Enosburg Falls, Vt.
The state of Vermont is seeded with family farmers and local food enthusiasts. Evidence of the commitment and power of this community can be found in the work of long-time Farm Aid funded group, Rural Vermont. The organization was founded in 1985 as a vehicle for farmers to fight for fair taxation. In the twenty-one years since this farmer driven non-profit organization has taken on a full spectrum of issues from fighting the introduction of GMOs and factory farms to promoting environmental and economic sustainability for area farmers.
Of late, the farmer members of Rural Vemont have placed renewed importance on a vision for a state-wide local food system that builds healthy soils, nurtures animals, feeds consumers wholesome, fresh food and supports thriving farms and local communities. They call it Food With Dignity, a vision of agriculture in which consumers are able to buy high quality, fresh food from their local farmers and those farmers, in turn, thrive from the support of their community.
In the case of fruits and vegetables, farmers and consumers are meeting easily through farmers markets, CSA’s, restaurants, food co-ops and road-side stands. With farm raised meats, however, it is significantly more complicated. While working on an initiative focused on opposing the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), Rural Vermont staff and farmers discovered that the state regulations on direct marketing of meat were extremely unclear. Additionally farmer members reported that there were many rules and regulations that may make sense for large-scale animal operations but that had no place on a family farm. So, the Farm Fresh Meat campaign was born to educate farmers about what was possible and propose legislative changes that would enable the family farm food system to include more local, sustainably produced meats.
“The food system, the way it is right now, is a centralized, technological food system. It doesn’t foster local food systems. This kind of regulatory system effectively inhibits the farmer’s ability to get high quality [local] food to consumers,” explains Doug Flack of Flack Family Farm, an activist board member of Rural Vermont. Helping consumers access and know high quality food is at the core of the Flack Family Farm mission. “People should know their food, spiritually and materialistically this shows a deep reverence for life and what life gives you – the more we see this [connection] the better off we will be. To do that, you need to know your farmer, your personal farmer.”
Doug has been farming since 1976 when he decided to bring the techniques of grass farming that he had observed in New Zealand, as a scientist in ecology, to a small plot of land in Enosburg Falls, Vermont. From the start, Doug kept his academic values of environmental stewardship close to home and combined them with a core belief that farming is a spiritual endeavor – a combination that led to many innovations and experimentation’s on his farm. For example, instead of farming the land intensively or plowing, this new farmer used a technique called “mob stocking” or animal impact to build up the fertility of his land. Essentially, sheep worked over the entire 80 acres half-acre by half-acre until the soil was alive, rich and ready to sprout new life. To ensure that the land could maintain this high level of fertility and produce the highest possible quality products, Doug also began to employ the techniques of organic and biodynamic agriculture. Developing the soil, however, was not enough. The operation eventually evolved to incorporate grass-based beef, lamb and pastured pork. Finding breeds that would thrive in Vermont was a research project in and of itself.
Vermont is hilly and the soil base is not as deep as most agricultural property. Choosing animal breeds that were well adapted to this kind of environment was crucial. After much research, Doug settled on the American Milking Devon for cattle and Gloucester Old Spot pigs. The American Milking Devon would give the farm three sources of income. As a triple purpose cow, this stock could produce oxen, high quality marbled beef and nutrient dense milk. Likewise, the Gloucester Old Spot pigs boast lovely fatty meat that is high in vitamin D.
While each of the breeds that Flack Family Farm has to offer their consumers produce very high quality meat, the process of shipping, slaughtering and processing as it stands now is expensive and reduces the quality. Additionally, as an organic and biodynamic farmer, Doug is deeply committed to giving his animals a respectful life and death – something that is beyond his control the moment they leave the farm. This is one reason that the Food with Dignity mission resonates so strongly with him.
If you visit the Flack Family Farm, you will find a community of people who both want to learn about where their food comes from and how it is grown or raised as well as farmers who are there to learn more about the farming techniques that have made the farm successful. On the Flack Family Farm web site, you can find an entire schedule of events like “Raw Milk Theater” on August Sunday nights, where locals can try their hand at an open mike, or an all-day workshop on intensive planned grazing – a simple concept that actually involves intensive management skills or a workshop on making fermented foods. A significant source of income for the Flack Family Farm is from their sales of naturally lacto-fermented saurkraut and kim-chi. For Doug, a family farm is the ideal place for education. “Running a business and running a farm has been my real education. Farming is the most challenging occupation and I love it.”
With such passion and conviction readily at hand, it is not surprising that Doug volunteers his time as a board member for an activist organization like Rural Vermont. Perhaps the true testament, however, to the fact that Doug Flack created a place of deep learning and hope for the future on his family farm, is the fact that both of his daughters have carried on the family tradition of getting their hands dirty, giving back to the soil and seeding local food systems with delicious, high-quality food.
To learn more about Flack Family Farm and for some suggested readings go tohttp://www.flackfamilyfarm.com/.