HOW FARMING....should be done #2
CORRECT WAY TO FARM #2
by Michael Pollan
.......On a farm, complexity sounds an awful lot like hard work, Joel's claims to the contrary notwithstanding. As much work as the animals do, that's still us humans out there moving the cattle every evening, dragging the broiler pens across the field before breakfast (something I'd pledged I'd wake up in time for the next day), and towing chicken coops hither and yon according to a schedule tied to the life cycle of fly larvae and the nitrogen load of chicken manure. My guess is that there aren't too many farmers today who are up for either the physical or mental challenge of this sort of farming, not when industrializing promises to simplify the job. Indeed, a large part of the appeal of industrial farming is its panoply of labor-and thought-saving devices: machines of every description to do the physical work, and chemicals to keep crops and animals free from pests with scarcely a thought from the farmer. George Naylor works his fields maybe fifty days out of the year; Joel and Daniel and two interns are out there every day sunrise to sunset for a good chunk of the year.......
It isn't hard to see why there isn't much institutional support for the sort of low-capital, thought-intensive farming Joel Salatin practices: He buys next to nothing. When a livestock farmer is willing to "practice complexity"—to choreograph the symbiosis of several different animals, each of which has been allowed to behave and eat as it evolved to—he will find he has little need for machinery, fertilizer, and, most strikingly, chemicals. He finds he has no sanitation problem or any of the diseases that result from raising a single animal in a crowded monoculture and then feeding it things it wasn't designed to eat. This is perhaps the greatest efficiency of a farm treated as a biological system: health......
Suddenly we arrived at a patch of woodland that looked more like a savanna than a forest: The trees had been thinned and all around them grew thick grasses. This was one of the pig paddocks that Joel had carved out of the woods with the help of the pigs themselves. "All we do to make a new pig paddock is fence off a quarter acre of forest, thin out the saplings to let in some light, and then let the pigs do their thing." Their thing includes eating down the brush and rooting around in the stony ground, disturbing the soil in a way that induces the grass seed already present to germinate. Within several weeks, a lush stand of wild rye and foxtail emerges among the trees, and a savanna is born. Shady and cool, this looked like ideal habitat for the sunburn-prone pigs, who were avidly nosing through the tall grass and scratching their backs against the trees. There is something viscerally appealing about a savanna, with its pleasing balance of open grass and trees, and something profoundly heartening about the idea that, together, farmer and pigs could create such beauty here in the middle of a brushy second-growth forest.
But Joel wasn't through counting the benefits of woodland to a farm; idyllic pig habitat was the least of it.
"There's not a spreadsheet in the world that can measure the value of mamtaining forest on the northern slopes of a farm. Start with those trees easing the swirling of the air in the pastures. That might not seem like a big deal, but it reduces evaporation in the fields—which means more water for the grass. Plus, a grass plant burns up fifteen percent of its calories just defying gravity, so if you can stop it from being wind whipped, you gready reduce the energy it uses keeping its photovoltaic array pointed toward the sun. More grass for the cows. That's the efficiency of a hedgerow surrounding a small field, something every farmer used to understand before 'fencerow to fencerow' became USDA mantra."
Then there is the water-holding capacity of trees, he explained, which on a north slope literally pumps water uphill. Next was all the ways a forest multiplies a farm's biodiversity. More birds on a farm mean fewer insects, but most birds won't venture more than a couple hundred yards from the safety of cover. Like many species, their preferred habitat is the edge between forest and field. The biodiversity of the forest edge also helps control predators. As long as the weasels and coyotes have plenty of chipmunks and voles to eat, they're less likely to venture out and prey on the chickens.
There was more. On a steep northern slope trees will produce much more biomass than will grass. "We're growing carbon in the woods for the rest of the farm—not just the firewood to keep us warm in the winter, but also the wood chips that go into making our compost." Making good compost depends on the proper ratio of carbon to nitrogen; the carbon is needed to lock down the more volatile nitrogen. It takes a lot of wood chips to compost chicken or rabbit waste. So the carbon from the woodlots feeds the fields, finding its way into the grass and, from there, into the beef. Which it turns out is not only grass fed but tree fed as well.
These woods represented a whole other order of complexity that I had failed to take into account. I realized that Joel didn't look at this land the same way I did, or had before this afternoon: as a hundred acres of productive grassland patchworked into four hundred and fifty acres of unproductive forest. It was all of a biological piece, the trees and the grasses and the animals, the wild and the domestic, all part of a single ecological system. By any conventional accounting, the forests here represented a waste of land that could be put to productive use.
But if Joel were to cut down the trees to graze more catde, as any conventional accounting would recommend, the system would no longer be quite as whole or as healthy as it is. You can't just do one thing.
For some reason the image that stuck with me from that day was that slender blade of grass in a too-big, wind-whipped pasture, burning all those calories just to stand up straight and keep its chloroplasts aimed at the sun. I'd always thought of the trees and grasses as antagonists— another zero-sum deal in which the gain of the one entails the loss of the other. To a point, this is true: More grass means less forest; more forest less grass. But either-or is a construction more deeply woven into our culture than into nature, where even antagonists depend on one another and the liveliest places are the edges, the in-betweens or both-ands. So it is with the blade of grass and the adjacent forest as, indeed, with all the species sharing this most complicated farm. Relations are what matter most, and the health of the cultivated turns on the health of the wild. Before I came to Polyface I'd read a sentence of Joel's that in its diction had struck me as an awkward hybrid of the economic and the spiritual. I could see now how characteristic that mixing is, and that perhaps the sentence isn't so awkward after all: "One of the greatest assets of a farm is the sheer ecstasy of life."
IN THE AGE TO COME, WHEN JESUS CHRIST HAS RETURNED TO THIS EARTH, WHEN ALL THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL ARE GATHERED TOGETHER AS ONE PEOPLE ONCE MORE, AND HAVE RETURNED IN THE SECOND GREAT EXODUS, TO THE HOLY LAND; WHEN THE MESSIAH IS THERE IN JERUSALEM. THEN ISRAEL WILL PRACTICE THE CORRECT WAY TO FARM, AND IT WILL BE VERY MUCH LIKE YOU HAVE READ IN THIS ESSAY BY MICHAEL POLLEN, AND HIS EXPERIENCE ON A FARM, THE WAY FARMING SHOULD BE DONE. SMALL COMMUNITIES, WITH SMALL FAMILY FARMS AND ORCHARDS, SUPPLYING ALL THE ORGANIC AND HEALTH GIVING FOODS THAT WILL MAKE PEOPLE STRONG AND HEALTHY THROUGHOUT [AS PROMISED BY GOD] A LONG LONG HEALTHY LIFE ON EARTH, FOR THE PHYSICAL PEOPLE UNDER THE KINGDOM OF GOD. THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL BEING AN EXAMPLE FOR ALL OTHER NATIONS OF THE EARTH; FINALLY BEING THE SPIRITUAL AND PHYSICAL EXAMPLE THE ETERNAL GOD CHOSE ISRAEL TO BE AMONG ALL NATIONS [DEUTERONOMY 4].
HOW WE SHOULD STILL BE PRAYING "THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN."