Heal the Land, Heal the Nation (and the world)

Pasture

** NEWS FLASH ** AMERICAN FARMERS ARE DESTROYING OUR ABILITY TO FEED OURSELVES AND THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW IT.

In 2008, I went to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm (Joel is the guy who sells meat to Chipotle) for Field Day. I came back very inspired and wanted to join his movement somehow. My wife thought I was crazy talking about “healing the land” and such. But is “healing the land” a crazy idea? Is the land even “sick”? Why does it need to be healed?

Well … yes … the more I read, the more I realize that yes, it IS quite sick and yes, it DOES need healing. What am I talking about? Well Joel Salatin has made me realize that tillage and row cropping destroys soil. Let me say that again …

TILLAGE AND ROW CROPPING DESTROYS SOIL

That’s right. We have millions and millions of acres of farmland in America and every year, it’s tilled and planted with annuals – corn, soybeans and wheat primarily. And I have now come to believe, thanks to Joel, that in so doing we are utterly and completely destroying our ability to feed ourselves – little by little, year by year. We beat the soil into submission with our plows. Then we spray chemical fertilizers on to get a boost. Then we spray more stuff on to kill weeds. Then – in the case of corn – we feed the crop to animals who were not designed to eat corn – cows. This messes up the cow and the cow’s meat. Then we eat the meat and it messes US up. So we are destroying our soil and damaging our health by eating messed up meat. And we think we are sophisticated. AND we are exporting our farming “expertise” to the “third world.” Wow. Heaven help us. What to do about it?

This article recognizes this loss of topsoil but their solution is “no-till” agriculture, which still doesn’t solve the problem, it just slows it down a bit. The REAL solution is to BUILD SOIL – with two things …

1) Perennials, and
2) Herbivores

In simplest terms, this is what Joel does on his farm and the result is amazing. Instead of the soil on his farm being depleted and running off into streams and rivers, he’s actually building soil. It’s actually much thicker, much more fertile, and much more drought tolerant now than it was 40 years ago. Back then Joel reports that his 100 acres of pasture could barely support 15 cows. Now it can support more than 100 and it gets better every year. Joel grows hay so thick that conventional hay mowers get chugged up. The process he uses is so simple it will blow your mind. Here’s what he does. He allows his pastures to grow tall, then turns his entire herd into a small patch and leaves them there for one day. This is called “mob stocking.” Then he moves them to another patch by moving electric fence. And so on throughout the year. When the grass gets mowed by the cows, the grass plants shed much of their root systems. This becomes organic matter in the soil which feeds earthworms and other essential soil organisms. The cows also manure the pasture and stomp it around because they are packed so closely together. This also feeds the soil organisms. That’s it! Grass grows (and weeds grow). Cows eat. Cows poop and spread their own manure. Soil grows and becomes more fertile. Year by year. What a brilliant, simple system! Why don’t ALL farmers do this?

I don’t know, but more should. We literally have a system right here in front of our eyes to solve some of the most fundamental problems facing our world today. And most people have no idea that we even have a problem.

A familiar verse comes to mind …

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” … HEAL THEIR LAND.

Did you catch that? God doesn’t say “I will heal their bodies.” Or “I will heal their relationships” although those things are important.  He says “heal their LAND.”

Interesting, isn’t it?

By the way, here’s a recent interview with Joel. Note what he says is his number one priority.

MH: So, for the readers who may not be familiar with your work or with agriculture in general, can you tell us a little bit about what you do?

JS: Sure. We’re a pasture based livestock… well, the bottom line is, what we do, we’re in the healing business. So what we’re trying to do is heal the land. That’s number one is heal the land.Everything else is secondary. Of course, what happens is, when you heal the land, you heal people, and economies, and communities, and all sorts of things.

You can read more detail about all this by reading two of Joel’s books …

Salad Bar Beef (1996), and
The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer (2010)

Absolute MUST READS not just for would be farmers but for anyone who cares about the future of food production!  (That’s everyone)

PS: On p. 50 of Salad Bar Beef, Joel points out that the Sahara desert used to be lush and verdant (reported by Homer) but now it’s a desert. Joel says this was caused by bad agricultural practices. Note to self: research this.

PSS: Joel got his idea for high density rotational grazing from studying nature and history. He notes that the soil in America was very healthy and very fertile 400 years ago. At that time, millions of bison and other herbivores roamed the prairies in herds closely packed for protection against predators. They grazed perennials and in so doing “pulsed” the land and built the soil to astonishing levels of fertility. So if you think about it, not only did God create the earth. He also created a way to preserve and nourish the earth, so the earth could in turn nourish humanity. From an engineering perspective, what God created was an automatic system for harnessing solar energy to create massive amounts of high density protein – bison – and build soil fertility. An amazing system, which, thanks to Joel Salatin, we can mimic on smaller scales.

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