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Archive | Eco-Farming

Pigs on Pasture: Water & Shelter

Appropriate shelter and access to clean water are critical aspects of survival for humans and animals alike. Shelter is where an animal feels the absence of stress. Every animal needs a certain level of safety and security to go about the business of living: freedom from stress allows them to comfortably eat, drink, procreate, sleep, as well as raise the next generation in safety.

We humans have become experts at creating extensively complex and secure shelters for ourselves that cater to our every physical whim. In confinement-type farming situations a similar mentality prevails; the designers of these systems try to minimize the physical stresses in order to maximize growth with minimal space.

Factory farming has been very successful at creating animal warehouses that meet the minimum needs of the animal without addressing the other aspects of holistic animal health. Like employees in a corporate system, animals have become cogs in a well-oiled machine that pumps out meat by the ton. As referenced in the animated short film The Meatrix, it is time to take the red pill and understand that this paradigm is not the future of farming. Continue Reading →

Treasure Trove of Fertility: Composting Mussels

For about the last two years, I have been experimenting with composting mussels. Head to southern West Virginia and you’ll meet farmers who are learning to amend the brown, yellowish sandy soil deep within the Appalachian Plateau. The Berks-Pineville and Gilpin-Lily soil created by weathered shale, siltstone and sandstone can be unpredictable. Though it appears to be well drained in some areas and easily cultivated in others, the black gold they need to amend their crops is all but gone.

The author has experimented with a compost mix of zebra and quagga mussels.

Here in the southern coalfields that surround Mullens, Itmann and Pineville, mountaintop soil and dirt can be tightly packed and tough to work.

Compost can take a long time to break down, especially when there are long stretches of dry hot weather.

I knew little about the soil in Mullens when I first started experimenting with my zebra mussel shell compost mix. I first made a visit there last summer and stumbled upon a row of gardens at the Mullens Opportunity Center while I was in town for a meeting.

There, I met the executive director of the Rural Appalachian Improvement League and a farm-to-school AmeriCorps worker who was caring for their summer crops and high-tunnel complex. I asked if I could return to Mullens with just the right remedy for their soil. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Farming in the Presence of Nature

By Athena Tainio

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, Farming in the Presence of Nature by Athena Tainio. Copyright 2017, softcover, 116 pages. Regular price: $18.00. SALE PRICE: $12.60.

Enter Human

Farming in the Presence of Nature by Athena Tainio

The dark side of the story begins with the human race. Think of sequestered carbon as Gaia’s savings account, which she deposits and draws from as needed to keep her systems properly function­ing. Man has depleted Gaia’s savings by extracting and burning massive amounts of fossil fuels, which has released CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere faster than Gaia can reab­sorb them. The destruction of forests and wild grasslands (both large carbon sinks) to make way for roads, cities, suburbs, and agri­cultural land to support expanding human populations also releases sequestered carbon into the atmosphere and has greatly reduced Gaia’s carbon sequestration abilities.

At the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the Scripps Institu­tion of Oceanography and NOAA Earth System Research Labo­ratory began tracking atmospheric CO2 in 1958, when the average CO2 level was approximately 310 parts per million (ppm). In less time than the average human lifespan, the atmospheric CO2 levels have climbed to over 400 ppm (Tans and Keeling).

Continue Reading →

Biointensive Growing for Smart-Scale Farming

Conventional thinking holds that vegetable farms must be fully mechanized and produce on a certain scale to provide a livelihood, except in extraordinary circumstances, but Les Jardins de la Grelinette (Broad Fork Gardens) in Quebec, busts this myth, using biointensive growing methods.

For more than a decade Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Helene Desroches have operated a phenomenally successful “biologically intensive” microfarm using biointensive growing methods.

By choice they use only hand tools and a small walk-behind tractor and employ only one or two workers. Yet with less than 2 acres under cultivation and one greenhouse and two hoop houses on their certified organic farm, this husband and wife team grosses around $150,000 a year.

Of that impressive sum, they’re able to count more than 40 percent as profit for family living. Jean-Martin and Maude-Helene are in their 30s and have two children.

At a half-day workshop I attended in the company of well over 100 farmers, Jean-Martin summed up some of their achievements. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: The Farm as Ecosystem

By Jerry Brunetti

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, The Farm as Ecosystem, written by Jerry Brunetti. Copyright 2014, softcover, 335 pages. Regular price: $30.00. SALE PRICE: $25.00.

An Invitation to Become a Legume

The Farm as Ecosystem, by Jerry Brunetti

 

Another exciting breakthrough in nitrogen-fixing bacteria originates out of the University of Nottingham’s Center for Crop Nitrogen Fixation. Professor Edward Cocking and colleagues found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar cane that could intracellularly colonize all major crop plants. Remarkably, this development potentially allows all the cells within a plant to x atmospheric nitrogen! This technology, labeled “N-Fix,” is not a genetic modified/bioengineering technology, either. Rather, it is a seed inoculant, enabling plant cells to become nitrogen fixers, a hopeful boon to annual crop production, which uses wasteful and contaminating amounts of nitrogen. Commercialization of this non-GMO breakthrough is expected by 2015–2016.

In the same vein of investigating the “cellular wisdom” that exists among microbes and plants, researchers at the University of Missouri’s Bond Life Sciences Center, under the direction of professor Gary Stacey, discovered that, for reasons yet unclear, non-legumes have not yet made a “pact” with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia bacteria that allow legumes to convert nitrogen gas into plant food that can be used to build proteins. Continue Reading →

Agricultural Lessons from the Deer

One thing I know very well and yet continue to study is the whitetail deer. Although cursed by crop farmers, landscapers, gardeners and others I sympathize with, deer provide many valuable lessons and perhaps even models for the ecological farmer.

Under normal circumstances, deer do not “mow” or even really graze; they browse, seldom making obvious changes to their “pasture” or killing the plants. For example, when deer eat the tops off hardwood saplings, they leave one leaf — enough for the tree to re-grow its top. In my experience, they often come back and eat it again.

Certainly, deer’s expensive tastes can be a problem for your trees if the deer are overpopulated. However, if the population is healthy and in check, they use this technique with natural forage, leaving enough so that what they ate may grow back. Continue Reading →