Arriving at Ferme Formido, Isabelle Forgues was already happily busy with customers. The conversation turns to childhood and the woods and the fear we were all raised with about what to eat. How we were all told that if we ate such and such a thing a bush would grow in our stomachs, or a hand would fall off. A client tells us how she remembers being so scared to eat anything in the wild, because her parents told her straight out that it would kill her. Nevertheless, she remembers seeing these wild strawberries and ate them. Surprisingly, she laughs, she did not die, and knew the pleasure of a ripe wild strawberry. But that is all fine for the wild, but what of the cultivated?
I wandered the Forgues' farmland listening to the delicate breeze over the tall grass, the sounds of crows above a tree in which a family of cattle rest in the shade, the enigmatic sound of dragonflies fliting up and down above a tiny rivulet. I stand there, in awe, at how wonderful this all is; the simple fact of being alive and part of this. It reminded me of my grandfather who was a farmer and as a child the greatest thing was the mystery of the field, of his garden. I often remember kneeling, digging through the dirt looking for worms before going fishing and that same silence which I now heard returned even if I was in another province 30 years later.
Something else suddenly returned. This week a customer at the restaurant had exploded angrily, telling me that organic did not exist, and that in a few years it (organic) would be 'exposed'. He continued telling me that organic is just a money making scheme which exploits people. Scheme? If there was any money making scheme I thought would it not be the industrial monopoly of farmland. I could not even argue with him. I was so surprised at his attack, stunned. I listened. 'You are being exploited!' he says pointing a shaking finger at me. As I am standing here on Ferme Formido's land, a certified organic land, watching the animals moving about I remember that accusing shaking finger. I began wondering exactly what organic meant. Here I see cattle walking around eating grass. On this land I feel a part of it, enjoy being in it, which immediately inspires me to write a poem or picnic, or create something to help someone....Factory farming has never really inspired anything of that. It has inspired revolt though, and disgust, sadness and a desire to overthrow it. I can only deduce that these feelings are aroused because it is not natural, normal or sane. I could not help thinking of factory farming as forcing children into prostitution. There is often a crazy argument that more people are fed because of CAFO's but I am far from being convinced. Another thing I am almost sure about is that the industrial farmer is not really thinking about feeding the lower stratum of next to no income starving humans who inhabit the planet. It is a problem more of distribution, priority and lifestyle. Anyway, feed someone something already fucked up immediately shows the level of respect that the argument has for the hungry. No, with the industrial farm we find the scorpion's bite of irony, greed pretending to defend hunger.
I sat in the grass next to a cow wondering if I was just another uber bourgeois shit head mouthing off privileges? Comfort's guilt? Already it is something I thought, because I would never sit next to a factory farmed cow covered in its own manure. I remember being among peasants in Serbia on their farm and there was a respect they had for the animals that I find hard to describe. When we ate I was surprised at how good everything tasted. When I asked them about organic they looked at me as if I were a little insane. Perhaps I wondered as I listened to the cow chewing the grass, organic is just as crazy. Organic at base is a reaction, towards normalcy, but it is a reaction nonetheless. Its existence is in fact conscience asserting itself. This conscience is protest and is timeless. Protest is the one thing that every human shares along with food and sex. Our choices are a form of alliance, a questioning discourse, and of course a protest.
Back in the boutique which is a converted B abattoir with the carcass tracking line still overhead, we talk. Isabelle, an extremely kind and strong woman comes from a line of agriculturalists. She learnt butchering techniques from her mother. They bought the farm from her parents, and went organic by observing. They used to have dairy cows and when they fell sick they began to ask some questions. Instead of injections and pharmaceuticals they looked to nature. A small detail she tells me was that they bought their feed which was already all chopped up and mixed. They began to feed them whole hay, deducing that the act of chewing and digesting must help. They planted their own feed. She remembers seeing a dairy cow at 5 years who looked already old and worn out, yet a natural lifespan is 20 to 25 years. There was something wrong. They began to work their animals less. In essence they began to care immensely for every stage of life, and try to make that situation better when they can. Pharmaceuticals she suggests may be a thing constantly burying the real problem, our relation to nature. In this course a strange logic of hypochondria is born, and then slowly begins to fulfill what it sees as its destiny. We talked for another hour, about it seemed everything and anything, which aired out the week's folly, once again strengthening my convictions. Whereas in France there is the AOC, which follows strict guidelines, the only counterpart that we have in Quebec for the moment is the organic label, with its reminder of its human dimensions. And the more we learn, the less we fear, and enjoy one of our life's greatest pleasure's, eating.
For more info http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/factoryfarming/ or for a good read the Omnivore's Dilemma, The Grapes of Wrath, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. Or visit Formido farm on Saturdays, click on photo for address and times.