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Order vs. Wildness: The Land Management Question

A member of the Virginia Monarch Butterfly Society called me: “Do you know where we can plant a pallet of milkweed seed?”

I didn’t even know Virginia had such an organization. Beyond that, I wondered where in the world they procured a pallet of milkweed seed. As I talked with the lady on the phone, I suppressed my laughter realizing that a couple of hours before I had had a totally frustrating in-the-field meeting with the landlords of one of the farms we rented.

By Joel Salatin

The landlords were more than a little dismayed at the weeds we had created with our mob grazing management. In September, right when the monarch butterfly larvae needed them, those weeds included a healthy contingent of seed-pod-bursting milkweeds. The monarchs were euphoric. The landlords weren’t. This 90-acre pasture farm had been continuously grazed for years before we rented it. The sparse grass never exceeded a couple of inches in height; clover was virtually nonexistent; thistles dominated the plant profile.

In three years, by using mob grazing and aggressive hand tools we vanquished the thistles, but a plethora of edible and often delectable weeds (like milkweed) thrived. Indeed, that afternoon at our pasture-based summit, Daniel (my son) and I exulted in the biomass volume we had stimulated. Fall panicum, milkweed, redtop, clover and some goldenrod offered color and variety to the orchard grass and dominant fescue sward. The landlords, however, did not share our euphoria. As we stood in armpit-high biomass, arguably more than had been on the farm for decades, all the landlords could utter was a contemptible and emphatic: “Look at all these weeds.” I was incredulous. Outdoor and wildlife lovers, the landlords could not make the connection between this diversified, voluminous biomass and the overall health of their pasture farm. We could scarcely walk through the biomass jungle, replete with spiders, field mice and a host of creepy-crawly insects.

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Farming Success: Salatin’s Top 10 Markers

Farming success can be measured in myriad ways, but sustainable farmer Joel Salatin shares 10 keys that can help farmers stay on the right track.

Joel Salatin - 10 keys to farming success

Joel Salatin shares knowledge with seminar attendees at Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia in July.

The market is here. The knowledge, thanks to decades of Acres U.S.A. articles, is here — all we’re doing these days is tweaking and refining. The basics are all in. The people are here. Young farmers, small farmers, localized farms — it’s a veritable tsunami. The infrastructure is here — portable electric fencing, water systems, foliars, composting, tall tunnels and greenhouses.

With all our technology, tools, and knowledge, why aren’t ecological farmers more wildly successful? More to the point, what are the markers for success, the salient commonalities among the practitioners who enjoy great production, great profits and great pleasure?

If we can tease out these elements, perhaps more of us can enjoy the fruits of righteous farming. What follows are 10 elements, in no particular order, that I think identify farms that successfully transition into and thrive in the integrity food system.

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Organic Farming: What You’ve Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

Organic farming isn’t a new idea, but the term does tend to get overused and misused, leading to a lot of confusion about what, exactly, organic and eco-agriculture farming really is.

A flock of chickens roam freely in a lush green paddock near Clarkefield in Victoria, Australia.

Over a hundred years ago, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes contrasted man’s failure to control human diseases with poisons with his success in maintaining the health of plant life “by learning the proper foods and conditions of plants, and supplying them.”

At that time the foods of man were grown without serious problems of disease of insect infestation. But conditions have changed. The philosophy of smoking out disease as we would smoke out vermin, which Dr. Holmes so derided when applied to human health, has been extended to the whole art of growing foods plants. The modern gardener and farmer devote and enormous expenditure to various techniques, which poison both soil and plants. Farming is a constant struggle to maintain or increase yields on a year-to-year basis with the application of powerful artificial stimulants to the soil and the application of strong poisons for the destruction of plant-eating insects. Little or no thought is given to the effects of such farming methods on a long-range basis, and no effort is made to provide foods that contain an adequate supply of all chemicals and chemical compounds needed for health. The motive is one of immediate yields, and hence immediate profits, without so much as a glance into the nutritional qualities of food plants or the need for developing an effective and safe method of agriculture on a permanent basis.

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Tractor Time Podcast 4: Susan Sink and the American Farmland Trust

Susan Sink, vice president of development and external relations at American Farmland Trust.

Susan Sink, vice president of development and external relations at American Farmland Trust.

In our Tractor Time podcast this week, we were lucky enough to have Susan Sink, vice president of development and external relations with American Farmland Trust, stop by our office in Austin, Texas, to chat about the future of farming, and what is currently happening in Washington D.C. that all farmers should know about.

Susan and the team are based in Washington D.C., and work with policymakers as well to craft major legislation like The Farm Bill, which affects almost every farmer in the country. They travel around and talk with farmers, both conventional and organic, and see how different environments — both political and geographic — affect the agriculture industry across the country.

Susan is also a farmer who has diversified her cattle farm in hopes of finding a way to keep her farm going in a very challenging environment for cattle farmers. She speaks to her own experience, and provides words of wisdom and hope that every farmer out there can hear and appreciate.

Hosted by Ryan Slabaugh.

You can learn more about the American Farmland Trust at www.farmland.org.

You can find all of our podcasts on our Tractor Time Podcast page at www.ecofarmingdaily.com, or in the Apple store.