Monday, October 28, 2013

Government visits... They just don't get it sometimes.

The farmers Friend, Kathy Pierson
I received a letter from the Snohomish county department of health from my old friend, Kathy Pierson.   I've dealt with her before, but it's been a while.

Unfortunately, she's coming to me with the very same complaint that she originally was investigating.  One of of my neighbors called in a complaint to the Health Department and complained that I was feeding my pigs fish.  There is a very strong odor of rotting fish along the river right now, caused by the thousands of pink salmon that are decomposing on the banks, and I do find fish on my property from time to time, but I don't as a rule make a practice of feeding fish to my pigs.  I have done it in the past but after researching it and the regulations, I don't now.

Which is a shame, actually.  The fish that I am able to get is high-quality, human-grade food that didn't make it into the store for one reason or another.  It's a real crying shame to see the high-protein food get wasted.

Kathy sent me a letter stating that a complaint had been made about my pigs, which I ignored.  I'm usually more than happy to deal with regulatory agencies, the last few weeks have been pretty busy (which is why I haven't been blogging as frequently, no, the neighbors haven't shot me, but thanks for the concern, Ellie!)

So one day I got back to my house and there was an an envelope taped to my front door, with the SnoCo health department welcome materials in it.  How to control rats, some stuff about regulations,and a letter stating that they'd recieved a complaint.  In addition to the  health deparment material there was also a card and materials from Dr. Amber Itle, Field veterinarian with the washington state department of agriculture.

With Kathy I'm going to just say that trying to educate her on normal farming practices seems like a complete waste of time.  Last time I finally had to just flat-out state to her that if she believed I was breaking a rule, regulation or law that she was encouraged to charge me with that violation and I'd see her in court; after doing that I didn't hear another word from her until now, a year later.

But Dr. Itle is a different matter.  My farm has already been inspected by the State Veterinarian and my feeding practices and the materials I feed were deemed perfectly appropriate.  I called Dr. Itle and she confirmed that feeding fruits, vegetables, dairy and bakery items were fine with the state vet.  She suggested that I feed my animals on concrete slabs (which I've been doing since Feb 2012) and we talked about my operation.

I explained that I feed my pigs a base ration of feed purchased from a local mill, and that I supplement that feed with food that we get from a variety of sources.  Most recently, for instance, I have been feeding 400lb drums of triple berry blend, which smells a lot like the fruit smoothies that costco sells, and the pigs love.

I explained to Dr. Itle that the fruits-and-vegetables and recycled food is actually about 30% of my feed regiment right now; and that I actually have to work very hard to collect the food and bring it here.  I'll contrast that to the feed mill that will cheerfully mix and deliver 6 tons of feed anytime I want.  Since the recycled food comes in different packages, it's actually harder to feed than, ah, feed.  The triple berry mix comes in 55 gallon drums and pouring out a 400lb drum is no simple task to do safely.  Every kind of food we get is packaged differently, some easy to deal with, some more difficult, and the availability is random.  So I keep feed on hand to make sure every animal is getting what they need.

Dr. Itle pointed out that I could feed whatever I wanted if I just got a $10/year license from the state; a "garbage feeding" license would allow me accept meat, fish and any other type of recycled food, cook it at a rolling boil for 30 minutes, and feed the resulting soup to the pigs.

I agreed with her, but told her that despite there being all sorts of food being wasted right now that would be great for pigs, the required equipment to cook food to their standards made it cost-prohibitive to do.

She countered me and said that there were licensees all over washington, mostly in eastern washington, and that I should consider a license.  I replied that if it was economic to do that there would be many people licensed, but I didn't think that anyone was.  She was sure there was.

  I was skeptical, but she is the regulatory agency for this particular license, so I put in a public disclosure request for every licensed garbage-feeding operation in washington state.

There is precisely one farm in washington state that is currently licensed for garbage feeding.  

Now I'm going to point out that Cedar Grove Composting takes in hundreds of thousands of tons of food waste and composts it on their facility.  And their facility has been cited, fined and complained about for years.  They get sued because people believe them to be the cause of a terrible odor. 

So back to Dr. Itle;  I told her that I feed the foods that I do out of a believe, sincere belief, that getting the highest-and-best use out of food is to use it AS FOOD.  I'm going to compost it too, I'm just going to put it through a pig first.  And by doing so raise more food.

I think that using food makes the food that we waste as a society a little less of a sin.  Not much less, but a little less.  

I wasn't able to convince Dr. Itle, but I think I did get it across to her that sometimes you have to be willing to risk and push back when you run across a rule, regulation or situation that you disagree with.
Feasting on pumpkin, Nov 12th 2009

Civil disobedience, farm style.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping yourself on the front line, Bruce! I would call you a friend, but it appears you have a different definition for the word than I. :)

ellie k said...

There is a big operation in Las Vegas that collects food from the businesses there and cooks it for there pig farm, I saw it on tv and the original set up was very expensive they said.