February 2023 Newsletter

Hello everyone and welcome to the sunny south!  The southern part of Bruce county, that is, where after the darkest, greyest January in memory, we are enjoying some fabulous warm, sunny weather – feeling more like mid-March than February.  We seem to have turned a corner with Groundhog Day, and are on the downward slope toward spring.  The pigs are happy rooting up their pasture and the new calves have found a sunny, south facing hillside where they can hang out, out of sight from their overprotective mothers.

Pre-Spring Specials


Save 20% on these Certified Organic, Pasture Raised Meats until March 21st:
SpecialRegular priceSale price
Maple Garlic Sausage$9.99$8.00
Smoked Ham Steak$12.50$10.00
Bone-in Ham Roast$12.50$10.00
Pork Tenderloin$16.00$12.80
Chicken Drumsticks$7.50$6.00

Don’t forget about 20 lb. boxes of Garlic pork patties, Mild Italian pork patties or Pork and Beef patties – $140.

How about a side of pork or quarter of beef?  This is still the most economical way to purchase meat.  If you haven’t tried it yet and want to know more read this:

Standards:  What do all the claims mean? How do we compare?

Take a moment with Ted to understand the “Organic Standard,” what it is, and why we continue to adhere to it even though it is costly and difficult.

We have been in discussion with a wholesale customer about the production standards on our farm, and decided it was time to speak to all of you about it.  As you will know from experience, there are a wide variety of claims being made for food.  The people who initiated this discussion with us had been buying ZFF pork, but decided to switch to a lower cost supplier who offered them pigs raised outside that are “GMO free”.  This sparked a deeper discussion revealing some serious confusion. So the big question is; “What’s the difference between all these different claims?” Here are a few basics that will help you to understand why we farm the way we do and why it matters.  As you read, keep in mind our motto at Zettel Family Farms, which is “To provide the best food possible at prices the average family can afford.”

As we’ve related to you in past newsletters, our farm was one of the first to become organic, way back in 1983, when this was really a radical fringe movement without any commercial presence.  The Canadian Organic Standard did not yet exist, so when our farm was first certified in 1986 we were voluntarily conforming to an international set of rules which had no legal status.  That developed later through a 20 year process of consultation between stakeholders and the federal government, which we were intimately involved in, culminating in oversight by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency of a Production Standard that became law in 2009.

In essence, the 75 page Organic Production Standard is an attempt to define all the practices that are necessary to protect the environment, sustain the soil and produce the most wholesome, healthy food we can, and to make these methods mandatory, while prohibiting the use of all inputs or methods deemed to be harmful to either the soil, the water, or people.  In short, good practices like crop rotation, cover cropping, pasturing of animals and provision of ideal conditions for their well-being are required.  The use of herbicides, pesticides, commercial synthetic fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics and any products resulting from recombinant gene technologies are forbidden.  In theory, the organic code should result in the best practices for people, the animals, and the earth. But as with everything, the ideal is never fully attainable, and defining and enforcing that ideal with law always involves compromises.

Where does Organic fall short?

As a vocal member of the Organic Standards Committee which struggled to define the rules, I can tell you that there are many imperfections in the code.  In the years since the legal definition was completed, some have suggested that we need another, better standard.  Words like “Beyond Organic”, “Organic 2.0” or “Regenerative Agriculture” have emerged.  We agree with some of the critics, but don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. A big disappointment was that the code failed to prevent what we would call “confinement organics” in the pork and poultry industries.  This is basically confinement housing for pigs, meat birds and laying hens.  The animals are raised inside barns, but are fed organic grains.  This model, while it is an admirable start, eliminating the use of herbicides, antibiotics and GMO seeds, doesn’t go far enough to achieve our goal of providing the best food possible.  Our pigs go outside summer and winter, and we choose to raise chickens and turkeys only in summer when they can be in moveable pens and have fresh pasture twice a day.

The other  big compromise made to accommodate the practices of the cattle industry was to allow limited use of grains and oilseeds in the rations of ruminants.  More recent discoveries in the field of nutrition have shown clearly that the best beef is “grass-fed”.  So we have chosen old breeds of cattle that fatten easily on pasture and hay, and we don’t feed them any grain.

So if we are in fact going beyond what the Organic Standard requires, do we still need Organic Certification?  There are some points where, in our opinion, the rules go too far, requiring us to do things which add cost without adding value.  And the burden of documentation is extreme! But we keep on going through the annual process of applying for certification, being audited, correcting any “non-compliances” and paying the ever inflating fee.  Here’s why.  Those other claims all share one deficiency which renders them pretty well useless as far as being a guarantee of value.  They have no legal definition of standard, or oversight by legal authority for enforcement.  As a purchaser of the product you need to be aware that the words on the label like “natural” will mean different things to different people. Non- GMO still allows unrestricted use of all the biocides legally available to farmers.  Outside of the term Organic, none of the other claims have gone through that tortuous process of arriving at clear, written rules.  And without any formal mechanism for enforcement, you are basically trusting in the good will of the vendor. Clearly this is not the way to ensure the best possible product.

What we at Zettel Family Farms aspire to as farmers is to be good stewards of the land, to respect creation as a gift, and to pass it on to the next generation in better condition than we found it.  Our ideal for raising animals is formed by imagining “If I were a pig, or chicken or cow…I would want to live like this” and then striving to come closer to that ideal.  Complying with all the rules and maintaining organic certification sets a basic minimum standard for us, which we can’t fall below.  Most of what we need to do and what we need to avoid to be good farmers is covered. No other standard is likely to emerge and achieve the rigorous status of certified organic. So for now at least, despite our dislike for regulation, we will continue to certify, and to impose our own standards, over and above those written into the law.  

Time for me to get working on that dreaded application!

Posted in Newsletters.