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Book Review: Defending Beef ─ The Case for Sustainable Meat Production

Defending Beef Book Review

Defending Beef by Nicolette Hahn Niman

Defending Beef ─ The Case for Sustainable Meat Production
by Nicolette Hahn Niman

It’s the blurb below the subtitle that gets your attention — The Manifesto of an Environmental Lawyer and Vegetarian Turned Cattle Rancher — and then the author’s surname. Yes, she is married to that Niman, and yes, she still eats no meat, now a matter of habit and comfort, she says, not any lingering animus. The irony could not be more acute, for this vegetarian makes as forceful and comprehensive a case for rational livestock husbandry as could be imagined.

Like the talented lawyer she was when she ran the Waterkeeper Alliance’s campaign to reform industrial livestock and poultry production, Hahn Niman assembles a case and argues it point by point. The vast advantage she enjoys over a writer making similar arguments from an office in Austin or New York comes from her time on the Niman Ranch. A wealth of personal experience percolates through her case, giving it detail, color and emotional logic. First-hand familiarity with the cycle of birth, death and renewal seem to have defused any ethical objections to eating meat, though that issue is not the book’s main subject.

Much of the material here will be familiar to those who follow the issues that swirl around sustainability and health, both human and animal. The trick to telling this kind of story has to do with rendering reams of data into a relatively swift narrative without oversimplifying it. Whether telling the story of Allan Savory and mob grazing or recapping the findings of the late John Yudkin — author of Pure, White and Deadly, the book that fingered sugar for crimes against health 40 years ago — Hahn Niman never misses a step. Continue Reading →

Interview: Extending the Growing Season — Organic Farmer, Author Eliot Coleman Shares Strategies for Successful Year-Round Growing

Eliot Coleman Interview

Eliot Coleman

Eliot Coleman interviewed by: Chris Walters


Anyone attempting to grow fruits and vegetables in the winter will likely come across the work of Eliot Coleman. A tireless innovator and skilled communicator, Coleman began writing about organic growing an astonishing 39 years ago. Along with fellow writer and wife Barbara, he was the host of the TV series, Gardening Naturally, on The Learning Channel. He and Barbara currently operate a commercial, year-round market garden at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine, where he conducts the experiments he describes in this interview. He served for two years as the executive director of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and was an advisor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture during their landmark 1979-80 study, “Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming.” Coleman’s books include The New Organic Grower, Four Season Harvest, and The Winter Harvest Handbook.

ACRES U.S.A. Didn’t your wife, Barbara Damrosch, play a large part in your story? Not only personally but professionally?

ELIOT COLEMAN. No question, she is the best thing that ever happened to me. We’ve been married 23 years this December. She writes a weekly column for the Washington Post called “A Cook’s Garden,” and she has written two books by herself and one with me. I’ve written three by myself. When my first book, The New Organic Grower, came out in 1989 my publisher told me the competition for it was something called The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch. After I moved back here in 1991, I was down at Helen Nearing’s place, helping her tie up tomatoes in her greenhouse, and this very attractive brunette wandered in to visit Helen. I invited her to go for pizza, and we were married six months later. She had heard about my book, and obviously I’d heard about hers. She said she had always wanted to live on a farm, so I tell everybody that she stalked me.

Continue Reading →

Cover Crops Mean Big Business

Business opportunities in cover cropsThere’s a new opening for rural America to create jobs and make farming more future-friendly, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation. The Growing Business of Cover Crops details new business opportunities arising from a resurgence in the ancient practice of cover crops. Over the last decade, many farmers started using cover crops, creating a niche market for rural entrepreneurs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports a 38 percent increase in cover crop acres from 2012 to 2013, with the average farmer willing to pay $40 per acre on cover crops. For the average-sized farm (420 acres) that means $16,800 per farm spent on cover crops each year. The Growing Business of Cover Crops highlights the small business opportunities created by the upsurge in the use of cover crops, including crop advisers, seed production and sales, planting and even livestock grazing, with salaries reaching $62,000 per year. To read the report, visit www.nwf.org.

