For my birthday last month, a friend gave me a beautiful crafty framed textile piece with the words, “Happiness is the journey, not the destination” embroidered on it. We placed it right beside the door to exit the home, which is right by our kitchen. It felt like something good to read often, as we left the house or as we worked in the kitchen. Clearly our whole lives are journeys; but what I have been contemplating lately is not my life as a whole-my life’s journey…but rather the many mini journey’s our lives are made up of. My journey as a mother, which is such an integral part of who I am, of my life’s journey, has always changed and evolved in subtle ways as our family grew, and my children grew. It now seems to be faced with a new path, one on which I feel my feet dragging a little, while my oldest pulls me on to the parenting of an older boy, not the young babe who transformed me into a mother in the first place. My journey as a writer, something that absorbed me before I had children, then was virtually abandoned, and now find me again in some of these lines I write for your newsletters. But the journey I have been reflecting on most is that which concerns my family and food. As I myself become more and more aware of the myriad of issues surrounding the impact-on numerous levels-of the choices we make when we feed our families, I find that I am continually on a teeter totter, rocking back and forth between a feeling of impending doom and one of resolute hope.
Andre and I both love to cook food, both have spent time working in restaurants, and of course, love eating as well! Food has always been a source of shared joy for us, and we naturally wanted to share this with our children once they joined our family. However, it was also at this time in our lives that we instinctively became concerned with more than just our culinary experience when we ate. We began to understand the deep link between food and health. Even then, when we cooked so much of our own food, we didn’t know how inferior processed food was nutritionally. When we had children, it was natural for us to begin gardening, natural for us to buy organic, natural for us to avoid meat produced inhumanely. We began envisioning our farm, and began to delve into the murky waters of farming practices.
Still, it seemed impossible to find sources of local “organic” food in Nebraska, so we grew our own and ordered through a wholesale natural food co-op. When we moved here, we were delighted to have more access to organic food, but when Farmer’s Market began the first year we lived here, there was no organic food to buy. So off to the health food store we went, and then lo and behold, cheap organic food began to bless the shelves of mainstream grocery stores. It was hard to resist this when we were living on one income, trying to save money to get onto some land and begin farming. It was a blessing when our friends Katie and Casey Kulla moved to town and began Oakhill Organics, because we had just had a baby, were growing our food away from our home on someone else’s land (seriously neglected!!), and Katie and Casey provided organic food to the McMinnville Farmer’s Market at a great price.
Then, of course, we found our property, began preparing for our first season. As we began talking with other farms in the area, we discovered what a wealth of small farms there are in the area, and had a somewhat sobering realization that while we had been so concerned about eating healthier food, we had not dug deep enough, not even as deep as we were getting ready to ask our community to do, and searched out all of these local sources for food. From then to now, we have continually modified our diet and our food purchases as we evaluated what truly healthy, safe, and environmentally sound food was. We have learned a lot in the process, because as a whole, our society isn’t taught about or fed whole foods that grow in a natural setting, that are handled by only a few people before they come to our plate, and that have depths of flavor our taste buds have to learn to recognize.
And the reason I have been thinking about these things this week is because of a post on a friend’s blog, Rich Blaha of Mossback Farm, about food safety, a hot topic these days as more and more problems arise ( There has been a recall on some ground beef here in Oregon and Washington contaminated with e-coli; all beef marketed as “Natural”, “Northwest grown”, and Organic. Rich’s point, and one I am keen to hone in on–these labels don’t mean much if the source is just as industrialized as their conventional counterparts, especially when it comes to meat and dairy production. And just thinking about this led me to think about how most food that we buy from the supermarket gets there. It is monocropped vegetables and feedlot or confinement raised animals, wholesaled to a packaging agent, who processes it or otherwise boxes it to sell around the world. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I know I have read that when you buy ground beef, it is meat from a whole lot of cows from a whole lot of farms mixed together in a large meat processing plant. And although I really don’t want to disgust you, or sound like an alarmist, the e-coli is in the meat because it is pretty much a given fact that these plants have such low quality standards that fecal matter ends up in the meat regularly. As I researched more, I found out that these plants are allowed to still use recalled meat in cooked, processed products such as canned chili and the like.
It is instances like this that find me on the “impending doom” spectrum of the teeter totter, because the truth is, we are not purists. We have been on a journey of learning and discovery about food and food systems ourselves, and know that just last year we purchased items we wouldn’t purchase again this year, and in the hectic day to day of life, make choices occasionally that would just plain contradict what we have learned. But to slide over to the “resolute hope” side of things again, I remember the amount we have changed in our lives as we have gained knowledge, and the bright future I see when I look at the number of you who committed to this local farm this year. You have become part of our journey, and together, I believe that there is hope that we can all learn and grow more towards a sustainable food system that we enjoy and that nourishes us all.

2 thoughts on “Balance

  1. Great post, Sheila. Gone are the old days of choosing ‘Conventional’ vs ‘Organic.’ Now we have to make the call of ‘Industrial’ (regardless of growing methods) vs ‘Human-scale.’ Buying beef direct from a small grower ensures that the ground beef isn’t a disgusting mix of hundreds of animals, but one. That kind of traceability will keep our food supply more secure, either from industrial ‘accidents’ (really just collateral damage from the view of the big food industry) or from intentional sabotage. It’s the foundation of homeland security.


  2. Excellent post, Sheila. We have had many of the same realizations and changes you have had in the past couple of years.

    I’m so glad to have become friends with several local food producers and love to encourage others to shop our local farmers.

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