Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sustainable Agriculture

If you are wondering why I haven’t updated my blog for a while, this picture will give you a clue. Between working full time and running the farm, it gets difficult to squeeze in time to write. When I do find the time, the kids will inevitably find me and make sure that they get their daily wrestling session out of me. Sometimes as in this picture, I will ask them to give me a minute so that I can finish my post. They patiently wait on my shoulders, lap, head, or any other somewhat horizontal part of me until I am done. Needless to say, I finish rather quickly. I can’t complain though. I cherish the fact that the boys want to be a part of whatever it is that I am doing.

I recently purchased the movie “Fresh”. It is a documentary type film that tactfully raises awareness about the negative aspects of our country’s current food system and industrialized agriculture including concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Unlike other “bean-spilling-movies” I have seen, Fresh clearly highlights the problems but doesn’t really linger over them. It offers solutions and provides facts that support clean, healthy, local, sustainable food. Click here for a link to a preview of the film.

A few of the points raised include the polarized problem that the grain farmers and feedlots experience. In the Midwest, farmers grow the same crop year after year. Because they are constantly taking from the ground, the soil becomes depleted of nutrients. And since the same crop is grown year after year, pests get out of control. To combat these problems, farmers use fertilizers and pesticides to boost production. Unfortunately the chemicals and fertilizers kill the pests and provide one form of nutrition but also kill the beneficial, microbial organisms, worms etc…which provide another form of nutrition. This means the next year more chemical is required to get the same result since there is less contribution from the beneficial organisms. In addition, some pests exhibit tolerance to the chemicals used. As these pests multiply they pass this trait on (natural selection). resulting in a need to apply more pesticide. This increases the cost for farmers which in turn increases their dependence on government subsidies. It chemically sterilizes the soil of beneficial organisms, and is known to pollute water sources. On top of that, we end up eating the chemical drenched food which chemicals required gas masks and hazard suits to be applied!

The grain is then harvested and shipped halfway across the country to a CAFO where it is fed to cows. Because the cows are confined, stressed, living in their manure, being fed processed leftovers from the slaughtering process (IE cow parts), chicken manure, and now chemical coated grain, they require a huge amount of antibiotics to keep them alive. These antibiotics cost the feedlot money which is paid by the consumer. The cows also build immunity to the antibiotics such that it takes more antibiotics and new types of antibiotics to keep the cows alive. Some of the antibiotics pass through their system and end up in the massive amounts of manure that is produced. This huge amount of manure produced in such a small area becomes a toxic waste that contaminates the ground water, rivers, and lakes. Plus it can stink up the place for miles. Once again it costs the feedlots money to get rid of all that manure. Since the big feedlots are located in just a few states, the beef needs to shipped all over the country. The grain farms have to buy synthetic fertilizers and the feedlots have to get rid of nature’s fertilizer. I would ask what’s wrong with this picture but instead will ask how many things are wrong with this picture? The solution is simple, we mimic nature.

This is where the movie gets really good and is actually a very uplifting and inspiring film. It proposes that farmers grow pasture to feed their cows with. It highlights the benefits of rotating the cows through small paddocks so that the soil gets fertilized naturally and eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers. Since there are fewer input costs, farmers can be more profitable and not dependent upon government subsidies. Since the animals are not stressed and are eating fresh greens, they stay healthy and don’t need all the pharmaceuticals. If farmers can sell their food locally, they don’t have to pay for huge transportation costs. Their customers can enjoy clean, fresh, wholesome, humanely raised, and sustainable food. As a bonus, the waters stay clean and farm ground will be fertile and sustainable for generations to come.

When I started going to school to get my degree in Agricultural Science, I began to learn about the amount of nutrients it takes to grow a plant. Since I was being taught traditional, industrialized farming techniques, we learned everything in terms of how much synthetic fertilizer and pesticide it took to produce crops. I loved learning about growing food. At the time I didn’t realize how unsustainable some of these methods were.

While in school, our family took a trip to Yellowstone. I saw where the “devastating” fires had been. I laughed when I recalled how all of the news stations and “experts” were reporting that Yellowstone would never be the same again. I was amazed at how fast the forests had come back. It looked as if someone had “hydroseeded” a lawn with tree seeds. My eyes literally beheld a huge lawn of pine trees so dense that it would be difficult if not impossible to move through them. At the time I naively pondered, how the trees could grow so fast without fertilizers. Of course now I recognize that thousands of critters inhabit each acre and all contribute to the growth cycle. The large animals deposit manure, and the worms and microbial organisms help break the dead plants and trees down into rich compost. Mother nature keeps herself balanced by using multiple species of plants and animals. This helps prevent infestations of harmful pests. I have learned a wealth of knowledge from my degree. The principles of fertilizer and pest prevention are true. We just don’t need to artificially produce them. In fact, by observing nature, you will find that our Creator is the ultimate farmer. By following the principles observed in nature we too can grow nutritious, clean, sustainable, and yummy food.
We would like to see more farms in Utah raising food that is healthy to the land it is grown on and healthy to the consumer. Let your friends, family, neighbors etc. know that you buy local, healthy food. Recommend the farms that you are buying from. This will help encourage growth among local farms while boosting the local economy. It is not government or corporations who have allowed our food system to get to its current state. It is the consumer. If we don’t object to the unsustainable, irresponsible, unhealthy, unfresh way our food is grown nothing will change. Writing your congressman does very little in my experience. We live in a world controlled by money. Voting with your wallet/purse speaks volumes.