Feeding Pigs and Solving for Pattern
Oakland Township, MI. My small, exurban farmstead is sustained, in part, by the relationship I forged with my local feed store. To help the reader appreciate the practical and economic benefits that this relationship has provided my fledgling farm, permit me to take you on a quick biographical and philosophical detour. The first two years my family raised pigs provided a crash course in agricultural economics. We penned our pigs in mobile fencing to harness their natural rooting habits to clear invasive plants and root up stumps, an economic benefit in itself.
After selling pork shares to family and friends at a fair price and penciling in our costs, it was clear the numbers weren’t working in our favor. I shelved my how-to books and began consuming stories of contemporary small farms and noticed a pattern: flourishing farms were economically integrated with small local enterprises including repair shops, meat processors, and feed stores. I was surprised to discover how many feed stores and grain elevators dotted the landscape around me, but disappointed to learn that most simply sold pet food, softener salt, and ice melter. One, Armada Grain, had a livestock nutritionist on staff who eagerly walked me through protein ratios and trace minerals, even helping me figure out how to use minerals to supplement the unlimited supply of spent grains and the seasonal supply of apple pomace I can get freely from my local brewery and cider mills. Turns out he was just happy to talk to someone interested in getting into farming rather than getting out.
My feed store connections didn’t fix all of my problems, nor I theirs. I know I can’t compete with grocery store prices because no amount of good feed will make my heritage breed pigs grow faster than their industrial cousins. This feed store connection has become one of many essential parts of an increasingly complex pattern that makes my farmstead more than an idealistic vision, but a real possibility.
Google “Baseline Study” Seeks Human Guinea Pigs for Health Project
Google’s newest project aims to create a crowd-sourced picture of human health by collecting anonymous genetic and molecular information from participants. The project, called Baseline Study, will start off by collecting data from 175 people, but Google hopes to expand that sample size to thousands more, the Wall Street Journal reports. The researchers hope the project can help move medicine towards prevention over treatment by giving scientists a more accurate picture of what a healthy body looks like, which can help them detect ailments like heart disease and cancer much quicker. The lead researcher, Dr. Andrew Conrad, said that part of detecting disease is getting a clear picture of how a healthy body works.
Scientists hope these biomarkers will help them detect disease much sooner, or tell them which kinds of biological conditions make someone a likely candidate for high cholesterol. Google said that the information from Baseline would be both private and anonymous, would be used only for medical purposes, and wouldn’t be shared with insurance companies. Institutional review boards from Duke University and Stanford University will monitor the study to make sure the data isn’t being misused, Google said, and will only have access to the samples once they’ve already been stripped of identifying data, like names and social security numbers. The samples will be collected by independent testing companies. Google wants to collect a staggering amount of information about each of its anonymous human guinea pigs.
They’re mapping each person’s entire genome, and their parents’, not to mention looking at how they metabolize food, and how their hearts beat, and their oxygen levels. Participants will even wear special smart contact lenses so Google can monitor their glucose levels. The Baseline project is the latest endeavor of GoogleX, the arm of the company devoted to long-term, high-risk projects with potential for high reward.
Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health
So I made plans to come here and visit Dr. Anderson in his practice. Very abruptly, Dr. Anderson died at the age of 54.There was no autopsy, but a blood test suggested a heart attack or aneurysm. Dr.
Anderson had himself suffered at least three bouts of MRSA, and a Dutch journal has linked swine-carried MRSA to dangerous human heart inflammation. The vast majority of pork is safe, and there is no proven case of transmission of MRSA from eating pork. I grew up on a farm outside Yamhill, Ore., and was a state officer of the Future Farmers of America; we raised pigs for a time, including a sow named Brunhilda with such a strong personality that I remember her better than some of my high school dates. One of the first clues that pigs could infect people with MRSA came in the Netherlands in 2004, when a young woman tested positive for a new strain of MRSA, called ST398. The family lived on a farm, so public health authorities swept in – and found that three family members, three co-workers and 8 of 10 pigs tested all carried MRSA.Since then, that strain of MRSA has spread rapidly through the Netherlands – especially in swine-producing areas.
A small Dutch study found pig farmers there were 760 times more likely than the general population to carry MRSA, and Scientific American reports that this strain of MRSA has turned up in 12 percent of Dutch retail pork samples. Now this same strain of MRSA has also been found in the United States. A new study by Tara Smith, a University of Iowa epidemiologist, found that 45 percent of pig farmers she sampled carried MRSA, as did 49 percent of the hogs tested. Linda Barnard, who was Dr. Anderson’s assistant, thinks that perhaps 50 people came in to be treated for MRSA, in a town with a population of a bit more than 500.
During my visit, Dr. Anderson’s 13-year-old daughter, Lily, showed me a MRSA rash inflaming her knee.