Farming Is Good for your Health! Usually…

A recent doctors visit left me facing my doctor with a most baffled look on his face. As he shook his head I began to worry until he said, “I want to know what you’re doing. Everything looks great. Better than normal actually.” Now, at 28 weeks pregnant with our 3rd child that was not what I was expecting to hear. You see, Andrew and I lost two pregnancies before our daughter. I looked healthy and fit, felt fine and had never had any health problems. So when I carried Macey farther than my miscarriages I thought we were in the clear. However my blood pressure went up at 23 weeks and within 3 weeks I was in pre-term labor. Thanks to a diligent doctor and 10 weeks of bed rest, I managed to carry her to 37 weeks.

Only 5 months after Macey was born we found out I was pregnant again. After an initially calm first and second trimester, I once again started having blood pressure problems, and added high sugar to the mix as well. It was ultimately this that caused me to be induced at 38 weeks.

So having my doctor look at me and tell me everything is normal was actually quite a shock! My blood pressure has stayed lower than my pre-pregnancy measures, my sugar is on the low side of normal, and I had gained 15 pounds as opposed to the 41 and 38 I had gained at the same time with my other two. I have had very little swelling, all of my blood work is normal, and I think the doctor has truly been baffled!

Andrew has also experienced some changes since our move. Normally when I am pregnant he gains weight, too. This time, however, he’s lost nearly 30 pounds since January. He doesn’t complain as often of aches and pains that he used to have, and his energy level seems to have improved.

So what has changed? Well besides the fresh country air and more playtime outside, we’re all working harder and eating better. There is never a shortage of things to be done, and we are active much more than we used to be. The kids even wrangle chickens, help chase the sheep into catch pens, dig for potatoes, and their favorite, gather the eggs from the laying boxes! They rarely complain about these “chores” because they have fun doing it! We recently entered several entries into our local fair. Including some eggs and potatoes the kids helped gather. We won ribbons on all of them! The kids were thrilled, and keep asking when we get to do that again.

Our eating habits have changed for two reasons. Before, we lived within 15 minutes of several major grocery chains, but not near any sources of fresh produce. Several times a week we would eat in town because it was just easier. We ate a lot of processed foods, enriched breads, and salty things from cans. In the summer, we were able to grow some tomatoes and a few other crops in small quantities. We also got corn, beans, and tomatoes from our parents which we canned. This wasn’t enough though to compensate for our other bad habits.

Here though, we are 25 minutes from the nearest town. Smithville is quaint, friendly, and not much for “fast” living. There is no Burger King, Taco Bell, or any sit down chain restaurant. What there is here however is an abundance of fresh, locally grown produce. All sorts of veggies and fruits can be purchased at a number of produce stands or at the local farmers’ market. Fresh baked items are available made from whole grain, stone ground flours. Local farmers produce every form of livestock imaginable that you can buy straight from the farm for processing. This was our first year growing broccoli, so of course I had to take a picture of our first picking!

So we no longer buy many processed foods. Instead, we hit the produce stands often and usually have several varieties of fruit to snack on. The kids now enjoy eating veggie sticks and were thrilled to be able to pick things out of the garden this year and eat them straight from the garden! Some of their favorites are carrots, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. And yes, they even eat raw broccoli voluntarily!

Another thing we did this year was raise our own beef. We acquired a Jersey bull in February who, after many adventures and frustrations, made his way to the dinner table in June. Until that time, we were eating meat that we put in the freezer from another farmer who raised only grassfed natural beef. We also hatched our own chicks this year, which gave us an abundance of roosters. They are just now old enough to slaughter and will be coming to the table soon!

Now, we do not buy snack foods. Instead, I bake healthy snacks and make our own breads. We even eat cakes and cookies, but they are made from scratch with no preservatives and often contain fruits and nuts. The kids don’t complain, they still get sweets it just may be homemade apple cinnamon cookies instead of a pack of Oreos. Our days of eating out often are long gone too. Since our options are so limited, and so far away it isn’t very practical. And, we discovered that once we started eating better our tastes seemed to change. We didn’t desire those unhealthy restaurant foods any longer, not even the Friday night pizza! Instead, we stay home and I bake our own pizza with fresh ingredients and homemade crust. Sure, it took some adjusting. And there are days when I’m just to tired to cook. So we have leftovers, or make sandwiches.

