Fair Oaks Farm Reflections

I’m not sure how I feel about my experience touring the Fair Oaks facilities. While we were all there, there were so many emotions filling up the rooms that I think my feelings were influenced by others. I wonder if I would have had a completely different experience if I was alone or with a different group on the day, I kept thinking to myself how that was a reality I had been confronted by before, so why would I be surprised? I also wondered if others felt that way. Most of the group seemed to react differently. A lot of them being vegetarians. Nobody reacted wrongly, but I did notice a difference between my reactions and those of the rest of the group. Would I have ordered something different if we had lunch after the tour? This question stuck with me. I’m not sure if I would have. After hours of tours I was hungry again, and thought about finishing my pulled pork sandwich on the pig tour. I knew I would get death stares if I did.. This made me question my own morals, and how personal morals and view points or actions change when they conflict with others. I waited to get back, but then ate my sandwich. The thought of waste came up as well; is it better to eat this now (that a lot of us felt bad) or to throw the meat away. I thought about learning about hunter gatherer and indigenous people in high school. There was such an emphasis on THANKING the animal after taking its life – because by killing the animal the person was able to live. Almost like showing appreciation for an un-payable debt. So throwing the meat away was out of the question. If I had been confronted with the reality of the meat industry before, and I liked eating it (and had ordered it) why would my decisions change after this one experience? I guess every experience adds on to your overall knowledge and feelings about a specific issue or topic. Anyways – I ATE THE SANDWICH. Maybe I’m a bad person following the system I was raised in, or maybe I just like meat? I don’t know it’s not that black and white obviously. What hit me the most was seeing the birth of a cow. There was no respect or appreciation for such an intimate moment. Even the employees were extremely disrespectful. I was so upset after being in that room for just five minutes. How much of an animals life can be commercialized for human pleasure? When we do way STOP? – Reflection by Taylor Boucher

Danielle eating bacon Group Shot at the Farm Restaurant

What was most striking to me about our visit to Fair Oaks Farm was the presentations of their operation to the outside observer. Greeting us as we pulled up in our van was a climbing wall (a giant milk carton), a bouncy house, and other various attractions for kids. Bright colors bombarded us with images of smiling cows and pigs. As I looked closer and read the informational placards, my attitude suddenly shifted I could not believe what they were praising about their farm. Signs proudly saying that their cows never touched crude grass but were instead fed state of the art meal made of corn and antibiotics were everywhere. If it weren’t for the setting I would have thought it was all an elaborate prank, something published in an article of the Onion perhaps. The gross and inhumane treatment of the cows and pigs was appalling enough, yet their presentation of their farm made it seems as if everything was as great as it could be. What left me the most concerned was that it was all marketed towards little kids. I knew that kids would leave the operation with happy memories and false impressions of what sustainability means. In 10 years from now, they will see the Fair Oaks label and recall those memories and fond experiences; they will remember Fair Oaks as a place that took care of their animals and had pride in their work. Even worse, they may come to actually believe the stories and facades they heard to be sustainable and a fair way to treat living animals. As I sit and reflect on my experience at that operation, I am struck with how grateful I am to have the education I have that allows for me to see the problems with this kind of farm. Anything can be presented in a flowery and positive manner, we must always remain critical of what we learn if we really want to think and live more sustainably. – Reflection by David Masterson

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The last time I visited Fair Oaks I guiltlessly bought a milkshake and jumped on the trampoline, enjoying the place as an innocent rest stop on the way towards Chicago. This time, we decided to have lunch before going on the dairy and hog tours. We ordered plenty of meat and dairy products and ate until we were too full to eat any more. Needless to say, our tours were very sanitized and everything we saw was framed in entirely positive terms. ALl the farm practices were justified and defended eloquently by tour guides. It is difficult to know what to make of something like Fair Oaks. Should you be curious, investigative, cheerful, disgusted, depressed? As you walk through their facilities you are saturated with information, tour guides speaking to you, videos projected on walls, toys, graphics. Some parts of the tour I found fascinating, like the birthing barn, where visitors could observe cows giving birth on a stage behind glass walls. I was interested having never seen a cow deliver before. However, a few minutes in I began to feel extremely uncomfortable and disrespectful as a participant in this spectacle that put another being on display. It helps to separate the Fair Oaks dairy and hog operation from the touristic/performative presentation of it. From my limited knowledge of dairy and hog farming, my guess is that the Fair Oaks facility is on the smaller side of large scale farming. Of course, we didn’t see any overt animal cruelty (although that is subjective). In brief, I think it could have been much worse. Nonetheless, I think Fair Oaks is an important exposure to large scale livestock farming. I now know where Kroger milk, which I buy frequently comes from. What I want to offer now is a perspective of an alternative, more ethical way of farming. My family owns several cows, two of which we milk every day. The pasture on open fields with their calfs. Every few weeks we move them to another pasture, where they can have fresh grass. We milk them by hand and if there’s a nursing calf, we make sure to leave enough milk for the calf. The milk is distributed between four families. At our home, we mostly make it into yogurt, but we also make cheese, sour cream, and drink it as pure cold milk from the fridge. I can safely say that I feel good about this mode of farming and consumption. Although I’m suspicious of many of the large scale practices, such as not letting cows graze, I’m not ready to heavily criticize it yet. I think one must change one’s own diet before advocating for a particular mode of production. Seeing Fair Oaks has encouraged me to implement changes in my diet (mainly less animal protein from unknown sources) but I’m still figuring out what ethical eaten is. As we travel through miles and miles of farmland where hardly a weed grows, I’m realizing that Fair Oaks is only one symptom of a large, failing food system. I think it’s unfair to criticize Fair Oaks for farming the way they do without also investigating how the grain that feeds the cows and pigs and without honestly questioning our unbalanced diets. – Reflections by Daniel Vargas Cambronero

