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Bringing the farm to the table

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A medical scare prompted an area woman to source her own food, build relationships with local farmers and help others eat healthier.

“I grew up in the country near Tyler,” stay-at-home mother of two, Jamie Harrison said, “but my parents didn’t farm, and I never gave a thought to meat production.”

That last item changed in 2006 shortly after she graduated from Texas A&M.

“I was a busy new school teacher, getting ready to marry the man of my dreams, and one day a visible lump appeared on one breast.”  For emphasis she measured in the air with thumb and forefinger.

After consulting two doctors who thought the growth benign, the nagging worry drove her to have it removed.

“Two weeks later I got the phone call.”

The cell mass turned out to be fast growing cancer.

“There was no history of the disease in my family.”

After a radical surgery, her medical team advised a vegetarian diet.

“Just in case the problem was triggered by antibiotic or hormone or GMO (genetically modified organism) grain residues in the commercially produced meat I eat.”

Following doctors’ orders, Jamie cut meat from her meals, pondered the topic of illnesses generated by farming practices, and found she missed the taste of beef, chicken, and pork.

Who doesn’t like a sausage patty or crisp bacon slice in the morning now and then? Do you slap together a quick baloney sandwich on a busy day, or eat a bowl of hot stew on a cold evening?

“I’m a researcher by nature,” she said, “and I needed to know more.”

She discovered that since the 1930s in the U.S., large agricultural businesses produce the many millions of feed animals that make their way as butchered products to our grocery stores and kitchens.

“Ideally,” one North Texas chicken producer said, “every family would live on a few acres, and grow their own food, but that’s not the case for the vast majority of Americans who want meat on their tables.”

After the Great Depression and Dust Bowl drought, large numbers of Americans left off family farming, and migrated to cities.  The laws of meat supply and demand gave birth to commercial agri-businesses, some unforeseen consequences, and the demand for natural or organic foods.

Staci Coddington of Flower Mound put it like this.  “Mass production lowers the price of meat, but is cheaper necessarily better?”

Drive around anywhere outside city limits, and observe 350-1,500 pound “little dogies” munching in fenced pastures.  Most of these beef cattle spend the first 9 months of life eating forage, fresh or dry hay and straw.  The animals don’t say much past “Moo,” but cowboys will tell you bovines are picky eaters.

Cows and bulls won’t consume just any succulent plant that springs out of the ground.  Farmers apply weed-specific pesticides to maximize pasture growth because, after the first year of life, meat-on-the-hoof ingests only forage favorites–unless it gets fattened up in a pen or feedlot where farm managers supplement hay and straw with corn, wheat or soy, perhaps estrogen to stimulate animal growth to harvest weight, and as needed, antibiotics for disease control.

The grain may be a genetically modified product which some suspect might create problems upon entering the human body.

Adding, for example, a $1.50 dose of synthetic hormone to an animal’s feed is a business decision that might result in 40-50 additional pounds of meat, and let’s say $25.00 of additional profit per head.  Hormones stimulate higher milk yields in dairy cattle.  We all like to see healthy profits in the agricultural sector on our investment portfolio statements, but can we have our proverbial cake and eat it?

“The problem,” Jamie said, “may be the synthetic nature of the hormones or just added hormones in general.  We don’t know for sure.”  She, for one, is unwilling to take a chance.

A normal person produces many thousands of times more estrogen every 24 hours than is in the average serving of hormone-treated meat, so one side of the current argument is that the residue in grocery store meat is too low to trigger cancer.  A counter argument is that herd and pasture waste eventually enters the water table, accumulates then cascades through the environment to build inside hungry humans.

Achoo!  If a stressed beef inhales airborne cold virus it can’t cover a cough or sneeze with a hand, elbow or hankie.  The disease spreads in herds just like it does among humans, and one estimate claims livestock consume as much as 70% of antibiotics sold in the United States.  Some claim this practice has given rise to medically resistant
e coli and MRSA.

Last March Jamie decided to take action.  She formed Off the Farm Food (www.offthefarmfood.com), a local co-op that leverages bulk buying power to obtain natural or organic meats at favorable prices.

“My first 15 members were family and Valley Creek Church friends in Flower Mound, but in the last 8 months 485 more people have signed on,” she said with pride in her voice.

Her friend Staci became a co-op member after viewing the PBS documentary Food, Inc., and deciding to cook with additive-free ingredients.

Jamie buys USDA certified grass-fed beef from well-known Texas growers like Holy Cow in Lubbock and Chisholm Trail in the DFW area.

“Buying local encourages hometown organic farmers, supports the Texas economy, and reduces shipping distances that shrink Off the Farm’s carbon footprint.”

Not to forget our feathered friends, she also provides free-range chicken from Windy Meadows Family Farm in Campbell, Texas.

“We just added raw, unfiltered honey from Sunnyvale to our inventory, and members can purchase oatmeal and granola from Grapevine Grains.  My co-op objective is to become a one-stop shop for wholesome food.”

Her personal goal is feed her family natural as opposed to processed foods 85% of the time.  She smiled with raised eyebrows, “Yes, we indulge in stuff like burgers and fries from time to time.”

Talking about the benefits of a majority organic diet, she pointed out her family enjoys lots of energy, solid sleep, and few illnesses.

She stocks her own fridge with fresh fruits and veggies from a co-op in Dallas.  “I fix the Harrisons smoothies every morning.”

Off the Farm Food just introduced bar soaps handmade in Flower Mound by The Gifted Chicken.  Co-op beer drinkers might want to rejoice with a bar of Shiner in the shower, though teetotalers can scrub up with Peppermint-Clove, Citrus-Basil, and Oatmeal/Milk/Honey bars.

Join and order online at www.facebook.com/pages/Off-the-Farm-Food.  570 Facebook readers “like” the young organization and its products.  Members receive email reminders about due dates.  There is no minimum amount on individual orders.

“We deliver twice a month, about a week and a half after I place the bulk order.”

The Harrisons’ garage, temporarily in Wise County, contains 3 freezers, 2 large refrigerators, and the community co-op maintains offsite freezers at its southern Denton County area pickup locations in Flower Mound, Lantana, Coppell, and Southlake.

Has she created a monster business?

Jamie laughs.  “Maybe.”  The volunteer project takes close to a 40-hour bite out of her week on a regular basis.

“We started out in Flower Mound, and plan to be back in the city limits sometime next year.”  She loves the area and its people.

“We became a limited liability corporation a few months back,” and that gives her more leeway for future development of the burgeoning organization, “After my children are in school.”

What is the most satisfying aspect of creating and running the co-op?

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