ecological farming and old fashioned living in southwest ohio

Shallow Organic Farming Versus Deep Organic Farming

Shallow Organic Farming Versus Deep Organic Farming
I wanted to post this excerpt from Eliot Coleman* (one of our favorite authors) about the difference in types of organic farming.  Many people who purchase organic produce, whether certified or not, are not aware that some types of organic gardening simply mirror industrial agriculture, instead of mimicking natural systems and improving the land (what Coleman refers to as “shallow organic” vs “deep organic”).  From The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman: “Since the 1930s, organic farming has been subjected to the traditional three-step progression that occurs with any new idea directly challenging orthodoxy.  First, the orthodoxy dismisses it.  Then it spends decades contesting its validity.  Finally, it moves in to take it over.  Now that organic agriculture has become an obvious economic force, industrial agriculture wants to control it.  Since the first step in controlling a process is to define (or redefine) it, the USDA hastened to influence the setting of organic standards – in part by establishing a legal definition of the word “organic” – and the organic spokespeople naively permitted it. Wise people had long warned against such a step.  Thirty years ago, Lady Eve Balfour, one of the most knowledgeable organic pioneers from the 1930s, said, “I am sure that the techniques of organic farming cannot be imprisoned in a rigid set of rules.  They depend essentially on the attitude of the farmer.  Without a positive and ecological approach, it is not possible to farm organically.”  When I heard Lady Eve make that statement at an international conference on organic farming at Sissach, Switzerland, in 1977, the co-option and redefinition of organic by the USDA was far in the future.  I knew very well what she meant though, because by that time I had been involved long enough to have absorbed the old-time organic ideas, and I was alert enough to see the changes that were beginning to appear. When you study the history of almost any new idea it becomes clear how the involvement of the old power structure in the new paradigm tends to move things backwards.  Minds mired in an industrial thinking... Read More

Weathering the Storm

A brief but mighty storm roared through last night at about 5pm.  Our dogs trembled and stuck to us like glue while the rain and hail battered our house, and strong winds rushed through our shop throwing many items askew.  After the storm had passed, we walked the farm to make sure everything was alright.  We knew our power was out and there was a line down on our neighbor’s drive.  This in itself makes for a lot of work with our many freezers of meat and fresh veggies to keep cool in the summer heat.  After straightening up the shop and setting up a generator, we went to the chickens to be sure everyone was ok.  In our 6 years of having the General Chicken (our tank-like moveable chicken house, pictured below), it has never had any problems, but the very strong winds last night blew it over.  We were able to get it right side up and repair the damage to the house, but sadly, we lost about 10 laying hens. Next was to run over to the cows to make sure no trees were down on our fence and no cows had breeched the perimeter.  Cows were all where they were supposed to be and just stared at us as we ran up – storms don’t bother them; they’re pretty hardy animals.  Claire walked through many poison ivy patches to check the perimeter, while Marc moved the cows to new grass and filled their water.  A total of 6 trees were down on our fence, so Marc had to chainsaw in the pouring rain a bit later.  Then it was back to this side of the creek to make sure all pigs were safe.  Everyone was fine, perhaps a little shaken, but some scrap watermelon solved that problem.  Two more trees were down on this side’s fence.  Whew.  (For those who do not know, electricity is vital to our operation because it allows us to rotate our animals easily, with moveable electric fence.  It protects the chickens by keeping predators at bay, and also allows us... Read More

In Defense of the Cow

In Defense of the Cow
The lowly cow is the most powerful tool on our farm. No amount of diesel fueled equipment and no national policy can match the work done by the cow’s rumen matched with a farmer’s intensive management. Last year, Claire and I watched a vet’s necropsy of a cow that unexpectedly died on our farm. For about 45 minutes we combed through about 60 gallons of grass in various phases of digestion in 4 different stomach chambers. Every 48 hours, all year long, the cow takes grasses, that which we can’t digest, and turns them into meat, milk, heat, hide, and manure. Mountains of the latter are available at the end of winter hay feeding. It is a powerful, sadly maligned, and misunderstood mountain. The Huffington Post recently posted an article about a set of recommendations given by a group tasked by the federal government to advise the department of Health and Human Services and the USDA in the formulation of new dietary guidelines. Thankfully the report does link sustainability with human health, but they use this link to sing the same sad refrain that we should be “eating a plant-based diet that was low in red and processed meat.” The lowly cow is coming more and more under fire these days because knowledge of and exposure to the cow is almost non-existent for the vast majority of Americans. True, cattle can be one of the most destructive forces on earth, but they can also be the most constructive. The report fails to recognize that an alternative exists. They see modern confined animal feeding operations and categorize all “red meat” as one and the same. On our farm, the recommendation to eat “plant-based”, to eat less “red meat” makes no sense as an environmental protection measure, because when managed properly, cattle can become the source of the vegetable. For example, we’ve recently made a discovery on how to link the positive traits of the woodland, the grass pastoral, and the vegetable field ecosystems. In nature, the forests and field are separate, occupied by different species. The forests do an excellent... Read More

Turkey Day

Turkey Day
With the decline of small family farms in the past 50-60 years, there is a gap between what happens on a farm and the kitchen.  My grandparents, and probably many of yours, grew up on farms.  If you wanted to eat chicken for dinner you went out to the barnyard and rung a chicken’s neck.  You butchered it and plucked it yourself, and then you brought it into the kitchen to cook.  The majority of Americans now have no idea what that process looks like, and many do not want to know.  But I think it is a really important part of eating meat – understanding how an animal dies to nourish you.  Without this vital step in the “circle of life” (forgive me), we are prone to stop caring about the animal’s life itself.  And so, industrial agriculture steps in and raises the animals inside, behind closed doors, with no hint of a natural life left.  All that seems to matter is how much money a company can make and how quickly, completely disregarding the fact that animals are ALIVE and deserve to be raised humanely.  (We, as a small family farm, are not immune to the idea of making money quickly either. Any farm is a business and must make money to survive.  But, above money, we tend to the animal’s well-being and quality of life while we are husbands to them.) Our animals are treated with respect and allowed to do what they want to naturally do – this means chickens and turkeys get to scratch and peck, pigs get to root and dig mud-pits, cows get to eat grass only.  Many of you know this already and that is partially why you have become our supporters.  But I wanted to introduce you to a step in the process of raising animals that many of us (even me, sometimes) pretend does not exist.  And that is death.  In thinking about death, we like to paraphrase Joel Salatin and say that our animals have wonderful lives and just one bad day.  So if you don’t want to... Read More

Quick Braised Cabbage and Apple

Quick Braised Cabbage and Apple
  Quick Braised Cabbage and Apple 2014-10-09 19:53:11 A quick and healthful Germanic dish Write a review Save Recipe Print Ingredients 1 clove garlic, smashed 3 tbsp unsalted butter 2 pounds cabbage cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces 1 mild, sweet apple such as Gala or Fiji (we used Northern Spy), cut into 1/2 inch cubes 1/2 cup unfiltered apple cider 1/2 tsp caraway seeds 2 pinches allspice 1 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar salt and pepper Instructions Cook garlic in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, 1 minute. Add cabbage, apple, cider, caraway, allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Add vinegar and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Notes Red cabbage makes this dish even more delicious, but I use green if we don't have any red. By submitted by Marsha L Finn Meadows Farm... Read More

Holistic Choices

Holistic Choices
When you manage a farm, you are faced with choices that will affect your entire ecosystem frequently.  Often the choice is between disrupting nature thereby giving relief to your animals/plants or taking a monetary loss, and the choices are never easy. The decision is most obvious when it comes to our pastured chickens.  I documented our battle with the fox from last summer – we lost about 100 chickens over a month (which is about $1500) to a then unknown predator.  It baffled us for a long time, because we had been using the electric poultry netting for about 5 years and had never had any issues.  The netting works very well because most animals’ first instinct is to smell something unfamiliar, and so they smell the electric fence and get a shock on their wet noses.  That generally keeps them away, but some animals will test the fence every day.  Once last summer when the fence was set up (it gets moved about every 2 weeks), one 10 foot section was slightly droopy.  So the fox, sly as she was, realized that it could make the jump.  The droopy fence was corrected, but the fox had learned how to best the fence and did so every morning just before sunrise, killing 3-5 chickens just as they stepped out of their house to greet the day.   So we were faced with a decision: kill the fox, disrupting the ecosystem around us, or let the fox continue to kill our chickens, which meant that the CSA would not be getting any eggs and we would lose a lot of money. Other times, the right decision is not so clear cut.  Last fall we planted many cabbage and broccoli seedlings for our autumn crop.  They seemed to be doing well, until the harlequin beetles invaded.  The little beetles can decimate your brassica crops – they suck the juice right out of them until they shrivel up and die.  I would love to be able to use a biomimicry method to control these insects, but unfortunately they are an import from... Read More

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes
It is officially heirloom tomato time, so make sure that you eat as many as you possibly can now!  They won’t last forever.  The Italians have a word for eating copious amounts of one food while it is in season: scorpacciata.  Heirloom tomatoes are a treasure.  Heirloom means that someone has saved the seeds from these tomatoes for many years – so they have not been hybridized by modern breeding methods, which you can read more about here.  But because they have not been hybridized, they are prone to cracking and funny shaped fruits.   However, this does not make them any less delicious.  It’s very rare to discover a perfectly round, crack-free heirloom tomato…so embrace the ugliness! Heirlooms are also prone to disease, again because they are not hybridized.  So this makes them more difficult to grow than your standard big red round tomato.  That’s why you will often find a higher price on these beauties.  But trust me, it is worth it. So I’ve labeled the types of heirlooms that we grow here, though we are missing a few because they aren’t ripe just yet.  We’ve got many varieties and we choose different ones to try each year.  One of the coolest things about heirloom tomatoes is that they often come with a story. Aunt Ruby’s German Green is ripe when green.  It’s somewhat fruity in flavor.  A lot of people ask me if they can make fried green tomatoes with these and the answer is no.  I wish you could, but they are a ripe tomato and will fall apart in your pan.  Ruby Arnold of Greenville, TN saved these seeds. Brandywine and Mortgage Lifter (not pictured) are both pink and sweet, and low acid.  (Acidic is the opposite of sweet, just like in wine!)  In my experience, the pink tomatoes in general are sweet.  Mortgage Lifter is a large pink beefsteak tomato, and it was developed by a West Virginian who named it because the fruits were so big that they allowed him to pay off his mortgage!  That is definitely my favorite story about heirlooms,... Read More

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