15 January 2012

What about dirt?

Exec Summary: Old school farming, chemicals and excess cultivation destroy the soil, bought a farm (picture), link to an old school farm with a really interesting grazing system, a little bit about poo.

Hi All,
           We just got back from our Christmas holidays in Australia, what a great recharge for the batteries! While we were there we found a little place in the world that we think might suit us and put a contract on that piece of land (we had been looking for 10 years!) Some 65 acres near Hobart where, hopefully, we will one day move and grow some animals and some veggies and live a quieter and more sustainable life. It did strike Toni and I that sitting in a metal tube (plane) for 8-12 hours, 20-30 times a year might not be exactly in line with the highest ideals we have for how we want to live for the future.

Lovely piece of the world........some day I will sit here and watch my sheep.
I've been doing some research into soil and other things agricultural (as always with mixed success into the reality of things). Some sources tell us that there are between 10000 and 40000 microbes in a single spoonful of topsoil. In many parts of the planet it seems that the topsoil is almost gone because those "using" it have failed to replenish it with manure or nutrients after the harvest. One example given was that soil in some places has become almost an inert growing medium where a farmer MUST add chemicals just in order to grow something. This sounds pretty sad to me.

The only farming I know was what we were taught at school (an Agricultural college) and from my uncles, Opa, Pop (mostly veggies) and my dad. The systems I observed were almost exclusively based on a variety of enterprises that support and sustain one another and the land. How did it come to the fact that most commercial cattle, chickens and pigs are now produced in feedlots and these animals never get to be a real pig or a chook or a cow? I'd much prefer a steak, some bacon and a roast chook that had spent at least part of life running amok and being as piggy, chooky and cowy (not a real word?) as possible.

The alternate view is that pasture fed animals can be sustainable and that land can be re-invigorated.......by a liberal application of poo! It seems that the local food movement, urban farmers and the family "small" farms that still exist are linked by poo. That is, they all see the benefits of farming sustainably and returning nutrients to the soil. One of the best examples given was by the worlds most famous farmer, Joel Salatin. The Salatin family owns and runs 550 acres with 100 of those pasture. Joel describes his system of running cattle on a fresh "salad bar" of grass daily and then following up with the movable chicken arks 4 days later to eat the larvae in the cow manure and spread it over the pasture for him. He manages to make a living by "stacking" enterprises on his hugely fertile land (made so by management of what goes in and out of the soil), and terms himself a grass farmer whose main mission is to increase the happiness of his earthworms - everything else follows  from that apparently.

www.polyfacefarms.com The Salatin family farm - good website, very interesting.

So what has dirt got to do with changing the world? Well - it seems that the anecdotal evidence points to:

  • Productive "dirt" being in the hands of agriprenuers who have killed it with chemicals while chasing a short term profit (for about the last 50 years or so - the good times are over and this system has failed or is likely to fail),
  • It seems like it might be possible for smaller holdings to support one family or more through stewardship of the earthworms (worked for thousands of years before the chemical brothers decided their way was better),
  • It might also be possible to reinvigorate a plot of land by returning to first principles and eschewing the chemical fertilizer (and high cost) spiral of modern farming by choosing to get hip deep in crap (preferably from poultry, pigs, sheep and cattle - in that order!)
So, you want to change the world? Start collecting crap and start hoeing it into your dirt! Them plant some veggies ok?

Thanks for reading.