Charity Logo

Charity Logo

Charity of the Month


In December I am riding for Heifer International. Founded in 1944, Heifer International works with communities around the world to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. Its approach is more than a handout. Heifer provides animals (e.g., heifers, goats, water buffalos, chickens, rabbits, fish, and bees) and training to impoverished people in over 30 countries. The animals can give milk, meat, or eggs; provide draft power; or form the basis of a small business. Communities make their own decisions about what crops, animals, and market strategies make sense for their everyday conditions and experiences.

Heifer International is based on 12 Cornerstones, such as Sustainability; Genuine Need and Justice; and Gender and Family Focus. Perhaps the best known Cornerstone is Passing on the Gift, in which Heifer recipient families pass on the offspring of their animals to others in need. In this way, whole communities can raise their standard of living.

A donation to Heifer International also can make a wonderful alternative holiday gift. Instead of yet another sweater for Grandma that she really doesn’t need, why not donate a Heifer animal or a share of an animal in her honor? Does your child really need so many new toys? Instead of five new toys, give him/her three new toys and a Heifer flock of chicks. Heifer has honor cards to let your loved ones know of your gift on their behalf.

I have set up a Team Heifer page to support Heifer International through A Year of Centuries. My goal is to raise $500. Please make your donation through If you would like more information about Heifer’s work, please visit Whether you give to honor a loved one or make a regular donation, thank you for taking steps to transform the world for the better.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Farm Animals

Most people think of the ASPCA in terms of pet animals, but the ASPCA also advocates for compassionate treatment of farm animals.  Less than 1% of Americans claim farming as an occupation, but all of us can make food choices that promote better animal welfare.  And that doesn’t mean that we all have to be vegetarians.

One of the best books I’ve read in the last decade is The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  The author traces four meals from their origins to the table:

1) A conventional meal that is the product of the U.S. industrial-agricultural complex (e.g., McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets)

2)  A USDA-certified organic meal

3) A locally grown organic meal

4) A meal that the author hunted and gathered himself

The book is excellent in so many ways, but one aspect that has particularly stuck with me is the contrast between the way animals are treated in a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) versus the way animals are treated on a smaller scale, agriculturally diverse farm.

A number of animals that we use for food, including cows, pigs, and chickens, are raised in CAFOs.  A CAFO confines animals to very small spaces, often too small for them even to turn around, with little or no exposure to natural vegetation or sunlight.  An additional problem with cows in CAFOs is that they are fed primarily corn, largely because our insane U.S. agriculture policy produces more corn than we know what to do with.  (There’s a lot more to that story, like the exponential increase in the use of high-fructose corn syrup and its link to obesity – check out the book!).  Cows aren’t designed to eat corn; they are designed to eat grass.  Corn makes cows sick, and so we pump them full of antibiotics so that they can tolerate the corn.  Such extensive use of antibiotics promotes drug-resistant strains of bacteria, which can infect not only the cows but us humans further along the food chain.  (E. coli anyone?)  Told you it was insane, didn’t I?

In stark contrast to CAFOs, local farmers like Joel Salatin grow a variety of crops and livestock in a healthy, sustainable way.  That’s why he calls his farm Polyface, to indicate that farming should be a multi-faceted, integrated, and holistic endeavor.  He runs his farm so that the processes mimic as closely as possible what nature does.  For example, his cows graze freely, and their manure fertilizes the pastures.  Then, at just the right number of days after the cows have grazed a particular area, he moves his chickens into the same area so that they can feast on all the tasty grubs.  It’s a dynamic, ever changing system that he’s always refining, which maximizes the well-being of his animals as well as his profits.  The book also describes the animal slaughter process – meat is one of his farm’s products, after all – but even that is done with as little suffering by the animals as possible.  Notwithstanding this reality of farming, when you read about Joel Salatin’s approach to the land, you want to become a farmer yourself!

This isn’t intended as an argument for or against vegetarianism.  I think that people can have a variety of healthy diets, and in this world, life lives at the expense of life.  Personally, I do eat meat, but I tend to follow the example of Thomas Jefferson, using meat “as a condiment for the vegetables which constitute my principal diet.”  Also, I plan at least one meatless dinner per week for Robert and me.  The important thing is to remember that we have choices, and some choices are better than others.

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