Not many farmers start out with degrees in philosophy, but Mark Santoro, owner of Gaia’s Breath Farm, did. Mark finds that there are several connections between farming and philosophy.
Mark started the farm 10 years ago because he wanted to eat well. Since day one, the farm has been organic. However, Mark is now working on making the farm biodynamic and that’s where philosophy comes in.
Biodynamic farming means creating a whole farm organism that is balanced, with no inputs required. For Mark, this is a spiritual endeavor. Biodynamic farms are wholly sustainable and focus on the triple bottom line. They do not need fertilizer, hay, seeds, or anything else from another farm to continue.
According to biodynamics.com:
Biodynamic farmers strive to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself. Preparations made from fermented manure, minerals and herbs are used to help restore and harmonize the vital life forces of the farm and to enhance the nutrition, quality and flavor of the food being raised. Biodynamic practitioners also recognize and strive to work in cooperation with the subtle influences of the wider cosmos on soil, plant and animal health.
We are all connected.
Making a farm biodynamic is expensive. According to Mark, Gaia’s Breath’s prices are a bargain! While I did not look at the farm’s finances, I have never met a farmer who went into farming for the money.
Mark was a vegetarian for 20 years until he started his farm and saw firsthand how well the animals were treated. Since then he says, he doesn’t understand the “I don’t want to kill anything” argument for vegetarianism. According to Mark, you kill every day to live. Your body kills bad cells for you every day. Even veggies die and are reborn on the farm. So, that argument just doesn’t make sense to him.
But Mark knows how well these animals on his farm are treated and the respect that is given to them all the way to their death, which makes it easier to eat them.
Mark did mention he was concerned he would not be able to handle castrating the male piglets (which is needed to prevent “boar taint” – the same is done to male lambs). He was worried that both he and the piglets would be traumatized. While the pigs obviously did not like it, Mark says the piglets are surprisingly calm and thy eat and get back to normal quickly.
The poultry that is raised on the farm is raised for Mark’s family’s consumption only. These animals are slaughtered on the farm by the family. Mark says, “You can do it humanely” – you just need to be quick and accurate because you do not want the animals to suffer. The slaughterhouse for the other animals is close by. Because the meat at Gaia’s Breath Farm is certified organic, their animals are slaughtered first so that any bacterial or viral loads from the not-certified-organic meat goes after and therefore does not contaminate the certified organic meat. (The equipment is all sanitized at the end of the day). This means Mark’s animals’ stress is minimized because travel and being at a new place are stressful.
Gaia’s Breath Farm raises cows, pigs, poultry, and veggies and fruits galore. Their vegetable fields have a 3 year rotation: 1 year growing the vegetable, 1 year of real rest, and 1 year when the animals graze on the field. This costs more money because a field is only growing vegetables 1 out of every 3 years. However, he does it because that means he is not adding nutrients to the soil. The soil has to create the nutrients itself. That results in richer soil and better results in the long term. As I’m touring the farm, there is a cow and her calf hanging out in one of the vegetable patches.
The biggest danger to the animals here are the coyotes. However, Mark has not lost a single animal to them yet. Why? Because at Gaia’s Breath everything is composted and the coyotes are given free range to eat anything in the compost. (Remember, all the poultry is slaughtered on-site, so there are lots of yummy bits for the coyotes in the compost).
I decided to visit Gaia’s Breath because a local farm-to-table restaurant sold its veal. My only knowledge of the raising of veal is a horror story I once heard. So I was immediately curious and needed to see for myself. At Gaia’s Breath, I learned veal was very similar to lamb. The calves were raised happily and normally until they were 5 months old. That is young, but it is a life that notably lacks suffering before death. So, if we are going to eat veal, I nominate veal from Gaia’s Breath.
Marks also raises two breeds of pig – heritage Large Black pigs and Gloucestershire Old Spots. The Old Spot piglets are about 5 weeks old when I visit and the heritage breed piglets were born just a couple days before my arrival. Unfortunately, none of them venture outside of their pens to greet me. Charles, the Gloucestershire boar, on the other hand, struts around for me.
Mark tells me the males are lazy and sleep. Meanwhile the females love to graze. Mark tries to stretch the amount of time it takes the pigs to grow by limiting the amount of grain he gives them. Grain fattens them up faster (just like for cows) and apparently they tend to like the grain more, but they get more nutrients from the grass. Because the females enjoy grazing, they need less grain to supplement their diet. This works perfectly in line with Mark’s focus on sustainability, spirituality, and the health of the animals, soil, farm, and the people who eat what the farm produces.
Mark runs the farm with his partner, Chrissy, and his brother, Paul. They have two dogs on the farm, Pandora and “Soleil”. Pandora is 1 and is “in training” with Paul. Meanwhile, Soleil, who is 6, likes to mess with the pigs, but otherwise she enjoys just being a pet.
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