Do you know how your food is raised? Understanding how and what your farmers do to the foods you eat can mean the difference between safe, clean food that supports your health and contaminated food that is full of chemicals, toxins and other harmful substances.

It’s impossible to control all toxins in our environment, especially in modern life where so many industries and activities contribute to this pollution. Toxins have been found in the air we breathe, in the water we drink, our soils, and all environments where we live and exist. According to worldometers.info, there are over 3 million tons of toxic chemicals released into the environment annually. We could be receiving contamination from something in our work or school environments, inside the vehicles we drive, from our yards, and our own homes – of which we aren’t even aware.  That’s why knowing where your food comes from is so important, because the one aspect of our lives where we do have control is over what we eat. When you buy food from the grocery store, you have really no way of knowing where it comes from and what happens to it before it gets to the shelf. With more and more food recalls and health issues cropping up in the news – all originating from chemical, pharmaceutical, and the industrial food systems – it is becoming more and more obvious that something has to change. When products appear on food recall lists, the worst thing you can do is to choose another mainstream product. This is because given enough time, the alternate product you choose will likely end up on a food recall list sometime in the future.  Even organic food products sold in the grocery stores are finding their way to food recall lists. This is because big organic producers and suppliers can also fall susceptible to some of the same problems products from the conventional food markets do because of the practices they embrace. They may be growing or producing so-called organic food products, but many of these products become contaminated due to departure from truly holistic or sustainable practices or simply because they may also contain ingredients that are harmful to ours and the health of the environment. One example is the organic strawberry or lettuce field that unknowingly becomes contaminated by nearby runoff water from a factory farm.   This is why supporting smaller, local farmers who use safer, holistic practices and educating ourselves about these practices is preferable. By having conversations with our local farmers and visiting their premises to get an eye-witness look of their practices, we are supporting systems which can continue to provide current and future generations with safe, nourishing food. Holistic or sustainable practices are those that farmers and food producers have used for thousands and thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution occurred over 150 years ago.

Health effects on children

These substances are especially harmful for children, who have smaller bodies and faster metabolisms than adults, and are still growing and developing. Children are more likely to be affected by the substances in our food supply now due to several factors:

  1. Many children are born with digestive and chronic health issues which they received as a result of inadequate nutritional support from their own parents’ diets as well as exposure to toxins and harmful substances in their parents’ environments. 
  2. There are more toxins in our environment now than ever before – the EPA and other sources estimate that over 3 tons of chemicals are currently being added to the environment annually. 
  3. Children are continually exposed to toxins and nutritionally deficient foods after they are born. Food companies market these products to children and as a result, they are eating more non-food substances now than ever in history.

When shopping for meat and meat products from animals and birds, consider the following to ask your farmer:

  •  What type of feed do your animals or birds eat? Cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and others should be raised on pasture. If they are not, they are typically given corn, grain, soy, fillers, and other items which are not in their natural diets. Cattle are ruminants and should be on grass. Chickens, pigs, and other omnivores have varied diets. Some will eat grains, corn and other feed, but care must be taken to ensure these feeds are are not treated with chemical pesticides and herbicides (see next question), and don’t originate from genetically-modified sources (GMOs). Most soy and corn on the market comes from GMO sources. 
  • Do you use pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers on feed or land where animals are raised? Pesticides are neurotoxins and cause damage to our brains and nervous systems. Consumption of pesticides has been linked to damage to the skin, nervous system, and can has been connected to the development of degenerative disease like cancer. Pesticides are also an endocrine disruptor (hormonal systems). The endocrine system affects growth, development, behavior, and reproduction.

  • Do you use hormones, steroids, other growth promoters or stimulants? The use of hormones in food has been linked to early onset sexual maturation in children. This can lead to disruption in the endocrine system (such as the thymus and thyroid, adversely affecting  hormones and causing a variety of problems).

  • Do you use medication or antibiotics? Traces of antibiotics and medications can lead to long-term health effects such as reproductive, immune-system, and developmental issues in children, as well as overall immune system dysfunction and inability to fight off infection in all organisms.

