1st Anniversary

The beginning of the new school year reminds me that I have reached a milestone: one year since I started farming full-time.

It’s been a bumpy year, with big successes and catastrophic failures along the way. I’ve learned more in the past year than I think I have in the rest of my life put together, and for the first time in a very long time, I think I can say I am not the person I was a year ago.

Overall, I think I would give myself a D+ for this year. I had huge ambition and huger plans but very little concept of what I was undertaking. That’s not to say that my ambition and plans for next year are any less grand, but frankly, I was clueless last year at this time, and the past twelve months revealed that lack of understanding for everything it was.

I could go on for a long time about what I have learned, what I have realized, and what I plan to do, but I think the details of those things are best left for different posts. In the mean time, here’s to another year!


Our industrial food supply is killing us

Right here in the Miami Valley is dramatic, tragic evidence that our industrial food production system is threatening our lives and livelihoods in direct and dramatic ways.

First comes the toxic poisoning of Grand Lake-St. Marys by an algae bloom fed by farm run-off. The bloom is so bad–and so toxic–that the State of Ohio has issued a “no-contact ” order for the lake over the normally busy 4th of July holiday weekend. Meanwhile, officials report that protecting against farm runoff requires voluntary compliance and that making compliance mandatory is “a political mine field.”

Second comes the attack of head scab and its byproduct  vomitoxin against this year’s wheat crop, which renders the crop almost useless for human consumption. While most agriculture scientists will say that this issue is more one of bad luck and wet weather than bad agriculture, I believe it also reveals another flaw in the practices of industrial monoculture whereby farmers fail to use sustainable crop rotation methods, cultivation methods, and genetically diverse, open pollinated seed, all of which serve to help protect against these very kinds of threats to crops.

These two local events are just two in a far larger number of events in the growing body of evidence that industrial agriculture production as it is currently conceived is well on its way toward failing and killing us in the process. All of the decades of nonsense that industrialized agriculture was the only way to feed the world’s population has served only to obscure the incredible fragility of the system and its true costs.

I understand that fixing the problems that industrial agriculture has produced is going to be a difficult and complex task, but the solution must begin with individuals making conscious decisions to support agricultural production that is not part of the problem. Thousands of sustainable agriculture operations exist all over the United States and around the world, very often right in the middle of regions otherwise dominated by industrial production. If enough people make the choice to support sustainability over industry, then then entire industry will change.

And the changes industrial agriculture need to make are clear: more people need to be involved in the undertaking of producing food; those people need to use methods that take a holistic approach to preserving land, water, and air for generations of food producers; food production needs to be decentralized so that all of the food is not being produced by a few people in fewer and fewer places; diversity needs to be reintroduced into the kinds of crops and the varieties of each crop being grown.

Without these kinds of changes, disasters like the poisoning of Grand Lake-St. Marys and widespread crop disease will only become more widespread and more devastating in their effect. Each of us have the power to help make these changes a reality, but each of us must make our own choices first.


Women in farming

If you are a woman and you care about what your friends and family eat, even what the world eats, then this article on OrganicToBe.com might be about you.

It seems that one of the big new trends in small-scale sustainable farming is that more and more women are doing it, and that makes a lot of sense to me. If the American population in general is out of touch with how food comes to be, then I can assure you that the American male is by far the most out of touch. On the other hand, I am sure that women, especially women with children, know a lot more about food and, as a result, where that food comes from.

I am personally acquainted with women who decided, after realizing what the industrial food system is doing to all of us, to dedicate themselves to various aspects of advancing sustainability in a variety of ways. I also think that their touch adds to the ideas of the sustainable food movement what it has heretofore lacked.

I would add something to this article, however, that I think it lacks: if you are a women and want to become part of the sustainable food movement, you don’t have to stop whatever else you are doing right now to become a farmer. In addition to supporting your local sustainable farmers through buying their products and through advocacy, you can also simply change how you think about food.

You could do something as simple as planting a tomato plant in a pot on your deck or stoop, or you could do something as radical as plowing your yard under (who eats grass anyway, but that’s an idea for another time) and planting your own food for the year. Whatever you decide, it can be done while you still have a job and take care of kids and have a social life, although it might be good to get rid of the TV along the way.

If you become part of the transformation toward sustainable agriculture, I can assure you that your family will thank you for it, and someday the world will too. This is just something for all of you women to think about.


The cost of food

I recently came across an article on Gizmag.com about AeroFarms urban vertical aeroponic systems. I found the article to be an interesting and exciting description of yet another way for humans to grow food in environments where food production has been traditionally difficult or impossible.