This report appears in the October 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Interview: Poisoning Paradise for Profit — International Organic Authority, Author & Farmer André Leu Shatters the Myths of Safe Pesticides

André Leu Interview

André Leu

André Leu interviewed by: Chris Walters


Over the years a queasy complacency has replaced the alarm once triggered by the subject of pesticides. While millions of people strive to avoid using them or eating food containing residues, many millions more accept their continued use in the belief that agricultural chemicals are understood, regulated and used with discretion. André Leu’s new book, The Myths of Safe Pesticides, demolishes these notions with a steady stream of hard facts derived from solid science. He puts a hand grenade into the layer cake of wishful thinking, and there isn’t much left after it goes off. As he explains, Leu was moved to write the book by repeated exposure to a series of mistaken ideas about pesticides, massaged into the public mind by public relations professionals working for industrial ag concerns. He hears these dangerous misapprehensions parroted far and wide as he travels the world in his capacity as president of IFOAM, the international organic umbrella group. Hailing from Queensland, Australia, Leu raises tropical fruit in a bucolic spot where the tropical rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. His activism on behalf of sustainable farming brought him increasing prominence over several decades, leading to his current post. He is a longtime friend of Acres U.S.A.

ACRES U.S.A. Every so often an apologist for mainstream agriculture takes the line that Rachel Carson and her supporters overstated the problem, since their apocalyptic fears of pesticide effects were not borne out in the decades following publication of Silent Spring. DDT was banned, better chemistry came on the market, integrated pest management techniques evolved, and so on. The world didn’t end. What do the facts really tell us?

ANDRÉ LEU. The reality is that after generations of increasing life expectancy, we’re at the point now in the developed world where we are looking at the first generation that will have a shorter life expectancy than ourselves, so we can see that something clearly isn’t right. If you look at the U.S. President’s Cancer Panel report, it clearly says that 80 percent of cancers are caused by what we call outside environmental influences, of which chemicals are one of the most considerable causes. That is also backed up by the International Agency for Research on Cancer which says breast cancer, for instance, is at an epidemic level when we measure the number of women getting it and the number of women dying. In the developed world we have much better medical intervention, so we’re getting higher survival rates. In the rest of the world, where they don’t have our level of medical care, there’s incredible mortality. The United Nations’ World Health Organization maintains an environmental program looking at endocrine disrupters, particularly diseases of the sexual tissues. Those cancers are on the rise — birth defects, lower reproductive rates. Across the board we can see negative health outcomes as a result of chemicals. This is borne out by good, peer-reviewed science. It’s not dogma, it’s published, peer-reviewed science, meta-studies by the WHO and findings of the President’s Cancer Panel in the United States. We’re talking about some of the world’s best experts getting together, reviewing all the data and presenting their findings. They cannot be discredited and ignored. Continue Reading →

Soil Fertility: 16 Methods to Understand

Establishing a Self-Sufficient System

In nature, soil organisms cultivate the soil.

Soil fertility and sustainable agriculture practitioners know that most soils today need their health and vitality rebuilt. In times past, nature built healthy, vital soils, and there is value in copying nature in rebuilding soil health. However, we cannot afford to take millions of years to do so as nature did — we need intelligent intervention. Cultivation, grazing, composting, soil conservation, green manuring, soil testing, soil remineralization, fertilizer priorities, fossil humates and visual soil assessment all play a role in establishing self-regenerative, self-sufficient fertile soils.

The biological activities at the basis of self-regenerative soil fertility occur at the surfaces of soil particles where minerals come into contact with water, air and warmth. It is at these surfaces that biological activities provide nitrogen fixation and silicon release. Continue Reading →

Improve Soil Health with Mob Grazing

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis places posts without having to leave his 4x4 vehicle.

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis places posts without having to leave his 4×4 vehicle.

by Tamara Scully

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis comes from a long line of pioneering innovators. His grandfather raised purebred cattle, sheep and racehorses. His father was one of the first to use an air seeder. Dennis himself is now a leader in promoting Holistic Management grazing techniques, and he has pushed the boundaries of high-density stocking on the 1,200-plus acres of the family’s Sunnybrae Farms.

Today, the pastures of Sunnybrae Farms are thriving, with over 40 types of native plant species and a variety of legumes, none of which were ever seeded. The pastures boast a very high plant density, and water is retained in the soil with little runoff. The carbon content of the soil has dramatically increased over the past two decades, along with the microbial activity. Soil warms up earlier in the spring, stays cool in the summer and produces well into the fall. Salt and mineral supplementation of the 800 to 1,000 head of cattle that call these pastures home has been greatly reduced, as the nutrient content of the forages has increased. Continue Reading →