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David Gumpert visits Eliot Coleman’s Farm

David Gumpert, author of The Raw Milk Revolution, was mentioned recently in a Time Magazine article that discussed the ongoing battle over raw milk. Clearly the world is catching on to the importance of this issue; we’re glad to see the mainstream media starting to pay attention to the debate.

In other news, David was lucky enough to visit Eliot Coleman‘s Four Season Farm in Maine recently, and was kind enough to share his experience with the rest of us in the following post from his blog, The Complete Patient. Enjoy!

A Trip Up Memory Lane:
As Eliot Coleman Prepares to Add Cattle to His Farm, the Food Rights Movement Will Gain an Important Voice

Maine farmer Eliot Coleman tends to his newly arrived chickens.

When I last saw Eliot Coleman prior to this past weekend, it was 1973 and he was still clearing boulders and tree stumps from his farm fields on Maine’s Cape Rossier to add to the small plots he had under cultivation. I was a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, and profiled him in two articles, two years apart, that were among the most widely read in WSJ history to that time. (Here’s a link to the first article reprinted in Mother Earth News, inexplicably minus my by-line; I haven’t found an Internet version of the followup, in 1973.)

Now 71, Coleman still patrols his fields with great determination and energy. The boulders and tree stumps are pretty much gone, replaced by pasture, mobile greenhouses, and fields resplendent in beautiful kale, broccoli, lettuce and other vegetables. He’s since achieved fame as one of the world’s foremost authorities on organic gardening, and in particular, on raising organic vegetables year-round in hostile environments like that of Maine.

Last Sunday, I re-traced the long ride I last took 37 years ago on back roads along Maine’s beautifully rugged coast to visit Coleman, and his wife, Barbara Damrosch (who is herself a well known writer on organic gardening). The one-room house where he and his family lived then, and the small camper where I and other guests bunked, are long gone, replaced by a spacious light-filled home with lots of guest rooms.

I quickly discovered that Coleman’s fame–he’s written three books, plus done videos and dozens of workshops –hasn’t made him any less contrary or opinionated than he was when he settled in on 60 acres of land he purchased for $33 an acre from back-to-the-land pioneers Helen and Scott Nearing in 1969. In fact, he’s adopted the Nearings’ approach of encouraging others in sustainable agriculture by selling off about 20 acres in pieces to others who want to pursue the same dream…and at the same $33 an acre.

There will be more fame upcoming in a few months, when a book by daughter Melissa Coleman (who was two years old when I first visited) hits the marketplace. It’s her remembrance of growing up on what has become a celebrity farm and in a celebrity family (and deals in part with the impact of The Wall Street Journal articles I wrote way back when).

Coleman is always exploring new farming adventures–he was especially proud during my visit last Sunday of his efforts to grow artichokes and ginger. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Coleman’s next farming project involves bringing in animals. He’s just acquired some chickens (pictured above), and within a few weeks, expects to bring in perhaps half a dozen cattle–for both raw milk and beef.

He says he’s had animals at different times since I last saw him, and he’s spoken out about the misguided efforts to blame meat eating for contributing to climate change, such as in a 2009 Grist article, in which he states, “If I butcher a steer for my food, and that steer has been raised on grass on my farm, I am not responsible for any increased CO2. The pasture-raised animal eating grass in my field is not producing CO2, merely recycling it (short term carbon cycle) as grazing animals (and human beings) have since they evolved. It is not meat eating that is responsible for increased greenhouse gasses; it is the corn/ soybean/ chemical fertilizer/ feedlot/ transportation system under which industrial animals are raised.”

I still had to adjust to the idea of Eliot and meat, since when I was with him in the 1970s, he was strictly vegetarian, though he and his wife milked a goat to provide milk for their daughter. I remember eating kale for the first time, and not exactly savoring a dinner of kale and oatmeal, factory-fast-food type that I was then.

He says he’ll use the raw milk for his family and farm help, but plans to slaughter his own beef, and make at least some of it available to neighbors. Now, as we all know, that’s a big no-no in regulatory la-la-land, where all beef, pork, and lamb are decreed to be slaughtered factory-style, under government supervision.

But Coleman says he’s been following the food rights movement, and is ready to join in. “That Aajonus (Vonderplanitz) is definitely a lunatic, but we need lunatics to counter the over-regulation. I’m probably not as much a lunatic, but I have my lunatic side.” He also hangs out with lunatics, having become good friends over the years with well known Virginia farmer Joel Salatin; indeed, he and Salatin are leading workshops on farming at a two-day conference in Colorado in a couple weeks put on by another of Coleman’s daughters, Clara Coleman. And he’s been encouraging Heather Retberg, a neighboring farmer fighting regulatory excesses described in my previous post.

In his study, I spotted a copy of Wise Traditions magazine published by the Weston A. Price Foundation, and asked Coleman about it. “I first read Weston Price’s writings back in 1967,” he told me. It all made a lot of sense then, and continues to do so today, he says.
I have to chuckle at the outrage expressed by Milky Way and Gord Welch following my previous post, over the milk-lotion-raw-milk in Canada. It’s a trick, a work-around, a distraction, they are suggesting. As if the regulators don’t use tricks and distractions to impede the supply of raw milk. Efforts to force colored dye in raw milk, or shut down food clubs via so-called building code or health code violations, or intimidating retailers not to carry raw milk–those are all tricks, but of a much more sinister sort.

The reality is that we are in a war, so what’s wrong with the side taking all the hits fighting back? Michael Schmidt’s arrival in British Columbia has changed the dynamic, because he’s respected as an important warrior. The aggressors know that Michael Schmidt fights back, so they decided maybe they should deal with him.

To Gord Welch’s very tired use of the “what about the children” refrain, I’d just say, what about the right of parents to feed their children a food that may well improve their health? 

This article appeared originally on The Complete Patient.

David Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights.

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