The Truth Behind Our Food | Is Homesteading Environmentally Conscious?
It wasn't something that crossed my mind early this year, in January, when we decided that we wanted to try growing our own food and raising backyard chickens. It was a matter that I knew needed to be addressed, but it was also something that I felt couldn't be addressed overnight or while we were planning out our new adventure. This is completely false, and while we are still in the early stages of creating a homestead, there are still many ways in which we can be more environmentally conscious about how we grow and raise our food. It's an issue that is constantly weighing on my mind: am I making the right choices for my health, the health of my family, and the conservation of our planet?
You can't grow and raise food without being conscious of your environment. It's something that I am working with daily, whether that's the soil or the weather or the waste that we produce. It is something that I notice even more now that we consider ourselves sustainable. What I didn't realize when we started this journey was that being sustainable could potentially be even more environmentally weighted than I truly knew. Recently, I watched the documentary Cowspiracy for the first time. If you haven't watched it, I recommend that you do. While I am sure that there are several points where both sides of the controversy are not met, where there are political and numerical standpoints of the issue that I do not fully understand, I tried to look at it through my own personal standpoint.
I am a person who grows my own food organically. I raise chickens as pets, with the hopes of eating their eggs once they lay them, organically. I try to eat as little processed food as possible. I no longer purchase meat from the grocery store, but prefer to purchase the meat I do eat from local, organic farmers. I purchase dairy from a local, organic dairy that minimally processes their products. If I have to buy produce, I try to purchase organic or locally grown items. I try to make less waste by composting, recycling, purchasing dry food in bulk, purchasing less items like clothing and household goods and repairing or donating those that I no longer use. I make my own household cleaners and laundry detergent. I use eco-friendly shoppings bags and wool dryer balls and silicone baking tools and reusable food wraps. I try to either make my own natural beauty products or purchase ones that are filled with nontoxic ingredients.
Looking at all of those things, it was a little bit shocking to see how much had truly changed in the way we live. Seven months ago, we didn't do any of those things. And I still think about all of the ways that I could still be more environmentally conscious in my everyday life. I could use less water to water my garden, I could compost more, I could purchase less grain to feed my birds, or find ways to grow my own feed. After watching that documentary, I started to realize more and more what exactly was happening in my own life that needed to change. To give you a short synopsis, the documentary centers around how the business of agriculture is causing the majority of our pollution, specifically centering around beef cattle, but I am sure that it also comes from the farming of other livestock (including chickens) and conventional produce farming. It's one of those things that I've known but not really had to deal with in my everyday life, other than purchasing the items that that industry produces. It made me wonder if my purchases of meat from local, organic farms was any better than purchasing the meat from the grocery store.
Thankfully, that question was answered as a yes, and I felt a little better. But I really started to think, "What is with all of this meat, anyway?!" Why do we care so much? What is the big deal?" And I felt the same as the director, why can't we just cut out meat and stop eating it? As a country, as a society. Is it really that important? I think watching that was really just another step closer to me cutting out meat, but I know that it won't always be that way, and that me stating, "I don't eat meat" will make a difference to the world. What I did know was that even though I didn't want to eat meat anymore or feed it to my child, I still needed to find some answers about how conscious I was being about my own homestead. Were my intentions on raising chickens noble ones or stupid? Was everything I had just invested in all for nothing?
My question about our chickens came from the conclusion that raising birds, even in the backyard, was costing too much to produce them for meat or eggs. I actually read a post the other about different ways to save money raising chickens that was really insightful. But I had to turn around and dig deep about why I had them. Was it to get eggs? Truthfully, no, and we've never had the intention to kill our birds for meat either. I did have the slightest inkling any longer to possibly cull our birds after they stopped producing eggs because that was just what another homesteader did, but after watching several of these documentaries where chicken farmers were killing birds, trying to get myself used to the idea of having to possibly do that one day to my own, I still just cannot stand the thought of it. And why should I have to kill them? Because they no longer lay eggs for us? That seems kind of unfair, but I understand it if you want to sell eggs for profit. We don't; we've thought about attending farmer's markets to sell our extra produce and eggs, and that is still something we want to do. But to try and force our way into the production of our chickens solely for profit, that's just not what I want to do.
I liked the idea I read off of an article about saving money raising chickens, which was chicken farming the way the pioneers did. Did the pioneers have feed constantly for their chickens over winter, and if not, how did they feed them? Considering it's hard to imagine life now without commercialism and processing, I wondered this, too. Obviously, without the commercial production of chicken feed and other livestock feed, there had to be a way that homesteaders in the days before all of that fed their livestock over winter. And while there are ways to store dried grain for animals, it was made mention that chicken farmers just didn't try to make their hens lay over the winter like we do now by feeding them special things. They took what they got and saved as many eggs as possible to eat over the winter time. That made me realize how ignorant I could be. What ways was I being forceful in my homestead, and why did I feel like production had to be at 110%, that I needed to have as many eggs as possible over winter or vegetables for that matter. And what was really healthy and right for our chickens?
Now, I am starting to figure out the ways that I can make even less of a footprint on the earth. Is that by foraging more and saving rain water? I think so. I want to look into more eco-friendly ways to raise chickens as well as how continue to grow my garden without using animal based fertilizers unless it comes from my own compost pile. Everything at one time came full circle, and I really hope that as hard as it may seem, I can at some point get there. It's a haul, and sometimes I feel like we're just spending more and more money to live this way. I think homesteading is coming to terms with that it's not about money, it's about changing ourselves, our homes, our earth. I want to make a difference in the way I live, not to save my wallet, but to save my body and my planet. That matters more.