Who ya gonna call?


This is one of Haute Pasture’s favorite ways to be environmental: hire a troop of goats to clear out underbrush, rather than using chemicals or gas-powered, air- and noise-polluting machinery!

Can you see them? They were active back in the trees, but the camera didn’t pick them up well. The guard dogs didn’t seem to care about us–guess humans aren’t high on the list of potential goat predators.

Haute Pasture has friends in North Carolina who needed heavy brush cleared from a few acres on their farm. They purchased five young pigs and set them loose on the land. The pigs devoured EVERYTHING other than the trees, and after several months, the pigs were sold to a local restaurant as organic, free-range, happy pork!

Happy Earth Day!

On Earth Day, let’s pause to consider why sustainable farming is good for our planet. (There are other benefits of sustainable agriculture that are not environmental, but today, let’s focus on Earth!)

  • Soil: Factory farms abuse the land, overusing it without resting the soil, and douse it with chemicals in an attempt to replenish the soil’s nutrients. Sustainable farms carefully manage soils to increase nutrients and prevent erosion, through crop rotation and diversification, the use of manure, mulch, and other natural enhancers and protectors, and the planting of cover crops. Crop rotation and diversification naturally enrich the soil and keep crops healthier, without the use of chemical fertilizer. Manure and mulch increase soil moisture and biomass, and protect the soil. Cover crops increase the nitrogen in the soil, which is accomplished in conventional farming through the application of chemicals; cover crops also reduce erosion by creating a buffer between soil and rainfall, and their root systems anchor the soil in place.
  • Water: Large commercial farms contaminate water supplies with nitrogen, salt, and other fertilizer chemicals; pesticides; and animal waste. They also consume large quantities of water. Sustainable farms may use cover crops to increase the nitrogen content of the soil, thereby eliminating the need for nitrogen enhancements via water-contaminating chemicals. Cover crops can also be used for pest control, replacing chemical pesticides. “Trap crops” attract pests away from cash crops, and “habitat augmentation” uses cover crops that attract pests’ natural predators. Sustainable farms recycle animal waste back into the land as a fertilizer, rather than allowing it to pollute waterways. The rate of water consumption is less on sustainable farms than on conventional farms, as sustainable farming creates moister soil that is better equipped to retain water.
  • Air: Large farms contribute to declining air quality by emitting toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases into the air, spraying pesticides, and trucking shipments long distances. Decomposing manure tanks or lagoons emit gases such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, and methane into the atmosphere. Methane, which is a greenhouse gas, is also released from cows as they digest corn-based diets, which their systems aren’t built to digest. Sustainable farming practices rely on alternative pest-control techniques that don’t spray chemicals into the air. Farms that sell their produce locally require less fossil-fuel-based energy to transport their wares than farms that ship food to far-off places. And sustainable farms that feed animals diets based on foods they would eat in nature relieve the chronic indigestion that leads to massive amounts of methane production.
  • Wildlife: The wildlife that lives in soil may not get as much publicity, but it’s just as important. Healthy soil that is sustainably farmed hosts countless critters such as earthworms, arthropods, and bacteria. Sustainable farming is safer for fish, which are killed when runoff from factory farms pollutes streams. Wildlife drinking from waterways polluted by animal waste or fertilizer runoff from factory farms can be harmed by chemicals or pathogens. Fewer insects in the soil means less food for birds. The creation of huge factory farms displaces animal populations and destroys habitats, while sustainable farms with diversified plantings create an environment that encourages the growth of native plant, insect, and animal populations.
  • Energy conservation: Sustainable farms are less dependent on non-renewable energy sources, in particular petroleum, than large-scale agricultural businesses. They use fewer chemicals, which require a tremendous amount of fossil fuel-produced energy to manufacture. Sustainable farms generally do not produce processed foods, which take more energy to produce than whole foods. Farms that raise pasture-fed animals conserve energy by letting the animals do the work of spreading manure and feeding themselves.

So celebrate Earth Day by eating some locally grown produce and pasture-raised meat! If you’re lucky, like we are here at Haute Pasture, you can raise a glass of local wine with your meal!

Sources: UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Sustainable Table, Cover Crops, Helium.com, Myth Six: Industrial Agriculture Benefits the Environment and Wildlife, Wildlife Friendly Farming Guide

Can industrial agriculture feed the world?

A recent article on alternet.org (What Would the World Look Like If We Relied on Industrial Agriculture to Feed Everyone?) explores what the world might look like if industrial agriculture is chosen as the worldwide solution to feeding the hungry. Popular belief holds that industrial agriculture is the only viable solution for keeping people fed as the global population explodes; but that doesn’t take into account the significant drawbacks, including contribution to global warming, soil nutrient depletion, water over-consumption, and the loss of small family farms.

