was produced to raise public awareness about the conventional and organic food industry. It is a documentary that will certainly make you think about public perception versus reality.
The last time we were certified, mandatory testing was not required for organic producers — everything was based wholly on the honour system. There were a few surprise inspections, but these added up to a small percentage of the whole program. As far as we know nothing has changed. Producers are required to sign an affidavit-like letter during their annual inspection, but for most this is all that is asked of them. We believe that most small family farms can be trusted at their word and do follow the organic standards — but who is making sure the large corporations are? We are talking about big business and a lot of money. For example, if a corporation has invested a great deal of money in a feedlot full of organic calves that are being fed expensive organic grain and hay — what happens if these calves get sick? Do you think they will treat them with antibiotics to save their lives and then sell them into the conventional livestock market for much less than they originally invested? Some might, but will all of them? Unfortunately nobody really knows because mandatory testing is not in place.
Getting to know the farmers that grow your food is more important than having a third party involved. Creating these personal relationships will put culture back into agri-business and re-build agricultural communities that are currently in crisis due to a globalized economy.
Over the years we have learned a great deal about what the term organic means. Unfortunately there is a lot of mis-information in the public domain about its definition. Most people believe that when they buy organic products they have been raised in a sustainable manner — on a small family farm that is the picture of happy rural living — while this may be the case in some instances, it is not generally.
To fully understand how your food is being raised you need to re-connect with the land — this means developing personal relationships with the people that grow and supply you and your family with the food you consume.
This is not always easy as our current food system has created a huge disconnect between urban and rural communities to the point that most people do not know where their food comes from. Unfortunately corporate organic production is becoming the norm, all you have to do is go to organizations like the Organic Consumers Association to start to learn about problems happening within the organic movement. While organic is certainly a step in the right direction, it doesn't guarantee that an animal has been raised ethically or humanely. All you have to do is search organic livestock standards on the internet to fully learn about the confinement of organic animals in feedlots and barns. The photo above at right is of the Aurora Dairy — one of the largest organic dairy factory farm in the US.
In 2000 we thought that to supply growing demand for our products we should be offering them in large retail chains. For years we worked very hard to supply main-stream retailers in Alberta and learned one valuable and heartbreaking lesson — that they did not care about who we were or what we were doing — only that we could supply them with designer meat products with large profit margins.
In 2007, Safeway asked us if we would consider supplying their stores nationally. This is the new organic lure — go big or go home. While some people would think this was a great opportunity, we didn't. To supply any large chain would mean that we would have to compromise our program and what we believe in. We would have to ramp production to meet supply which would mean feedlot finishing — concentrating large numbers of animals in one confined area is not sustainable environmentally or ethically. Once finished the animals would have to be hauled to a large factory processing plant where an animal's psychological state is not taken into consideration — only how quickly it can be processed and shipped out the back door. Had we accepted we would have become an organic corporate factory farm based entirely on demand, supply and the bottom line. We declined and were de-listed — not a surprise, just a very sad indication of where the organic sector is moving.