Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Permaculture Over Agriculture

I have been a proud supporter of local organic sustainable farming as the main source for all my meats and vegetables for some time now, but I never realized just how far and wide the destructive arm of agriculture reaches into the world around us leaving behind death and destruction in its wake!

I've only just begun reading The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keitho, and to say I was shocked just when I thought I couldn't possibly be shocked anymore would be an understatement. The things man has done or continues to do for his own selfish gain (that of the "greater good") and always at the expense of our health, our environment, and any poor creature that shares this planet with us, is just heartbreaking to learn about. I am not talking about the "senseless killing" of poor animals (cow, sheep, pigs, chickens) for our own glutinous urge to eat.. No that would be a vegan's standpoint, and that I am not. Instead I am referring to the damage we have done all in the name of agriculture.

Give a man some grains (cereal, flower, bread, etc.) and he can eat for a week, but give him some seeds and a plow and he will surely destroy the planet.

Around 12000 years ago man domesticated wild annual grasses into the grains we eat today; corn, wheat, rice, soy... ok that one's a legume but for arguments sake it's really all the same. Ever since man first put plow to field in some way shape or form, we have depleted the earth of nearly all its usable topsoil and destroyed entire ecosystems in the process. We cut down and clear forests and plow prairies, transforming a wild fertile landscapes of perennial polyculture into a monocrop of annual grains. We dam rivers in order to irrigate them without any concern for the ecosystems they support, and until the advent of chemical fertilizer and pesticides, when all the natural resources the land had to give were used up, we would simply move on to another poor unsuspecting plot of land.

Civilizations are built, wars are waged, social classes are formed, men are enslaved, and nature is destroyed all in the name of agriculture... I guess the plow is truly mightier than the sword!

So what is the alternative to agriculture as we know it? From what I'm learning it's called permaculture. It's about variety and maximizing resources while reducing and eliminating waist and pollution. It's about mimicking nature, because the truth is we DON'T know better!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Our Brain Evolves While Our Health Pays the Price

"Humans are qualitatively different from other animals because we manipulate the flow of energy and resources through the ecosystem to our advantage, and consequently to the detriment of other organisms. That is why we compete so successfully with other species. But with this success come some inherent failings, particularly in terms of our health."

When the topic of diet comes up people often rebut the notion that the "hunter gatherer" diet remains the healthiest and most ideal for humans, with the notion that our bodies have evolved along with our diets since our hunter gather ancestors roamed the earth about 10 thousand years ago. This may be true, to an extent, but it's important to remember that approximately 100,000 generations of people were hunter gatherers. This compared to only 500 generations which have depended on agriculture, and only 10 generations that have been around since the industrial age (industrial farming), and only 2 generations since highly processed fast foods have consumed our diets.

What may be most detrimental to our health however is the every so quickly shrinking biodiversity of foods (plant species) that make up our diets... Our prehistoric ancestors ate an estimated 100 to 300 different verities of plants over the course of a single year, Westerners seldom consume more than 20 to 30 and that's the more "health-conscious" of our population.

"Furthermore, agricultural biodiversity is shrinking as fewer species and varieties are made available for cultivation. Today 75% of the global food supply comes from a mere 12 crop species. Not only are we losing species diversity but we are losing varieties within those species. The demise of dietary diversity is exacerbated by modern processing, in which artificial chemicals instead of herbs are used to preserve, enhance the taste of, and add color or other properties to food. Our industrial diet is greatly weakened thereby in both nutritional and medicinal attributes, providing us with only the bare essentials of energy and protein."

Wild Health by Cindy Engel

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chicken Farmers... Lessons from the Wild!

"Chicken farmers too could learn valuable lessons from wild health. Red Jungle fowl live in the forest in small groups of fewer than 20 birds, with one cockerel controlling and protecting a number of hens. They scratch around on the forest floor, finding insects, worms, and fresh greenery to eat. They dust-bathe and sun their feathers to keep them clean and healthy, and when it rains, they preen themselves all over." Wild Health by Cindy Engel

If the above paragraph depicts the ideal life that any "domesticated" fowl could expect to live on whatever farm they call home, then what is being sold in the grocery stores around the country (and world) couldn't be further from ideal...

Due to selective breeding, and in today's world GMO's, it takes only ~42 days for a broiler chicken to grow to weight, this is half the time it took just 20 years ago. For industrial farming to be successful (profitable) quick and cheap must dictate production, at whatever cost necessary!

"This selective breeding means that muscle is being laid down before the circulation and heart have developed sufficiently to support the huge muscle load. As a consequence, the birds suffer circulatory problems and heart failure. On top of this, their bones are not strong enough to support their extra body weight, and lame birds die of thirst or starvation because they are unable to reach the automated food and water supplies. A staggering number of broilers suffer broken bones or other skeletal defects at any one time and thousands die of heart failure each day... The birds are kept indoors in dim lighting lest they get "excited" and attack one another. They trample on their dead companions, blister their feet in the acidity of their own excrement, and damage their lungs in an atmosphere of ammonia fumes, dust, and bacteria." Wild Health by Cindy Engel

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Disturbance... A Good Thing?

Joel Salatin, the head guru in "beyond organic" sustainable farming, preaches many things, some of which I've been lucky enough to hear in person as my wife and I were fortunate enough to take a trip to Virginia last year and visit his farm and experience his famous lunatic farm tour. One of the principles he preaches of as a successful sustainable grass farmer (as he calls himself) is the importance of disturbances in the land, and how this is not only essential but the way nature intended.

So where is this coming from you wonder? Since I've moved my chickens closer to the house for the winter in an attempt to let their spring/summer pasture rest and allow me to reseed where necessary for the spring, I have been plagued with the dilemma of how to give the chickens the amount of free range they are used to and deserve... I probably have just shy of an acre of property in my back yard, 3/4 of which has been their turf for the better part of 7 months, and because their coop isn't easily moved (I am still working on a mobile coop) the weekly field rotation I had been adhering to always consists of ~25 square foot of common area. This area was the reason for me wanting to reseed and move the chickens and coop closer to the house, which has inevitably resulted in much less yard for them to forage from.

This is where I remembered some of Joel's preachings, mainly his 30 min rant on disturbance as a natural occurrence in the wild and crucial in sustainable farming. You see I have an Island, for lack of a better term, of wild overgrown yard that separates ours and that of one of our neighbors. Its about 50-100 feet at it's widest point, and runs the depth of our back yard. It's mainly a handful of trees in the center outlined with forsythia bushes which bloom beautifully in the spring and wild raspberry bushes that feed us in late summer, but unfortunately the lack of "disturbance" in this area has allowed wild grape vines to overtake, strangle, and eventually kill whatever hosts lie in their path. So I took some of my poultry fence, bared the harsh briar patch like terrain, and gave my chickens a fenced in area that I can only imagine provides a cornucopia of insects, mice, and garter snakes; better referred to as chicken heaven!

In one days' time they already had much of the overgrown mess turned over dug up and cleared out, leaving only the trees (of course) and bushes. And that's when it hit me, if I partition off this Island of vines and thorny brush prior to the spring adding it to my rotational chicken pasture, I can accomplish two things; give my chickens a healthy natural buffet of protein, and clear this uninhabitable land at the same time.

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