An example is cited: Punjab, India, which saw a big increase in wheat production in the 1970s from the use of industrial agriculture:

But according to a 2007 report put out by the Punjab State Council for Science & Technology, “Over-intensification of agriculture over the years has led to water depletion, reduced soil fertility and micronutrient deficiency, non-judicious use of farm chemicals and problems of pesticide residue, reduced genetic diversity, soil erosion, atmospheric and water pollution and overall degradation of the rather fragile agro ecosystem of the state.”

Indian farmers who fell into debt while trying to compete with the industrial agriculture companies sometimes saw suicide as the only way out: “Since 1997, over 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide.”

Conversely, local farms practicing sustainable agriculture would be kinder to the environment and a boon to their communities. This sums up the argument nicely:

Agroecology is not a return to some traditional past, it is the cutting edge of farming. It mimics nature in the field, and uses resource-saving techniques that can be of greatest benefit to cash-strapped farmers and to women, for whom access to credit is most difficult, and who cannot afford to run high levels of debt.”

The bold is ours–what an important concept! That and other points raised here were covered in a talk we recently attended by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. Stay tuned for a post about that!

Joel Salatin on community food systems

Haute Pasture was fortunate recently to hear Joel Salatin speak to a small group of supporters of the local-food movement. Joel Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farms, an innovative farm specializing in organic, pasture-based meats and eggs. You may recognize the name Polyface, as it was a featured farm in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. Salatin is also a gifted speaker, and travels the country lecturing on topics ranging from technical cattle farming how-tos, to instruction for the lay person on how to be a farm-friendly consumer. On this night, he spoke to us about the importance of sourcing your food locally, and how commercial food production and uneducated consumers are heading down a dark road.

Most people in our society don’t know or care where their food comes from: similar to other modern comforts we take for granted, such as energy, water, and waste disposal, we don’t think about its origin or impact on the environment, we just use it. People don’t cook anymore; they just open a box and put it in the microwave. Numbers are skyrocketing of diseases stemming from diet: diabetes, especially childhood diabetes, heart disease, obesity.

As Salatin pointed out, eating is humans’ most intimate activity. Things you consume are integrated into your body, and directly affect your personal chemistry. How have people become so casual about the terrible things they’re introducing into their internal systems? Modern attitudes about eating reflect modern attitudes about many things: we want it bigger, we want it cheaper, and we want it now! It’s inconvenient to worry about the quality, origin, and nutritious value of your food, right? Advertising is all over the place to tell consumers it’s okay to buy the processed junk found in the grocery store or fast food restaurant. Sadly, the government sends the same message. The USDA (Salatin calls it the US-Duh) encourages farms to grow produce and animals faster, fatter, bigger, and cheaper. They give the impression that they’re looking out for consumers: they allow flu shots in schools, but they also allow soda machines in those same schools. By endorsing factory farms, they teach us that life is just a mechanical thing to be manipulated or dominated. The FDA (or as Salatin calls it–can you guess?–the F-Duh) is an accomplice. They are the food police that dictate that raw milk isn’t safe, but Twinkies and Coke are. President Obama’s Food Czar is a Monsanto man, and now (coincidentally?) we have a Food Modernization Act which does have positive provisions, but places new costly, onerous regulations on mid-sized farmers, when virtually zero outbreaks of tainted food stem from small- and mid-sized farms. The act emphasizes the value of food produced using sound science–why not emphasize nature instead?

If we all turned to community food systems, we could solve many of Americans’ health problems, while benefiting the communities themselves, along with livestock and the environment. We need to educate consumers on the interconnectedness of soil, food, and health. Salatin called it “field to fork” eating. Soil needs to be nurtured, as it hosts an unseen world of  insects, arthropods, and bacteria. Animals who are raised in settings that mimic their natural habitats are the most happy, and impart the chemical advantages of that happiness to us through their meat, eggs, and milk. Communities gain from the revenue generated from production, processing, and retail sales of local food, and consumers can feel secure that they’re getting fresher, safer, more humanely-treated food because local food systems are more transparent than remote agricultural corporations. If a consumer can walk into a local farm, cannery, butchery, or abattoir, those businesses are forced to be transparent in their processes and accountable to customers.

Salatin gave several examples of ways food can be integrated into communities. Italy has gardens and Mexico tethers milk cows along highways, areas which America keeps mowed, wasting petroleum and biomass. A Belgian project gave chickens to families, and not only did the chickens provide the households with fresh eggs, but they helped with yard bug populations, and ate kitchen waste. Prisoners could be turned into farmers: America has twice the number of prisoners as farmers, so why not plant apple and pear trees along highways and let prisoners tend them?

People who are stuck in the rut of making unhealthy, irresponsible food choices may not want to hear Salatin’s message, but it’s an important one, and we, as citizens of Earth, are lucky that he has such a busy speaking schedule. If you’re reading this, then it’s not likely that you’re stuck in that rut, so congratulations, and please continue to support local agriculture!