AcresUSA.com links

Archive | Eco-Farming

How to Build a Portable Chicken Tractor

DIY Chicken Tractor

A modified chicken tractor at 37 Acres Farm in Camden, Ohio.

When building a chicken tractor, keep in mind that in any type of poultry containment the old rule of thumb is to provide at least 4 square feet of floor space per bird, although up to 6 square feet might prove beneficial for some of the larger breeds. There should also be plenty of head space to allow for free movement and natural activity.

Chickens have been used frequently to follow cattle across pasture; utilizing some of the lower, finer stemmed plant materials left behind by the true grazers; feeding on some insect life; and even helping to break down manure pats. They will still need to be offered a full feeding of a good laying ration to maintain desired levels of egg laying performance, however.

The challenges will be how to best tend the birds so contained and to protect them from predation. One- x 2-inch or 1- x 1-inch patterned, welded wire is a strong, durable choice, although it will add to the initial cost of construction. Continue Reading →

Raw Milk for Real Health, Wealth

Soil Scientist, Author Joseph Heckman Examines the State of Raw Milk Dairying & Challenges to Consumer Choice

Joseph Heckman, Ph.D. is a tireless advocate for common sense and good science regarding producing, selling and drinking fresh, unprocessed milk. A professor of soil science at Rutgers University, he teaches courses in soil fertility and organic crop production. He conducts research and extension programs on optimizing nutrition and soil quality in support of plant, animal and human health. He has served as chair of several professional organizations including the Council on History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Soil Science, the Committee on Organic and Sustainable Agriculture, and the Organic Management Systems Community of the American Society of Agronomy. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Farm to Consumer Foundation. Dr. Heckman was the lead author of the Soil Fertility in Organic Farming chapter for the agronomy society’s book, Ecology of Organic Farming Systems. Most recently he co-authored Fresh Milk Production, The Cow Edition and Fresh Milk Production, The Goat Edition. Heckman’s determined insistence on sanity, science and sense has done a great deal to lift the reputation of raw milk in this country.

Interviewed by Chris Walters

Fresh Perspective

ACRES U.S.A. Dr. Heckman, how did you find your way to the subject of fresh, unprocessed milk and all the science, politics and controversy around it? Did you arrive at this debate via research, personal background, or lucky happenstance? Continue Reading →

7 Keys to Dairying, Cheesemaking Success

No one becomes a dairy farmer or dives into cheesemaking because they are looking for a simple, easy life with a large pot of gold at the end the rainbow. But if a cheesy (I like to think of that as a complimentary word) life appeals to you, and you choose to turn it into a business, it must be one that is sustainable — worth continuing from the aspects of workload and income.

Being a successful farmstead cheesemaker is no longer just a matter of gathering together a beautiful herd of dairy sheep, cows, goats, or water buffalo and making great cheeses.

Not only are feed and infrastructure costs higher than ever, but the artisan cheesemaker faces stiff competition from imported cheeses and those that appear to be made domestically but are made in part using imported milk (in the case of some water buffalo mozzarella), imported frozen curd (for some fresh and ripened goat cheeses), or simply made overseas (utilizing milk from mega-dairies) to make a custom-label cheese. Continue Reading →

Meat of the Matter: Deep Nutrition for Better Health

Dietician, Educator & Author Diana Rodgers Talks about Nutrition, Organic Farming and Taking Back our Food System for Better Health

Photo by Heidi Murphy

Diana Rodgers believes in the power of real food to improve health and well-being and help reverse chronic conditions. As a registered dietician, she works with clients from her Concord, Massachusetts, office. Her practice focuses on all too common conditions of 21st century America such as weight, metabolic and digestive issues. As a dietitian Rodgers is unusual in her preference for nutrient-dense foods, including red meat and a diet low in industrially processed, hyper-palatable processed foods. Her concern for and knowledge about environmental sustainability, animal welfare, regenerative farming and social justice also make her an outlier in her profession. And she’s really good at getting people to listen through the use of story and occasional heartfelt turns of phrase, like her comparison of “taking a pill to lower cholesterol to cutting off a smoker’s fingers.”

In addition to her clinical practice, Rodgers is a passionate educator. She hosts fascinating guests on her Sustainable Dish Podcast, maintains an active speaking schedule at universities and conferences, and is the author of two cookbooks, The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook (2014), written with her farmer husband, and Paleo Lunches and Breakfasts on the Go (2013). She’s at work on a feature length documentary Kale vs. Cow: The Case for Better Meat, which promises to influence the broader conversation about food ethics, sustainability and animal agriculture. I first heard Rodgers speak at a 2017 Grassfed Exchange plenary session, where an audience of 500 conference goers responded enthusiastically to her presentation. Continue Reading →

Suburban Farming: Growing Berries & Small Fruit

The more I explored the world of growing berries, the more I began to understand how limited most American consumers are in their knowledge and experience of these healthy and tasty foods. Additionally, many of the berries and small fruit I grow are unavailable to consumers, even in high-end supermarkets.

Ripening ‘Red Lake’ red currants.

Growing up in central New Jersey, I’ve seen large expanses of former farmland transformed into seemingly endless residential sprawl. While this doesn’t bode well for open space (as well as a host of other things), it does present opportunity for those able to attract these new potential customers.

One way is by creating a suburban farm. Such a farm, on less than an acre, allows spry and innovative farmers to use small size and proximity to market to their advantage.

Eight years ago, after my youngest child neared the end of high school, I decided to expand my love of gardening into a business. I started off small — about a tenth of an acre in part of my backyard. I named my suburban farm “Pitspone Farm” — from a Hebrew word meaning very small. Over the years I slowly expanded, until at this point I’ve more or less taken over my entire backyard, about one-third of an acre. Continue Reading →

Quest for Quality: Growing Nutrient-Dense Crops

For Central Virginia farmers Dan Gagnon and Susan Hill, the best proof that they’re doing things right with their soil to produce nutrient-dense crops comes from the mouths of babes and customers facing health challenges.

Dan Gagnon discusses soil structure at Broadfork Farm in Chesterfield, Virginia.

Gagnon and his wife, Janet Aardema, operate Broadfork Farm in Chesterfield, Virginia. Gagnon likes to observe how children interact with food. His youngest son Beckett, 3, last winter used organic store-bought carrots to dip into salad dressing while Gagnon’s mom was looking after him. But he would not eat the carrots.

When she dropped him off, Gagnon had just dug some overwintered carrots. Despite a bit of dirt clinging to them, Beckett gobbled them up. “The feedback from customers that we continue to get has been very encouraging,” said Gagnon. “Also, a child’s palate is a great indicator of the quality of your produce.”

Hill, who grew up outside Helena, Montana — where, she says, if they didn’t grow it, they didn’t eat — cooks for a woman who has multiple sclerosis; another customer has cancer and another, Lyme disease. Continue Reading →