Here in Iowa we see numerous examples of harmful agriculture as well as some poorly run grazing operations but slowly more education surrounding better practices is making its way into our communities. However, it is not happening fast enough and it is up to consumers to start driving change at a more rapid rate. It is of the highest importance that you know your farms and their practices. Even your neighbors small farm may not be doing best practice.
There are a lot of food movements in motion and strong emotions surrounding peoples convictions about food and our climate. I think this is because we, as a collective, so deeply feel that change must happen and the only chance we truly have at affecting change is by each individual action that we make. It then becomes a mission and a purpose to understand how we can first, do no harm and second, continue forward with healing our planet by all means possible. It’s too simplistic to say “don’t eat meat” or “one meal a day”. One must look at the nuances of our farming and our food system; how we grow food, who is driving policy, and what are the repercussions of how we as the consumer, spend our food dollars.
We started farming because we thought it was the right thing to do for our family and for the environment. We decided that our family needed meat to be healthy and we did not want to purchase factory farmed meat. After embarking on a meat withdrawal for close to a year, we chose to raise meat for ourselves. As our journey into our personal health and wellbeing continued, we realized how important the animals food inputs and feeding are as well as raising them in a way that keeps them at their healthiest. This allowed us to feel great about having meat in our diet. The health aspects are another post, but my point is, the way most of this country is farming has to change. For example, the way farming is happening now does use a lot of water, a lot of land, and creates polluted waterways due to pesticides, manure, erosion and nutrient depletion of soils which then grows nutrient deficient food. This is true of vegetable farming as well and livestock farming. Another example is the way we farm tree nuts. Tree nuts use enormous amounts of water and in California where the highest percentages are raised, this is a monumental issue due to their ongoing drought. Pollinators are another layer of the climate issues surrounding veg and nut production this also must be left for another post. But, in short, bees are being flown into farms as there are no longer local healthy bee populations. With all of this said, the way to positively affect climate change is to stop harmful farming practices and put all of our effort into creating balanced, nourishing soil, and this requires animals. Our soil is Earth’s microbiome; a living, breathing organism. Standard practices and policies are creating a sick world and the food we are growing in this soil is creating sick people.
Small to mid range farms like ours, which are practicing regenerative farming practices are working hard to change the food culture on a local level. Regenerative practices that encourage healthy and resilient soils and animals are largely based on rotational cover cropping and rotational grazing practices. By moving away from mono cropping, tilling, herb and pesticide use as well as planting cover crops to rebuild soils between cropping we have been able to stop erosion and create soil that will actually hold water and create less above ground demand.
Rotational grazing operations like ours can contribute to deep, penetrating soil health. Often ranchers and farmers are able to use land that is otherwise left fallow by rotating the animals intensively and thoughtfully. Some farmers graze multiple species on the same land base, where one ruminant can utilize some part of the forage and another species can benefit from what’s left behind. Grasses and forage ideally are not eaten to the ground leaving standing nutrients on top of the soil and protecting the animals from grazing too closely to their manure. Hay fed animals that are moved around leave the carbon and nitrates on the ground creating a composting top soil that adds living organisms and nutrients back into the soil. Wildlife also benefits as the animals are moving frequently onto other land and not displacing native species, which often is consequence of current vegetable and animal farming. The inputs from these rotating animals are a key component of soil building and critical for environmental and human health.
Food and Farming go hand in hand, likewise farming and climate are inevitably intertwined. I am hearing a lot of push for change in the agriculture community of our country and I am totally on board. Our agricultural practices have to change drastically if we are hoping to affect the climate in a positive direction. But, we cannot forget all that nature has taught us about synchronicity and resilience by engineering proteins and quality carbohydrates in a laboratory and forgetting all that we know about nutrition. No one has all the answers, it is a complex and crucial discussion. But, by keeping your dollars local, getting to know your farmers and their practices you can seek transparency and integrity in the food you choose to eat. Vote for change with your dollar, and slowly we will impact the climate issues at hand.