What caught my attention more than the article, though, were the comments. The first comment was by someone blasting the technology because the commenter assumed the technology would not help make food production cheaper and more accessible to non-food producers.

Frankly, as someone who has recently entered the food production business, one of the conclusions I reached at the very beginning is that the idea that food production should be cheaper and more accessible to non-food producers is part of the reason why food continues to get more expensive, more inaccessible, and more scarce.

Not even 50 years ago, most people were involved either directly or indirectly in food production. In the United States, a majority of the population still lived in places considered rural and either worked on farms or at businesses that supported farms. Then came along the modernist idea that said we had too many farmers who did not produce enough cheap food, and the government and scientists engaged in an aggressive campaign to transform agriculture into what their modernized thinking believed it should be.

The result was that the number of people who list their occupation as “farmer” has dropped to less than 2 percent of the population. Meanwhile, most agricultural production in the United States has degenerated to just five major food sources: corn, soybeans, beef, chicken, and milk (yes, there is also pork, but it is not nearly as big as the top five). Further, most of the “food” sold in most grocery stores no longer comes from a farm but from a factory where the constituent components are processed, rendered, and reconstituted into things that look and smell like food but are more like a chemistry experiment gone awry.

And this method of food production has come with a hefty price tag that the world is only just starting to pay. Massive use of chemical fertilizers and killing agents have poisoned the ground, water, and air. There are places that are simply dead because of farm runoff. New, potent super weeds and bugs have come into existence as a result of forced selective breeding from the use of chemicals and medicines in food production. In some places, the obsessive focus on scientific food production (the NPK model) has resulted in farms that have “farmed out” due to the unavailability of the thousands of trace nutrients and soil components plants actually need to be healthy. Compact feeding operations create environmental damage on par with major chemical spills.

All of these problems factor back into the “cheap and accessible” model. Because people still demand inexpensive food they did not grow, modern agriculture must respond with more chemicals, more damaging cultivation methods, more concentrated food production systems, all of which compound the problems even more.

Unless everyone considers another way. AeroFarms, and the thousands of companies like it, are attempting to do something that the modern farming mythology cannot do: return mankind to a society centered around feeding itself–the theme of all of human history–without demanding that modern people give up their urbanized lives to return to rustic farm settings.

Of course, at first such technologies will be expensive and hard to come by, but over time, the best technologies will take hold, become more prevalent, and become less expensive. Further, the locally or self-produced model circumvents the “cheap and accessible” model and adds the benefit of increased local and individual independence from the vagaries of the worldwide economy and commodity markets.

So, if people really want cheap and accessible food, the best way to ensure that goal is for them to grow it themselves or to support those growing it specifically for them. Everyone can have enough food if enough people are growing it, but all of us have to start supporting that idea first.


Never again

I went to the stock auction today because Keba and I hauled our calves there over the past couple of days and I wanted to see for myself what their business was all about.

I will never take my animals there or buy animals from them again.

We took nine perfectly healthy, vibrant young calves to that place, where the people who run it proceeded to give them a battery of sixteen different shots, antibiotics, and tests then to sedate them so that they would behave in the auction ring. From there, those poor little ones are probably destined for a feed lot somewhere where as many as half of them will die from sickness, overcrowding, or malnutrition before they end up as meat in a grocery store or restaurant near you, full of a year’s worth of drugs and food they were not designed to eat.

I understand that I raise cattle for food, but my goal from the first moment I set myself to that task is to do so as morally and humanely as possible. What they do at the stock yard is wrong and I will have no more part in it. I would rather stop raising cows and go back into information technology than knowingly participate in a process that robs humans and animals alike of their essence.

Instead, I will humanely raise only the number animals I can sell directly to the people who will consume them as food. I will control my herd to ensure its numbers, and I will never give my cows drugs in order to increase their size or the density of the herd.

I understand that death is part of the harsh reality of food production, but it will be death under circumstances that I control, and my animals will not suffer years of torment before they die.

I also want all of you to think about what I am saying. Yes, we can feed ourselves cheaply and efficiently by going to big box groceries, but at what cost? When we make that kind of choice, we reduce ourselves to essentially the same fate as those nine calves: eating food that makes us sick and then pumped full of drugs to compensate for it.

I understand that what I am suggesting here is reactionary and revolutionary, but it is my understanding of history and human nature that it often takes both in order for change to happen. I pledge that I will no longer be part of the problem. How about you?