Since we have chickens, we have a constant supply of fresh eggs. You wouldn’t think there was much of a difference between farm raised and store bought eggs. I mean, an eggs an egg right? Wrong! There are many recent studies, including a nice article in a recent GRIT edition, about the benefits of free range farm eggs over their store bought counterparts. We were very surprised to find the difference in our own eggs just from moving the chickens from their little pens into a 2 acre pasture to free range. The yolks are tremendously darker, the whites are not as runny, the egg shells are harder, and they make fabulous baked goods! Not to mention all the additional vitamins they are packing.

When I explained all of these changes to my doctor, he just smiled and nodded his head. He said that he was not surprised at all to hear this. Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. People also hear that a healthy lifestyle improves your health, but yet everywhere you go there are aisles full of unhealthy processed foods, meats full of chemicals and antibiotics, and fruits and veggies that are mass produced Frankenstein varieties of their original ancestors. No wonder the obesity rate in America is what it is! These same unhealthy foods are also linked to heart disease, diabetes, bowel trouble, and a host of other conditions that plague our country. It’s hard to eat healthy when you don’t have healthy options available.

Now, I wrote the part above on Thursday of last week. As I did so, I wasn’t feeling very well. The next night I found myself in the ER at 2 am. I was so dehydrated it took 3 liters of fluids before they could hit a vein to draw blood from. 4 days, 29 needle pokes, 6 bags of IV fluid, 5 bags of IV antibiotics, and so many pills I lost count later, I was released. My diagnosis, Campylobacter Infection. Apparently, this is a fairly common bacteria often associated with food poisoning that usually goes away without treatment within 5-10 days. However, in patients with weakened immunity such as children, the elderly, immune compromised, and pregnant women, it can be deadly as the bacteria spreads into the blood stream and then into major organs. According to the ER doctor, I was within hours of a “life threatening situation.” More miraculous, our baby seems healthy and normal! Many pregnant women do not get diagnosed until pre-term delivery or a still birth. We must continue testing each week through delivery to ensure the baby stays healthy, but our doctor is hopeful that the worst is over. So today I sit here, feeling amazed and blessed at recent turns of events. I also feel obligated to share some information about this infection to others who may be at risk for infection.

Campylobacter in the general public is normally caused by exposure to raw chicken, eating undercooked meats, or fruits and vegetables that aren’t properly washed. However, it is also a serious risk to those raising livestock. Many different livestock including cattle, sheep, goat, chicken, turkeys, pigs, ducks and even the family dog and cat can play host to this bacteria and never show symptoms. After researching the many ways in which this bacteria can infect those with livestock, I was shocked to see just how many possible ways I was exposed.

We have a very strict hand-washing policy in our home. Especially since we have such young children. Every time they are outside with the animals they must come in, wash their hands, and change clothes. Our eggs are brought inside, washed, and quickly stored in the refrigerator. All fruits and veggies are washed, and many are peeled, before eating. Meat is thoroughly cooked, unless it’s a big juicy steak in which the temptation for medium rare is just to strong… So what went wrong?

While it is impossible to know for sure exactly HOW I became infected, I now see that I have made many mistakes during my pregnancy which could have exposed me. And I bet you will find that your family has made a few of these as well! It has been very hot here lately, and farm work outdoors has become very tedious and exhausting. Twice in the last few weeks I remember filling up the water tanks and then taking a drink from the hose. NOT a good idea! Bacteria can be transferred from infected areas to the water hose, and then into your drinking water when you do this.

Last week we took several roosters and baby chicks to the farmers market to sell. Of course I was handling all of the birds that day, and though I did make several trips to the restroom to wash my hands, I may not have been as diligent to wash every time I handled the birds. We ate lunch there, and I easily could have had this bacteria on my hands when I ate lunch.

We also had to round up the sheep for worming and hoof trims this past week. Now anyone who has sheep knows that when it’s hot, and you’ve got a lot to do, it’s very easy to wipe sweat from your forehead or brush dirt off your face without thinking. This is another easy way to spread bacteria since you are handling feet that walk through manure and then touching your face. Especially for women who usually have longer fingernails than men. Bacteria can hide under your nails even after a hand wash. That same day, we rounded up and wormed the pigs, another common carrier of this bacteria.

Perhaps the most frequent possible exposure I have had is our family pet, Tucker. Tucker is a 4-month-old Spaniel. He loves to play outside with us, then come inside to sit in our laps or lay in bed with us. While not as potent of a carrier as livestock, for those with an immune weakness it takes less than one drop of contaminated feces/urine to cause an infection! This makes pets an easy carrier between infected material and their family.

We will never know how I managed to get infected, or how the rest of the family managed not too. However, in the future we will definitely give more thought to our actions when around the livestock. Hopefully all of our other farming friends will as well.

Published on Sep 1, 2011

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