Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Don't cry over unpasteurized milk, part 1

Let me just forewarn you that we MAY or MAY NOT reach our destination topic in this entry - that topic being regulation of the human consumption of raw milk and some of its many implications. The reason for this disclaimer is that I, at my most aligned (which coincides with my writing for FUN) tend to 'think like a river' - that is to say that if I intend to tell a story about one thing that has been frequently catching my attention, I end up telling a story of life, the universe and everything through the lens of that thing. (It might sound grand, but it can sometimes be a little ridiculous and inefficient. Srsly!) So I start rather far away from my central "talking point" and move inward in an orbital spiral-actic fashion. It ever seems that this method of storytelling wants to happen regardless of my plans. Besides, nature is known for being incredibly redundant and wholly containing elements that perform many functions. Perhaps our storytelling should follow suite.

Milk is a substance in which I have a special interest. Really if you want to get all personal, the production of milk for various types of human food is what guided/pushed/shoved me along the path that would bring me to the sublime non-destination that is GRASS. (Maybe it's just safer for me to replace "grass" with "the ground", because that's like a less-syllabic version of "grass or the lack of grass". Oh dear...) Ehem...So for most of this journey I was and am extremely nearsighted and like many hairless apes see only what is right in front of my snout. Although one could choose to see this "gift" of the humans as rather embarrassing and worth-covering-up, it is precisely what makes life so incredibly exciting for me. Where the hell would I be without my beloved treasure-hunt metaphor?

Oh, what was the point of that last paragraph? I think I wanted to make the connection between milk and grass. Yeah! Well, mammals eat grass (and legumes!) of various kinds - be they highly processed grain (like corn) that doesn't look at all like grass by the time it enters their mouths, or - ideally - mouthfuls of live perennial forage that animals actually harvest by their very own selves, with NO adult supervision! (Note: Cow [and sheep and goat] mouths are in fact designed to harvest and eat live-in-soil grass; chewing hard grain pellets is an inefficient and awkward act for them. Actually, I secretly think their mouths were designed BY grass. The Pope and I disagree. Sad face!)

Ruminants are even-toed ungulates (fancy nomenclature for the royal cloven-hoofed) that have a multi-chambered stomach system; an epic saga in which the first and largest chamber - the rumen - is the action-hero. Ruminants are amazing earth-technologies because of their ability to digest cellulose, which you might be familiar with from Saran Wrap™. (insert sarcasm mark here). This ability is incredibly worth obsessing over because cellulose is the most abundant organic compound on God's Green Earth. It is commonly showcased in green plants where it is none other than cell walls. And get this - cellulose is a carbohydrate! It's a really-freaking-long chain of glucose molecules linked together all stubborn-like. "Then why can't I eat it?" You wantz to know. Well, scientifically speaking, cellulose's staunchly stubborn character makes it hard for our liberal omnivore digestive systems to empathize with (digest)!

The cloven-hoofed, though, are not only capable of converting plant carbs into protein, but would be completely reliant on this method of energy-harvesting if need be. Today, the only reason our uddered-friends don't fully rely on this superpower of theirs is that they are fed refined grain in order to get them to either gain weight faster or produce more milk so humans can obtain said meat and milk in an ever-shorter amount of time. The reason this can be seen as silly is that all the grain that is poured into the food animal industry is edible by humans. Isn't the whole point of domesticated animals to get them to utilize components of the environment that they have evolved to utilize and that WE as HUMANS can't utilize, and then place this energy-conversion in a system where it will nourish us and the earth? Have I gotten romantic again? No, you silly goose, I've just gone for a little romp in the DeLorean to the time when agriculture began!)

Maybe I'll save the action-packed intricacies of the ruminant digestive system for another entry... Just kidding, here I go. :P But; essentially the rumen is like a big fermentation tank (anaerobic digesters copied it!) that is populated with an amazing array of microflora (bacteria for the most part) that live in symbiosis with the animal and produce enzymes that break down cellulose and hemicellulose. It is more correct to say that the microbes in the rumen do the digesting, lest we think that it is the single-agent-animal that does all this sleight-of-hoof by itself! Eventually these plant carbs are transformed enzymatically into volatile fatty acids, lactic acid and pyruvic acid, to name some. The fermentation process produces methane and carbon dioxide as byproducts, which take up space in the rumen normally and are periodically expelled through BURPING. In fact, all this acid being produced always KILLS a bunch of the bacteria in the rumen (which are eternally regenerating), and then that dead bacteria (=PROTEIN!) passes into the animal's abomasum and intestine where it is DIGESTED and turned into the FLESH OF THE ANIMAL! That's ruminant digestion in a nutshell. And I'm excited.

