In Women In Love, D.H. Lawrence exclaims: Real men love not one thousand women one way, but love one woman one thousand ways...
We recognize this truth, as the challenge of personal relationships, both intimate and distant, requires constant vigilance, persistence, and faith. They are rarely easy, but always rewarding if one keeps looking and loving yet more. This is the nature of love.
We are also learning it is the nature of democracy. Democracy is a fragile institution which requires constant attention if it is to be kept, not unlike marriage.
It is also the nature of land. Land presents a dynamic force and personality to which we must adapt, if we are to thrive in relationship with it. One can indeed look up at a tree one thousand different ways and always behold anew.
As we have beheld our farm over 55 years, we have been invited to reconsider its variable personality and always to keep trying to understand more deeply. It started out as a swamp, became an industrial grain farm, evolved into a large pastoral landscape producing personal foods, and now is inviting the swamp to return to much of its corpus. It has never held a fixed status for long, which ha been confounding for its partners.
As we respond to its call for rewilding, the wilds are responding in turn. Beaver are raising water levels, and otters are accepting invitations to linger. We have not seen otters here before, but here they are.
Seedling trees planted last February in wetlands have been jealously guarded by a thick stand of ragweed, protecting them from prowling deer. The trees seem to be thriving, despite the very dry fall. In the center of each picture below is a small oak tree, that is hard to see but very present.
Today we have begun spreading 1,000 lbs. of native herbaceous seeds in Phase II wetlands. These seeds have been picked from Phase I by Kathy, Jacob, Gary, Wesley, Elton, Tim, and Miriam this past fall. They include over 20 species such as: Agrimony, Southern Water-Plantain, New England Aster, Swamp Aster, False Nettle, Joe Pye Weed, Boneset, Sneezewood, Swamp Rose-mallow, Cardinal Flower, Blue Lobelia, Swamp Lousewort, Orange Coneflower, Smooth Goldenrod, Blue Vervain, and Common Wingstem, among others. What beautiful names.
Below is Gary Stauffer, and Elton behind, with seed bags on hips. Gary is our neighbor, is cousin to Landis and is just as able. Kathy did the sorting of seeds and organizing into 20 lb. bags for each 1/4 of an acre. Jacob is the leader of all. We have a great team.
As we wind down our production of grassfed foods, I have a number of reflections to share.
One of the most significant is how do we pay our partners on the farm more, so they can consider this work a career rather than an experience? Broadening the accounting system for businesses to include external costs, like pollution of water and air, would make a great difference. Our competitors in the industrial food system would then become the high-cost producers and we, of regenerative agriculture, would be the low-cost. Customers would flock to us, no matter where we were. This would relieve the small farmer of the relentlessly demanding task of differentiating the business through marketing efforts. To be relieved of that effort would enhance profit considerably. This could be passed on to employees.
In the meantime, how are local communities going to secure a clean source of food for themselves? I think urban and suburban communities are going to need to raise their own food, and rely less on Kroger. Municipalities could rent or buy farmland and hire farmers to raise the foods, providing base pay and benefits, so the struggle of producing boutique, nutrient-dense food would not be so great. Such land might be supplied by land conservancies in proximity to urban areas.
In rural areas, the SNAP and EBT programs need to be expanded so farmers can sell to anybody who cares. Nutrient-dense foods should be a right not a privilege. Same goes for inner city food-deserts.
We need more families, pension funds, and land trusts to own land for the long run, 50 - 100 years, so producers can rent from them at low price and not be burdened by cost of ownership. Including cost of land in the economics of nutrient-dense food is prohibitive.
The concept of eat less meat to save the planet is the wrong emphasis. We do need to urgently remove herbivores from tropical forests and from feedlots. They need to be returned to prairies and savannahs, which can not thrive without them. The corn belt in the US needs to be replanted to prairie grasses, across which herbivores would migrate in controlled fashion. Production of corn and soybeans would be scaled back for mono-gastrics, like poultry and hogs. Poultry and hogs should be raised out-of-doors, in patterns of movement, rather than in confinement. Indoor confinement systems for animals need to be banned because they are cruel and toxic. This would reduce the supply of meat, not because meat is adverse, but because it needs to be raised in its natural ecosystem.
Capitalism needs to redefine itself, so it is not primarily about the aggregation of individual wealth, but is more about the well-being of the whole. Leaving behind the poor is immoral and inexcusable. The 1% are too wealthy for their own happiness.
Our economic system needs to value biodiversity as its source of wealth. Biodiversity breeds stability and stability enables prosperity. When the ecosystem breaks down, so does our ability to live well.
The concept of biofuels saving the future is an illusion. Energy and calories harvested off the land for fuel always costs more than it delivers when all costs are included. Generating fuel at scale from wood, switch grass, or corn is a fool's errand that destroys land and profit.
Livestock numbers on our farm are slowly building again. Mahlon Stauffer's sheep flock is now up to 150 ewes. An interesting management wrinkle he has introduced is to bring his flock into an electrified corral at night. This is to prevent against predation from coyotes. You can see the dark circle of impact on the ground where he has been holding them the past five nights. His young guard dog puppy, below, is still learning her role.
Speaking of tropical rain forests, those of you who contributed to Conservation International's efforts to restore the Amazon have helped us succeed in meeting our fundraising goal. Thank you many times and congratulations to each of you for caring and risking. The Amazon and the American Midwest are connected the way organs in our bodies are connected.
Mahlon has recently retired from his brief career raising laying hens and producing eggs for us. So, unfortunately, this brings to close our capacity to provide eggs for you. This may change in another year or two, but in the meantime we will have to improvise.
We have a good bit of meat inventory in our freezers and are going to continue to take orders and deliver to Madtree every other Sunday, from 10 - 11 for the next six months or so. I will be there this Sunday the 18th. If you would like to place an order, do so here or go to the website if the link doesn't work - www.grassrootsfoods.biz. We will keep the website updated as to when exactly we will be making deliveries. You can also contact me or Bob by email anytime to inquire more specifically.
We are going to try to keep our kitchen and prepared foods going by sourcing meat from other farmers. We are optimistic about this, and will keep you apprised if anything changes. So, continue to place orders for prepared foods, as you have.
One of the projects I am working on is to compile the balance of these newsletters into two more volumes for publication. I am doing this with the capable support of JSH Design, and the effort should be completed by spring. This newsletter will probably serve as the concluding one for the account about farming and food. I think the effort to publish these stories is worth the undertaking in order to articulate some of what is required to live on the land and produce great food.
In the meantime, we will continue to keep you apprised periodically about our journey on the farm with our wetlands and other.
Below are pictures of parts of a recent meal created by Susan's soulful hand - lamb shanks and a delicious salad, for a birthday celebration. The lamb shanks were served over rice, and the sauce had a Persian accent to it, from influence of saffron, cinnamon, and rose petals. The salad of orange slices, radish slices, cucumber slices, and pomegranate seeds and greens was sprinkled with goat's cheese just before serving. For desert we had homemade carrot cake. I was so enthralled by the meal, I forgot to take a picture of it on the table, in full regalia. But you can imagine how it came out.
In closing, I search for words to say how much working with each of you has meant to Susan and me over the past fifteen years. Providing food for you has been a sacred exchange of trust that has touched our souls, stretched our minds, challenged our bodies, and enlarged our hearts. You have made us better people, and we are deeply grateful for and moved by the whole experience of being in partnership with you for such a long period of time. We miss seeing you terribly already. But let us stay in touch, for we are still here.
In one thousand ways, we send you our love.