Farms Finest: Environment, health and animal welfare |

Farms Finest: Environment, health and animal welfare

Joni Keefe
Special to The Aspen Times

Would you be interested in attending a delicious potluck dinner at a serene ranch location, all the while talking with a national thought leader for animal welfare and the environment?

That’s exactly what I enjoyed Monday night at the Rock Bottom Ranch.

Joe Maxwell is the vice president of outreach and engagement for the Humane Society of the United States. He shared his thoughts with a group of about 35 people. It was a beautiful evening while thunder rumbled quietly in the distance. The ranch setting could not have felt any more peaceful and authentic.

Maxwell grew up on a family farm in a small Missouri town. As a fourth-generation farmer, he is an advocate for being a good land steward and is concerned about animal welfare. On this very same farm, Maxwell and his twin brother continue to carry on their family’s hog-farming heritage.

In the 1980s, Maxwell realized that it would take more than having good farmer values to influence positive agriculture changes. It would also require becoming involved in the political process. After being the field coordinator for U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, he decided to throw his hat into the ring. Winning the race, he became a Missouri state representative.

His views of the large-scale industrial farms as being harmful and not good stewards for the environment and animal welfare was being expressed at both the grassroots and capital levels. In 2000, he became Missouri’s lieutenant governor. Along with other bills he has passed, one to point out is the Country of Origin Labeling program.

Maxwell left office in 2005 and continued on with his passionate pursuit of farm sustainability, the environment and animal welfare. Now he is working with the Humane Society.

You might be questioning how the values of hog farmer and Humane Society come together. This is the exact point that Maxwell makes. The society is for humane animal agriculture. Even if your connection to animals is to one family pet and not to a farm, this connection with an animal entails a moral responsibility. They rely on us to provide them humane care.

The industrial-food hoodlums of Betty, Oscar, Sara, Jimmy and all the rest of that gang have us completely out of touch with food reality. As consumers, we blindly buy groceries based on advertising images, packaging and positioning.

Dawn Shepard and the Aspen Meatless Mondays group organized the meeting. This is not a vegetable movement or anything more than sharing a common interest for health awareness and reducing (not eliminating) our country’s unbelievable consumption of industrially produced meat products. According to statistics at the Humane Society’s website, the 2012 total is 9 billion animals per year being produced for America’s dining tables. In 1980 it was 4.5 billion.

The lucky few who live on green acres are like a grain of sand on the beach when compared to those who spend their lives crammed by the millions in crates, sheds and feedlots.

On the environmental perspective, it also is staggering. According to, “One dairy farm with 2.500 cows produces as much waste as a city with 411,000 residents. Unlike human waste, however, in most cases the laws do not require livestock waste be treated.”

Healthwise, the chemicals injected into or fed to these creatures are in the meat we consume. This is accumulative in the food chain. You are the big tuna here. Meatless Mondays can show you how to reduce the number of meat-based meals and add creative ways for plant-based dishes.

To quote Maxwell, “ Mealtimes were everything for creating family and community connections. It used to be a local processor that was used for all our food, and then that was not good enough: We had to start following brand names. Remember the cartoon Oscar Meyer hot-dog car? Kids would point it out in the markets and say, ‘Mommy, I want that one!’”

“We can have a humane, sustainable food system,” Maxwell said. “Know where food is coming from, eat for your health, and learn about the environmental impacts. Cast a positive vote for all of this, every time, at the grocery store.”

For more information, connect with Joe Maxwell at To request Meatless Mondays’ free newsletter and recipes, email

Joni Keefe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after a career in landscape design. She is passionate about local food and agriculture. For more information, her website is, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at