So, I should modify my language from 'milk production' to 'milk collection' - since of course our cloven-hoofed friends are responsible for the creation of milk in their magical udders; we merely design 'milk catchment systems', and on the other end we design nutrition-management-systems. We have a history (mainly within the last century) of being terribly bad at these two ventures. This mismanagement comes from wrongly-motivated-focus that can be summed up by something a PhD-possessing professor of mine (bless her heart) said: "cows are [now] appendages of their udders". I bless her because she is wonderful and was not making a political statement - she was simply reflecting truths that she sees evidenced in her work as a livestock vet.

Naturally, milk from cows that eat fresh grass all the time is going to be a very different biochemical beast than milk from cows that are grain-fed - or fed TMR. I mean it's kind of like how [m]animals poop different poop when they eat different stuff. But alas, that comparison can only take us so far -- because in fact milk production from the mammary gland is quite a miraculous and deliberate process in nature, designed as, among other things a mechanism for delivering calcium to neonates. On a closer look, these beasts of burden for calcium are casein micelles; large conglomerations of casein molecules (which are themselves long squiggly strands of +/- 200 amino acids, and comprise most of the protein in milk). Casein micelles have calcium phosphates suspended inside them and have a polar surface, allowing them to mix with water. Milk is essentially a really intelligent emulsion of water, fat and protein.

To cut to the chase here, when cows are fed GRAIN forever in commercial feedelot situations, it makes the microflora in their rumen behave differently, and can (and does) make the rumen pH drop below 6, which is WAY TOO ACIDIC and verrah BAD. This will kill much more of the bacteria in the rumen than is normal. Many cows in factory farms - both meat and dairy - have subclinical acidosis that is simply kept at bay through the use of human-engineered hacks like Rumensin, which essentially re-programs bacteria in the rumen so that previously unnatural inputs of starches (grains) can be tolerated. Since metabolic function dictates how our life-energy flows through us, animals inevitably suffer a host of abnormal health issues when their (our) internal power-plants are not doing what they have evolved to do. One thing that is chronically affected by grain-only & no-green-grass-allowed feeding in dairy cows is the quality of the milk. Now here's where we have to go in and clear up what I mean by "quality". If you use milk's evolved function as a standard to measure 'quality' against, then 'good quality milk' is milk that will maximally nourish and *protect* the offspring of that particular, individual animal.

But DUH, huge dairies that produce milk destined for: a processing & bottling plant/ the supermarket/ and the refrigerators of humans, respectively, understandably don't [invest] care in producing milk as nature intended... and why should they? They invest care in the volume-producing capacity of udders that happen to have cows attached to them.

What does this all have to do with the "controversy" over unpasteurized milk? The key point is this: The current milk-production infrastructure has the pasteurization process deeply embedded into it because it is the only way to ensure that "clean" milk is produced from an industry of such scale. The promise of pasteurization reduces the need for strict[er] regulations governing how clean the milk has to be (coliform count, somatic cell count, etc) before it gets trucked from the farm to the plant. Moreover, cows in large-scale feeding operations just don't produce milk that is as nutritionally viable, needless to say not something that this mammal wants to consume straight from the cow. Grass-fed (ergo "naturally normal") milk is higher in butterfat, much higher in conjugated linoleic acids (nutritional superheroes), and will provide a more friendly environment for the lactic acid bacteria that are naturally present in milk. This has serious ramifications in terms of the ability of the biochemical micro-environment of the milk preventing contamination and overgrowth of 'bad' bacteria. Lactobacilli ferment lactose (milk sugar) and produce lactic acid, which is a natural antibiotic. This kind of fermentation is naturally occurring in raw/unpasteurized milk, which is one of the reasons we say that raw milk does not "go bad" -- it simply "goes sour" or "ferments" organically over a period of time. Pasteurized milk is really dead milk, and yes, it rots.

FDA spokesman Michael Herndon warns/commands that "raw milk is inherently dangerous and it should not be consumed by anyone at any time for any purpose."
Yes, dear Mike, of COURSE we shouldn't drink unpasteurized milk from a dairy farm that's part of the infrastructure that you oversee. I'll gladly take your word as an expert of that oligarchy. But what happens when food-systems pop up outside the matrix?

So, what's the right way to incorporate unpasteurized milk into patterns of human consumption? See next entry, farmnerdz!


Zed said...

What I meant to say was... I have a friend who put a blanket out on her lawn to lay in the shade with her cats. Her husband told her , and I quote," The neighbors will see you!"
And I asked my friend, "when did it become uncool to lay in the grass with your cats? That's what's wrong with people!"
she didn't get it. How do we get the point across about how we have let our 'things' separate us from our own planet?
I wish I could put my thoughts down as well as you... *sigh*
nice stuff, keep writing....I'll keep reading.

Appleton Creamery said...

Right on! You are officially on my hero list.