Reflecting on Chester and Moving Forward

We are sorry that we had to go dark for a few days. we appreciate all of the dialogue that was generated around our pig chester, however, when the issue began to be distorted and people began to use our page to organize a protest and interfere with farm livelihood we made the decision to close down our facebook page to keep the issue within our immediate community.We have received a number of communications about Chester. Thank you community and the larger world for your thoughts.G<3F is a community which by definition encompasses diverse viewpoints and value systems. Some members eat meat. others do not. We all inhabit a complex world and must embrace our differences to coexist and thrive together. Below is the stated mission of the farm.Growing Heart Farm is dedicated to sustainable living and education in the New York City Region. We deliver our CSA shares to NYC and Brooklyn once a week from spring to fall and sell at the Bronxville and Beacon Farmer’s Markets. The farm hosts frequent events and retreats and is conveniently located on the edge of the country within walking distance of the harlem valley wingdale metro north train station 75 miles north of the city.

We practice small scale sustainable agriculture using hand tools, solar power, spring water, and a wood heated greenhouse. Learn about our hybrid flavor of farm life on our blog. Join us and grow with us as we all re-learn to live in balance.

As operators of the farm we accept and embrace different beliefs and we ask our membership and our “fans” to do the same. We do not judge or proselytize as we understand that our challenges as a planet are great, the answers are not always clear, and that we need to work together to make a better future.

As the farm caretaker i am taking a moment to respond to you all as our farmers are busy wrapping up the season. I stand behind the decisions of the people that are doing this work to make a more sustainable planet. If anyone different with whom i had come to an agreement were running growing heart farm I would stand behind their decisions if they supported our mission.

I am incredibly grateful to our farmers for working a successful season of truly sustainable agriculture in the truest sense. They worked with a small walk behind tractor and did everything else by hand. short of shifting to draft horses and delivering food in horse and buggy or having a serious capital infusion of uber-green tech there was not a whole lot more they could have done to be more ecologic. Our green house is wood burning and our water pumping and refrigeration are solar powered. We have many other sustainable systems implemented and we are certain that we are one of the most ecologic farms in the tri-state area.

I will be the first to acknowledge that to fund the farm i work in the city and take flights to the west coast. This is not about being right or wrong or telling people how to live. This is about working to create a sustainable model of agriculture and life as a whole that we can all learn from and scale to replace our currently faltering food and economic system. The right answers are not always so clear, so discussions like the one that we are having are important, however in plea-ing for a pig’s life we need to consider the larger context of the conversation and our publicly stated mission.

In a separate discussion i am happy to discuss the economics of growing heart farm and what it takes to create and sustain a small scale farm. There are many considerations and many trade offs and many techniques that can be chosen at many scales. Our farming team this year has made decisions about how they want to operate and what that means for sustainability – both ecologic and economic. In our first season of operation we raised lambs and ate them after taking their lives ourselves in the most humane fashion. This had its own set of benefits and trade offs.

We live here on growing heart farm with very limited means and Chester is invaluable to us. From the beginning Chester was raised with the intention of being part of the food chain and improving the fertility of our land in the work that he is doing to our soil. The reasons we choose to raise our own meat are many, only one of which is economics. We are not actually selling any of the meat, it is all for consumption and health of our farming crew. This supplements the meagre income that farmers able to make working 10-16 hour days for 9 months of the year growing vegetables for market. Selling chester to buy meat that we did not raise ourselves is not part of why we are doing this.

Knowing what we do about the industrial meat and food economies in general, we have decided to grow our own food in the most responsible manner possible. Chester has been unconfined, had grass and open ground to root around in, and has generally been unstressed his entire life. In addition to the composted food that he eats, the supplemental grain that was fed to him was sourced from an organic farm 30 miles from here – we know the source of all inputs for this pig, and believe that we have done the least possible damage to the environment and society in raising him. The general grain and water statistics that apply to confined feedlots are not applicable when feeding one animal supplemental grain. By eating him this winter, we will have taken his life, but not participated in or supported the many abuses of the industrial agriculture system.

