(Originally published March 18, 2013 on Examiner.com).
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” These words of Gandhi are words that Xenia Stavrinides, the owner of Rainbow Ranch Farms, has lived by both before and after she founded Rainbow Ranch Farms in 1991.
Before 1991, Xenia had been on farms in the Middle East, Mediterranean, Europe, and Eastern Europe as well as in South America. On some farms, she observed animal husbandry that was brutal, though in other places like Spain, Italy and Greece, for example, the animal husbandry was very humane. When she started working for farmers and ranchers in the States, she didn’t like the direction that ranches were heading with more and more grain and lot feeding, as well as toward the barn raising of pigs, chickens and turkeys. She became so disturbed by these concentrated animal feeding operations [CAFO] that she stopped eating meat and became a vegetarian. She couldn’t support an industry so devoid of ethics and pay for another animal being tortured.
Though despite taking supplements to make up for what her body was missing, Xenia believed her health was adversely affected by being a vegetarian, so after twelve years and much consternation she decided again to eat meat. But this time, she decided to raise her own livestock and grow everything herself and thus shortly thereafter purchased the land in the high desert, unseen, that became Rainbow Ranch Farms.
Here on land where the Mojave Desert meets the San Gabriel Valley Mountains many were initially skeptical of her ability to farm and ranch in such a harsh environment. Using sustainable permaculturepractices and raising old heritage breeds of cows, pigs, turkeys, ducks, game birds, chickens, goats and rabbits she’s defied all the skeptics for over twenty years on her home farm. Over these years, more animals have also been placed on a number of other members’ farms and ranches in Central and Northern California.
Produce and custom processed meats from these farms and ranches are made available to community supported agricultural (C.S.A.) members for pick-up or via UPS shipping. Meats slaughtered at USDA facilities are available and sold to non-members online, restaurants, and specialty butchers like Lindy & Grundy [now closed] in Los Angeles. Whenever USDA facilities are used for animals from Rainbow Ranch Farms, the plant stops all other processing to ensure that Rainbow’s meats are processed to the highest standards without the use of anti-microbial solutions, bleach or chemicals. This USDA plant is also certified organic and humane handling, plus offers special services including Halal and Kosher processing. Thus all of her animals when butchered are done so without any torture in the most humane way possible.
Without any subsidies or outside funding, the sale of meat is necessary to fund operations and preserve heritage breeds many of which would otherwise go extinct. Commercial industrial farms and ranches rely on only a few breeds. This limited gene pool on commercial farms potentially allows for the rapid spreading of disease. Moreover these commercial breeds have been genetically modified to grow rapidly to maturation even without the added growth hormones. Many commercial chickens, for example, grow from chicks to full size birds in as few as five weeks. According to Xenia, any commercial chicken or other bird that is consumed so soon isn’t very nutritious. Birds spend their first eight to twelve weeks developing immunity, strong organs, and bone structure. Then, in the next eight to twelve weeks, they develop size, muscle tissue and physical strength. It takes four and a half months to raise a wholesome heritage chicken before its ready to be consumed. In general, birds aren’t ready for consumption at Rainbow Ranch Farms until after, at least, their first molt. This longer development time with these genetically diverse Heritage breeds produce food that is more nutritionally dense and thus better for you.
What farm animals eat also affects their nutritional value. For example, as this linked article by Bill Kiernan demonstrates cows fed grass have higher levels of beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids more in balance with Omega 6 fatty acids than cattle fed grains. All of the birds, cows and other animals at Rainbow Ranch Farms are raised on specie specific diets completely free of grains, and other fillers like coconut and fish meal. Plus all of Rainbow Ranch Farms’ animal feeds are tested for GMO contamination.
