A Farm with a Soul

Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed columnist at the New York Times, wrote recently on his friend Bob Bansen, as “an example of a farmer who has figured out how to make a good living running a farm that is efficient but also has soul.”

It’s a commentary on humane, sustainable farming, and a different perspective on the organic food issue.

“FOOD can be depressing.  If it’s tasty, it’s carcinogenic. If it’s cheap, animals were tortured.  But this, miraculously, is a happy column about food! It’s about a farmer who names all his 230 milk cows, along with his 200 heifers and calves, and loves them like children.”

““I spend every day with these girls,” Bob explained. “I know most of my cows both by the head and by the udder. You learn to recognize them from both directions.”

Nicholas reports “As a farmkid myself, growing up with Bob here in the rolling green hills of Yamhill, where the Willamette Valley meets the coastal range, I’ve been saddened to see American farms turn into food factories. Just this year, I’ve written about hens jammed in cages, with dead birds left to rot beside the survivors, and about industrial farms that try to gain a financial edge by pumping chickens full of arsenic, antibiotics, Tylenol and even Prozac.”

“Bob’s big worry in switching to organic production was whether cows would stay healthy without routine use of antibiotics because pharmaceutical salesmen were always pushing them as essential. Indeed, about 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States go to farm animals — leading to the risk of more antibiotic-resistant microbes, which already cause infections that kill some 100,000 Americans annually.

“As long as cows are kept clean and are given pasture rather than cooped up in filthy barns, there’s no need to shower them with antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, he says.

Bob Bansen: “For productivity, it’s important to have happy cows,” he said. “If a cow is at her maximum health and her maximum contentedness, she’s profitable. I don’t even really manage my farm so much from a fiscal standpoint as from a cow standpoint, because I know that, if I take care of those cows, the bottom line will take care of itself.”

Bob’s philosophy is a life lesson about appropriate care and maintenance of farm animals, a perspective that does not exist on factory farms.

Nicholas Kristof: “We need not wince when we contemplate where our food comes from.  The next time you drink an Organic Valley glass of milk, it may have come from one of Bob’s cows. If so, you can bet it was a happy cow. And it has a name.”

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