Monthly Archives: September 2010

Visiting the farm

It’s been ages since I have updated this blog. No excuses really to offer, other than pure laziness and not having anything particularly worthy of writing about.

I did, however, want to write an account of my trip to Michel Isoz’s farm at Fenil-aux-Veaux to visit my recently adopted cow, Rosette.

Rosette

The basic concept of mavachamoi, as mentioned in a previous post, is that anybody can adopt a cow for a period of one to three months. In return for a fee, you get a guided tour of the farm, the chance to do some basic farm work and the opportunity to buy produce at a discounted price.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this was to learn more about farm life, talk to a real life farmer and find out more about where my food comes from. Nutrition is a huge part of performance and anybody who is interested in fitness will sooner or later gravitate to learning more about nutrition.

One of the first things I learned about nutrition is that from a science point of view it is extremely complex. There seems to be very little consensus on what human beings are supposed to eat and there are endlessly divergent factions out there, all claiming that their system is the only way to optimal health and performance. These factions make the subject very emotional, as die-hard followers of different approaches battle it out on the internet which has become the de facto front line of modern day popular debate. Check out the comments on this blog if you want to see what I mean and/or waste several hours of your life.

I am by far an expert on nutrition, but to my simple brain, the paleo diet seems to make sense. I don’t think you can go too far wrong by eating lots of meat, veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds. Plus it is relatively easy to follow and has given me results, two huge factors in diet adherence.

Ultimately the best diet is the one you can follow. I think as long as you are conscious of what you put into your body, experiment a bit and find what works well, you are good to go. Who cares if it is not 100% paleo, zone, Ornish or whatever? Just do what works for you, while bearing in mind that just because it works for you, does not mean it will work for everyone else.  For me, paleo works pretty well but I also eat dairy products and oatmeal because I like them and they have no ill effects on me in terms of digestion, performance or body composition.

This, admittedly rather long-winded aside, brings to me to my second point about nutrition, food quality. Once I had discovered that paleo worked well, I started to wonder about the quality of the food I was eating. I read books like Fast Food Nation and the Omnivores Dilemma which contains horrifying accounts of the way animals are intensively reared and slaughtered.

Cows should be kept outside for most of the year

Growing up in the UK, I distinctly remember the BSE scandal which came about because farmers were feeding their cattle a number of delicacies not designed for the bovine digestion system, such as meat and bone meal from the cadavers of sick animals. In the US and much of Europe, cows are fed a diet high in grains. This makes them reach vast proportions in very little time, meaning more profit per animal. In the US, steroids and growth hormones are added to the diet for even bigger cows.

Cows are herbivores and designed to eat grass. As with any animal or human, a diet high in crappy food (in this case grains) means they often get sick. No worries though, because the farmers can just give them regular doses of antibiotics to keep them “healthy”. Health also suffers from lack of movement and most cattle raised in industrial feedlots have no access to open air or space.

Mmmmm bacon

The bonus with this system for us as consumers is that we can buy cheap produce in the supermarkets. But if the conditions in which the animals are kept are deleterious to their health, how does that affect us when we consume those animals? Once again, this is a debatable issue and the authorities tell us that battery farmed chickens, industrially reared pigs/beef or milk cows etc are perfectly fine.

My personal view is that the health of the animal affects the quality of its meat in terms of the nutrients it provides and its fatty acid profile. I would also like to think that the meat I eat has been raised, fed and slaughtered humanely. Not only will this benefit me in terms of the quality of the food I eat, but the environmental and ecological advantages of sustainable, organic farming are well documented.

When I visited Mr Isoz, I was hoping to find a farm full of healthy animals roaming the mountain pastures and eating their fill of grass. I have to say, I was not disappointed.

Fenil-aux-Veaux is actually the highest altitude farm in the whole of Switzerland and it is a beautiful area marked by green pastures, mountain peaks and expansive valleys.

The view from the farm

Mr Isoz has beef cattle, milk cows (including my adoptee Rosette), a few pigs and chickens. He also makes his own cheese, salami and dried meat products. Interestingly enough he told me that he does not sell any of his produce to the supermarkets. His customers are the general public and small delicatessen/general store type places in the area.

He took me for a tour of the farm and I was able to ask him what he feeds his cattle (grass in the summer and hay in the winter) and his pigs, a pretty rank smelling mixture of bread and the by-products of cheese making. I watched the milking process which was rather fascinating. The cows are used to the routine of being milked and make their own way from the fields to the barn without too much encouragement. They even have their own stalls in the barn and they automatically return to the same stall every time they are milked!

There were quite a few calves also on the farm

One of the goals of Mavachamoi is to educate city folks such as myself on the realities of farm life. Running a farm is definitely not an easy existence and the work never stops. I asked Mr Isoz when he takes a day off and he told me he didn’t understand the word. At first I thought it was my poor French and tried to explain what I meant, but then I realised he was joking. Farming is definitely a 24/7 endeavour. He also had a bit of a laugh at my expense when I wanted to buy some milk. I asked him if it was pasteurised or raw and he gently explained to me that all the milk on his farm was raw, and that is exactly how it should be.

I took the opportunity to buy some meat, eggs, butter and cheese directly from the farm. I wish I could say that the taste was amazing compared to the produce I usually buy (which is usually bio), but it was pretty much the same, as was the price. The only difference I noticed was the eggs which I bought as they were absolutely gigantic.

The best part - the food!

Overall it was a really great experience to visit the farm and I highly recommend mavachamoi. It would be a fantastic place to take kids so they can learn a bit about farm life. I still don’t know whether all the produce I buy in the supermarket has been fed, treated and slaughtered properly, and if I continue to buy from supermarkets, I guess I will never know. I have learned quite a lot from this web site about Swiss farming standards, which seem to be very high and gives me a lot of comfort. But in future I also have the option of buying produce directly from a farm and I will definitely try to do this whenever possible.

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