Supporting Small Scale Animal Agriculture
In 2016 there as an uproar over an educational event that featured a sheep slaughter. Below are some of the details. My thoughts were featured in an opinion article, originally published in the Mountain Xpress.
Dear Concerned Animal Rights Activist:
It’s great to see you weighing in so strongly on this issue. At the very least, we can all get to see the deep passion that runs beneath your activism, and at best, we can have this public dialog that may open minds.
What stands out for me the most in your letter is the heartbreak. And your desire for a saner, safer world, specifically in your desire for the reduction of harm and suffering of living creatures. That kind of empathy for living beings is very moving and important. May none of us lose touch with deep feeling.
And yet I do believe there is a need for some additional context.
First of all, small farmers, animal welfare activists and conscious meat eaters are natural allies. The same values that many vegans espouse: less ecological abuse, less violence toward animals, less exploitation of humans and less insanity in the food system are also values shared by small farmers and ethical meat eaters. We all seem to want regenerative, life-giving, holistic and healing agricultural practices instead of violent, oppressive and destructive industrial systems.
Maybe there’s a premise here that no one should ever eat meat. But that’s a hard sell, and most vegans and vegan activists know that to be true. We can argue all day long about the health benefits of meat versus vegan diets or of grain agriculture versus animal agriculture. All sides have valid points, even amid the endless variables and facts. But this truth is this: The vast majority of humans are still going to eat meat.
So if we’re not getting rid of meat eaters any time soon, can we support, inspire and educate them to choose systems that are humane, sane, life-giving and holistic? I believe we can. We can encourage folks to grow their own or buy from local farmers. We can encourage the use of organic principles and integrated systems that improve the land, soil and water. And we can encourage them to harvest and give death to their animals in a mindful way.
For every sheep raised on a pasture and killed on the farm, it’s one less sheep living and dying in the horrors of an industrial system where overcrowding, disease, illness, toxic food and violence is a daily and lifelong experience.
As a farmer myself, I had to learn about the cycles of life in regard to raising animals. There is a reproduction phase, a birthing phase, a development phase and a harvesting phase. All of these phases require hard work, planning and management. And in order to continue farming, we must cull. We must harvest, or the farm will be overrun, and the ecosystems and farm systems will be out of balance. There wouldn’t be enough food for the flock; there would be parasites and illnesses; the carrying capacity would be thrown off; and general breakdown would ensue.
So by saying you don’t want killing on small farms, you’re saying you don’t want small farms raising animals. Because death is part of that process. And death, contrary to popular belief, is not the same as violence. In our death-denying culture, we don’t have many models for conscious dying, even on a human level. But other cultures and conscious dying activist groups are pioneering a movement and opening our eyes to the possibility that a person’s death and dying process can be more integrated and present a journey than we could have imagined.
The same is true for the death of an animal on the farm. In the case of farming for meat, the reason animals are born is because they will one day die and provide food. That’s their role. As sustainable-minded farmers and stewards, we can choose to make every part of that life cycle, including their deaths, as healthy and sane as possible. Few farmers I know take actual “pleasure” in the killing of an animal. But we can make it as quick and pain-free as possible. And we can honor the animal by using all parts in service to our own continued existence. In animal farming, there is no greater reverence.
So while I’m glad that the vegan activists are sharing their minds, I do believe your attacks are misguided. Meredith Leigh, author of The Ethical Meat Handbook, is actually supporting folks to take the ultimate level of responsibility for their meat consumption by raising their own. And a special weight of responsibility falls on those who will take a life of an animal they’ve raised. It’s the kind of weight we want. Because with that weight, never again will they take it lightly. And never again will they pick up a package of meat without knowing the context. And always and forever, they will know the value.
For the activists holding a protest and vigil against this local workshop, please know that these folks are your allies. It might seem that industrial agriculture is the beast that no one can tackle, but rest assured, it’s the one that’s causing all your heartache. For example, according to a recent USDA report on US Livestock Slaughter, 193,300 sheep were killed in September of 2016 alone. If you’d like to reduce that number, let’s get more folks growing locally so those animals can have healthier lives and deaths. Please bring your passion and add to the mix, vision, strategy and context so that we can join together to build the world we want. But first, let’s stop fighting among ourselves.
— Lee Warren
Organic Growers School
Editor’s note: This letter is a response to the letter, “Join Me in Asking to Stop Sheep Slaughter.” Although Xpress contacted Meredith Leigh (who had originally planned to conduct the Wild Abundance workshop) for a response, Warren offered her letter above in support of Leigh.
Other letters in this ongoing debate: