Happy Garlic Ready for the Snow

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

All Flesh is Grass

Red Wattle, Dark Cornish, Lace Winged Wyandotte, Duroc, Guinea Hog, Yorkshire...
Sunshine, Grass, and Flesh ......
I've got pigs, chickens, and pastures on the brain - I defy you to talk to me for more than 10 minutes these days without the conversation turning towards movable electric fencing, feed conversion and forage, or how to source grass-fed beef or pork or pastured poultry for our land, our kitchen, and our future!

Pigs on the brain. Which sounds like some kind of disease. In a way it is - there is an undeniable mania in this kind of work which demands that you grow and diversify more and more. You get good and efficient at what you do, and then you start to see the cracks, see the potential, see where you can stack functions, integrate the elements, balance more. I just can't help but think how much healthier and more wholesome our land, produce, community, and guests would be if we introduced pasture, grain, eggs, meat, dairy, nuts, mushrooms............

In the industrial food system which we are all unfortunately at times subjects of, this is a radical notion. (Not to suggest that the industrial food system cares at all about such concepts as health, land, and community.) The last 60 years have seen the steady commodification, specialization, and industrialization of our food system. This process has divorced our livestock from our land and homogenized our farm-scapes with weak, chemically-dependent monocultures of corn, soybean, cotton, wheat, canola, and rice. And as Wendell Berry has astutely pointed out, this process has created both a fertility problem on our farms and a pollution problem on our feedlots. What I am finding is that there is, in light of all this, a rational, defensible reason for farms to diversify production.

Animals are meant to be on our agricultural lands - for meat, dairy, and eggs, and for their vital functions as processors and spreaders of our land's nutrient wealth. At Camp Stevens, we concluded a successful first attempt at pasturing and butchering meat chickens last Fall, and we are currently working a small flock of laying hens into our vegetable rotation. (In the field, hens serve an awesome role, processing old crop residue such as corn and squash stubble, spreading manure, and providing us with the most amazing dark yellow/orange egg yolks.) We have also kept pigs at Camp before, though many years ago now, for processing kitchen wastes. All of these things we are currently looking at doing again, doing for the first time, or expanding and integrating into our ever maturing garden/farm-scape.

Fortunately for the productivity and programs of the 2011 seasons, it won't be long before my ambition is checked by the sobering realities of this year's tasks. My visions of high-rise scissoring chicken tractors and gopher-eating Dark Cornish pullets foraging in the orchard will shift to the back of my brain for rumination while the real dirt work begins. Lettuce, onions, and brassicas are in the greenhouse tonight, peas and garlic are patiently nestled under a 16" blanket of snow, and some sorry-looking apricots are hanging tattered blossoms. There is much to do once the snow melts and the soils dry down a bit, but for now I will return to the book I am most recently reading:
"All Flesh is Grass".