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Book of the Week: Foundations of Natural Farming

By Harold Willis

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A book, Foundations of Natural Farming, by Harold L. Willis. Copyright 2008, softcover, 367 pages. Regular price: $30.00.

Foundations of Natural Farming by Harold Willis

My, it’s dark down here in the soil. No wonder most people know so little about it. But that’s why we’re here, so let’s learn. Soil is the absolute basis of agriculture, and thus of all human existence, for as we have seen, we either eat plants grown in soil, or animals which eat plants grown in soil. Our soil has been called our most important national resource. Wise use and management of the relatively thin upper layer, the topsoil, is vital for maintaining good health and a high standard of living.

But through misuse, about 7–10 tons of topsoil per acre are being lost to erosion each year in the Midwest (the figure can be much higher in the worst areas). It may take several hundred years for 1 inch of soil to form. Obviously, we can’t keep on sending our topsoil down the river much longer.

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Real-World Composting: Making the Life/Death Cycle Work for Your Operation

By Malcolm Beck

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the February 1997 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine. We republished it in 2018 in memory of Malcolm Beck, who passed away and was an important figure to Acres U.S.A. and to the world of agriculture.

When I got into the compost business, it was by accident. I made my living working on the railroad. Our farm was more of a hobby than a necessity, although it was a good place to live and raise our family. Besides the usual farm crops and animals, we raised vegetables, up to 20 acres some years, and did it all organically. Our fertilizer was lots of manure gathered from our and the neighbor’s cow pens. We always kept a few big piles around.

Malcolm Beck

A visiting friend who was a landscaper spied our manure piles and pestered me until I finally sold him some. We loaded it by hand using manure forks. He paid me forty dollars for four yards. I got to looking at that money and thought, Gosh, that was much easier than spreading that manure in the field and plowing, disking, planting, cultivating, irrigating, harvesting, then going to the market and letting someone else dictate the price. Then it struck me, Why don’t I sell compost?

But I soon learned that at that time, few people, including farmers, knew was compost was. Next, the landscaper’s mother wanted some compost mixed with sand, then his uncle wanted compost mixed with sand and topsoil. Soon word got out that I had manure mixed with sand and/or soil, and here came the landscapers. I was forced into the soil mixing business. It wasn’t long before I used up all the rotted manure. Then I had to use manure that was still raw to make the mixes. I explained to customers “this stuff may be hot,” but they bought it anyway. One day, I made a delivery to a woman who operated a small nursery. She grew shrubs in big containers and I noticed her containers were free of weeds, while other nurseries always had a weed problem. I complimented her on the good job she did weeding, and she replied, “Malcolm, you soil/compost mix never has any weeds in it.” 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).

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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 →

Book of the Week: Restoration Agriculture

By Mark Shepard

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard. Copyright 2013, softcover, 339 pages. Regular price: $30.00. SALE PRICE: $24.00.

Where is the progress in this? Is our progress as a society to be measured by how big our sport utility vehicles are? Or is our progress measured by the fact that we have a 72-inch widescreen plasma TV in the living room with 300 channels of programming? Is it progress to be able to buy a 40-ounce “Big Buddy” soft drink at every corner and have a Walmart store within 30 miles of every citizen?

Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard

Do we measure our progress by the number of extremely overweight Americans that there are in the country? The United States has one of the highest rates of heart disease (#13) and diabetes (#3) in the world according to the World Health Organization. Is progress measured by the fact that Americans are so unhealthy that the latest Army statistics show that 75 percent of military-age youth are ineligible to join the military because they are overweight, can’t pass entrance exams, have dropped out of high school, or had run-ins with the law? “We’ve never had this problem of young people being obese like we have today, “ said General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

There’s a crisis running through the heart of America and clinging to its coronary arteries. It ripples out in all directions into everything we do, everything we feel and everything we think. Some may say it’s a political crisis. Some blame the most recent batch of immigrants, others blame religion (or lack thereof). In each case, the proponents of one solution over another share some very basic common traits with their opponents. These commonalities are such deeply held core beliefs that they are nearly invisible to both sides. No matter who is to blame for our current health predicament and no matter who is morally or ethically “right” when it comes to finding solutions, we all share the same crisis. Our crisis has its roots in how we get our food.

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Book of the Week: Ask the Plant

By Charles Walters and Esper K. Chandler

Editor’s Note: This is a combination of two smaller excerpts from Acres U.S.A. original book, Ask the Plant, written by Acres U.S.A. founder Charles Walters and Esper K. Chandler. Copyright 2010, softcover, 286 pages. $30.00 regularly priced. SALE PRICE $20.00.

It takes a cloudless night an adequate distance from the city’s light pollution to really appreciate the beautiful planet on which we live. Telescopes can take us well beyond the Milky Way, yet the unaided eye can find some planets in our solar system, and a little book learning can supply the intelligence that we have been here some 14 billion years, more or less.

Ask the Plant, by Charles Walters & Esper K. Chandler

This organism called Earth is no more than a speck in our planetary system, one that is swung on a gravitational string in a 300-million-mile orbit around a nebular sun. It wobbles slightly on its axis so that each hemisphere can be blessed with summer, winter, spring and fall.

Geologists tell us that planet Earth has many more mineral compounds than our sister planets, all of them fashioned from those elements that are blocked with such orderly symmetry on the Mendeleev chart.

How can these minerals have evolved from the same elements that service other planets? This evolution of inert minerals is aided and abetted by the life forms called microorganisms. Our microbial workers did not raise mountains from the deep. A fiery heartbeat from the center of the earth did that, striking land masses with tsunamis, sending water up or into a frigid air envelope, igniting ocean warming and great ice ages.

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