February 13, 2012

very far from the Potemkin place of things

I once visited a farm, was shown around by the owner who explained to me that his farm was in essence organic, but he did not believe in being certified because it was such an additional useless cost, because of course one (being me or any other) could see and understand that being a farmer already was difficult and with so little revenue and tight margin, why bother I was told again and again that it was clear that his farm was...sane...good for my health, good for humanity. Until walking around some storage space to get to the butcher room I see quite a few cardboard boxes with Cargill printed on them, and also fertilizer and feed bags that were far from anything considered organic. Not to mention that he talked of every other surrounding farm as cheating and lying to their clients, not very neighbourly to say the least . We continued the tour, he piled gifts of meat and charcuterie on us with the hope of doing future business. Never called him, never will.

I must admit that at the beginning I was charmed, nodding my head as if I understood, or was in the process of trying to understand, gullible and believing. Immediate kindness and attention is something we all have a weakness for. But upon leaving the farm, and actually visiting the surround farms I realized that the whole thing was something of a Potemkin experience, lied to, bullshitted to, convinced of something that was otherwise, rimmed with false information...a Glengarry Glenross situation. I was sold something that was not quite.... Exactly what each of us hates about the 'world' and 'humanity', the elusiveness of all the dark themes, each thing that each of us hides....all this was intensified at that farm. In short, the uncomfortable feeling of being in the echo of corruption.

And years later I find myself at Ferme Morgan in the dead of Quebec winter. Chickens pecking at my boots, stepping in duck crap, and petting boars. I began to think that all these animals, guinea fowl, ducks, cows, would become meatcycles as cold as it was. No. You notice how animals huddle, create a space, and leaning against a cow I realized how warm it was, how comforting. They did not have to be confined, as some would have you believe. We just showed up in Weir, along an icy road and were invited to go wander where we wanted. No one followed us, no one explaining what was there. I then understood the modern importance of what transparency means. It is not what someone says, not the print, not the advertising, but the open backroom, the figures, the silence of truth. Back at the 'boutique' we talked to Joel, one of the 10 new owners of Ferme Morgan.

Ferme Morgan was the 1000 acre project of John Bastian, a German businessman who had a vision of an organic farm. Certified organic 300 acres of farmland and 700 acres of forest. A good balance. Duck, guinea fowl, chickens, cows, wild boar, veggies. Pretty incredible. And then the sale. I cannot explain his real reasons for transferring, but suffice it to say that 22 months into it, the 10 new owners of various ages, experiences and backgrounds run the farm now and care for its original vision. Most live on it, work on it, including even an organic bakery. It almost sounds ideal, monastic, and self sufficient. But there are, I am told, the realities of no real government subsidies for organic farming (that all conventional farms get--read consumer taxes that pay anyway to have lower prices, a white lie?). Joel explains that the reasons are the heavy lobbies behind the government that block recognizing organic as something legitimate. I nod. Lobby of chemical fertilizers giants, lobby of....the lobby of the great Potemkin global village giants who insist on selling us something not quite what it is....and visiting ferme Morgan was just that reminder that there still exist people who are honest enough to be transparent. Would it really be crazy to say that 85% of the world, of us, of humans have something to hide, and would not like transparent policy?...... and yet we all demand it of others...while thinking up ways of closing the deal. (note: being certified organic costs about 1300$ to 1500$ a year depending on the products you sell and the size of your farm, so the excuse is already rather limp not to be so...) And as I have always said, to have the assurance of an organization which closely follows the rules is the closest thing that Quebec and Canada for the moment have to an AOC. Ferme Morgan, a great place that Renard Artisan Bistro is proud to know and support.

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