  • Where do the animals and birds live/exist? If animals and birds are on pasture, this is a healthy environment. You’ll want to avoid any poultry whose living environment includes  cement, dirt, or confined a majority of the time in cages or holding areas. Chickens need to be able to forage for plants and insects, and be exposed to the open air in the sunshine. 

  • Are cattle 100 percent grass/hay fed, or do you also use grain (this includes steers and dairy cattle)? Cattle are ruminants and should be grazing on grass. Cattle that receive grain, corn, or soy as a primary feed source are more susceptible to illness and need antibiotics and other medications. Another way of asking the same question is: how are your cattle finished? Many farmers have their cattle on pasture for most of their lives until the remaining 90-120 days or so, after which they are transported to a feedlot and fed grains to “fatten” them up. This activity causes the acidity in the digestive tracts of the cattle, increases the likelihood of disease.

Nutrient quality in grass-fed and pasture-raised meats, poultry, and dairy products is 3-5 times higher than conventionally-raised meats. You’ll receive 3-5 times more Omega 3 essential fatty acids, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2, as well as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is an antioxidant and is critical for heart health. All of these are critical for immunity, cardiovascular, bone health, endocrine, digestive, brain and nervous system, and reproductive health.

If animals and birds are given any types of feed that are not strictly on pasture, find out if the feed is organically-grown and/or organic practices are used. Any feed that animals/birds consume such as pigs, turkeys, or chickens should be pesticide/herbicide/other chemical and GMO-free.

When shopping for produce, legumes, rice, grains, ask your farmer:

  • Are you certified organic or do you use sustainable/organic practices? Farms using organic and sustainable practices do not use any commercial or conventional practices in their farming methods (see next questions for more detail). Many farms which are not certified organic still adhere to organic principles in farming, so inquiring about their status can also lead to a conversation about which category the farm you are buying food from falls.

  • Do you use genetically-modified organisms? GMOs have been shown in research to cause liver damage, infertility, food allergies and sensitivities to many different foods, and cancer.

  • How do you manage disease, pests, and other problems? Do you use chemical fertilizers or herbicides/pesticides on crops? Farms using organic and sustainable methods to control weeds and pests are healthier and create far less damage to the environment and their crops such as integrated pest management, crop rotation, chemical-free, organic pest control.

  • Who is in charge of growing fruit/vegetables and where is the farm located? Very important because even sustainable and organic farms can become contaminated if they are too near  factories/companies emitting toxic chemicals and pollutants, or other farms which use conventional methods, and especially farms which are GMO (genetically-modified), or if any known spraying occurs from airplanes that might fly over the farm.  Many organic farms are in “no spray” zones and similar areas which ban the use of chemicals, so finding a farm which is mindful of these practices is important.

  • How large is the farm? This can also be important due to the location of the farm (see previous question) and its exposure to other operations/farms/businesses.

  • Is the farm a diversified operation using poly-cropping techniques (as opposed to the mono cropping used by conventional farming practices that typically grows only one or possibly two types of crops) with many varieties of vegetables and fruits? Farms using poly cropping farming methods are more likely to have success with keeping pests, weeds, and other problems away as well as maintain healthy soils.

  • Does the farm grow any heirloom varieties of fruits or vegetables? These plants and crops are of particular importance to the success of poly cropping and bacterial diversity for healthy soil cultivation to ensure sustainable farming efforts are successful and are used more pervasively. It’s always a good idea to support farms who grow these varieties as they are not only more sustainable, hearty, and resistant to disease/pests, and also more nutritious as they originate from seeds that have been around a long time, and from plants that contained more nutrients.

Having conversations like this with your farmer can provide education and transparency about the food you buy, and ultimately provide you and your family with the cleanest and most nutritious foods available. You can find local farmers and producers by doing an online internet search and/or visiting farmer’s markets in your local area. You can also watch for signs on the road as you are traveling in your normal actvities that might advertise safe, naturally and organically grown food. Another option is to visit your local health food store as these businesses often stock local foods grown from farmers using organic and natural practices. Finally, growing or raising your own food is the best way to guarantee you have the most control over what goes into the food you eat.