Over the past century, farming steadily decreased to less than 2 percent of the U.S. population. But then, from 2002 to 2007, farms actually increased 4 percent, the increase being mostly small farmers. The number of organic farms increased from 12,000 to 18,200 in that same period.
Reference: Brown, Lester (2009). Plan B: 4.0 – Mobilizing to save civilization. New York: Norton, 231.
My most recent farming project is this: FODDER! What’s fodder? you ask. Basically, it means sprouting seeds to enhance nutrients, digestibility, and protein content and is especially helpful for cows in the winter months. For a great discussion and ideas on how to start your own fodder feed: http://familycow.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=pasture&action=display&thread=47939
Diversify – “don’t put all your eggs in one basket!” If all the animals of one species were genetically the same (say, if all our turkeys were commercial whites…oh wait, they practically are!) then a blight came through and killed only that genetic pool…We would be in some serious trouble. A good present day example of why biodiversity is important is the problem with the invasive bug that showed up a few years ago, the Emerald Ash Borer. This bug has killed thousands of ash trees and may not be able to be stopped before every ash tree in America is dead. Some cities planted their trees as mainly ash trees. Now, those cities green spaces are decimated! Plant for variety and then only a small portion will be affected at any one time.
Heritage breeds are often naturally disease resistant and better foragers (meaning cheaper to raise, although it may take a little longer). Purebred animals and plants breed true. Some commercial animals do not even have the ability to breed (such as commercial turkeys)!
An example of sustainable profit within a purebred (“heritage”) breed of cattle:
“Sustainability that makes you more profitable: To produce the same amount of milkfat, protein and other solids as Holsteins, Jerseys use 32% less water, 11% less land, and have a 20% lower carbon footprint.” http://www.usjersey.com/NationalAllJerseyInc/LowerJerseyEnvironmentalImpact.html
A HEALTHY field or garden is the first step toward a sustainable environment (therefore allowing for a balanced pest population).
That means COMPOST! (For further detail, check out these sites: http://www.compost-info-guide.com/make_better_compost.htm and www.howtocompost.org )
1. Start with ORGANIC MATTER:
Manure from ruminants (cows or goats for example)
Mulch – bark, straw, hay, grass, etc.
Certain household food scraps
NOT pet manure (dogs, cats, rodents, etc. due to pathogens)
NOT pig manure (pathogens too similar to humans)
2. Kept in a suitable ENVIRONMENT:
moist but not saturated
aerated on occasion
sufficient depth to producte heat (the heat kills any bad bugs or weed seed!)
3. End up with decomposed organic matter that is sustainable because it slowly releases nutrients which feeds your plants over a longer period of time and does not allow for runoff to carry the nutrients away as easily. Organic matter holds moisture, which will keep your crops thriving in times of drought. Also, organic matter increases the habitat for beneficial critters that will encourage microbial action and increase available nutrients even more! Plus, the HEALTHIER the soil, the LESS you will have to deal with harmful pests!
“In 1948, when pesticides were first introduced, farmers used roughly 50 million pounds of them and suffered about a 7 percent loss of all their food crops. By comparison, in 2000 they used nearly a billion pounds of pesticides. Crop losses? Thirteen percent.”
Quote from: Kingsolver, Barbara; Hopp, Steven L.; Kingsolver, Camille. (2007). Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of food life. New York: Harper Collins, 165.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the modern pest-control concept. Instead of spraying DDT on a lake for mosquito control just to have the mosquitos return the next season twice as bad, IPM encourages a diverse set of pest-control measures that result in long term, harmless control of pests along with sustainable practices for growing healthy products.
Types of IPM include:
- fly predators (these little critters reduce flies dramatically on your farm without bothering you too, google term for more information)
- black light with bug zapper (one small light can protect your whole orchard from coddling moths. Additionally, they can be used to deter pests from clinging to anything bright around the doorway to your house! The small energy cost is more sustainable than regular application of harmful pesticides that are ineffective.)
- non-toxic sticky fly strips (More of a short term answer, but these sticky tapes can catch a LOT of flies! Be sure to only use them in highly populated fly areas, as the stickiness becomes less effective every day due to dust and hair and such in the air.)
- birds (Whether you keep a few chickens around or build bird houses, encouraging birds to live in your area (not Starlings, but song birds and other beneficial birds!) can really help reduce pest problems. I first bought chickens for their bug catching capabilities. Getting free eggs for breakfast is just a major perk!)
- naturally pest resistant crops/varieties (If you are growing crops in a garden or plants for decorative purposes, study your area or ask your local Extension agent and area gardeners about which plants will thrive in your area. My theory is, if they can’t survive on their own, they have no place in your garden! Weak or ill suited plants are a haven for pests!)
- dung flies (If you see these shiny yellowish flies that just don’t look like your normal housefly…and they are sitting on a cow pie…you have dung flies! Dung flies help decompose manure quickly (they are “living composters”) but due to chemical applications and concentrated animal operations, many dung fly/beetle populations are at risk of extinction. Do your part and let them live. They will do your fields a great favor!
- frogs for mosquitoes (We have a pond less than 50 feet from our front door. You would think “mosquito capitol” but it’s not! We have frogs galore in the pond. I hear their bleating every night, there must be hundreds of them. And no mosquitoes!)
- buy only disease-free plants (Don’t buy that 50% off plant, look for young, healthy plants grown in clean environments to improve your chances of NOT bringing in pests!)
- mulch with straw (mulch provides habitat for pest-eaters and blocks weed growth)
- multi-species grazing (rotate fields between cows, pigs, chickens, etc. Each type of animal has a different eating habit. The cow keeps the grass levels low enough that pigs and chickens can eat the weed seeds that the cow walks by.)
- Can you add to my list? What has worked for YOU?
For a lot of information on sustainable farming, check out ATTRA “National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service”
An example of moving toward more sustainable farming:
I’m in a forum with other small farmers and one posted so others could see her “inputs” for the pigs she raised. She bought 600 pounds of grain per pig. Finished live weight was 225-250lb of pig, meaning about half that ends up being meat you take home to eat. [Basically input 600 pounds grain output 100 lb. meat] I told my husband what she had done and he said, “600 per pig, that’s got to be wrong”. Nope, I double checked. And it correlates about with what I spent as a kid on my silly 4-H pig projects (people support the kids by buying their pigs at a special auction, so I always came out ahead money wise…).
My friend started feeding milk/cream that she got free from an organic company because it was nearing the sell by date. She cut her grain cost in half. Hmm, I thought…I’ve got cows and extra milk!
Now I’ve learned that another friend raises her pigs on ONLY pasture, milk, and household food scraps. They grow just as well and “milk fed” meat is said to be much tastier.
So, I plan to feed milk and clear our woods out, which is only partially pasture now. The pigs will clear it for “free” (versus using a chain saw) and they will get nutrition and turn the mismanaged land into productive, fertile land. They do good on skimmed milk (after I’ve taken the cream for butter) and whey (cheesemaking waste). And from the garden, they will eat whatever leftover plants that the chickens or cows won’t eat. We do NOT compost our plant material from the garden back into the garden because of pest control concerns.
I just get so excited that I can go away from buying 600 lb. grain (no offense grain, but you’re too rich $$ for me!) to raising the same product on what it costs me to feed the cow (milk) and a new solar electric fencer (because I don’t have one). Everything else is already on the farm! I will be sure to let you know what my costs end up being (fixed and otherwise) and how the meat tastes!