Ralph and Kathy run the Misty Meadows Farm in Payneville, KY, about 50 miles southwest of Louisville. They grow "everything but okra" on their bucolic 28-acre parcel of land; on our visit, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and blackberries were just beginning to come up. Heavy rains delayed the start of their planting season, and only now in late May are they getting a start in earnest on their crops.
Roosters cockily patrolled the chicken coop. Happy, inquisitive pigs came up to us in the barn to check us out. The two most recent were born on inauguration day, a male and a female inevitably named Barack and Michelle. The pigs come in black, red (with hair that shines fiery like copper filament in the sun) and one spotted pig that instantly became my favorite. Cattle are kept at a nearby Mennonite farm. The Packards' two dogs, Maggie and Timmy, keep watch over it all.
Misty Meadows has the longest-running CSA in the state of Kentucky (ten years strong); started the local farmer's market in nearby Brandenburg, KY; and were among the first farms to do organic gardening in the state (albeit not certified). As well as their produce, they sell farm-fresh eggs, various cuts of pork, beef and lamb, and homemade sausages including chorizo, sweet and hot Italian, and Kentucky-style breakfast links, redolent with sage. Their efforts have stood in defiance of the indefatigable encroachment of corporate and fast food that has all but crushed any semblance of local, indigenous foodways in this part of the country and others. It's a glimmer of hope of a food renaissance, a return to the old ways of raising and eating honest food.
But their way of farming is at risk.
The USDA is enforcing the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), a draconian policy of chipping and tracking all livestock. The intent of this policy was initially stated for the purposes of food safety but was ultimately pushed under the guise of disease trackability. The policy is presented on their site as being voluntary, but is increasingly being made mandatory on a state-by-state basis to incrementally enforce participation nationwide.
NAIS is a danger to small farms, who will be forced to chip and track each individual animal. Should an animal, even one chicken, go missing, the farm must figure out which animal it is and report within 24 hours; there is a $1000/day fine for each day a missing animal goes unreported.
Factory farms are less prone to suffering; they need only identify their livestock in larger groups with one number. Smaller farms who do not process their livestock in bulk must have a unique identifier for each animal. There are many Amish and Mennonite farms throughout this and other areas, and they are being pressured to conform to this system. Never mind that to do so requires that the farm have electricity and computers to do so, which is expressly against their beliefs. So severe is the threat to their way of life (a violation of their constitutional right to freedom of religion, I believe), that a group of Amish are discussing leaving the country altogether. Today's growing trend of backyard henneries may soon also be threatened with the government's desire to control small agriculture.
It pains me to think that small family farms may be crushed under the onerous burden of this policy. As we enjoyed our breakfast of eggs harvested and washed just that morning, alongside plump breakfast links, with fresh biscuits and gravy, we savored the terroir of rural Kentucky. It is a gift too precious to let slip away.
The Traveling McMahans blogged an entire season of Misty Meadows Farm's CSA deliveries.
NoNAIS.org is fighting the good fight.
Visit Local Harvest to find and support small farms in your area. This is a war than can be fought with economics.