As I drive to work every day I pass the field pictured above. It is a very nice laying field, typical of Lancaster Co. farm land. You can see the remnants of the corn stalks that stood here last fall. You can also see that there was no winter cover crop planted to hold the topsoil during the winter and early spring. The ground lay bare and exposed to the elements (except for the old corn stubble) waiting to be washed into the closest ditch. And thats exactly what happened. Melting ice and snow combined with steady rain took its toll.
Again, I did not think quickly enough to take a picture of what I saw but it was truly amazing. A few miles past where the "small brown creek" was exiting the field I saw a large grassed area (not really a farm field) that was also flooded, with a large volume of water leaving the grassed area for the ditch by the road. But the difference was amazing. The small creek leaving the grassed area looked like a crystal clear mountain stream! ! Incredible! ! The difference couldn't have been more noticeable. These two scenes, literally minutes apart, show that erosion is indeed preventable, even in the case of large volumes of draining water.
This little scenario that I witnessed with my own eyes just a few days ago is a good illustration of one of many of the weaknesses of conventional, industrial agriculture. The primary focus of industrial ag has always been production (crop yield/quantity) and profit (money). While they may talk a good game (about land conservation etc.) the actual farming practices they encourage are more likely to be production and profit friendly rather than conservation friendly. The proof is in the pudding. Corn and soybean farming rules the roost in the American heartland and these two crops do more to contribute to erosion than almost anything else. Wendell Berry, one of America's leading agrarians, says that for every bushel of corn harvested, two bushels of topsoil is lost to erosion. To the industrial farmer that is simply "the cost of doing business". I suppose the farmer just thinks he can replace the lost topsoil with buying more fertilizer.
Me thinks there is a better way. (Of course not just me but many who are more skilled and knowledgeable about farming than me). It is called pasture- based farming as opposed to grain-based farming. The general gist is this. In pasture-based farming the animals (dairy and beef cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry) are raised in their natural environment (the pasture) and fed a more natural diet (grass). Granted, the animals do not grow as fast in a pasture-based system but a pasture-based farming system is easier on the livestock (their digestive systems are more suited to grass than grain), easier on the land (as illustrated above sod/pasture holds the topsoil waaaaay better than row crops) and it is easier on the farmer, financially speaking (the dollars needed for purchased farm equipment is waaaaaaay less than the amount of equipment
needed for the grain-based farm. But of course, traditional pasture-based farming has been phased out in the last 50-75 years in favor of grain-based farming because the latter creates more of a need on the farmers part for purchased inputs (seed, fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides, big equipment etc).
The good news is the tide is beginning to turn. There are many more farmers today who are taking up pasture-farming than there has been in a very long time.
Say what? No it's not a Penna. Dutch word. It is an anachronism for God's Natural, Organic, Whole Foods, Grown Locally, in Season. My sister, Jana, passed along this website: www.gnowfglins.com For the sake of trying to help her family eat more healthy Jana has begun to try using less processed foods and more whole, natural foods. In her quest she came across this website and forwarded to me seeing how it dovetails naturally with this blog. I perused the site and found it very worthwhile. I think this website will be particularly helpful to those of you who are trying to break out of the processed foods mold. Seems like its strong suit is helping folks with food prep on-line classes, ideas, hints etc when it comes to preparing natural, organic and whole foods. I think this website can offer a good "healthy" dose of inspiration and practical help. Check it out! ! Hope you enjoy it! ! (And kudos to you Jana! !)
Tomorrow is Saint Patrick's Day - the traditional date for the first garden planting - peas. But alas, I don't think there will be to many folks planting peas on St. Patrick's Day this year. The snow MAY be gone from your garden but I suspect the soil is way to wet to work even for planting peas. (Truth be told, I haven't planted peas in years but thats another story). For me, St. Patrick's Day is a good reminder to cover my raised beds with plastic. Maybe I'll try and do that tonight. (Done! !) The plastic acts as a mini greenhouse and helps to warm up the soil. I'll leave it on about two weeks and then begin to plant lettuce, spinach, radishes and onions. Can't wait to get my hands in the dirt! ! Let me know when your first planting is! !
I haven't given out any agrarian verses for awhile - I need to get back to doing that. So here are a few verses to ponder.
He (God) changes a wilderness into a pool of water;
And dry land into springs of water;
And there He makes the hungry to dwell,
So that they may establish an inhabited city,
And sow fields, and plant vineyards,
And gather a fruitful harvest.
Also He blesses them and they multiply greatly;
And He does not let their cattle decrease.
Thats all for now. Thanks for stopping by! !