Few have thought as deeply about agriculture and human health as Salim Bonnor Lewis. At a spry and vigorous 83, Sandy is the co-founder, owner, and operator of the Lewis Family Farm, a cattle ranch located in rural Essex County in the far north of New York State. Nestled within the Adirondack Mountains, Essex County is pristine, quiet, and sparsely populated: the Lewis Family Farm sits on 1,100 acres in its northeastern part. It is a farm straight out of Norman Rockwell: verdant, bucolic, buzzing with insect and animal lifeincluding rare owlsand is centered on a humble farmhouse reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts movement.
If this remote farm has any fame, it is for two reasons. First, for Lewis, its idiosyncratic and voluble owner, both an autodidact rancher and lightning rod of local controversy. In the words of one Essex resident, theres not a dinner party within 50 miles where conversation doesnt turn to Sandy Lewis. Second, the farm is known for producing some of the highest-quality, healthiest beef in the United Statestasty enough, Lewis says, that it is good to eat plain, unlike the tasteless beef that populates grocery store aisles.
On a recent summer weekend, on an assignment for Palladium, three friends and I took the four-hour drive from New York City to Essex to pay Lewis a visit. We were investigating one of the central, unspoken stories of modern healththe disintegration of the human gut microbiome, the complicity of the American agriculture industry in its undoing, and its catastrophic consequences for biological functioning. We were met in Essex by a film crew. (The nonprofit that publishes Palladium is separately working to produce a forthcoming short film on the topic with financial support from the Lewis Foundation.)
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