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Dinner at Tara Firma

Tara Firma Farms

In the late afternoon of Saturday, September 11th, I went to Tara Firma Farms in the beautiful Petaluma countryside to attend the first of their Speaker Dinner series: a talk by Lierre Keith, author of The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability. It was my second visit to the farm owned by Tara Smith and family, who use sustainable and organic practices to produce vegetables and pasture-raised meats, as well as provide education in environmentally friendly farming practices.

When we arrived at the farm, there were three picketers in front with "blood" (red paint?) splattered, white coveralls, looking like butchers or meat factory workers. They held signs that read, "Meat a dying business".

The evening began with wine, hors d'œuvres, and live music in the barn which was set up with linen covered tables and decorated with tea lights in canning jars and wicker balls hanging by twine from the rafters. Montemaggiore, a biodynamic winery in Healdsburg, had a tasting table where I tried their wonderfully impressive rosé.

I joined a group tour to a pasture of pigs and a hillside of egg-laying chickens, all with lots of space to range naturally. Tara spoke of the way they move the pigs' fencing and the chickens' portable house so that the animals have continuously replenished forage. Several ground-level "chicken tractors" were visible on another hillside, containing their flocks of roaster chickens which she said are moved every day. They have cows in pastures that are rotated so that the grass is only grazed down so far, a few inches from the ground, and then allowed a few months to recover to knee height, building healthy soil. We only saw a tiny part of their 300 acres. Tara also explained how the farm takes on interns who are encouraged and supported in starting up a farming business themselves after their training completes. It sounded like the way businesses should be run: sharing knowledge, giving back to the community, and not having fear of competition!

During the tour, Tara mentioned the protesters in front of the farm and said that PETA "hates" Lierre Keith.

More Montemaggiore wine, a syrah and their "3 Divas" white, were served while a packed room listened to Lierre Keith speak. Though the room was getting tipsy and talkative, I was excited to listen to what Keith had to say on the topic of the "vegetarian myth", as I was completely unfamiliar with her but have my own reasons for going back to eating meat.

She started by saying that the issues of food and the environment are not from a problem of values, that it is a problem of information. She said that agriculture is a war against nature, it displaces species, it destroys top soil. Humans are dependent on the destruction of the planet. But she said that "people are trying to engage on a much deeper level" and those words mean a lot to me. I feel the shift in people's interest, the gradual awakening, and see the move toward being more directly connected to what truly keeps us alive. Keith mentioned a book, "Overshoot", and talked about "take over" and "draw down", concepts I wasn't completely clear on from what she said. However, I felt I was in understanding with what she had to say about sunlight and soil: sunlight as the base form of energy, all species are trying to get more of it, that oil is ancient sunlight, and soil is the basis of life. Keith quoted Richard Heinberg as saying, "sustainable agriculture is an oxymoron" and she said, "agriculture is the single most destructive human activity." Polyculture: plants and animals working together to create soil. She said something about how our life-styles use the amount of energy and resources equal to having 300 slaves, previously only emperors had that many slaves. "We can dominate or we can participate." Questions to ask: What methods of food production rebuild top soil? Does my food repair top soil, protect top soil, or destroy top soil? Does this food come from where I live?

The talk was followed by a fantastic many course feast catered by Green Earth: salad, potato leek soup, beet carpaccio, garden tomatoes, braised short ribs, and chicken marbella. Apparently much of the food was grown on the farm. Dessert was grilled peaches and goat-milk ice-cream provided by Laloo's. The food was all amazing.

Having been a vegetarian for ten years, vegan part of that time, and then returning to eating meat several years ago, I have a personal interest in this sustainable omnivore movement. I have my reasons for making the change back to meat and I know those reasons came from a more intelligent, better informed place, as well as a more deeply spiritual place, than my decision to stop eating meat did. Honestly, I became a vegetarian more out of peer pressure from men I was dating, and possibly to rebel against the fast-food culture of the '80s, than any other reasons. Sure the propaganda literature and photos of animals on factory farms had a huge impact on me emotionally, but I was ignorant about nutrition, agriculture, and the environment. Having grown up on a small family farm with sheep who had huge pastures, who were much more wild than creations of industrialized agriculture, over time, it was easy to remember that meat did not have to come from an over-crowded, hormone-injecting, disease-riddled, factory farm. It was not a stretch for me to understand that there was another way to raise animals. I had first-hand experience in how a farm could be balanced, natural, and humane.

After posting on Facebook about having seen Leirre Keith speak, one friend commented that he thought she wrote the book to justify her turning back to eating meat. He claimed he's healthy and feels good as a vegetarian. I responded by saying that she very well may have written the book for that reason, people do tend to have personal motives for what they are moved to accomplish, but I was impressed by her, her passion and care. I also said that she's only one voice in a movement based on recent research and understanding of open space, environmental impact, human nutrition, animal health, carbon sequestering, etc.

Certainly everyone should be able to decide if eating meat is right, or not, for the health of their own body. I think that it's one thing to say, "I'm a vegetarian because I feel good and healthy as a vegetarian," but to say, "I'm a vegetarian because I don't believe in factory farms," or "because I'm an environmentalist," or "because I want to save the world from starvation", is coming from a lack of information and isn't looking at the whole picture.

environment (3), event (4), farm (12), food (11), organic (2), petaluma (19), speaker (1), sustainable (5), vegetarianism (2)

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