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Gabe Brown on Building Resiliency through Soil Health

Farmer, Author Gabe Brown Discusses Soil Health & Diversity

Gabe Brown is one of the great bridge builders in farming. No matter which corner of agriculture you come from, or even if you don’t work in agriculture, Brown’s talks about how regenerative farming can restore our ravaged soils to vitality make sense. Moreover, he presents it with a plainspoken, pragmatic aplomb that captivates and never alienates, instead drawing listeners into the pleasure and excitement he gets from trying out new ideas. He explains techniques with a clarity that eludes many professional educators, and when the moment requires he can drive straight to the core of an issue with one stroke.

At an Acres U.S.A. conference some years ago, an audience member said it all sounded great, but asked why he should put in the extra work. Brown simply asked him if he cared about his grandchildren. People who come away from a Gabe Brown talk unsatisfied are rare as hen’s teeth.

Now, after many years of explaining his soil-building wizardry in person, Brown somehow found time to write a book, Dirt to Soil that tells his story and explains what he does and why it works. The book includes farming practices, a philosophy of nature and the story of how Brown and his family survived several years of natural disasters in the mid-1990s, an ordeal that proved pivotal. We last interviewed Brown in our October 2013 issue. We reached out to him for another talk five years later at his farm in North Dakota.

Interviewed by Chris Walters

Gabe Brown: From Dirt to Soil

ACRES U.S.A. How did people such as Ray Archuleta, Dr. Kris Nichols, Dr. Christine Jones and others impact your effort to reinvent your whole way of working?

GABE BROWN. In my book, Dirt to Soil, I tried to tell the story in chronological order as to the people I met along the way and how they influenced me. I learned bits and pieces from many individuals, organizations and Nature herself, and it was up to me to take that information and apply it on my ranch. I wanted to show other producers that you’re not alone. You can glean information from many places, and it’s up to you to take that information and apply it as best you can in the stewardship of your own operation. Continue Reading →

Superior Farm Staff Leadership

Effective farm staff management can make all the difference. A long-time organic farmworker named Jessica told me, “When you are the boss there is not much incentive to change.” I’d like to prove that there is great incentive to improve management. Poor management hurts everyone — it makes farms less productive, and it can make employees miserable. It’s also very difficult to address the problem.

Workers don’t have any power in the relationship. They fear bringing up conflict for fear of losing a good recommendation in the future or the chance for a promotion. There is typically no structure in place for employees to contribute ideas about how they are being managed.

Drawn from interviews with organic farmworkers from around the country and my own experiences on multiple farms, here are some thoughts about managing farmworkers from their perspective (some names in this article have been changed).

Empowerment

A lot of the workers I talked to expressed great appreciation for the ways that farmers empowered them in their jobs. The best bosses assume their workers are capable of learning and performing tasks, even contributing new insight into the direction of the farm. Continue Reading →

From Grass to Glass: Organic Dairy Farming

Maybe it’s a chance remark heard from a fellow farmer or an epiphany that comes while attending a farming conference. It lands on fertile ground and a way of looking at things, a way of being in the world, shifts. For Evan Showalter a book his father picked up — Gary Zimmer’s The Biological Farmer — launched him down the path he’s on, which includes providing milk for Organic Valley’s Grassmilk brand.

Evan Showalter produces Grassmilk for Organic Valley on his Virginia farm. Photo by Russell French for Organic Valley.

He came to the book in 2007. At the time, Showalter, of Port Republic, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley, had returned from working in construction and landscaping to the dairy farm where he grew up. There, he had managed a renting farmer’s conventional dairy herd of 80 to 100 cows. As he and his father considered the prospects for dairy, Showalter decided not to buy that herd and to focus instead on produce and corn for silage and grain; he also continued haymaking. He took over renting from his father in spring 2008.

Showalter, who had planted genetically modified crops and sprayed glyphosate because that was what he knew, was interested in biological farming, so Zimmer’s book came to him at the right time. When he returned to the farm he began to phase out synthetics and by 2009 began to apply for certification for some areas of the farm.

Between 2009 and 2011, Showalter began routinely testing soils and working with consultants. He saw a rapid shift in soil balance as he sold crops and had no animals on the farm to cycle nutrients. Continue Reading →

Book excerpt: Reproduction and Animal Health

By Gearld Fry

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from the Acres U.S.A. title Reproduction and Animal Health, by Gearld Fry. Copyright 2003, softcover, 218 pages. We republished this excerpt in 2018 in memory of Gearld Fry, who passed away and was an important figure to Acres U.S.A.

Gearld Fry

I’ve heard the comment, “I’m doing pretty good,” and there are words like excellent, profitable, and not too bad. For my part, I love numbers. Accordingly, I’ve put together numbers for 400 acres, 100 cows, assuming the average soil in the South, and I hope it will enable the cowman to draw the appropriate conclusion. This model will change according to the area, but it should guide the logic and thinking that backgrounds a profitable bottom line.

The Calf

The average calf has seven owners. It travels 1,400 miles from the time it is born until it makes it to a dinner table. There are two or three beef organizations formed recently that hope to achieve select as their target norm. The American Hereford Association recently entertained the billingsgate that Hereford select was better than Angus choice, this according to Colorado State research.

Continue Reading →

Shift the Workload: Focus on Livestock Culling, Genetics

Raising livestock on any size operation is hard work. There’s no way around it. However, you can minimize your personal time and labor investment by shifting your farm’s workload from yourself to your animals. They have their entire lives to spend doing a few simple jobs: eat, grow and reproduce. You, on the other hand, have numerous important things to do. This mind-set for management of any species will lead to a low-input ranch that can be run on just a couple hours per day.

A Red Angus crossed with Belted Galloway, 4-month-old bull calf.

My shift-the-workload philosophy is a product of my diverse experiences in agriculture. I have a bachelor’s degree in animal science and agribusiness from West Virginia University. I have worked on ranches in Montana and Texas, and for renowned grazier Greg Judy in Missouri. As an intern at his ranch I learned how to harness the power of nature with mob grazing.

I now own Rhinestone Cattle Co., a grass-fed beef and consulting operation in western New York. I have taken much inspiration from the work of Tom Lassiter, Gearld Fry and Ian Mitchell-Innes. Continue Reading →

Top 10 Reasons to Raise & Eat Grass-Fed Meat

Diana Rodgers lives on a working organic farm west of Boston, Massachusetts. Clark Farm raises lamb, goat, pastured pork, eggs, vegetables and berries. The animals look serene in the golden green pastures. They are healthy and relaxed. They are part of the landscape, shaping and impacting the grass and forest lands of the farm. Not only are they important to the health of the ecosystem, red meat from these animals is a true superfood — meaning that per calorie, there is a high level of nutrients in the food.

Healthy cattle grazing healthy pastures produce healthy beef that provides benefits to the soil, economy and people’s overall health.

However, most people believe the healthiest product on Clark Farm must come from the vegetable patch. This misperception and false portrayal of red meat led Diana Rodgers, R.D., a real food registered dietitian to create the film Kale vs. Cow.

“I’ve been feeling increasingly frustrated with the wrongful vilification of red meat from a health and environmental perspective. There don’t seem to be any films that advocate for regenerative agriculture that also admit that red meat is actually a healthy food to eat,” said Rodgers.

Realizing that Rodgers is right about the public perception of raising and eating red meat, we reflected on the reasons we choose to do both. We delve into the top 10 reasons cattle, sheep and other livestock are part of healthy living for humans and the ecosystem. Continue Reading →