This Thursday, Sonoma Country Day School presents a panel discussion on “Putting the CAFO Out to Pasture: Factory Farms or Grass-raised Animals?,” featuring writer Dan Imhoff, Mac Magruder, who raises pastured pork and grass-fed beef in Potter Valley, Stephanie Larson of the Sonoma County Meat Buying Club pilot project, and Duskie Estes of Zazu, Bovolo & Black Pig Meats.  The presentation begins at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags) farmers market, with local ranchers, farmers and other producers. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. You can get tickets here.

But wait! What is CAFO, you ask?

CAFO refers to concentrated animal feed operations and is the title of a very good and very important new book by Dan Imhoff, who lives with his family and a lot of animals in Healdsburg. His book, CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Farming, looks at the impact of concentrated animal feeding operations on the animals themselves–it is beyond heartbreaking–and on our health, our planet’s health and the health of our collective future. The book is heavy, literally: it weighs in at over 7 pounds and includes 450 photographs and bears a hefty price tag, $50. But there is also The CAFO Reader, which features all of the text and none of the photos. It costs $21.95 and I recommend it to anyone who likes to read in bed.

I also recommend reading the last section first. The positive examples of small farmers who love their land and the animals they raise and optimistic visions for the future in “Putting the CAFO Out To Pasture” make exploring the dark tragedy of large-scale animal farming a tad easier.

You’d have to be living under a rock not to think, at least in passing, about where the foods you eat come from. When it comes to interest in all things sustainable, Sonoma County and both the Bay Area & North Coast in general are well ahead of much of the country. It is entirely possible and even easy to eat a diet that is nearly completely local (the obvious exceptions are spices). But not everyone is convinced this is the right way to go and many feel it is a luxury, an indulgence that busy working families can’t afford. They search for the cheapest foods, no matter the source. This is particularly true with meat. But cheap foods and the concentrated food systems that produce them have huge hidden costs that sooner or later will come due. And we’ll all have to pay. If you’re already convinced, why not take a friend who isn’t with you on Thursday night?

If you’re inspired to investigate sources for local meats, here are some excellent options. If you have other recommendations, please post them in comments.

The Clark Summit Meat Club

Sonoma Direct

Olufs Ranches Meat Buying Club

The Bay Area Meat CSA