My mother informed me that my lifestyle is extreme. She hesitated before using the word, thinking that I would be insulted or get defensive. But the truth of the matter is, compared to the average American food consumer, our life-style is extreme. I want to stress that we did not wake up one day and change everything about the way we eat, we did not make extreme changes. These changes came about slowly over a decade, one decision growing organically out of the previous decision. Life is about choices, and we always have choices. Even if we feel as though we do not. How and when do we feel that pressure of “no choice”? When the consequences of all choices barring one are too heinous to consider experiencing. You see, the thing about choices is that they all have consequences.
One consequence of our choices led us to Nature’s Sunlight Farm in Newville, PA, run by Mark and Maryann Nolt. Before our first visit, I think we must have called the farm a half a dozen times with questions. Ordering, timing, butchering, more timing, driving directions, what other things they might have available. I told my husband they would probably be relieved when we finally picked up, just so we would stop calling.
We had no idea what to expect when we got there. OK, yes, a farm, but we had never done an on-farm pick up before. And even after all of our phone calls, I think we were still a little nervous about the trip.
When we arrived, it was like a cliché postcard: there were two horses running side-by-side in a pasture. The most beautiful kitchen garden was in its full glory. We parked under a tree and spilled out of the car. Mark Nolt came out to greet us and invited us to walk and stretch our legs. He pointed to where the cows were, so we took a walk up in that direction. We told the children that this is what we were here to get – a calf for us to eat. And you know what? They didn’t freak out. Children are much more practical than most people give them credit to be. If we can’t handle the truth of our food, we pass along that bias and fear to our children. Afterward, we ate a picnic lunch and then Mark helped Greg load the car with our veal.
OK, stop freaking out. This is not some calf that got tied up in a dark barn for the duration of its life. This is a calf that was out on the field with its mother, doing calf-like things: frolicking, playing, eating, enjoying the sunshine. This veal had a better life than any Purdue chicken.
While Mark transferred the meat via a little red wagon and Greg packed the car, I had the opportunity to speak with Maryann, who explained their transition from more conventional farming methods. She said that there was no reason to use all the equipment and machinery to bring food to the cows when they had four good legs and could just as easily go out to where the food is. So rather than paying off a huge debt that many farmers incur in order to pay for the very expensive equipment required for conventional farming, they returned their equipment and changed over to a grass-based system. Just to put it in perspective, a used 59 HP tractor (that’s a small tractor) can run about $8,000. A used combine can set you back about $20,000. She pointed to some stakes in the ground and explained that they were going to build a milk shop there. So rather than paying off debt, they were able to improve their property.
We left the farm that day with veal, milk, cheese, eggs and a new vision of how our food is produced. By having less technology, by taking a simpler approach to their work, the Nolts created a situation were they could do better. And I mean that as a general statement. In Judaism we have a phrase, Tikkun Olam, it means “Heal the World.” The change the Nolts made in their approach to farming helped them improve their personal situation in creating a profitable farm. But there is a much bigger picture: they improve the earth by using natural cycles that enhance sustainability. Less machinery equals less fossil fuels being used to produce the food. They set an example for how to make this work for other farmers, and take the time to explain it all to their customers.
That evening, after the veal was put away and the children were a-bed, we sat on our patio and watched the last remnants of the sunset. Greg said, “We need to simplify our lives.” Yes. Yes, we do. Herein lies the paradox: In order to simplify our food, to eat simple food, not complicated or altered by processing, our life-style looks complicated, and our way of eating is considered “extreme,” and yet, this is the way people ate for thousands of years, up until about 100 years ago. Why has the acquisition of simple food become extremely difficult? Please reply because I don’t have an answer!