Thursday, March 19, 2015

Something Wicked West Wind Comes...

If you are involved in agriculture or local food here in the Upstate Hudson area, than you already know about the story of West Wind Acres. It's a pasture-based meat farm, ran by a gentleman named Joshua Rockwood. This man is currently facing upwards of 12 charges of animal neglect and cruelty for raising animals in New York, in winter, outside. What did he do that was so atrocious? He had unlicensed livestock guardian dogs and the stream his livestock drank out of required the animals to stick their snouts through the snow and a thin layer of ice to drink on the freezing cold day the police showed up. Also, water had been frozen in dog bowls because they visited his farm in the late afternoon, long after morning chores when the water was thawed. That's what they discovered: dogs without tags and the temperature. You can read the entire story on Josh's Blog.

Doesn't sound like a big deal? Well it is. Soon after this visit the police arrived with a warrant and seized his horses and dogs. It didn't matter that he called a local vet to publicly post a letter that all the animals were healthy and fine. It didn't matter that the person who he adopted the dog from also spoke on his behalf. All animals passed their hydration tests. Locals, farmers, and customers are rallying to support him because they actually know him, know the farm, and know the animals. Regardless of all this support - the government came and took away his property because someone felt the need to make this man, and his two son's and wife, life a living hell. Now the man is facing court, charges of abuse, and has had his animals taken away.

How did this happen? Some one called the authorities on him. I do not know who did this, but since his farm is in a more suburban/city area many suspect that a neighbor called Animal Control on him because his animals were "outside" in winter. Police came to his home and were allowed by Joshua to search his farm without a warrant. Why did he let them? Because Josh, like many of us raising animals up here, are students of farms such as Polyface, which welcomes guests to visit and see the farm for themselves. Josh felt he had nothing to hide and was proud of his farm. He should be. He had the bravery to leave his old job in construction and do the hard work of networking, marketing, and starting a CSA to support his family. And he is doing it based on grass-fed, outside, transparent methods - the kind of farming we desperately need in this county. And he is now on figurative thin
ice because of literal thin ice. His reputation, his business, his farm is now part of an animal right's witch hunt. The sad part is the people screaming at him with pitchforks and rope mostly have no idea what goes into farming at all. They are white noise.

I have had animal control called on myself once and it was like a punch in the stomach. I wrote about it my book Barnheart. A neighbor who knew absolutely nothing about livestock watched my animals while I visited my family for Thanksgiving. I came home to a note on my front door stating that my farm was deplorable because November rains had caused her to need to wear muck boots to feed the chickens (dirty) , the geese had just hatched a half dozen goslings (illegal breeding operation), and the three sheep were pooping on the grass several hundred feet above ground water (poisoning local resources). If you knew nothing about me at all and heard that a local farmer was raising animals in a dirty place, running an underground breeding operation and poisoning water you would think I was a monster. The officer came and ended up apologizing me me instead. He said my animals were all in fine condition, there was not a single violation, and if the person complained about me again they would be considered a public nuisance. I'll never forget how he explained to me that in his line of work he sees truly horrible things. He was angry that he had to drive out to my place on a Saturday, waste his time, taxpayer money, and ton resources based on one ignorant person with an agenda.

Listen, farming isn't an act of perfection. Some days are horribly hot and humid, others are bitter cold. Guess what? On those days us farmers are ALSO hot and humid or bitterly cold. We are the ones outside driving tractors to make ice breaks in streams and carrying buckets to animals when pipes freeze. WE are the ones making sure that there isn't a sign of discomfort or pain in the animals we care for. WE are the ones who put ourselves out there online, in blogs, and in farmer's markets to bring a life, story, and product we are passionate about to our communities. And doing that doesn't mean our farms have to look like the adorable little displays at the county fair to be legit or "ethical". Real farms have more going on than just a half dozen show hogs in the barn or a handful of hens in a heated, painted, coop. Real farms care about things like body condition, hydration, infections, and consistent care. Joshua runs a real farm. Don't go to it and expect to see Martha Stewart's barn. Go to it and expect healthy animals, scrappy conditions, and a family starting a business of good food in a culture where reputation and community ends all.

Here is what is going to happen to Joshua and his family. His court date on the 24th will be full of supporters and friends. The charges will be dropped. His business will grow in support and appreciation. I have reached out to him as have so many local farmers in our area. And even though this is a horrible thing to suffer through, the silver lining is that hundreds of locals who care about ethical food and small businesses will now know about another producer in the area. He is getting a lot of attention, and he should. And it is important that those of us out there raising animals rally to support each other in such times. So reach out on Facebook, twitter, and his blog. If you can go to the hearing, go. All of us are in this together. And while I think good farms with transparency will win in the end, for the now, don't let anyone EVER search your property without a warrant. Have a local ag lawyer's number on hand, and keep your chin up.

Keep farming Josh. We've got your back.

For anyone looking for legal aid in similar situations please contact the fine people at the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund and The Calvary Group. Both are stopping the overreach of government and extremists from infringing on Constituntional rights to farm, own animals, and raise good food.

photo of cattle is from Josh's website.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

THANK YOU!!! We do have his back..I will be there on the 24th to support Josh. Drives me crazy that people who are absolutely fine buying their meat from factory farms whose animals barely survive in deplorable conditions, feel the need to call animal control to say that the Rockwood's animals are being mistreated. Makes my blood boil.

March 19, 2015 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger 3 Dogs Barking Farms said...

This started a few years ago they used to go to the same market I did and one of their neighbors wrote the farm manager accusing Josh of lots of crazy stuff so unfortunately this has been happening for years. So sad when a farmer that is actually doing to right thing is accused of doing the worst thing. Hopefully like you said the charges will be dropped. thankfully he does have a very supportive community.

March 19, 2015 at 10:47 AM  
Blogger ecogrrl said...

The Farm to Consumer group seems great, but do you have more info about Cavalry Defense Fund? Want to be sure they're not a cover for big ag, CAFOs, fighting against California's farm animal welfare laws etc, and can't tell from their carefully scripted website.

March 19, 2015 at 12:53 PM  
Blogger Ohiofarmgirl said...

we have a locking gate, keep the animals in the back of the property, have an Ag-knowledgeable attorney, and no longer think something like that could never happen to us. not all do-gooders are doing good.

March 19, 2015 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger Margaret said...

Keep writing, Keep educating, Keep talking. Crazy people are out there, but most people are ignorant. They really don't know better and information is critical.

March 19, 2015 at 4:18 PM  
Blogger Kyler and Sylvia said...


The battle rages on.

March 20, 2015 at 1:30 AM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

It is completely a witch hunt, like you stated! We have also had ignorant neighbors call to complain about ridiculous things. One guy didn't like our rooster and actually thought he should be kept in our basement and also wanted to know if a vet could remove his vocal cords. What?!?!?

March 20, 2015 at 9:07 PM  
Blogger Tanya T said...

That is so so so unfortunate for Josh. I agree, farming is not a perfect science. We've all had our share of frozen water, days where stalls didn't get cleaned due to another emergency. Families that were fed later than usual because of farm chores. Total ignorance. What about those poor animals who were taken away from their home, that's crewel in itself! I am aghast that this was done to a farmer.

March 24, 2015 at 12:18 PM  

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