Baby calfsPhoto May 29, 2 19 47 PM

The most prominent connection that stuck out in my mind when analyzing the set up of Fair Oaks was the idea of a utopia in which is portrayed by many books and forms of media. Fair Oaks had this glossy exhibition that glorified and thus worked to normalize inhumane and unnatural conditions for livestock. Cows were cramped together and waited in a tight clump to walk onto a milking machine rotary. Calfs were enclosed in small spaces, away from their mothers. A heifer was put on display in a glass-enclosed stage as she was trying to give birth. Her laborious and private life-giving moment was made public and nerve-wracking. You could tell she was being negatively affected by the audience of people watching her. Pigs were split up into prison-looking rooms by age, where they’d never see the light of day. If you, as a human, imagined being in these cows and pigs’ situations, you would most likely realize that the facilities they’re stuck in is disturbing. Fair Oaks distracts its viewers from these realizations through their showy and optimistic demeanor. They normalize these prison life-styles by engaging tourists with games, training their staff to persist on the well-being of their animals, refusing to have a direct connection with the end result (the killing), capitalizing on our society’s obsession with cleanliness and drugs (antibiotics, vitamins, medical seasonal, etc.), and many more ways. I think one of the most disturbing and disheartening thins that I took away from this experience were the nonchalant and even happy/excited demeanors of the many people touring that days as well. Based on what I observed from other people’s faces and conversations, I concluded that most of this info that Fair Oaks presented was just absorbed in a positive manner, like Fair Oaks wants, and the possible disturbing analysis totally went over their heads. This means that many people aren’t educated by books or documents, such as Food Inc. that criticize livestock companies. And that didn’t surprise me, but it also still scares me and really makes me feel disturbed about how humans can grow their compassion and empathy for other animals. All this being said, I do still realize that Fair Oaks is at least treating their livestock way better than conventional factory farms (this is also another fact that they’re capitalizing on). At least their livestock aren’t standing in their own feces up to their stomachs. And at least they’re not overtly abusing their livestock, meaning literally kicking them around or slamming their bodies between two metal walls to death. – Reflections by A.J. Tiedeman

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I hated visiting Fair Oaks. It made me very uncomfortable and the joy surrounding the “farm” was disturbing. I have been a vegetarian for many years and visiting the farm made me sure of my decision to fall back into a similar practice. I want to be more conscious of life of the animals if I choose to eat meat in the future. I do not wish to offend people and I tend to eat whatever people serve me, so I will likely eat meat sometimes. As for dairy I will try to keep these farms in mind when educating friends. – Reflections by Mandisa Marks

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Visiting Fair Oaks was very difficult and draining to say the least. I drink milk and eat meat, but I rarely take the time to stop and think about where exactly it comes from – because  I know the realities of these various industries are bleak and I can’t handle the guilt that would come with the knowledge of what actually happens. It was impossible to feign ignorance while at Fair Oaks. It was so disturbing to feel the immense drive to manipulate people into thinking everything was just dandy. This manipulation permeated the entire facility – from the “interactive” and “fun” touch screens, to the chipper recordings that played on the buses. Also, the birthing room was really hard to be in. For such an act to be put on display for the enjoyment of others is awful. I could feel the cows nervous energy as she peered at the pairs of eyes staring intently on her. The existence of the room shows again how Fair Oaks is just supplying people with things that the audience wants to see – an “intimate” view of the miracle of life. Seeing the pigs was equally heart-breaking. The lack of room these pigs had to move in was shocking. Also, the cages that mother pigs were in were awful, the bars almost pressing into their skin and unable to move around at all. Once again, the saccharine smiles of the workers and the people on the screen were nauseating coupled with the old, white farmers remembering the old days where pigs were allowed outside and how difficult it made everything. Even worse still is knowing there are thousands of other places in the world with facilities that are far more terrible. What lurks behind those tightly shut doors? This trip has definitely made me consider becoming a vegetarian and putting more effort into investigating where exactly my food comes from. – Reflections by Leila Jacobson

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