Listen In - First Episode

June 25, 2018

Good morning Family Cow Tribe,

I have a bit of a problem.

The problem is this: When I set out to write to you all, I struggle with a solid mental picture of my audience... Who exactly am I writing to? If that sounds weird, just think with me.

Am I writing to the totally excited SUV-driving-mom-of-two, expecting her third, who's seeking the absolute healthiest foods and has just discovered The Family Cow? Or am I writing to the skeptical microbiologist who is checking out our raw milk food safety plan? Or is it the college girl who's doing her research paper on "The Role of Sustainable, Regenerative, Grass-based Farming in Global Carbon Sequestration." Or maybe I'm writing to the wonderful senior citizen couple who, along with their extended family, have trusted our family for their food for the last 10 years. Or what if it's a conventional dairy farmer who's thinking to convert his farm to organic and signed up to see what he can learn?

You see my dilemma? We love all of our tribe and want to communicate, but you all are such a diverse bunch. It can be kind of difficult to get all of you to stay put on the same page!

Recently while discussing this communication difficulty with a friend, I said, sort of jokingly, that maybe if I'd announce which particular group I'm addressing, it would help me focus. And the rest could just listen in. My friend said, "Hey... you ought to do that! And you could even title it "Listen In."

So here's the first "Listen In" episode!

This one is based on an email I received after launching our UPS food delivery. (We get several hundred email questions per week and we answer every one of them, so if you ever wonder what your farmers do with their spare time... Now you know!)

I didn't want to misjudge this lady, but something about her tone seemed off. Her words seemed thinly veiled barbs... condescending and cynical. I wondered if she had connections to some anti-organic, chemical farmers. She seemed to want to criticize and poke rather than have answers. But hey, you never know. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and explain as nicely as I could.

Now you get to LISTEN IN!

Note: A few details are changed for privacy.

From: Mrs. Q*****
Sent: Friday, February 23, 2018 7:56 AM
To: The Family Cow
Subject: Food for Thought

Hello. I have been reading your messages and advertisements for a while. I have been past the "The Family Cow" farm thousands of times in the past 27 years. And yes, I have stopped in and visited. I have watched your chickens and cows graze and roam on land that is next to an interstate highway with its thousands of diesel trucks rolling by daily. I first wonder "How organic and healthy can these products be?" And now that you are adding more trucks to the stream of pollution in our county and state I wonder if you ever consider the carbon footprint of your enterprises?

Mrs. Q


Good afternoon Mrs. Q

I'm sorry to be a bit slow on the reply. I had a lot of farm and family stuff pressing this morning and this kept getting pushed off. So anyway, I believe I have a bit of time before we leave to pick up our 17-year-old son who's been away at Bible school.

First, it's good to hear from a neighbor. Thank you for taking the time to write. Your "Food for Thought" email raises questions that, yes... we have definitely considered.

Your first question is about the I-81 and how can food from a farm situated as ours be "organic and healthy." I understand your feelings. If we lived in an ideal world that was totally at our control, we'd want to have our farm several miles further off of any busy road. In fact, while we are creating this perfect world let's just make no traffic period. I'm for that! :)

But this, of course, is silly.

We do live in the real world. All of us do... whether it's us organic farmers or the conventional farms around us. The crops that we all grow and the foods that we all sell, like it or not, may be impacted, at least in some way, by environmental influences beyond our control.

But that is not the big difference dividing organic and chemical farming.

The big difference is that with organic farming, we do everything in our power to keep our environment as pure as we know how.

For example, we farm 850 acres in the Cumberland valley 100% organically (zero chemicals). (BTW...only about 80 of those acres are close to I81.) Other farmers may farm the same amount of acres in our same valley with a whole array of chemicals. As organic farmers, we very intentionally and carefully manage our land and animals without chemical nitrogen, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, larvacides, parricides or any other chemical 'cide' which you may think of.