It is a common small scale agricultural practice that you can read about from people like joel saltin to raise animals for from late winter to fall. this enables them to work the land while eating off of the land. it is very expensive and time consuming to raise animals through the winter and it requires a lot of grain and additional inputs. Taking this line of thinking further, prolonging chester’s life through the winter and into future years would not be sustainable. He would require inputs with decreasing return on those inputs and his benefit to our larger ecosystem would also decrease. His sweet spot so to speak is right now in terms of both economic and ecologic benefit. And the fact is that he is part of a web of life and there will be more little chesters next year. A truly renewable resource.

Further to the point of chester’s life. Most animals die in slaughterhouses in very unclean and inhumane conditions. Even if they are part of the sustainable ag movement. This puts an undue amount of stress on them and affects them in a number of ways. Chester was taken in an instantaneous and painless way with an expert butcher who is a sustainable meat educator. He will was first rendered instantaneously unconscious and then killed in a “proper” way that is in accordance to many ancient and modern practices. There was no suffering and it was done with the utmost respect by people who know what they are doing. Every part of chester will be used for various purposes.

While many organized religions do not condone eating meat or pork in specific there are many cultures that use pig as an essential part of their diet. Island economies like japan, Cuba, Santo Domingo, etc. realize the benefits of this animal and you find them there in abundance for a reason. Likewise if you visit any local food establishment in any major metropolitan area you will see pig on the menu. This is largely because every part of the animal can be used and that they require far less inputs per calorie than other meats. The animal is able to grow very quickly on a diverse diet of food waste diverted from land fill. Add this to a number of other factors including harsh winters, and pork looks like a much more sustainable alternative when raised appropriately.

While on a very small scale it is possible to eat vegan partially locally, the truth of the matter is that you would need to go to extreme measures to source a 4 season local vegan diet in the north east – short of a very intensive agriculture and food storage program. If you visit any farm in the northeast between the months of December and May you will see that there is almost no food growing other than animal based products. the produce that you see on the shelves in on farm stores – to say nothing of health food stores – comes from california, mexico, florida, etc. I would strongly encourage you to try this before you speak about how easy it could be.

We ask you to consider where the fuel comes from that empowers us to ship food, heat our homes, drive our cars, etc. One does not have to look far at the toll of lives and suffering and the ecologic consequences of such a system. The wars and the deaths that surround fossil fuels which also go into products like fake fur, plastics, fake leather, etc. Most agriculture in this society requires 10 calories of fossil fuel to make 1 calorie of food. We do not have the calculations for this with Chester, however we are certain that it is not anywhere in this range.

To be blunt – As americans, we all have blood on our hands by nature of living in an imperial country that wages war all over the world to artificially reduce the cost of fossil fuels that enable our disproportionately high standard of living. It is our responsibility as citizens to look for alternatives to this reality… thus our pig.

For us, this decision goes far beyond the decision to eat meat or not. Eating meat that has been raised responsibly and compassionately, in our opinion, is much better than keeping a vegan diet that relies on grain and plant protein sourced from all over the planet and grown mostly using chemicals, pesticides, processing, and harsh labor conditions. One of the largest factors of Amazonian deforestation is soy production – a staple of industrial food production and many veg and vegan diets. The casualties of such a system, while they remain out of sight and mind because we are so far removed from them, are wider and more systematic than the life of a pig. We can assure you that the organic stamp on a box of quinoa is largely meaningless in light of many other factors and what organic certification actually means. Thus the importance of participating directly in our food.

Money has been offered for to buy this pig’s life so that we can purchase other meat. For a number of reasons this does not make sense. Chester is to his owners priceless. He represents principles and learning and something greater than money.

A better possibility to embody a Growing Heart: Support a local and responsible food system. Know where the food you eat comes from. Support small farmers who are raising food the right way. There are also many pets that are put down every day who are not food sources that would serve as companions to others that may be worthwhile lives to save. Understand that the factors that allowed you to love Chester were created by a deliberate choice on our part to create a livable and positive environment for the animal. If you were to visit a larger farm on your weekends, you may have encountered a much different site: pigs crammed in concrete pens wallowing in their own shit. You may have felt compassion for them all the same, but probably not personal connection. Though the very opportunity for this connection was made possible by the setting we created here, it does not mean that Chester is our pet. He always was, and will continue to be a source of food and protein for us as we attempt to reduce our impact on the planet.

Thank you

lewis and G<3F