I’ve purchased 5 cubic yards of composted manure this week. We’ve been busy this winter preparing both our existing garden as well as new beds for spring, and by my count we’ve brought in 22 cubic yards of compost total.
We get our compost from Western Organics across the river, and during this process the price of composted chicken manure has gone up 50%. We have been using composted chicken manure because it is very cheap, but in the middle of this process have switched to cow manure.
As I asked after why chicken manure suddenly go so expensive, I learned that our local industrial egg producer, Cal-Maine Foods, has moved its factory out of Albuquerque. Western Organics was getting all of their chicken manure from Cal-Maine, and new supply is no longer available.
On a personal level, I’m glad to see Cal-Maine move on. (I think the factory was closed and moved as part of Cal-Maine consolidating operations. It doesn’t represent bad news for the company.) Their factory is visible from the Interstate as you come down to Sunflower River, and it has been a symbol for me of the kind of life and food I don’t want.
On the other hand, this story also underscores to what degree we still use and rely on the industrial food system. Before I moved to Sunflower River, I had a reasonably green diet, from an urban point of view. On the farm, I’m closer to my food. I’m buying raw materials that used to be invisible to me–factored into the cost of whatever final product I purchased.
Participating in food production has felt at times like taking a step back. I’m buying things that aren’t terribly eco-friendly; things I never would have purchased before becoming a farmer. Of course, I’m buying them instead of letting someone do it for me, but that was not obvious in an urban environment.
There isn’t enough room on a product carton to outline all the crazy stuff that happens to egg between a chicken and your plate. And unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. You can’t buy an egg that hasn’t been washed, oiled, and candled. You’re buying a uniform product, and buying into the infrastructure that imposes that uniformity. While you can select “greener” eggs, those eggs still come at a price far greater than 5 cubic yards of industrially-produced compost. Buying that compost goes against the values of an organic consumer–it has the wrong label. But it is the first step in becoming an organic farmer. Where the mission is to make this little patch of land as green, abundant, and *sustainable* as possible. Not just for me and not just for the present, but for the coyotes, pheasants, and other wild creatures now and in the future.