by Courtney Llewellyn

JORDANVILLE, NY – The term “holistic” may have some confusion around it, but simply put it is something or someone concerned with complete systems rather than the treatment of something in parts. At Gaia’s Breath Farm, that’s how they operate – by focusing on the whole.

The farm in southern Herkimer County started 13 years ago, according to Mark Santoro. Today it is run by Mark, his brother Paul Santoro and their partner Chrissy Chiacchia. Santoro is originally from Westchester and has a background in philosophy, and that background fuels how he farms today. “There are never-ending amounts to learn,” he said.

Gaia’s Breath Farm is certified organic. “We do it all here,” Santoro proclaimed. They grow heirloom vegetables in the field as well as in hoop houses, raise pastured animals from milk-fed veal and Large Black and Gloucestershire pigs and sell the meat directly from the farm.

“I think all parts of life should be holistic,” Santoro said. “High quality input means high quality output. It’s all about the health of the farm, the animals and the people eating the food. Everything is a complete circle.”

At the end of February, Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), a national nonprofit which promotes the safe and humane production of meat, milk and eggs, awarded more than $94,000 in Fund-a-Farmer Grants to 38 independent family farmers across 19 states for projects to improve farm animal welfare and build capacity, with farmers increasing the environmental and financial sustainability of their operations. Santoro’s farm was awarded a $2,500 Pasture Improvement Grant to install a remote pump-based watering system and temporary fencing equipment for his 120 pigs on pasture. This project will ensure that a high quality source of water is available for the pigs at all times, according to FACT.

“All the grants we’ve pursued have all been perfect for our farm. They help us fill niches to make the farm better, in regards to both animal quality and quantity,” Santoro said. “Our pigs are expert foragers and this grant will allow us to expand their pasture and make their water source more easily accessible – maybe we’ll work on adding a mister for hot days. It’s less time and labor for us, and a better quality of life for our pigs.”

FACT offered three types of Fund-a-Farmer Grants this year – Pasture Improvement Grants for projects that help farms transition to a pasture-based system, expand the animals’ access to well-managed pasture, and/or improve the quality of pasture; Animal Welfare Certification Grants for projects that would help farmers to attain animal welfare certification; and Capacity Building Grants for high-welfare farmers and ranchers who already hold one of the three certifications above, a new grant type for 2019. Since 2012, FACT has awarded 157 grants totaling over $355,000 to family farmers in 34 states, directly impacting more than 97,000 animals.

“Small and mid-sized sustainable farms are essential to meeting consumer demand for humanely-raised food, but often face financial challenges due to high costs associated with economies of scale,” said FACT’s Humane Farming Program Director Larissa McKenna. “Our organization supports family farmers by funding projects that improve animal welfare and help farmers increase their profit margins.”

“Our funded project will help us to further our goals of producing high quality food, enhance the economic side of the equation through improved farm efficiency and create the environment for a more content pig,” Santoro stated.

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