Lately I’ve seen a lot of posts from farmers “battling” mother nature in their farm practices. Across the midwest, I see the desertification of land that used to be fertile grasslands with nine feet of topsoil. I’ve seen the videos of the wind whipping away what topsoil is left, the ground bare.
And I had a thought. How would we ever win against Mother Nature? A being that has been learning and evolving over billions of years. And why would we want to?
Look around the world at what she’s built. I mean how incredible is it that healthy, well aerated soils harbor bacteria called methanotrophs, which break down methane? It is mind boggling that Mother Nature designed a system to create balance with grasslands and ruminant animals.
It’s magical. It’s wondrous. It feels like an absolute miracle.
There is so much we don’t know about the workings of our beautiful planet.
I like to imagine a world where we farm as a love letter to nature. Instead of asking how much we can extract from the soil, we ask how much we can serve the soil. Instead of trying to mold Mother Nature into our boxes, we listen to her, learn from her.
Last summer we had a pretty bad drought in Vermont. The pastures stopped growing. Except the parts along the edge that had access to shade for most of the day. Those parts of the pasture stayed lush and green, and were 8-10” taller than the pasture out in the middle of the field.
Contrary to what I always heard as a kid, by watching and listening to Nature I saw that grass does indeed like some shade. The trees can protect the grass from extreme drought events and they can also protect it from extreme rain events by slowing the rain down before it hits the earth, and keeping the soil in place with their root structure.
Those trees go on to produce nuts and pods that feed the cows that eventually feed us. And instead of an annual extractive system, it’s a perennial regenerating system.
This is a teensy example.
It’s easy to get caught up in the gloom and doom that takes place in our news outlets on a daily basis. Believe me, I’ve done it. But I challenge you to instead close your eyes and imagine a world where everyone farms as a love letter to nature.
Here is my vision.
Lush green ecosystems where wildlife and humans flourish alongside each other. The cows and the sheep are grazing underneath the shade of fruit and nut trees in the summer. In the fall and winter the cows and sheep are harvesting the drops from those trees. Honey locust pods, chestnuts, persimmons.
We transition all the mono-cropped land into perennial crops and animal grazing lands. The people demand that clean water is more important than corporate profits and they take responsibility to make that come true.
The feeling that comes to mind is abundance. And nourishment. This dream is all possible and I believe it’s possible within our lifetime.
It would require work and a humongous paradigm shift in how we think about food and what we eat. It would require eating seasonally, which is in itself a gift. May becomes rhubarb season. July becomes blueberry season. It may feel like an overwhelming and impossible shift but it all starts one step at a time.
Maybe that’s buying powdered laundry detergent over liquid. Maybe it’s saying no to the piece of clothing you don’t need or replacing grain-fed beef with grass-fed beef. Maybe it’s a single tomato plant that you tend to. And when you make tomato sauce with those tomatoes you feel something old stirring within you, calling you to live in connection with the land.
What a beautiful world it would be if everyone had access to nutrient dense animal foods. Our chronic health problems would disappear. We would have that vital connection to our food and to the earth.
Oh, what a world!
Contrary to what the eight inches of snow on our pastures and 23 degree weather today say, we’re one short month from the grazing season kickoff and I can’t wait to see what we learn from our farm this summer. I’m looking forward to tasting the animals we harvest that have been grazing on this magical farm the whole year. I just know you’re going to be able to taste the love and the magic of this place.