As Xenia emphasized, physiologically cows, chickens and other farm animals were never meant to eat grains. Their digestive systems aren’t designed to eat corn, wheat, or soy. Grains irritate their digestive systems causing all kinds of ailments and diseases such as: acidosis poisoning, bloat, G.I. infections, ulcers, and colitis that lead to dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, and the excretion of E-coli in the feces. However, factory farms feed their animals grains despite the adverse effects, since grains are cheap and plentiful (in large part due to being subsidized) plus fatten up confined animals quickly. Consequently concentrated animal feeding operations also give antibiotics, chemicals and other drugs to their animals to deal with these adverse effects due to this grain diet and the overcrowding in feed lots and barns. So not only are factory farmed and commercially processed meats nutritionally poor, but they’re laced with antibiotics and other chemicals including growth hormones.
Since all of the animals of Rainbow Ranch Farms are fed their natural diets, none of Xenia’s livestock require the medications, drugs or any of the other chemicals required on commercial factory farms.
But even when consumers are made fully aware of factory farming’s unhealthy practices and animal cruelty, consumers’ insatiable appetite for cheap meats makes the system possible. Changing the system increases costs. Many consumers are willing to pay more, but many of the labels and classifications aren’t clear. A few consumers opt out and become vegetarian or vegan, like Xenia did years ago, but those that opt out don’t preserve endangered heritage breeds. Nor do they positively impact agricultural if meats are replaced with soy or wheat based substitutes grown on mono crop fields sprayed with pesticides from GMO seeds with chemical fertilizers.
Animal excrement is a large part of the sustainable process. Since when mulched and composted, animal manure nourishes and re-nourishes soil especially in many of the regions of the world not suitable for large scale farming. Grazing animals defecating can reverse desertification. A recent TED presentation by Allan Savory (view able by clicking this linked video), “How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change”, explains this process where large herds graze, defecate, then move to adjacent pasture allowing for soil to get re-nourished without having to burn off undergrowth. In stark contrast to factory farms that increase green house gases, the process Savory describes has the opposite impact and reduces these harmful emissions.
On Rainbow Ranch Farms the manure from the preserved Heritage breeds’ is composted and made into mulch to fertilize land in the Mojave Desert that would otherwise be unsuitable for farming. By using permaculture techniques like hugelkultur, the mounds of composted material block winds, minimize evaporation, form micro-climates and thus aren’t as water intensive. Xenia also raises bees, worms and beneficial insects, so flowers are pollinated, earth aerated, and no pesticides are necessary. Plants grown on these mounds are also ethically harvested. So animals are essential for farms and ranches since without the nutrients from the animals’ feces, fruits and vegetables wouldn’t grow. And the mulch and compost isn’t just for her farm, Xenia shares her mulch and fertilizer with other farms.
Going back to the future to an era where you actually know your farmer, rancher, butcher and fisherman’s names provides a viable option to those who wish to eat meat ethically like Xenia who chose to raise her own. Xenia is also an active participant of the Ethical Omnivore Movement. Ethical omnivores are individuals committed to reducing the consumption of meat and dairy products. These individuals only consume animal products fed specie specific natural diets free of antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals grown on non-factory farms committed to the most sustainable and humane farming practices.
Eating more nutritionally dense better quality meat less often rather than not eating any meat at all, supports these small non-factory farms raising animals humanely. The more demand there is for the alternative that small farms provide, the more pressure is put upon factory farms to change. When dining out, asking your waiter or waitress where the chef sourced his or her meat and vegetables is just one small way consumers can become the change he or she wishes to see in this world. Many of Los Angeles top chefs like Ari Taymor at Alma, and Josiah Citrin at Melisse (profile coming soon) already add the names of their farmers and ranchers on select dishes on their menus. Guests of other restaurants should request more chefs do the same. Plus consumers should explore joining C.S.A. program opportunities like those offered by Rainbow Ranch Farms to develop personal relationships with the farms and ranches they buy their meat and produce from. Please visit Rainbow Ranch Farms’ website for more information on how to participate.
Finally if you “live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law” as Immanual Kant suggests you should, will the world be a better or worse place? And will fewer creatures suffer because of the decisions you make? As ethical, caring and loving human beings, these are questions we all need to ask ourselves, and answer affirmatively.