A 4th-Generation Farmer's 3 Tips For A Farm-Like Lifestyle Wherever You Live
While growing your own produce and raising livestock surrounded by fresh air and acres of open space sounds like a dream, it's not a reality for many of us. But according to Will Harris, a fourth-generation farmer and owner of White Oak Pastures—a family farm utilizing regenerative agriculture and humane animal husbandry practices—it is possible to follow a farm-like lifestyle wherever you reside.
City dwellers, take note! On this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, Harris shares helpful tips to take ownership of your personal food system and live a healthier life. (As a result, we may even shift the future of agriculture.)
Choose grass-fed meat, if you're able
If you can, Harris recommends always opting for grass-fed meat. Now, grass-fed has become a bit of a buzzword in health and well-being conversations, but Harris provides some thought-provoking insight into the cattle-raising process: On Harris' farm, it takes cows about two years on the pasture to reach what he calls their "slaughter weight," which is about 1,200 pounds.
"The life of an industrial creature is very, very different," he explains. "It is all about how fast you can grow the animal and how cheaply you can do it." In the industrial model, he says it takes around 18 months for the cow to reach 1,500 or 1,600 pounds. "It produces an unnaturally obese creature that would never occur in nature," he explains.
And unnaturally obese creatures have a much shorter life expectancy: Says Harris, the average natural life span of a cow is around 20 to 24 years, but if you left an industrial cow to live out its days in that feedlot, "[it] wouldn't live to be much older than that 24 months old," Harris notes. "The creature is dying of all the diseases [from] obesity and lack of exercise that kill most of us."
According to Harris, it's naive to think that eating an unhealthy creature would have no impact on our own health. "Somehow we have come to believe that eating a creature that is dying of obesity is just fine. It won't hurt you."
Of course, grass-fed meat isn't accessible for everyone, but at the very least, try to understand where your animal sources come from and how their lives can affect your own.
Grow your own vegetables
Sure, you might not have acres of land to cultivate, but you can plant your own fresh herbs and vegetables. "You can produce an incredible amount of food in a tiny space. It's amazing what you can do," says Harris. Now, can you make a living selling it, like Harris does? Not quite, he says. "But to feed your family or neighboring families—that's beautiful, and it can be done."
For instance, you can start a square-foot garden (common veggies include beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and greens) or choose easy-to-grow plants, like tomatoes and herbs. Of course, you won't be able to raise livestock in a tiny space, but take advantage of the land (or windowsill!) that you do have.
Get to know a regenerative farmer
Finally, the most important thing you can do, Harris says, is get to know a regenerative farmer in your area. "I really wish that all of you would find a regenerative farmer as near to you as possible and get to know them," he says. "If you can't go to the farm, reach out to them online—read their Facebook page or whatever social media they use—get to know as much about them as you can, and become a participant in their program."
Find out where they sell their crops, and prioritize purchasing them, if you can. After all, "The only way you're going to be able to help them is to buy from them," says Harris. "No farmer can produce food, grow, and increase operation unless you can find customers—that's how most of you can help." (You can contact Harris and White Oak Pastures here if you're interested.)
Anyone can live a farm-inspired lifestyle, according to Harris. In fact, keeping farmer best practices in mind may help regenerative farmers stay in business. "Any change we see will be a function of consumer demand," he notes, so take this as a sign to live the farm life—no matter where you call home.