Saturday, August 27, 2011

Farm Bulletin: Teasing Out the Threads of an Outbreak

This week contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm takes a stab at teasing out the complex threads of an issue that all farmers of field crops contend with (and fear): contamination. From whatever source, whether animals, water or acts of the gods, every farmer must be vigilant and regularly train workers in detection and prevention methods. His livelihood, and that of the community, depends on it…yet another reason to know your farmer.

This week was a reminder as to why our primary business code is berry farming. Berries will occupy us seven days a week into the next month.

We had planned to include a longer essay providing our perspective on the illnesses linked to strawberries. Somehow or another, it didn't gel written despite several attempts. There were several threads that refused to come together in a cohesive, manageable piece.

The first is our desire to assure you all that we have been taking this issue seriously for years. Our commercial farming career started in the post-Odwalla era. That outbreak initiated a huge change in the organic farming community, and harvest sanitation is included in the certification audit.

There is also the anger that these scourges of the giant feedlots have contaminated the natural world around us, all for cheaper chicken breasts and hamburger. The victims, their families and a farm have had their lives turned upside down, and the anguish will continue during the months or years of litigation while the true culprits continue to rake in massive profits.*

Then there is the emerging understanding of how these organisms operate in terms of their ecology and pathology. This is not problem we can rinse our way out of, despite the banal advice proffered by the pubic health officials. These are tough, persistent organisms and we must employ every strategy possible to avoid contamination in the first instance. Our understanding of these organism is still fragmentary and deficient.

There is a public policy dimension to this issue. In this case, it was a local outbreak handled by local officials who decisively identified the food and farm involved, the outlets where the berries were sold and a likely source of the contamination: deer scat. A measured and professional response by our local agriculture and public health officials prevented a panic. Great credit is due to our state epidemiologist, Charles Keene, and our director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Katy Coba.

Finally, the incident underscored the wisdom of Hillsdale being a true farmers market, where reselling some other farm's fruits and vegetables is prohibited. Farmers' markets should be different than bricks and mortar types of stores, and allowing resale blurs that distinction.

You can why the essay rolled out of control. It is a complex subject, and it is on our minds all of the time that we are growing the food we sell.

[* There is concern that the deer might have come into contact with the e. coli bacteria when grazing near a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) in the area of the strawberry farm. By grazing in an e. coli-contaminated area then wandering into a strawberry field to graze on the plants, the deer then contaminated the ground-level fruit with their droppings. - KAB]

No comments: