Archive for the ‘Farming Philosophy’ Category

0315-nat-ERIE_webI was just reading the combined EPA and NRCS response to a recent article in the New York Times about agricultural runoff polluting Lake Erie. My heart goes out to them—seriously. It is so ironic after they finally licked the problem of industrial and municipal waste pollution in the lake. And even more ironic: one of the causes of the new agricultural pollution is the no-till farming system that is intended to prevent soil erosion.

I’m not saying we have all the answers. We don’t. That is why I feel so bad for them. We all are working hard to make food and to protect the environment. You fix one thing and another thing breaks. Plus, nobody is immune to unintended bad consequences. But in our struggle to produce quality food and to protect the environment, we have chosen a very different path. We are not putting chemical fertilizers on the ground at all—not to mention herbicides or pesticides. I look at this picture and thank goodness for that choice.

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Temple Grandin signs one of her books for Patrick

Steve, Craig, Patrick and I all went to hear Dr. Temple Grandin give a talk about animal handling yesterday. In case you have not heard of Dr. Grandin despite her television appearances, articles, and the HBO movie about her life—Dr. Grandin is the scientist who revolutionized the livestock handling field through her unique insights into the animal mind.

Even though we have already read her books, we were all blown away by her talk. I was especially intrigued by her rant against what she calls “abstractification” of regulations. Her work really is all about concrete and practical solutions to problems. Very inspiring.

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Our organic certification just got expanded! While our pastures have been certified organic for a long time, yesterday we also received certification for the meat chickens, the laying hens, and the eggs we produce on the farm. We have always raised all our livestock according to our personal standard of quality and conscience, which includes feeding only certified organic feed and never treating our animals with hormones or antibiotics. In the case of our chickens, our own protocol (plus certain record-keeping and paperwork) qualifies us for certification. Because we buy calves and piglets from suppliers that aren’t certified, our beef and pork do not qualify for certification. Rest assured, however, we hold our suppliers to our own high standard. For example, we buy calves only from suppliers who agree in writing to our protocol.

Many farmers will tell you: don’t trust government labels. Instead, you should get to know your farmer, and find one you trust personally. We agree. But we also think the organic standards have a lot of merit. So we are proud of the extent to which we meet the standards, and we will continue to strive to do more.

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We are trying something different this year. Last year, we got through mud season by staging bales of hay all over the upper fields and moving the cows quickly to minimize the damage done by their hooves in the mud. We didn’t like the result. There was a lot of pugged soil and young grasses grazed too early. And since we took the Cornell Soil Health Workshop, we are specially concerned about too much compaction of the soil. So this year, we have set one paddock aside and designated it the “sacrifice” pasture. The cows will stay there for a month or so, eating the rest of their winter hay, until the rest of the pastures grow to grazing height. We will reseed with a cover crop as soon as the cows leave, and who knows, maybe rotate in a vegetable garden in the same spot next year.

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Here is a clip from a fascinating documentary we just learned about from our friend Gerhard Pawelka. (The whole documentary is available on iTunes.) It is about the changes Cuban agriculture  went through, due to a shortage of  energy as a result of the the collapse of the Soviet Republic.  This led them down a path towards agricultural sustainability, using organic farming practices to produce healthy food.

It might seem like a stretch, given the current weather we are having, but I feel we can learn a lot from the new Cuban paradigm.

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Here is a short video of Steve moving the cows today. Nothing special about this—we move the cows every day to a fresh piece of pasture, sometimes twice a day. On the other hand, we just learned that the feedlot beef industry considers it acceptable to use electric cattle prods as long as you use them on 2% or fewer of the cattle you handle. I thought maybe folks should see how cattle behave in our management system. Needless to say we don’t own a cattle prod.

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Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

In the Fields of Italy, a Conflict Over Corn

There was an interesting article in the New York Times last week about a conflict in Italy over genetically modified crops. Attitudes about GMO crops make Europe seem like a parallel but opposite universe to America. European governments and the public generally oppose GMO crops, and a few maverick farmers buck the trend by planting them. Here, of course, it is the reverse. One wonders who is ahead of whom.

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