As you probably know, Mrs. Q, these 'cides' are the chemical farmers' "killer tools." They are the tools-of-the-trade of chemical farming. All 'cides' are poisons in one way or another. (The suffix 'cide' denotes death, destruction and intentional killing... Think homicide, suicide or genocide.) They are all designed for the sole, explicit purpose of killing something. Remember, I have a chemical farming background and still subscribe to the farming magazines so I know and have personal experience with these things.

Poisons are not necessary for abundant food production. Poisons do often make food production much cheaper than non-chemical methods. Poisons definitely make food production easier and faster and with less labor. But poisons are not necessary. There are other modern and intelligent ways. At the Family Cow we have not used a single 'cide' for the last 13 years.

So, yes, we don't like the outside-of-our-control impact of our modern world. But we have proved that it is very possible to successfully grow abundant volumes of food without applying poisons on purpose.

With all other environmental exposures being equal in the Cumberland valley between two types of farming... at least our organic abundance of foods are not exposed to the intentional poison cocktail of chemical farming.

And that purity is what our very educated tribe demands. That is what is important to them. That's why they seek us out. A lot of our customers are MDs, RNs or in some other way work in the healthcare world. Others are highly educated, well-read moms and dads who have done their research. They know what they are looking for and why. They gladly pay extra to have their foods custom grown for them without applications of poisons.

And carbon footprint? Absolutely. We think of that a lot. That is part of the reason why we grow 100% of our 15,000 broiler chickens and our 1,000 turkeys during the summer in portable shelters moved 2x per day to new pasture. With our way, (Actually it's God's way... He was the first to put the chickens in the grass) we have no constant ventilation fans, no lights, never have to burn diesel to haul bedding in or use diesel to haul manure out. We have no flies so we have no need for chemical fly spray. We have no stink because the manure left behind dries in sun the same day that it was made and soon gets washed into the soil again with water sprinklers that we also move 2x per day behind the shelters.

Keeping our carbon footprint as small as possible is also why, for the 8 grass-growing months of our PA year, we walk our milk cows and beef cows to new grass every day. Really if you think about it, God designed them with feet and legs and special forage harvesting mouths for a reason and they do love being outside. So why should we not let them do it themselves instead of firing up a tractor to do what they can very easily do?

So, on our farm, the cows themselves mow, chop, and haul the freshly harvested forage back to the barn with them in their special 4 compartment stomachs. During this grazing season, we don't even need a silo or silage bunk to store the forage, a skid loader to dig it out, or a mixer to mix and deliver the feed to her. She does it all without even a drop of diesel.

The next time she goes out to eat she hauls the spent forage (now manure) out with her and again without diesel, spreads it around in the pastures just where it's needed to freshly fertilize the grass and make it grow. So even our summertime manure gets spread with a very small carbon footprint! Oh, and I almost forgot that just like the chickens, we do not need to haul truckloads of bedding in for the cows during the grass season because they just lay on the clean pasture when they get tired.

I could go on, Mrs. Q, but you get the point. Because of carefully controlled animal movement to their food and bedding, the food production system of our farm has a much smaller carbon footprint than conventional farms.

But I realize that your question on carbon footprint was mainly about our food distribution and not the food production. Here is where I'm a little puzzled. Our food distribution, especially, has an exceptionally small carbon footprint in comparison to industrial foods.

The critical truth that maybe you missed, Mrs. Q, is that we are not putting any extra traffic on the road at all with our food distribution methods. In fact we are drastically reducing road traffic.

Think with me a bit: It's "Food for Thought" if I may playfully put that back on you. :)

Any and all food (conventional or organic) must be in some way transported with some vehicle to the end consumer. That is a given. No one can get around that, unless, of course, all of the folks that eat from a farm would live so close that they walk! :)

It's called the food chain or food miles. Obviously the shorter the chain, the lower the carbon footprint. Industrial food distribution particularly has a very long chain and a very large carbon footprint.

A "normal American" farmer sells each pound of food that he produces to a milk company, a chicken company, etc. The company hauls the food away in a semi-truck to a food processing company which may be several hundred miles away. After it is processed it is loaded back onto another semi-truck for another several hundred miles to a distributor's warehouse. From the warehouse it is hauled again hundreds of miles to grocery stores across the nation. Then the families within 10-20 miles surrounding the store all individually drive to the store to haul their food home.

In contrast, Family Cow food has an amazingly short food chain and a corresponding very small carbon footprint. Most of the foods produced on our farm are processed on our farm. Our milk goes 100 feet through a pipeline to be bottled. The chickens and turkeys go ¼ mile or even less to be butchered on farm by us. When they are done, they travel a few hundred yards to storage, again still on our farm.

Some customers drive straight here to our farm to get the food; others get us to ship it to them. Either way, the food makes one straight trip from our farm to their house.

The new home delivery (which I suppose is what you are objecting to in your email) is actually the most efficient of our food access methods.

One truck loaded with 200 orders for 200 families will without a doubt transport food much more efficiently to its final destination in a mom's kitchen than if each of those families individually drove their own personal car on a round trip to our farm.

The truck makes one round trip maybe covering 1000 miles. But, if for example the average customer lives 50 miles from our farm... 200 cars each making a 100 mile round trip to our farm and back home again would be 20,000 road miles! No comparison! The delivery truck wins by a 20x margin hands down on lowering the carbon footprint.

So anyway, Mrs. Q, to answer your question simply, yes, we have thought about these things to a great extent for the last 13 years. But thank you for asking. It's a pleasure to explain.

It's our life and our passion. Our whole family and team love what God has called us to do. The satisfaction and deep sense-of-fulfillment rewards are unbelievable. There is no way in the world that our family would ever go back to chemical farming or to the disconnected, disjointed industrial food system that Dawn & I were a part of for the first 15 years of our married life.

I hope this is helpful! Feel free to ask any other questions you have.

Love and Blessings...

Your neighbors,
Edwin and Dawn Shank and Family


Good evening Mr. Shank,

Thank you for your reply. I appreciate your timely and well thought out response. Clearly you are a prolific writer. And passionate about what you do. I like that. Passion is good.

I, too, am a passionate person. And I tend to be a purist at heart on most things. So yes, I think about an ideal world and this is why I wonder about how things are presented and how they work (or don't work).

It is good that you have thought through all of these things. And that you have eliminated the use of “cides” in your farming methods. Oh, and thanks for the mini English lesson to explain that to me. Touche' Can't be too sure that those of us born, raised, educated and fed by our chemical using local farmers have the ability to know that "cide" is a suffix noting death. Again thanks.

Mrs. Q


Good morning Mrs. Q,

I'm sorry that I offended you. I didn't mean to come across that way. I truly did not intend to talk down to you with my explanation of what a 'cide' is. I simply explained because, as I communicate to 1,000's of non-organic folks each year, I'm often surprised at how many moms and grand-moms truly do not know. They don't know that crop chemicals are very intentionally designed to be used as death and destruction-causing poisons. It's often not even part of their consciousness that they and their children and grandchildren may be exposed this way.

They also are often unaware or at least under-aware that these poisons are rather commonly sprayed directly onto ready-to-harvest crops like wheat, barley and soybeans. They are unaware even though it's easily researchable... like this shockingly candid report direct from non-organic farmers.

Why Is Glyphosate Sprayed on Crops Right Before Harvest? 

But I do understand. And again, I'm sorry I offended your intelligence. My intent was to answer your question. It almost seems that you now resent the answer?

So... would you like us to remove you from our email newsletter list? It seems that you find them offensive. We will remove you if you say so.

So just let us know.

Edwin Shank


I never heard back from Mrs. Q. But this correspondence does leave me with another question. Is it possible that a lifetime of consuming foods laced with chemicals makes one bitter?

Edwin Shank

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